Right of Reply
By Ozo-Obidigbo Odiwe
Lately, a seeming hush-hush arm of the opposition, hibernating in a section of the media found a good sport in the Hon. Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige.
The only sin of the Anambra former Governor, who has an all-time unbeaten record, is that he has been unbalancing the uncritical performance benchmark upon which these hue of biased writers have impishly based their assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari. Ngige has been unrelenting in pushing the achievements of the administration which he serves, to the front burner as an assured basis for President’s re-election in 2019 . He has therefore been a subject of tendentious vicious attacks aimed at cynical manipulation of the public opinion.
For instance, a piece in the Vanguard newspaper by a professed Buhari hater, Femi Aribisala did not hide the dalliance with his chosen passion when he juiced up farrago of falsehood and ignorance on industrial dispute in the ExoonMobil. He did attempt to sell a cocktail of shameless misrepresentation, smartly enveloped in a selective reportage of facts to malign the effort of the Minister at achieving an equable settlement of the labour dispute in the company.
Another man’s headache
Though good at running other persons’ business, Azu Ishiekwena had his lip flipped on the back page of Leadership newspaper on Friday, September 14, 2018 to demonstrate that Ngige, a Minister in Buhari’s government has no right to defend their achievements in office. The headache of one Hamilton Odunze on the other hand, is that the Minister argued that fine fettle does not belong only to the younger contestants in the race against President Buhari in the 2019 presidential election. All appear a shocking run against common sense.
Indeed, Aribisala raised fundamental issues in labour administration but out of desire to besmirch the present government and its agents, he artfully ignored scrutable facts needed to understand the steps taken by Ngige in resolving the dispute between ExonnMobil and its sacked security personnel. And here lies the facts which he deliberately buried. First is that he failed to acknowledge that all parties to the dispute – the security personnel, ExonnMobil as well as the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) voluntarily sought for the Honourable Minister’s mediation in the settlement of the relief granted by the Supreme Court to the 870 disengaged security personnel, some of whom (171) have died in eighteen years of legal tussle.
I have no doubt that Aribisala with less than a street knowledge of labour issues is ignorant of the essence of this Ministerial intervention despite the judgement of the Supreme Court . When people are in a rush to criticize, it battles incisive thinking to the ground. The point here is that there are some knotty labour technicalities such as the absorbable numbers, claims and compensation to those who wish to disengage as well as the dead as contained in the judgment, which can only be implemented equitably through a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) The gritty essence of this comes to the fore when the learned Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana counsel to the aggrieved workers, having secured the consent of the Hon. Minister, brought on board, PENGASSAN to negotiation since these spy security personnel were not members of their association.
In fact, Section 19 (3) of Trade Disputes Act Cap T8 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 empowers that “ tribunal or court under this Act shall not have the power to grant any general or percentage wage increase and shall not have the power to approve any such grant unless the approval of the Minister of Labour and Employment has been obtained as required under subsection (1) of this Section.” It becomes clearer therefore that the Minister did not go out of his bound to conciliate on a matter already adjudicated by the supreme court or did so to ease ExonnMobil’s escape from judgement as Aribisala wrote but rather out of compassion for these workers and in consonance with the laws of the land.
While it is not auspicious to fill this page with the lengthy terms mutually agreed upon by all parties as settlement , it is significant to note that only one item which is the quantum of money to be paid as legacy compensation is still disputed. That is the reason the Minister urged the parties to shift positions instead of heading back to court in a matter that has already spanned eighteen years . He therefore requested the Management of ExxonMobil to increase their previous offer from Two Hundred Thousand Naira (N200,000) to Two Hundred and Sixty Thousand naira (N260,000) as Legacy Compensation per year served, though the aggrieved workers turned it down too. But it is obvious that in no place did the Minister act in manner that aides ExonnMobil evade the judgement of the court or have the law subverted. At present, the concerned workers have started receiving huge quantum of money in what may be called the “Ngige Refund,” just as the states of the federation receive the Paris Club Refund. Femi Falana on the other hand has written to Ngige so many times to thank him for his foresight and conciliatory skill on the matter .
Unable to counter the facts
On the other hand, Azubuike Isiekwene, being unable to counter the facts raised by the Minister, went sully while conjuring up issues that neither mocked nor impeached what Ngige adduced as reasons the President deserved another term. He did not for instance disprove that the price of crude oil dropped from over 100$ to about 35$ in 2015 in the first quarter of 2016 and that Nigeria’s output of the commodity also dropped by less than half of the national capacity of 2.2m to as low as 600,000 bpd due to the activities of the militants . Again, while he gleefully celebrated that the economy entered recession under Buhari, he went ominously silent on the well-honed economic management expertise that exited it in just nine months . His mock comparison of Ngige with Governor Okorocha and Orji Kalu came as a denouement of an orchestrated sheer mischief. But all said, it is sad that Isiekwene is shedding tears that these gentlemen are campaigning for their political party. While he pretends to be championing the cause of democracy, he unfortunately grew blind to the fact that democracy also entails the unabridged rights of individuals or group to market opinions not matter how unagreeable an opposition views it.
Many spurs into the Igbo heartland
Perhaps, what Isiekwene and his ilk indirectly want is for Ngige not to campaign for Buhari and probably join them in their hate bearing train. But come to think of it in a little selfish manner. Why should Ngige from the South East where federal roads abandoned for decades are now under reconstruction , Enugu-Onitsha with many spurs into the Igbo heartland, Okigwe-Umuahia-Aba-P.H including the hitherto elusive Second Niger Bridge not stride in glee? No doubt, the administration is acquitting himself creditably and has continued to do more with less resources. As I put together this piece, over N2.7 trillion have been spent on infrastructures between 2016 and 2017. Will Isiekwene compare this to what obtained in the years when his PDP allies were in power ? With the economy posting a positive growth of 1.95 in the first quarter of 2018, and inflation continuing to fall in fifteen consecutive months, why should Ngige not glow and helm the effervescence opposition from serial distortion of facts ?
Lest we forget, though work is on-going on twenty-five major roads in the country among other infrastructures, our external reserve in an era where Nigeria earns less has shot up to 47.5 billion USD. Need it not be said that the fresh initiative which Buhari gave to the implantation of the Single Treasury Account has made the nation save 24.7 billion naira monthly and over 2 trillion naira in a year? Why did Isiekwene lose sight of this in his tirade? If he argues that this government has no clear road map to economic development, it means he has not gone through the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) document and should please do. I wish to spare scant thought here for Odunze’s essay because he made little contribution to a knowledgeable discourse. His question on the contributions of Sen. Ngige as a medical doctor to the health sector will be cleared in one sentence. Sen. Ifeanyi Okowa( Chairman of Senate Committee on Health) now Governor of Delta State and Sen. Chris Ngige made the greatest contribution to the Nigeria Health Act 2014. It is to the credit of the two gentlemen that the Senate Committee on Health convinced its counterpart in the house of representatives to concur with the Senate to pull through this Act that has made available 1% of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the health sector. In sum, Ngige has reason and facts not to be cowed by conspiratorial media harangue. Preposterous to expect he won’t campaign for Buhari, one may say.
Ozo-Obidigbo lives in Abuja.