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“The time is now!” Read Ngige’s presidential declaration full speech

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An address by the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator, Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige, MD, OON (Onwa)  on the occasion of the declaration for the post of the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria 2023 entitled “The time is now!”.

Exactly on 31s tDecember 2021, in this field of St. Mary’s Catholic Church Alor, Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State, I received the 21 local government chapters of the APC to an end of the year thanksgiving and empowerment  get-together. That day, party faithfuls and those who are  not  members of the party but came for the empowerment programme, stood in unison, in a motion, asking me to contest for president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2023.

I responded that I would consider the request. Arising from the motion moved by Hon. Uche Okonkwo Okom , former Chief Whip of the Anambra State House of Assembly and  put to question by the former Deputy Speaker of the  Anambra State House of Assembly, Hon. Ozo Ughammadu, and ratified in the affirmative by all, I  promised to give an answer  after Easter,  to enable me consult widely.  God has kept us all alive and we have celebrated the Easter.

Today , I have invited you back to this land , this same  soil of St. Mary’s which  has a historic nostalgia for me.  The reason is that it  was on this same soil that I stood on December 30,  1996, at the general meeting of Ndi-Alor,  having  concluded my tenure as the President General  of Alor Peoples Convention to announce I was going into politics, to vie for the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and if possible, also, vie for the governorship of Anambra State. I told them with emphasis that Alor, my home town cannot be developed with contributions from people of the community.

All that is now history, as I stepped out of Alor; first becoming a party official, having been elected the Assistant National Secretary of the PDP at the Eagle Square in December 1999, and later,  Governor of Anambra State( May 29, 2003 to  March 15, 2006)

In 2011, the people of Anambra State , especially from Anambra Central, overwhelming decided to reward me  for  what they termed excellent performance,  the uncommon sacrifice to  liberate their state from the clutches of the godfathers,  at the risk of losing one’s life. I served in the Nigerian Senate from 2011–2015 and made rich contributions, stopping an obnoxious labour legislation that would have taken away the rights of workers to protest as well as co-sponsoring the Health bill which became the 2014 Health Act.

In 2012, I co-jointly with other patriots became one of the founders  of our new progressive party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) , an amalgam  of legacy political parties that including Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a splinter of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) led by Rochas Okorocha .

I was involved in all the negotiations that gave birth to the new party where we  also adopted the logo – broom- of our former party ACN – a party I was also one of the founding fathers with Bola Ahmed  Tinubu, then Governor of Lagos State,  Governor Boni Haruna of Adamawa State and former Governors Aremu Segun Osoba, Bisi Akande, Otunba Niyi Adebayo as well as Atiku Abubakar  then Vice President and other patriots. In 2015, I became the Deputy Director General  of the Campaign Council for Muhammadu Buhari in charge of the   South East, during which we traversed all the states of the states of the zone.

Election having been won, I was appointed Minister of Labour and Employment to represent Anambra State.  The President did me a big honour by that appointment which showed a reposition of confidence. This became more pronounced  with my re-appointment  in 2019  to the same portfolio. President Buhari was guided by patriotism and love for his country. politicians and technocrats into the cabinet .

I thank Mr. President for  the opportunity which has in effect broadened my knowledge of the workings  various Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government(MDAs) being a member of Federal Executive Council and secondly the manager and conciliator of disputes between employers and employees (workers) in the various arms of government, the  MDAs as well as the organized private sector.

My stewardship in the Ministry of Labour -an obviously difficult and complex government department,  has enriched my knowledge because in my conciliation of disputes, I have got to know the  problems of workers, the difficulty the  industrialists and entrepreneurs   face; why industries close down, and why some run far below their installed capacity and in turn employ less hands . I have been  brought face to face with the needs of the working class who bake the cake. I know the productive sector in labour, I also know the unproductive areas and the areas of waste in the public  service. I see the energy in labour  which has  not been properly harnessed.  I have seen the low  hanging fruits in agriculture, the handicaps, the factors militating against job creation which is  one of the mandates of my ministry, especially the inter-ministerial and inter agencies cooperation that is missing.  I have seen our burgeoning population without a corresponding advantage in terms of improvement in GDP.

