The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige, is wondering why we’re not clapping for the government of President Muhammadu Buhari first thing every morning and, perhaps, last thing at night before going to bed.
In case we have forgotten, Ngige reminded us, we were sinking in the mire of falling oil prices and had almost been brought to our knees by deadly Boko Haram attacks before salvation came.
“I want you to take something away,” he said, “and that thing is that any other person handling the situation – economy and security – it would have been worse.
“We came in and oil nosedived to $37 a barrel with a production of 600,000 per day, a drop from 2.2million bpd, and yet we managed the economy out of recession.”
Ngige refused to listen to suggestions that the economy was still not doing well, and that security remained a major issue, insisting that the government had done “wonderfully well.”
The man has a job to do and he won’t even let facts get in the way of his assignment. In the three-way contest involving him, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo, and former Abia Governor, Orji Kalu Orji, for the control of the leadership of the All Progressives Congress in the South East, common sense is obviously the first casualty.
I’m tired of Ngige and co telling us how we have to make an altar of thanksgiving for Buhari, without whom we might now have been paying for the air we breathe. They can praise Buhari till Sunday morning, but it’s important to understand that Buhari did not do Nigeria a favour by running for the Presidency.
There were two main candidates on the ballot – Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party and Buhari of the APC. Jonathan’s PDP had not only run the country badly for the most part of 16 years, it seemed that was the only way they knew how.
Buhari was elected because it was widely believed that the man – and his party – had the capacity to deliver the change in vision and direction that the country badly needed. At the time, he was the better of the two main candidates and I would say that 20 times over, if it was down to him and Jonathan.
That we got Buhari a wife three years ago, does not however, mean that we have accepted to perform his conjugal duties. He has to do his job – which he’s definitely not doing, or worse, cannot do. And we’re not obliged to continue clapping for him even when it is clear that he’s headed down a wrong path.
If managing low oil price was all we needed in a president, we would have voted General Sani Abacha, even in his grave. Oil price was $15.5 per barrel when Abacha seized power and didn’t go beyond $20 before he died; yet he set up the Petroleum Trust Fund and invested heavily in infrastructure, especially housing.
In fact, at the time of his death in 1998, oil price had dropped to $12 per barrel, yet Abacha grew the foreign reserve from $1.6billion in November 1993 to $7.7billion in June 1998.
Ngige thinks Buhari deserves continuous clap offering not only because he came in when oil price was low, but also because, according to him, “production had dropped to 600,000 barrels per day.” That is wrong.
The subject of just how much crude oil Nigeria produces is a matter for another day, especially since the country neither has its own metering system nor dependable records of Production Sharing Contracts.
For the umpteenth time, Femi Falana (SAN) recently highlighted how the country loses billions of dollars to discrepancies in records between what is claimed at the port of departure and the records at destination, estimated at over $60billion between 2005 and 2010 at the Philadelphia US port alone.
But even in its present shambolic form, Ngige’s estimate of the output is nothing near the figure given by the junior minister in the Petroleum Ministry, Ibe Kachikwu, who said in May 2016, that, “crude oil output had dropped from 2.2mpd to 1.4m bpd within one year.” Official production figure in May 2015 when Buhari came to office was 1.4m bpd.
So, where did Ngige get his 600,000bpd from?
As for security, we don’t need him to tell us that the deadly attacks by Boko Haram have abated – or that Buhari has recovered parts of the country where the flag of the deadly sect was once flown.
But Ngige does not need to stand on a bench to see that Boko Haram, though retarded, has been replaced by other deadly franchises of violence and insecurity that have claimed thousands of lives this year alone and on Buhari’s watch. What difference does it make to the thousands of bereaved families, whether victims were killed by armed robbers, herdsmen, bandits, kidnappers – or Boko Haram?
As for the wizardry of bringing us out of recession – partly hastened and compounded by the government’s poor preparation in the first place – Ngige should save his accolade.
It may be hard for Ngige to see from the gravy train, but things aren’t looking up on the other side of town. He should ask medical doctors like himself, who have not been so lucky.
According to the Chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association, Lagos State chapter, Olumuyiwa Odusote, more than 40,000 of the 75,000 registered Nigerian doctors are practising abroad, “while 70 per cent of them are thinking of taking jobs outside.”
They’re not clapping; they’re voting with their feet.
As for the rice and sorghum wonders that Ngige also listed as reasons why we should be clapping non-stop for Buhari, I’ll join one hand with his to clap, because Nigeria actually displaced India, moving up from third to second place in sorghum production in the last two years.
And rice? Since the Thai ambassador refuted the claim of Nigeria’s agriculture minister, Audu Ogbeh, that Thai’s rice mills have collapsed as a result of massive local production in Nigeria, Ogbeh has been quiet. By the time you remove the chaff of politics and weevils of smuggling from the grain that is actually produced in the country, the picture may not be as rosy it sounds.
And just in case Ngige was on extended summer holiday in Okija shrine, the cost of any kind of fuel needed to prepare the rice and basic ingredients for sauce or soup, has gone up so dramatically that rice is actually delicacy. More and more Nigerian homes have slipped into poverty, their disposable income diminished by inflation.
As Ngige may have noticed in Ekiti, where he could not distinguish between Fayemi and Fayose, it’s a measure of the sign of the times that voters accept between N2,000 and N4,000 to “sell” their votes, in the electoral invention called, “see and buy.” They want to clap; but apparently, not on empty stomachs.
But all hope is not lost. If applause is the ultimate symbol of approval, Ngige can at least do some housekeeping by speaking up for 860 Nigerian workers in ExxonMobil, the so-called “SPY Police”, whose rights have been brazenly trampled upon in spite of the ruling of the Supreme Court in their favour.
The last word on this matter was that Ngige was helping ExxonMobil throw the workers under the bus, to silence them forever.
Just talking straight and insisting that the parties do what is right by the law might earn him some applause, which could rebound to his master in Aso Rock.
– Azu Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network