It is unfathomable how politics could twist the minds of men, particularly men we all associate with the capacity to methodically analyse national and international issues with scientific precision. Labour and Productivity Minister, Chris Ngige, was all over the news last week, not so much because of his distinguished achievements since his appointment as a minister in the Muhammadu Buhari administration but because of the weird, asinine and inaccurate criticisms he directed against his own people.
Ngige said Igbo leaders had no right to complain about marginalisation of their people by the Buhari government because they failed to mobilise their people to vote for the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Buhari during the 2015 presidential election. He said when he approached Igbo leaders for their cooperation and to support Buhari’s presidential campaign, the leaders snubbed him because they were more committed to retaining President Goodluck Jonathan’s government.
The Sun of Thursday, 25 May 2017, reported that Ngige made the following strange critical comments against his people. Ngige said: “I went to our Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo in Enugu twice. They could not even reply to a letter written by Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, seeking for a meeting with them.” He also narrated how he organised in 2014 a meeting of Igbo leaders in Lagos where he said he evaluated voting trends in the country and told his audience that all they needed to do was to allocate 25 per cent of the Igbo vote to Buhari, regardless of whether they supported him or not.”
Let me address the first flaw in Ngige’s unsolicited mission. Igbo leaders do not hold a monopoly of all ballot papers in the South-east. Votes are cast on individual basis. Igbo voters are not cattle that anyone can drag in one direction and they march along. The idea that he should approach Igbo leaders or that he pleaded with Igbo leaders to allocate 25 per cent of the people’s vote to Buhari showed how simplistic Ngige understood the voting pattern in his own region of the country.
Ngige whinged further: “They refused to listen to me and, to make matters worse, there was no voting in most of the areas in the South-east; they just allocated five per cent to APC. It was that bad, it is too late to cry when the head is off. Politics is business in a way, you invest in business and you reap profit. Yes, that is what it is. But all I want to tell you is that we played bad politics; we made a bad investment because they invested in the Jonathan presidency. They invested in Jonathan more than the South-south, where he hails from. I am not saying that is enough to marginalise them or not allow them come in but we are there. I will continue to speak for them and when there is anything to be distributed, we will make sure that the South-east gets its own portion. But they will not get excess portion.”
Ngige’s business analogy is unsound and appalling. In a true democracy, people do not vote in elections because of what they hope to derive. People vote because they want to elect hardworking and honest politicians, who would make good policies that would improve ordinary people’s socioeconomic conditions. They want that genre of politicians to tackle problems, such as poverty, homelessness, poor health facilities, bad roads, poor quality of education at all levels, and poor infrastructure.
In other societies where representative democracy is in operation, governments are elected to solve problems and to serve the people. It is, perhaps, only in Nigeria that someone as enlightened as Ngige would liken voting during elections to business investment. What a sad, pitiable, and narrow understanding of the purpose of democracy, the essence of free and fair elections, and people’s right to choose their leaders. Coming from a well-informed former governor of Anambra State, you can see that we are truly in trouble in Nigeria.
My main concern really is the threat embedded in Ngige’s angry remarks. It is a mark of ultimate betrayal of the Igbo by an Igbo man and a federal minister when Ngige argued rather pathetically that, because the South-east did not vote massively for Buhari and the APC, the South-east should expect to be disregarded by the Buhari government and to continue to receive a trickle of resources from the Federal Government. There is no question that Ngige has justified the measly and derisory resources and attention the South-east has so far received from the Buhari administration. This is politics of vengeance by another name.
Let me make this point clear so Ngige can understand the meaning of democracy. In a democracy, every eligible voter has the right and freedom to decide whom to vote for and whom not to support. That is one of the strong points of democracy. Unlike a dictatorship in which people are herded to see things through a tunnel vision because of fear of sanctions, a democracy guarantees citizens their fundamental rights and freedom to choose their leaders. It is not a capital offence, therefore, for people to cast their vote for or against a particular political party.
Freedom of speech and expression, including the right to vote for political leaders, is the hallmark of democracy. This right is enshrined in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression – and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any medium and regardless of frontiers.” If Ngige is not aware or has not read this article, someone should, please, draw his attention to this important instrument of human rights.
While Ngige continues to preach his politics of vengeance, I should remind him of Buhari’s commitment in his acceptance speech of 1 April 2015, following his election victory. In that address, Buhari elevated the nation’s hopes when he said: “I shall work for those who voted for me as well as those who voted against me and even for those who did not vote at all. We all live under one name as one nation: We are all Nigerians… We will govern for you and in your interests.” More tellingly, Buhari said further: “There shall be no bias against or favouritism for any Nigerian based on ethnicity, religion, region, gender or social status.”
In the same speech, Buhari assured all Nigerians, saying: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody… We shall correct that, which does not work and improve that which does. We shall not stop, stand or idle. We shall, if necessary crawl, walk and run to do the job you have elected us to do.”
Ngige, the chief defender of the APC, should tell us the extent to which Buhari and his government have upheld these assurances.
Since 1999 and earlier, every president and every military dictator, who governed this country had proclaimed themselves as the saviour or liberator, who was anointed to lead Nigeria from a period of darkness marked by economic recklessness and profligacy to a period of hard-headed economic management. Those promises didn’t last. The leaders’ poor understanding of governance and unimpressive track record in office were exposed as a sham. In the end, they bequeathed on the nation awful legacies the nation is still kicking to overcome years after.
Nigeria is blessed with enormous human and material resources. However, Nigeria is also a tragicomedy, a dramatic composition featuring highly educated citizens, men and women of industry as well as a mix of fake and genuine pastors all of whom are beholden to the privileged class of self-styled leaders, who have contributed through their greed and ostentatious lifestyle to the deprivations that ordinary citizens suffer in the country.
Just so that Ngige would know, the citizens are not so naïve and careless that they cannot see through the empty promises, the dishonesty and the deception by ministers and other government officials. Buhari’s government is two years old this week but the enthusiasm, positive attitude and goodwill that people showered on the president soon after his election have evaporated. So, when Ngige talks about the phenomenal achievements of the government, he should look for those gullible believers, who would willingly consume his codswallop.
It is quite extraordinary that, two years after the election, the government is still settling scores with people in the South-east, who did not vote for Buhari and the APC. Why must people in a particular geographic zone of the country be punished because of the choice they made during the election? When people voted across the country in 2015, they believed they were making a free choice in supporting political candidates and their parties.
It would have been abnormal for people in all regions of the country to vote for one political party. It is only in a totalitarian state that people are hounded and threatened with sanctions if they voted against the ruling party. The last time I checked, Nigeria was not classified as a dictatorship. The Buhari government has an obligation to accord all citizens their rights, freedoms, entitlements and privileges.
Regardless of Ngige’s disappointment with the way people voted in the last election, the government cannot treat people in the South-east as renegades because the constitution guarantees citizens the right to vote according to their conscience. History has taught people a lot of lessons about the treacherous nature of Nigerian politicians. Over the years, people in the South-east were approached by proselytes, who wanted them to cast their votes for the party that would secure the interests of politicians rather than the interests of the people.
Igbo have nothing to regret about the choices they made in the 2015 election. If Ngige is not happy with that choice, he must learn to deal with it.