Without blowing our trumpet, we have conciliated about 1683 industrial disputes in the last six years plus.  95% were done successfully in my ministry and our agency, the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP). Only about 3%  of disputes that came to us went up to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN). The IAP and the Industrial court had at one time or the other complimented that most of the cases end at the level of the ministry, leaving them with little to handle.

We have also taken  labour administration to a higher level in the international arena, where our labour diplomacy brought Nigeria back to the Governing Board (GB) of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) after ten years abscence. We came in  first as deputy (titular) 2017, and now full regular member of the GB, having also been elected as the Chairperson of the Government Group , where I presided over the affairs of 187 countries of the ILO between 2019 and 2020. Onwa is certainly not a local champion!

My dear friends , colleagues and comrades, many would wonder that after serving seven years as Minister in one of the most difficult ministries  of government, in a polity riddled with rising unemployment, bickering and economic disputes between workers and employers, in a famished economy, Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige would have asked for a deserved rest.  Yes, a deserved rest would have been okay for me as a person but the zeal, the  burning desire in me to see a prosperous, united and equitable Nigeria, where no man is oppressed,  where there is no big chasm between the haves and have nots, would not allow me to go home and rest.

I’m  also aware and I know within me, that I have the vision that Nigeria needs now to take her out of the doldrums. I  know that I have the capacity needed to create a new Nigeria. I’m not oblivious that I have the necessary intelligence and wealth of experience needed badly now to grapple  with the problems of Nigeria. I also know that I have the compassion and passion needed for a united Nigeria. I know the people of Nigeria , and the people of Nigeria know me. I was born and bred in the  South East where attended St. John’s Secondary School, Alor, graduating in  First Division and later, University of Nigeria, where I graduated in Medicine in 1979. My early working life started as a corper and later in the civil service  in Lagos. I had in the course of service, worked in  the Northern cities of  Kano,  Kaduna , Zaria and Abuja.

All through this sojourn since 1981  till now,  God has given me the opportunity to meet, interreact and work together with other Nigerians of diverse culture, ethnicity and religion.  Even in my political life, though I never jumped from one party to another, I  was a founding member of the PDP and when I was  forced out of that party, I and my colleague  governors of like minds, united with the  former Vice President to form the ACN.

Today, as I sit back to ruminate on the state of our country,  I find a country led by a patriot – good hearted leader, Muhammadu Buhari, though greatly misunderstood especially in the South Eastern part of Nigeria. Permit me to say that I want to get the nomination of our party and to stand on its manifesto to actualize and execute the programmes  of the APC.

Shall we say the APC as party and as a government has  failed? The answer is a big No. The three  cardinal issues  upon which Nigeria gave us a mandate in 2015 are infrastructure/economic development, security and anti-corruption. In properly assessing this government and our programmes, it is important we start from  where we met Nigeria in 2015. I don’t want to be one of those in the class of wailers, wallowing in self-pity.  No!  I want to be your ambassador so I can go and grow prosperity, grow the resources that are needed for a big country like Nigeria. Truth be told, Nigeria has been in the years of the locust, starting from the  80s, 90s, the long period of military rule to 2015. Luckily, the leaves were all eaten away but the tree and the branches still stand. Yes I’m part of this administration, so I should know what the resources look like and I know what the challenges are. This is because I’m in the room and I’m privy to decisions taken.   In scoring  the administration, one can give us a pass, credit or distinction in infrastructure  depending  on the assessor.  But let me ask. Can you a government that has invested massively in infrastructural development,  built roads and bridges like the Lagos- Ibadan- Ilorin road, 2nd Niger Bridge, almost completed and the reactivation of the rail system anything but distinction?

