The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige has described President Muhammadu Buhari as the father of modern Nigeria. In an interview conducted by GEOFFREY ANYANWU in Awka, Anambra State, Ngige said with the solid foundation being laid by the President in all sectors, Nigeria would soon boom again. Ngige spoke on the new minimum wage and other national issues.
Before the election, the issue of minimum wage was raging. Was it a political strategy?
There is nothing political about it. This President cares about workers. I care about workers; I have been a worker before, so, we all feel the pains. We all know that the economy; at least, that the minimum wage will move from the present N18,000 to something else. So, that was why we did all the negotiations as should be done. The President put up a committee that advised him, recommended N30,000, even though the recommendation was not by consensus as required by the ILO Conventions and Regulations but the President in his magnanimity listened to the governors who currently are unable to pay the N18,000 now and who made a case and said that they have submitted a bid for N22,500. So, he said that they should come up with good statistics to convince him on why they cannot pay the N30,000. The Senate had on Tuesday also okayed N30, 000 and as they had passed the bill, anytime they go to Mr. President for assent, he will do so. He has given his word on that.
On employment, your party spoke of giving Nigerians work, what do we expect to see in the next four years in this regard?
The employment situation will be much better this time around, because we are continuing with our economic recovery and growth plan which in the main is for us to diversify the economy; that is the main thrust of that plan; diversification of the economy so that the economy does not rely on oil only for us to make money. It has already been done, we are achieving results. Our earnings from taxes, whether it’s customs duty or Internally Generated Revenue, have increased so much that the collection from the FIRS alone is in the region of Trillions. We also have collection from Customs, we have collections from other offices, other royalties, taxes from oil miners, gas explorers and people in the oil-related industries. All those taxes have since been well harnessed and more importantly, we have blocked leakages. The single treasury account has put every fund in public glare, funds that were under the table that can be swept off or stolen without anybody seeing them; they are all now placed on the table by the TSA, all accounts are now TSA account and in the Central Bank and you can now know what this establishment has and if this establishment is paying money, you know to whom they paid it, for what purpose and how much. So, these are the things that are in the ERGP.
Agriculture again is a major source of diversification and today, we are eating what we produce, what we grow here. Rice for example is a major staple here and we have been consuming before now, about five to 10 tonnes a day in terms of importation of rice from outside, China and the rest of them but today, 95 per cent of the rice we eat is produced from Nigeria. Five percent, imported. In fact, people told me that it’s about three percent to two percent now but we are looking forward in this clime to exporting rice so that we can do 100 percent our rice here, do 100 per cent of our beans here, sorghum was already on the world map, we are third best exporter and the other things. So, we need to start earning money from agriculture. We should be, we have the fertile soil. We have the soil, we have the workforce; young workforce unlike the old times. We also have better facilities now in terms of fertilizer, in terms of equipment and so, agriculture should be a major stay. It can become our main stay after oil, followed by solid minerals. There are a lot of solid minerals here that are untapped. We’re going to do them and make no mistake about it, President Buhari is the father of modern Nigeria. He is the one laying all the foundations and these foundations are solid foundations not fragile and all these that he is doing translate to more infrastructure and for as long as you have more money, you can do more infrastructure. So, we are doing more blockages, we are building more infrastructures through the money we are getting and through some loans, cheap money, cheap funds from China in particular to build railways, to do electricity, to do roads. These are the major infrastructure in the land and when you are doing infrastructures, you are creating jobs.
Power is another area that will be tackled, tackled very seriously in the next four years of President Buhari and when he tackles power, he will create a lot of small scale jobs; people who are doing vulcanizing, people who are doing tailoring, people who are doing carpentry, they will all resort to electricity and not the small generating sets where you will be buying fuel and diesel. The national grid power, you will see them, they will multiply their shops, they will put branches and these branches will employ people, many, many people. The big industries – Dunlop, Michelin and all these industries that fled to Ghana, they will come back because why they fled to Ghana was because of power. They will come back and when they come back here, they will utilize our local rubber and more rubber will be grown, more farmers will attend to rubber and all these are employment. So I’m looking forward to that and it will come.
Can you put a figure to how many people you have employed so far and how many are we expecting in this second term?
I can’t give you any figure because they come in various ways like through the Anchor Borrowers loans and these loans are used to improve fertilizer, and it’s been working. There’s a lot of money in farming, a lot. There’s this awareness now that farming is no longer a derogatory job. It’s even a job that makes you to be proud. In the North, they are the people who pay first for hajj before those that are government sponsored. They buy vehicles, they train their children; they send them to schools. Mr. President complained that the only aspect that worries him is that they are marrying more wives in the North. So, you can see that it is a major employment. It’s only in the South; South-South and South East that you see people not taking farming seriously but if you go to Ayamelum area of Anambra State, you’ll see what Coscharis is doing with rice farming. There are so many other big people there too; big rice mills that are there. If you go to Ebonyi, same. Today, Ebonyi rice cannot be compared to any rice in the world. It’s even better than Thai rice. The taste is sweeter, very delicious. So, you can now see that this country is changing and that is the change agenda we said we’re giving. So, after four years, we said that in another four years, we move you to the next level and this next level will be a level of Eldorado, I can assure you. This is the level that we shall attack power and infrastructure frontally, more vigorously than we are doing now; railways, roads, the harbours and water transportation, the airways, electricity and what have you. Once you do all these, you have created jobs. So, we expect more jobs will come. This is apart from the social intervention projects of N-power where we today have at least half a million young graduates who could not get jobs being given temporary appointment for two years on N30,000 per month and Shell improvement programme of conditional cash transfer for the vulnerable; those who cannot do anything anymore; for the weak and poor. AGIP which is another cash loan programme that is in hundreds of thousand for businesses, we intend to intensify all those; fine-tune them. There is the immediate term and then long term. This is the way it is spread.