By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
THE renomination of Senator Chris Ngige for ministerial appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari did not come as a surprise to many especially within the All Progressives Congress, APC family and the labour circle.
The former Anambra State Governor and member of the Seventh Senate rose through the ranks in the civil service over the years, mastering the act of human relations.
Although, some people may argue that his relationship with the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, in recent times was not cordial following his disagreements with the NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, which even led to the Labour declaring him persona non grata at a stage, he appeared to have enjoyed good relationship with the Trade Union Congress, TUC and some affiliate unions of the NLC, which made a host of labour leaders and stakeholders to call for his re-appointment.
Ngige was at the fore front of the negotiations for the N30, 000 new minimum wage that has become law. The medical doctor-turned politician mediated in all the crises between professional associations, Labour unions and the Federal Government. When medical doctors and university lecturers as well as non-teaching staff had issues with the Federal Government on agreements the government did not implement, Ngige conciliated to ensure amicable resolution of any issue that could cause industrial disharmony.
By the time President Buhari’s first tenure was lapsing on May 29, 2019, the Ministry of Labour under Ngige had addressed 1,425 trade disputes and complaints, 788 disputes were completely concluded and resolved, 37 cases were referred to Industrial Arbitration Panel and 600 cases are at various stages of mediation and conciliation.
As Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Ngige cashed in on the leadership crisis between the NLC President, Comrade Wabba and a former aspirant to the position, Comrade Joe Ajaero, who later formed another Labour centre, United Labour Congress, ULC, with some unions especially in the private sector. He was quick to invite the Joe Ajaero and Igwe Achese-led ULC when the Wabba-led NLC declared strike and this weakened the effectiveness of the strike.
Despite being described persona non grata by the Ayuba led NLC due to the controversy that greeted the inauguration of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF board members and the attendant picketing of his private residence that ended in fiasco, the leadership of the TUC described the minister-designate as the best thing to happen to the labour ministry.
The immediate past President of the TUC, Bobboi Kaigama, at a valedictory session commended Senator Ngige for his giant strides in the ministry and recommended that President Buhari should reappoint him in his second tenure.
Kaigama said that the Organised Labour has forgiven the Minister in any way he erred and also asked Ngige to forgive and forget whoever wronged him.
“There was need for President Buhari to return Ngige as the minister of Labour to enable him continue and complete where necessary, the policies he has put in place to revamp and sanitise the labour sector with his vast experience and his God endowed gifts of wisdom, tolerance and patience.
“He stands out very tall among previous labour ministers. We appreciate your contributions to the labour movement and the harmony you have brought to the whole country. To us, you are bowing out with the integrity, respect, and honour you deserve from us. We don’t expect it all but you have over 70 percent relationship with us.“Our prayer is that we will come back to celebrate your come back as minister of Labour and Employment; we need continuity of policies. If not for the resilience of the minister, the problem that the labour movement would have gone into would have been very bad.”
Also speaking, the Director General of NECA, Timothy Olawale, who commended Ngige’s method of leadership which according to him was all-inclusive and participatory, said though it was not in their hand to decide, their desire was for Ngige to be returned as labour minister. When he came on board, he didn’t know so much about labour and industrial relations but today, he is an authority in labour.’’
A group under the umbrella of The Workman Society of Nigeria also commended Ngige for his tireless efforts at ensuring a peaceful industrial milieu necessary for optimum national productivity.
Addressing newsmen in Abuja, the Chairman of the group, Mohammed Ibn Yunusa and Secretary, Cyril-William Jaja said that notwithstanding the face-off between the Minister and the NLC over the chairmanship of the board of the NSITF of which they said the Presidency absolved Ngige of any wrongdoing, his positive engagement with all the social partners in the last four years of the Buhari administration yielded enormous dividends that could not be ignored.
Indeed, some analysts, who hailed Ngige’s re-nomination, said believe that his diplomatic and firm approach in resolving disputes between Labour unions and the government endeared him to the President.