Why Buhari couldn’t create 3m jobs promised Nigerians –Ngige

Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, in this interview speaks on two years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration; interventions in the labour and employment sector, new national minimum wage and government’s future plans.

How would you assess the Muhammadu Buhari administration two years after; especially in area of job creation?

In the APC manifesto, with which we asked Nigerians to give us votes, we said we are going to do three things; first that we shall fight insurgency, bring terrorism to an end in Nigeria and make for security of lives and property which is the major thing any government owes her people as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution, Section 14:3, that is the cardinal objective of any government.

So when you talk about our manifesto, we have done well in the area of security; Boko Haram is lifeless, it has been decapitated and you can take it that we have triumphed over them, they no longer hold any Nigerian territory, they held 14 local governments in Borno before we came, they held six in Adamawa, they held three in Yobe State and flew their flags there, today all that is history.

We have recovered 50 percent of the Chibok girls so to say and we will recover more because Boko Haram now know that they are no longer a fighting force, so they are now at round table to negotiate and this is part of the negotiations that are going on. When an army wants to surrender, they go to negotiation, they go to the table.

We also have militants in the Niger Delta, we have taken that on through dialogue, through carrot and stick and you can see that normalcy is coming back. There were some misconceptions that the government of APC that came was an Islamic government, the government of the north, they threw away Niger Delta’s son and replaced him; those are misconceptions, a government must come from a zone in the country. President Muhammadu Buhari came from the North West zone and became president, so on security, you can give us pass mark.

The same for internal security; the Nigeria Police and Department of State Services have done well. It is no longer business as usual, when you had even collusion in high places, we had to fight corruption in our party manifesto and today corruption as a cankerworm knows that it has been fought, it is fighting back as they say, but I can tell you that the public service in Nigeria today is more alive to its responsibilities, it has been sanitized, people are now afraid to take money anyhow, looting is limited; it is not a spree as before and the loots are being recovered and being put into national budget for appropriation.

Why I have to go through this before I answer your question is because all these things are a gamut that are intertwined and interlinked with one another, because if you have corruption, you cannot have resources to create jobs. Job creation to be specific is a multi-faceted; multi-sectoral affair involving all strata of the economic chain of the country; we have the public sector and the private sector. The public sector is the government, ministries, departments and agencies; in the organized private sector, we have chambers of commerce and their commercial activities, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and their industries, we also have National Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, these are the people who create jobs and they create 80 per cent of jobs in any economy. Nigerian economy is not different but because of where we found ourselves, the public sector in Nigeria is creating about 40 percent of the job needs of the country.

We had an instantaneous oil price drop when we came in, and as the prices were dropping, because of militancy, Nigeria couldn’t maintain oil facilities, there were vandalism of oil exports terminals and oil pipelines. So, Nigeria could not even meet its OPEC output of 2.2 million barrels per day, at one point we were doing only 1.2million barrels per day last year, it was that bad, around August to October last year, in fact starting from June we didn’t do more than 1.4 million barrels at an oil price of 35 dollars per barrel. There was no money to create enabling environment for jobs to be created by the private sector. What is the enabling environment that we need here, we need power, electricity.

After electricity, you will need infrastructural roads and railways, you need some transport for people to move goods from one end to another for Agriculture products to come out, and so with the drop in revenue, we have to fight for our lives, we fought for the economic life of the Nigerian people, what do we do, we now said diversify into agriculture and mining. Jobs were created from mining, jobs were created from agriculture because those farmers you see have created jobs for themselves, they created jobs for some of their children who cannot get jobs, they have created jobs for their daughters and wives and so they became the blue collar job people.

Why blue collar and not white collar jobs?

Everybody thinks that creating jobs is in the white collar job industry so that people can sit in air conditioned offices, people would ride in cars; no it is not all jobs that entail that. There is what we call the blue collar jobs which agriculture and mining provide, there is also blue collar job which people get by training, it require skills as electricians, plumbers, tillers, POP layers, carpenters, tailors, hairdressing salon persons, bakery, they are all blue collar jobs, so government decided that these are the areas that we have to encourage people.

In that wise, government also decided that because we have found ourselves in this downturn in economy, we are not able to create immediate 3million jobs that we promised Nigerian people, we also need to intervene directly and create jobs and that gave rise to the N-power programme by which we decided that 500,000 youths from the streets, from the army of the unemployed, should be engaged.

Since the first phase of the programme, we have been able to do only 250,000, scattered all over the states of the federation, people applied, they were selected, they did not have to know anybody, in fact they do to need to know anybody; they have since started job, they are receiving 30,000 naira a month and 5000 for equipment because we are giving them equipment, computers, tablets with which they were trained and with which they can work and they have been deployed to schools in the states so that they can go and teach.

What about mass sack especially in the oil and banking sectors?

Government actually decided that since we could not create the initial 3million jobs we targeted, let us hold on to the jobs that people have especially in the private sector, that was where this ministry came in and we did certain things that by law, we were empowered to do.

First, we held an oil summit because the oil sector was having issues and the oil companies were no longer prospecting, you can’t prospect in an atmosphere of insecurity, you can’t prospect where if you have a product you cannot export, you can’t prospect in areas where your pipelines are being damaged, so the oil people decided to do mass sack of Nigerians. Government said that we cannot afford that now so we did an oil summit and agreed that the oil companies should go to the top and remove some fats; from the Managing Directors, executive directors, general managers, all those who enjoy very fat perks of office so that we can keep the lower jobs and the middle level jobs. We were successful because the lower people also agreed to the conditional Collective Bargain Agreement (CBA) that we negotiated that they will not also ask for promotions, so promotion was frozen. They will not also ask for frivolous allowances; by so doing, government was able to keep jobs in the oil industry, the very few places that redundancy had to take place, it took place according to the law. The law in section 20 of Labour Act says that before you remove a worker, you will discuss with him or his union and tell them why you have to remove some people because the jobs are not enough. You must also show them the balance sheet of your company, the books; you must also agree to the principle of ‘last to come, first to go’, so it becomes almost impossible to remove people at random and at will.

We also went into banking sector; the banks also said because most of their credits were given to oil and gas people, these credits are now bad credits and therefore they had to remove workers. Government intervened again and said go and read your redundancy law, it doesn’t allow you to do what you are doing, because you must show these people the books and most books of the banks did not show them to be unhealthy. They were healthy and declaring billions of naira profits, so you cannot declare billion of naira profit and you start removing people at will. We had to do a fight and went to National Assembly and Senate Committee on Banking supported my position and that halted the surge by the banks to remove people at will.

We had the same issue in the power sector, with the new owners of the companies; so we have been able to maintain industrial harmony through our vigorous insistence that the legislation on labour redundancy should be followed to the letter and by fashioning regulations that would make for better collective bargaining agreements between the workers and their employers

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