By Victor Ahiuma-Young
Former Minister of Labour and Employment, Chief Emeka Wogu, in this interview, spoke on his time as Minister, his experience, major challenges, among others.
After serving as a Minister
I went back to my law practice. First and foremost, I trained as a lawyer and my practice as a lawyer includes both litigations, solicitor’s job but with special bias for labour and core competence in the area of mediation, reconciliation and arbitration.
I am a fellow of the Institute of Conciliators and Mediators. So, I’m back to my law practice and by the side, I do some real estate business and other things that are dignifying of people of my genre.
So, I have actually been in private practice since I resigned from the cabinet of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in 2014, and I remain a politician also. But within that period, between 2013 and 2018, I started a PhD in Political Science, I have earned my PhD in Political Science from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2018, and I will still want to go back to school and conclude my PhD in Law.
Experience as a Minister
I have a multi-faceted experience while I served as Minister of Labour in the first tenure of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
Towards the end of that tenure, I was given extra responsibility and put in charge of the Ministry of Interior, as a supervising minister. But my experience is one that was significant.
I was greeted on my assumption of office with a national strike at the Federal Government level and that resulted in the President setting up a committee that had the Head of Service then, Mr Steve Oronsaye as a co-chairman and me as the chairman of the committee that resolved that crisis.
Before the setting up of the committee, I had already resolved it by meeting the leadership of the union, listening to them and asking them to suspend their strike.
That was the first strike I met on assumption of office, but eventually, we resolved it through the committee to the extent that most of the grievances they came with, including the better condition of service and salary increase, were agreed upon in a win-win situation.
The government did not lose, Labour did not lose but at the end of the day, there was stability in the federal sector.
That was the first challenge, there were other Labour crises that I was able to manage and nip in the bud. What really helped me was that I adopted what I refer to as a non-adversarial attitude to labour resolution.
What I mean by that is that not us against them, or them against us; I saw them as partners in the tripartite arrangement.
The tripartite arrangement is Government, Labour and the Employers, I saw them as equal partners, and I had to develop confidence, cultivate them in such a way that they had confidence in me, and everything worked well.
I was equally proactive in my approach to labour issues, I didn’t wait for most labour unions to give me notice but once I have the intelligence or there is a publication or likelihood of a strike, what I do is to invite the people involved.
If it cannot be resolved by the civil servants in the ministry, particularly the Director of Trade Union Services, then I will take it up. Also, there were informal approaches, I attend their birthdays and at times, I send them goodwill messages, during Christmas I visit them and they visit me. But the bottom line is that I must do my work in such a way that there will be no crisis in the country.
You know, the Labour crisis is capable of destabilising the polity, it is capable of equally leading to change of government in such a way that if there is a Labour crisis, it will shake the foundation of every government depending on the level of the crisis. So, I was mindful of all that in my days at the Ministry of Labour.
I will describe the Nigeria Labour movement in three perspectives – Labour movement before and during colonial administration; Labour movement post-independence; and Labour movement post-Military interregnum They were vibrant before the Nigeria independence, in fact, they worked with fellow compatriots in the struggle for Nigeria’s independence.
By that time, it was purely Labour activism at its best. You have people like Pa Michael Imoudu, Sir Bob Ogbuagu, Osita Agwuna, you remember the coal miners’ strike and the subsequent teaming up of political parties and Labour in solidarity to fight for the freedom of this country and they succeeded.
Most of them went to jail, the prominent Labour leaders, Pa Imoudu, Bob Ogbuagu, G. Ikoku and a couple of them because they resisted colonialism and indignity meted out to Nigerian workers and the Nigerian people. After the fall of the colonial administration, they became active again, but with military interregnum the first military coup of 1966, they practically went underground because the military never tolerated freedom of association and freedom of speech which are vital in the Labour movement.
So, between 1966 up till when Shagari became President, Labour was comatose but it was during Shagari that Labour became active again and that was when they moved for the salary increase which came in 1981.
