Chris Ngige, Nigeria’s minister of Labour and Employment, was booed while trying to defend President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointments at a town hall meeting organised by the federal government for the South-East in Enugu on Monday, August 1, 2016.
Chants of “No! No” rented the hall as he attempted to justify the appointments, which have lopsided and skewed in favour of the North and Muslims, and particularly discriminatory against Igbos from the South East.
The South-East is seen as the most marginalised zone in the appointments made so far by Buhari.
Ngige was responding to criticism of Buhari’s failure to appoint an Igbo as one of the service chiefs at the interactive town hall meeting attended by South-East stakeholders, including leaders of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, traditional rulers, members of the National Assembly, and other current and former political office-holders.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government on Monday, August 1, 2016, responded to demands for the implementation of the recommendations of the last constitutional conference with a declaration that new states cannot be created without the involvement of the National Assembly.
The minister was responding to calls for new states in the zone, as well as the demand for the restructuring of the country into regions.
Stressing that the members of the National Assembly were the only true representatives of the people, Ngige noted that those who participated in the constitutional conference were not elected.
“The only people elected today to represent the people are those in the National Assembly.
“If you want to amend the constitution or to create more states you must pass through the National Assembly,” he said.
The minister, a former governor of Anambra State, and an erstwhile member of the Senate, said the Igbo must strategise on how best to survive and thrive in Nigeria.
Reacting to what he described as “the question of restructuring and the South-East,” he advised that the Igbo should avoid wallowing in self pity.
“We (Igbo) have to put on our thinking cap; we don’t have to cry and wallow in self pity,” he said, noting that Nigeria is a federation where all the federating units must relate with one another.
“If tomorrow President Muhammadu Buhari says ‘I want to do a constitutional conference’, I can assure you that whatever you lobby and get in the conference will be implemented to the letter,” Ngige added.
The minister added that the demand for the restructuring of the country was not a new thing.
Going down memory lane, he said the draft constitution from the 1994-1995 Constitutional Conference, organised by then Head of State, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, meant well for the country.
Noting that most of the states and local government areas in the country were created by ‘military fiat’, Ngige said, “They said Abacha was not good but there were some aspects of Abacha that were excellent.
“The Abacha Constitution provided for residency, so that any Nigerian could contest election wherever he lived, like Nnamdi Azikiwe did in the then Western region, and rotation of Presidency, among other things.
“After death took Abacha away we went back to the 1979 Constitution with a few amendments making it the 1999 Constitution.
“The South-East was divided at the constitutional conference; the South-East rejected zoning because the man from Ebonyi said it would make him a minority in the South-East.”
Ngige added that the Federal Government would soon set up a committee that would review the minimum wage.
He explained that the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress would be represented in the planned committee.
According to him, the current minimum wage is due for a review.
“The minimum wage has a caveat that it should be reviewed every five years.
“By next week, we are going to empanel the minimum wage committee with the NLC and TUC involved.
“The issue of transportation will also be looked into,” the minister said.
Also speaking at the event, the Agriculture Minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said the Federal Government was ready to support youths who were interested in farming.
“The present farmers are getting too old and something drastic has to be done.
“In the next 10 to 15 years, most of the old farmers will no longer be active, so who will feed the country?” he said.