By Frank Ikpefan, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has been fair to the Southeast, especially in the areas of appointments and infrastructure, Labour and Employment Minister Chris Ngige has said.
Ngige also described Buhari as a friend of the Igbo, absolving him of any blame in the violence in the Southeast.
Rather, he blamed the killings and destructions of properties in the zone on Igbo elite whom he accused of using propaganda against the Buhari administration.
The minister spoke during an emergency stakeholders’ meeting of the Association of Eze Ndigbo in the 19 Northern states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Abuja at the weekend.
The meeting was summoned by the association to discuss the killings and destruction of properties in the Southeast as well as the safety of Igbos across the nation.
Ngige, in a statement by his media office, wondered why the Igbo are complaining of being sidelined in appointive positions when indeed, they had previously produced persons that were appointed Chief of Army Staff, Senate Presidents and Inspectors-General of Police.
He added that in the current administration, the Southeast even has more than its due share in the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
The statement reads: ”There is no maltreatment there (Southeast). We are in FEC, which is composed of a minister per state. But we have one extra ministerial slot. So, the Southeast is effectively represented to ensure justice is done to our people. We are there to talk when there is no justice.
“People can say that we are not honoured with appointments of Inspector-General of Police, Chief of Army Staff and Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF). These are positions we have enjoyed before. We had two Inspectors General of Police – Ogbonnaya Onovo and Mike Okiro. We had an SGF(Secretary to the Government of the Federation)- Senator Pius Anyim.
“We had four Senate Presidents. Twice we produced Deputy Senate President and Deputy Speaker, Ike Ekweremadu and Emeka Ihedioha. They were in charge of federal budgets for eight years from 2007 to 2015. That is the rule in the National Assembly.
“So, if you now talk about appointments, it becomes a matter of perception. I won’t blame them. Perception and reality are in the same line. A lot of them don’t understand how government works. A lot of them don’t understand that I, as a member of FEC, can influence things that will come to my state, my zone or any other area and where we think things should be sited or done in Nigeria. For me, those people perceiving that are ignorant. I don’t want to use the word mischievous.
“But much more important, propaganda against the government by the elite in the Southeast should stop because it is that propaganda that provokes the troubles that we are now noticing. People have been brainwashed and the separatists jumped on that foundation to now shout from the rooftops that we will give you Biafra and when we give you Biafra, all these things will disappear.
“There is no country that does not have its own problems. We have economic problems here and that is why we have unemployment and of course, we have a youth bulge in our population. About 60 per cent of them are youths and a lot of them are unemployed. So, the government is devising ways to tackle that. It is a work in progress.”
The minister recalled that the Buhari government had paid off all the gratuity and pensions of all the police pensioners in the Southeast that were neglected since after the war, which no government did before.
He said the government also assisted the 36 governors with bailout funds to pay the shortfall in salaries in their respective states and went further to give them budget support to help them to execute budgetary projects and programmes..
According to him, Southeast governors received the supports even though at the time, the zone was in firm control of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
He added: “Infrastructure wise if you go to the Southeast – from Enugu – Okigwe and Umuahia-Aba-Port Harcourt Expressway- three companies, the Chinese Company, the Arab Contractors and RCC are there. Some of them have completed their work.
“ A journey that normally takes us five hours from Enugu to Aba is now about 75 minutes. When the Port Harcourt section is finished, a journey from Enugu to Port Harcourt will take only two hours.
“Coming to Enugu-Awka- Onitsha, two sections have been completed. RCC is working at the stretch from Awka to Onitsha now. The stretch from Ninth Mile to Oji River has been completed. We are now at the third Section which is being done by Niger-Cat from Amansea to Oji River. The Old Road from Ninth Mile to Awka has also been done by Arab contractors. If you go there now, you will see it is fully completed with drains on both sides.”
Ngige added that the Owerri-Aba and Owerri-Umuahia roads are ongoing, just like the international highway from Enugu to Abakiliki to Cameroun where the stretch from Enugu to Abakiliki is completed while the stretch from Abakiliki to Cameroun is ongoing.
”Enugu Airport used to be the worst airport in Nigeria. We had three Aviation ministers- Fidelia Njeze, Stella Oduah and Osita Chidoka- and they did nothing there. Buhari put N10 billion in Enugu Airport. He does not hate Ndigbo.
”Then, the Second Niger Bridge is the biggest of them all. President Buhari took it up from a Private Public Partnership (PPP) Project by which tolls were to be collected. By which foreign loan companies’ financiers were relieved of doing what they wanted to do to stay there forever and ever and it is now a legacy project out of the five that is being done in the whole country.
”The five legacy projects are Lagos-Ibadan Highway, Mambilla Project, East-West Road, Abuja-Kaduna-Kano and Second Niger Bridge. The Second Niger Bridge is gulping one of the biggest amounts of money and it has undergone 55 percent completion. Julius Berger said they will deliver in the middle of 2022 and we have no reason to doubt them.”
He explained that the current administration has not earned enough revenue owing to crash in the price of oil and production level since it came to power, adding that “we are only getting about 50 percent of what the previous government got in terms of internally generated revenue.”
Earlier, President of the Ndieze Igbo Boniface Ibekwe and Eze Ndigbo, Niger State, Pampas Nwahiwe condemned the violence in the Southeast, saying it was capable of endangering the lives of Igbos living in other parts of Nigeria.