The champion of that move was Hassan Sumonu. After it, there was a military coup in 1983, that saw the emergence of Brig-Gen. Buhari and the labour movement was again inactive; there were also many prescriptions during the Babangida era. It even led to the appointment of a sole administrator for the NLC and also at ABU. So, with the return to democracy, labour became so vibrant and pushful.
That led to a couple of strikes under Obasanjo, under Yar’ Adua, under Jonathan and currently, under Buhari; because they have the freedom to speak, they have the freedom to picket, they have the freedom to implement everything that is under the UN Charter and African Charter on Human Rights and the Nigeria Labour Laws. So, that is why you have incessant demands and incessant calls for a strike.
It is because there is a democratic setting, though some of these democratic governments to have tried the processes of restriction on them.
There was this popular NLC battle led by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole against President Obasanjo which was too confrontational on the side of labour. And because it was under a civilian setting, there was nothing the then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria could do, but if it had been under a military setting, labour would have been proscribed.
So, labour activism is thriving because we have returned to democracy and they have the right to agitate, they have the right under the Labour Laws to issue proper notices to go on strike if they are not engaged.
It is their right, and you know there is this popular slogan, “injury to one, is an injury to all.” There is a great level of solidarity among Nigerian workers and members of various trade unions.
Poor ministry, honest leadership
I have a rich pedigree, a rich parental pedigree. I had a father who studied in the best schools abroad, including the University of Edinburgh and qualified in Mathematics and Physics and had further degrees in teaching Mathematics and Physics. He was a missionary, teacher and principal at the age of 31.
I had a mother who was equally a professional teacher, educationist and home engineer. I have several prominent uncles who were core civil servants. So, we were brought up in a tradition of honesty, integrity and doing what is wholesome.
I never saw my father take bribes in his life, I never saw him associate with mean fellows, and he reached the peak of his career at the age of 45, but unfortunately, we lost him at 55, and I lost my mother at 47.
I graduated from university as an orphan at 21 with a degree in Law and I ventured into business and politics. By 25, I had already made a million naira from being an entrepreneur and from my Law practice.
I tasted power at the age of 26, served at different levels, tiers of government and arms of government. Because of my pedigree, I know that being asked to serve, whether as a public servant or a civil servant or in politics – political appointment; you need to do the right thing.
So, I was guided by my pedigree not to do the wrong thing. Many people would not even know that I did 10 years in the Revenue Commission, representing Abia State, that within that period, I resigned and contested for the Senatorial seat of Abia South, defeated the incumbent then in the party primaries in PDP, but I was persuaded to go back to my job by President Obasanjo.
House of Reps
Many people do not even know that I had won an election to go to the Federal House of Representatives under the Abacha transition, and again, they don’t even know that in 1999, I failed the same election but I served in the Executive Council of Orji Kalu briefly for six months. In all my service at the different tiers of government, local government, state and federal, I have not been indicted.
I have not done anything that would bring probing eyes on me, including anything not expected of today’s politicians to do. When I am paid to travel and I don’t travel, I pay back the money to the government treasury, I never bought newspapers with government money because by the law for certain public political office holders and judicial officers, I am not supposed to push these newspapers’ bills to the Ministry of Labour.
I am not supposed to even drive official cars from them, that is why most people were surprised that I was using my private cars while I served as minister; because the law does not authorise the use of official cars.
There are no official cars for public officers, so I was mindful of the laws, I was mindful of the Code of Conduct, and I was mindful of who I was and where I was coming from.
I cannot say I am a saint but in terms of stealing government funds or government properties, I can vouch for myself and other people can vouch for me. Maybe, I might have used my position to favour a particular section of the country, but I am still de-tribalised.
I had an SA who was from Kano State, different people who worked for me were people from different states of the country. And in my influencing employment for people, I employed persons from different parts of the country and even gave executive positions to people outside my geographical zone. It is on record.