You can also score us in security,  again depending on the baseline – even though we know that the security deterioration is also linked to the economic situation of the country, which has stifled jobs while population gallops by the day.

What I will do in security as President is not for public discussion here  but I know one thing. I know that the Nigerian Police , in charge of home land security needs more  men and material to function optimally. All attempts to increase their men by 10,000 every year in the last five years was stifled by unnecessary bureaucracy. I also know and believe that decentralization of Nigerian police is the way to go, so that governors of states can be chief security officers in name and in reality. The structure of the Nigerian police needs to change and mimic that of the judiciary which has worked well with the State judiciary and the federal arm in a handshake. That  can be replicated and modified for an effective and efficient policing. In this case, I speak as a former governor and  Chief security officer of a state. I  know  what to do and how to do it.

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The assessment of the anti-corruption efforts of the administration is complicated .  Who are the corrupt people? They are the elites. Who taught the people at the lower wrung of the  ladder? Again, the elites. Is corruption now the way of life for our people . The answer is Yes and No!

Having said all these,  I believe that  I know what the locust has done to Nigeria, done to the tree called Nigeria and I know how to go to the foundation of the tree, re-manure  it, re- water it for the tree to grow again. I also know what to do to prevent the locust from invading again so that the tree  can bear fruits as the scripture  spelt out in Jonah 2:25.

I’m fully equipped as a visionary administrator, one with huge wealth of experience, capacity  and energy, one with the required large heart to accommodate the differences among Nigerians. I believe I am the person with the required experience and intelligence  to lead. I’m the  Jack of all  trade and that master of all, that Nigeria needs now!

Dear compatriots, there is a saying that if a man says he will give you a dress, you look at the one he is wearing. My records in  Anambra in 34 months as governor of the state speak for me.  I met N42b debt in Anambra  state where schools closed for one year with teachers and civil servants owed for almost a year. Doctors and health professionals were also on strike for 8 months while  pensioners were treated as “dead woods”. I met  dilapidated infrastructure, with hopelessness  and despair written on the faces of the people of Anambra State. The judiciary was also neither  equipped nor energized to do its work.

Importantly, I turned all these into history as I cleared the  arrears  of salaries, pensions, as well as paid off genuine creditors. I and my team  rejuvenated the civil service . We further  introduced knowledge based promotion  through  examinations.

Under our administration,  500km of roads across all senatorial zones ,  were built in 30 months, unprecedented in the history of the State. Handled  by the best contractors, these roads still stand like the Rock of Gibraltar, 16 years after. Anambra then became a metaphor for solid roads under the slogan of Anambra People’s  Money at work! I hereby promise that when I get your mandate, that money belonging to Nigerians will be used to work for Nigerians.  I will  expand the infrastructural development efforts of the present  administration in roads,  rail , air, even, the  inland water ways.

We restored water to dry taps in Anambra State . In education, the first Memorandum of Understanding  for the handover of schools was  signed by my administration  and 58 schools handed over to the original owners. We upgraded the Nsugbe College of Education, equipped and recruited  new staff members.

???At the Anambra State University  Uli , new buildings for the Faculties of Engineering, Arts and Agriculture were built, lecturers recruited and a new Governing  Council put in place – headed first by Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike and later, Prof. Festus Nwako under whose tenure , full accreditation was secured for 15 courses and 18 others, on partial accreditation. The University was also decentralized into a multi-campus.

Agriculture got a boost from Igbariam to Ayamelum with our government bringing back the giant rice mill at Omor as part of our agrarian revolution.  The agrarian communities of Ogboji, Ogbaru and Ayamelum received agricultural extension once more, first ever since  the era of M.I Okpara . They were provided with seedlings and fertilizers.

