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Ngige: Birthday in the season of accolades

By Nwachukwu Obidiwe   In B.C 8, the Roman Senate bestowed  honour on the first and the greatest Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar, by changing the…

By Nwachukwu Obidiwe

 

In B.C 8, the Roman Senate bestowed  honour on the first and the greatest Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar, by changing the name of the month of Sextilis to Augustus. The same Senate had earlier committed to eternal memory, the  name of his uncle and Roman General, Julius Caesar, by changing the  month of Quintilis  to  July upon his death on March 15, 44 BC.

Augustus is now known as the  month of August  and denotes nobility and greatness. Real or imagined, the belief is  that the clement hand of fate on those born in this month (August) is not fortuitous. It is also claimed that an August child is fearless, especially those encompassed by the  Zodiac sign, Lion. Fortuitously, however, Senator Chris Nwabueze  Ngige, former fovernor of Anambra State and Minister of Labour and Employment was born on August 8, 1952.

The foregoing hangs a tale but let me leave the issue of birth and destiny to dwell on more important issues, for the time we live in should actually have little space for such revelry. The World Bank has just released a worrying report that Nigeria is passing through her worst unemployment crisis, with an astronomical increase in the number of Nigerians, desperately seeking asylum overseas. The National Bureau of Statistics also said  the nation’s unemployment rate has risen to 33%. This is added to the political distemper in the land. This frightening  specter is worsened by the alarming spate of banditry,  kidnapping and violent crimes that have put the citizenry in one huge prison.  Ngige is therefore a minister at a time labour restiveness can boil a stone into a pulp.

By the time he leaves office, Nigerians  will remember not his birthdays but how much his critical role in the cabinet of President Buhari has helped to lift Nigerians from burgeoning hopelessness, through the expansion of national productivity milieu.  Assessment so far is that this medical doctor is hitting the bull’s eye, to the extent that some acknowledge that without him, the combination  of industrial crisis and terrorizing social malaise  would have overwhelmed Nigeria into a  Hobbesian jungle. Did Montesquieu not say that societies  don’t  fall to outside forces till the forces within have all fallen ? Ngige’s sleepless nights have kept these grim indices on the back foot. The only minister who spends the  nights  in ceaseless torrents of disputes conciliation  which have been a pacing national threat.

He has indeed come a long away in giving a new direction to labour administration in Nigeria. The list is long but in summary;  midwifing the  N30,000 minimum wage at a time it was thought impossible was not a walk in the orchard. Under him,  over 1,600 industrial disputes have been apprehended and conciliated, leaving  the Industrial Arbitration Panel with little to arbitrate. On his advice, the Federal Government promptly cleared  a  backlog of allowances to  civil servants. Ngige also convened  the National Labour Advisory Council after six years in limbo and repositioned the ministry and agencies under it,  created  job -rich policies for optimum national productivity, while shifting  emphasis to  the blue collar skills.  He liaised with the Ministry of Interior to tackle the abuse of expatriate quota which has been taking jobs from Nigerians. He also  contributed in etching  job creation content in every major contract passed by the Federal Executive Council, equally engineering  the review of obsolete labour laws now before the National Assembly.  He also seeks the harmonization of  operation of all skill centres in the country and mounts stiff defence of every item that promotes industrial harmony and productivity at the Federal Executive Council, irrespective of inistries or agencies.  This is in pursuit of the  ILO’s  2012 Call for Action, whose  thrust  is for governments to take a multi-sector approach to achieve  pro-employment macroeconomic policies .

At another level, his current tenure returned   Nigeria to the Governing Board of the ILO, first as deputy and now regular. He chaired  the Government Group  of the Board itself between 2019 -2020, and  galvanized the Africa Region as a formidable front,  with other ministers electing   him the unofficial  lead speaker on Africa cause. His Push in February 2017 in Zimbabwe led to  the democratization of the African Regional Labour Centre (ALARC) when he pulled together the  West and North African representatives  to break the choking  grip of the South Africa Region on ARLAC.  The hosting of the first ever ILO Global Youth Forum in Abuja in 2019  which was the first  outside Europe in hundred years of ILO is  singularly attributable to the  preeminent representation of Nigeria at  the ILO. The same goes for the recognition of Nigeria as a member of the  Alliance  8.7,  the  flagship countries in the  bulwark of fight against child labour. Ngige had earlier at the Africa   Growth and Opportunity Conference (AGOA) in September 2016 at the Labour House, Washington D.C, moved  a motion for the establishment of the African Skills Development Bank to  be sited in Nigeria and was equally instrumental in the  opening of the Labour Migration Centre in Benin City . These are not reckless hyperboles as they can be crosschecked.

These  efforts are not in vain as his direct public appreciates in no uncertain measures. For now, the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has taken over from ASUU as the most restive union with an unquenchable penchant for strike. As I write, these young doctors are on strike which some align to their age and  proclivity for action. This is because just days ago, NARD left the regular interactive session with the Federal Government happy to the extent that  Chris Adejo, its Deputy President,  declared Ngige God-sent, stating that  “Nigeria would be a better place with ministers like him.”

But long before this  on April 16, 2021, the executive of NARD in a letter signed by its President Dr.  Okhuaihesuyi Uyiwala  described Ngige as a “medical doctor of repute whose leadership qualities have brought timely solutions to the lingering issues in the health sector.” Similarly on June 5,  2021, upon the resolution of the NLC/ Kaduna State Government face-off, which nearly set the nation ablaze , the same day the bitter crisis over autonomy for state judiciary and legislature was resolved, Ngige’s constituency, the Presidency,  took time to celebrate his stabilizing role in the federation. The Secretary of the Implementation Committee on Autonomy for State Legislature and Judiciary and Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, Sen. Ita Enang, described  Ngige as an excellent Labour administrator, whose wealth of experience and versatile  knowledge of governance at different tiers and arms of government, immensely contributed to the deft resolution of Kaduna labour imbroglio  and the complex issues involved in the autonomy for the legislature and Judiciary.

Shortly on June 13 was a letter from the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria(JUSUN) to thank the minister for his support in pressing home the quest for the  autonomy of the state judiciary.  The letter was signed by Emmanuel Abisoye,  president of the union. The Senate Press Corps also took turn to eulogize Ngige when on June 7, 2021, it conferred a merit award on him for facilitating industrial harmony in the country .

Sure, labour relations is a complex social course, often involving sour exchanges. Gritting teeth  could get worse in a  world of work like ours where workers and their unions are at the receiving end  of  the depressed economy. Ruben Abati,  on the Arise Television morning programme  with  Ngige recently, had asked what the magic was that unions now write him apology letters. Ngige only smiled it away. But the truth is that labour in Nigeria has come to appreciate his statesmanship, forthrightness and the integrity he brings to conciliation; that he acts a true conciliator who brought in  egalitarian culture of conversation to labour administration; hence apologies which  have hardly been found among unionists  have become a common tool in relations under Ngige.

As Ngige marks his 69th birthday, I pray that he will continue to live in the footprints of   Caesar Augustus who said he met  “Rome a city of  bricks and left it a city of  marbles.”

Nwachukwu  Obidiwe, a journalist lives Abuja

 

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