I am still in politics; I have been a member of the All Progressive Congress, APC since 2016.
Politics without bitterness
No, but I do think that at some time it would work. I was young when I served the country at different levels. When I resigned from the Federal Executive Council to contest for the election to become governor in Abia, I was 49. So, I finished my career as a minister at 49.
That was a good age to run for governor in my state but the people who were responsible, the then incumbent governor and his cohorts made a statement to the fact that they cannot control me, that they need somebody they can control.
Most of the gladiators in my state then were uncomfortable because I never gave a hint that I was going into the government house to steal or perpetuate evil but my campaign was all centred along the line of doing the right thing, which included distancing myself from what has been institutionalised at a point in the politics of the state and come with new programmes that would lift the state higher in terms of infrastructure development.
If I was elected then, I know by now, the state would have been competing with other states like Rivers State, Ebonyi, and other states in terms of infrastructure development. But in terms of internally generated revenue, we would have been competing or doing almost exactly the same thing that Lagos State Government is doing to earn all the revenue there. I would have restored the confidence of the general masses in government.
I would have been able to pay salaries in Abia State and pay pensioners because I grew up and it worked. We had a chairman of Aba Local Government, my father’s cousin, Late Hariwe Egege. My father was then chairman of the school’s board, Mbakwe who appointed my father was the governor of Imo State.
When there is no money to pay salaries, Mbakwe would ask my father to get Hariwe Egege to mop up money from Aba so that Imo State Government, then, would pay salaries. So, you can see the trajectory of decadence that has beset our state.
In the old Imo, former Governor Mbakwe would rely on Aba Local Government then to generate money to give to the chairman of the school’s board who was my father to be able to pay salaries in the old Aba zone. I would have worked in such a manner and possibly by now, would have made it possible for all the companies that left Aba to come back, companies and factories that were established long the Aba Women riot of 1929, you can see the relics on Aba Factory road, GB Olivant, SCOA, CFAO, Nigerian Breweries, e.t.c but left Aba in succession over the past years due to lack of infrastructure; and the Marina which has been overtaken by weeds, which I was to re-introduce.
Abia has the potential to be great particularly Aba City, where I come from. I am an indigenous Aba person, native, brought up in Aba. One of my campaign slogans was “Aba ma ndi Aba”, meaning that the Aba people know their own and it is Aba man too that would fix Aba.
But after that move I was not able to secure the party ticket to run, some charlatans and pretenders to the throne started using the slogan. We know ourselves, “Aba ma ndi Aba,” most people who are now mouthing Aba, are not, they are pretenders.
That is exactly why I left that party, the PDP. It was a congregation of those who do not believe in decent politics in my state and I went to APC because I did not want to be part of the aggregation of people who do not believe in new ideas, allowing people to participate. People who believe there must be an imposition to guarantee continuity.
At the time I contested, there was nothing to continue with except continuation in impunity and bad governance, which I openly challenged and vowed to correct APC not better APC in Abia is good, great and with a lot of potentials to correct the maladies.
There are other people who share the same dreams and aspirations with me who are in APC and who will want to contest for the governorship. I have not made up my mind on what position I will contest but I am qualified to contest for any position in this country except the ones that I had done before.
It is to support Mr President totally in all ramifications. The tiers of government, the arms of government, and all institutions of government with non-state actors, religious leaders, traditional leaders and sectional unions, we should all come together to support Mr President to fight the insecurity that is going on in this country.
I said everybody because all the people that are causing this insecurity to operate on locations, and these locations are either in a village or local government or township. They have relations and they have people who aid them in the supply of certain things, logistics, and people who know them.
So, we need everybody, all hands must be on deck both state actors and non-state actors, everybody. I am happy that leaders of thought, led by President Obasanjo and the Sultan of Sokoto etc, convened a meeting and they are discussing. And I believe that other people should start discussing it because Nigeria is a great country with great potential.