Similarly, the health system  got a boost with general hospitals in Onitsha, Enugwu-Ukwu and Amaku in Awka rehabilitated

Compatriots , since I’m going to launch my Manifesto on a later date , l want to use  this opportunity to address the party delegates to the national convention of our great Party. Members of our party who are coming as statutory  delegates,  I,  Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige appeal to you , to use your position to ensure the continuation of quality governance in Nigeria . Our country is at cross roads.  The era of struggling  to share resources should be put behind us, while we direct our attention to who can bake the cake.  I’m not an economist by training  but my 40 years in the public service, have fully equipped me to do you proud, if you nominate me to be your flag bear. I will visit soon to further discuss my agenda and solicit your support

Some persons  have been feeding the public with wrong information that my office is to blame for the incessant strikes by labour unions. Here is an opportunity  to explain my role as a conciliator.  There is a misconception that the conciliator is also the man who will actualize and implement whatever is reached in an agreement. This is wrong . A conciliator is like an arbitrator and not the person who implements the agreement so reached . At most, he can do a facilitation by persuasion for the parties to implement the agreement and that’s where the role stops .

In the case of the university unions, it is important to make it clear that the Federal Government  is not owing  them salaries and wages rather what is being owed is a carry-over of allowances (Earned Academic Allowances/Earned Allowances)  from the past administration and that the carry-over is being paid in installments, under a negotiated agreement. In one or two occasions that government defaulted for lack of revenue to pay, it was properly rescheduled.

Unfortunately, detractors have  told unions that Ngige is their problem. How can the Minister of Labour be their problem when he is not their employer? The Minister of Labour is neither  a member of the Governing Council of universities nor  the Minister of Education or Finance.  The same goes for health workers and doctors. The government side and the fixers of salaries and wages met with them and told them what they are able to pay, which is an ILO principle of Negotiation – Capacity and ability to pay . Instead of   following up with negotiations, they would  turn around  to blame the Minister.

For example ASUU invented a payment  platform, called UTAS . UTAS has been subjected to necessary tests by  National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) which said it cannot recommend the system for use having passed User Acceptability Test but failed Integrity and Credibility Test.

ASUU said Ngige can do the magic, to force NITDA to clear UTAS  and also force the Ministry of Finance to deploy it. This magic is beyond me.  They ascribed the powers I don’t have to my office .

However, conciliation and arbitration is within the ambit of my Ministry and we are doing whatever we can , including persuasion, and subtly moving into other ministries, to try and pressure them in order to resolve some of the issues.  I’m a concerned  parent whose  children are also  in the public universities in Nigeria. In the 7th Senate I championed the cause of  labour. How then can I turn around to stop the progress of these institutions?  God forbid !

The leaders of the university system should tell their members  the truth  about what is happening  with UTAS at the NITDA as well as  the re-negotiation of 2009 agreement  ongoing in the Ministry  of Education, which ASUU has shunned. I once more use this opportunity to  appeal to them to reconsider their position and save the education sector in Nigeria.

I won’t end this speech without recalling that the two labour centres  in Nigeria at different occasions commended my stewardship in repositioning labour and engendering social dialogue.

Even the NMA and NARD has also commended my efforts in resolving age long challenges in the health sector, one describing me as a medical elder of repute. They went further  to state that awith public servants like Ngige Nigeria will be a better place. I promise I will  not relent

I have served our great  party with all my might and I did so praying to Almighty God that one day, this party, which  we birthed in 2013, will take Nigeria to the promised land.  I have no doubt that with you support , we shall get there.

Having considered all these,  I stand on the same soil of Alor,  where in 1996, I predicted and proclaimed prosperity  for  Ndi-Alor, to  also proclaim prosperity for Nigeria. I hereby make myself available to be  your chief servant in this journey.

May  I, Senator Chris Nwabueze Ngige now formally declare that I am contesting for President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under the banner of our great party , All Progressives Congress (APC).  The time is now!

Happy Easter!

Thank you and may God bless all of us.

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