By Chijioke Uwasomba
The showy, uppity and imperious Christopher Nwabueze Nigige with a chip on his shoulder is always in the news for the wrong reasons. He thrives on cheap controversies with his often display of pig-headedness and rambunctiousness even when it pays to be gentle, sincere, mature, agreeable, accommodating and responsible. He touts himself as a Conciliator in the current impasse between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) but he has become a cog in the wheel as he has mobilised all forces at this disposal to truncate all the genuine efforts made by the union and even by other concerned Nigerians to resolve the issues in dispute.
It should be recalled that after many struggles by ASUU, an agreement was reached with the Federal Government in 2009, in line with the principles established in 1992 between the then Military government and the union. One of the core principles of the 1992 agreement reached with the Military dictatorship of Ibrahim Babangida, was to the effect that the agreement with the union would be reviewed every three years. When the agreement was due for renegotiation in 1995, it was scoffed at by the thieving and brutal Abacha and his minions and it took a lot of efforts including strikes to get the government to the negotiating table in 1996. The 2009 agreement which has become the subject of the current strike ought to have been in place in 1999 but due to the governance system in Nigeria, this was not possible until the government was forced to negotiate with the power of strikes.
The ding-dong continued between the union and the government until 2017, when the Buhari government was compelled to set up the Babalakin Negotiating Committee which unfortunately dragged on until Babalakin was swept away with ignominy in the heat of the unnecessary crisis that he generated against himself as the Chairman and Pro-Chancellor of University of Lagos Governing Council, in 2020.
With the exit of Wale Babalakin from the negotiation coupled with the pressure of the union during the advent of Covid-19 that engulfed the world scene, the government reluctantly empaneled another team led by the respected and redoubtable Linguistics Professor, Muzali Jubril. The Committee, after many grueling months hammered out an agreement which was submitted to the government for signing in May 2021 and this was sadly not attended to until ASUU made good its threat to go on strike again as a hard way of compelling government to be responsible.
Like everything Nigerian, it was not surprising that nine months after the submission of the duly agreed document between the government and ASUU that the former would throw the agreement to the trash can, deciding to set up Professor Nimi Briggs’ Committee to re-negotiate with the union. Again, against all odds, the Briggs’ Committee concluded its assignment within the three-month period allotted it and prepared an agreement to be signed by both parties but curiously, Chris Ngige who had earlier resigned as the Labour and Employment Minister to pursue his Presidential ambition is back on the scene to throw spanners at the work that took patriotic and public-intended Nigerians many tiresome days and nights to put together.
It is meet to note that the 2009 ASUU/FGN Agreement which was due for renegotiation a long time ago is being talked about in 2022 (thirteen years after the agreement was signed by both parties). The 2009 agreement was half-heartedly implemented as many aspects of it have not been respected due to the care-free attitude of the government on matters relating to education. If the government had been sincere, the 2009 agreement would have been re-negotiated in 2012; 2015; 2018 and 2021. Public primary and secondary education was abandoned by successive Nigerian governments to pave way for the mushrooming of private schools in every nook and cranny of the country. The same policy gambit thrown at the public primary and secondary schools is being extended to the universities and other tertiary institutions. Even with the total shut down of the public universities and many other institutions of higher learning, the government of the day is establishing more higher institutions and specialised universities which are avenues for political patronage to party panjandrums. These new institutions like the existing ones would be starved of funds and post-haste join the league of weeping academies at the states and federal levels.
The state of the country with all the baggage of problems at its disposal requires thinking men and women with robust ideas on how to redirect the ship of state on a sound trajectory for progress on a sustainable basis. But the reverse is the case as little minds with flatulent egos have hijacked governmental powers in the service of their ego and other sinister purposes. Some of these characters who ought to have been cooling off their heads and feet in correctional centres are at the zenith of political power running down our country at the expense of development and civic values. Had the country been invested with good leaders, the state of anomie that has hobbled the country at all areas of life would not have been possible including the current crisis in the university system for almost six months.
Chris Ngige was throwing mischievous tantrums each time he had a public show at the union of academics, asking them to channel their grievances to the Minister of Education in whose remit, according to him, falls the resolution of the issues in contention. But unknown to Nigerians, Ngige was not as altruistic as he pretended to be. His ego would not allow him to be sympathetic to the cause of the lecturers and characteristically true to type, he was secretly and openly undermining all efforts to resolve the logjam. A peep into Ngige’s public life will reveal who and what he is made of. This is not a new trait but the general make-up of the pint-sized man who is holding sway in the Ministry of Labour and holding Nigerians to ransom.
Ngige had finished his medical education in 1979/80 and chose to work in the Federal Ministry of Health after his National Youth Service, rising to the position of a Director before his retirement seventeen years later. Some say while he was in the Ministry, he was spying on the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA). He joined the Uba brothers, ably led by the youngest, Chris Uba who rigged him into the Anambra State House in 2003 after he had gone to the infamous Okija Shrine to swear to respect the secret oath he had had with his confederates on how to share the resources of the Anambra people. His failure to respect this insidious agreement led to his imprisonment in a toilet and being forced to resign as the Governor of the state. He was saved by fortune before he was removed from office for electoral heist by the courts. The details of what happened were dirty and feasted on by the Nigerian media including the position of President Olusegun Obasanjo that Ngige and his criminal enablers were involved in the stealing of the people’s votes.
Since politics in Nigeria is meant for loafers-turned money bags and their political god-sons and daughters, Ngige has remained in politics switching from one party to the other looking for and enjoying what politics offers. Nigerian politics and its practitioners are sold to the god of Mammon whose essence has nothing to do with public service and the improvement of the quality of the lives of the people but a platform for filthy lucre and all other shenanigans that reduce the humanity of the people. Realising that his counterpart in the Ministry of Education. Malam Adamu Adamu has been distant, cold, unimaginative and lackluster, and that the Minister of State for Education, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba before he resigned was simply clueless, and instinctively vacuous, he devised all the tricks and stratagems to call the shots in the Ministry of Labour and Employment and in the negotiations thereby holding Nigerians to ransom as the strike in the Universities continues to bite without let or hindrance.
As bemused Nigerians were stiff worried about the fate of the university system, Ngige was busy plotting on how he would become the President of Nigeria and when he failed abysmally in his bid, he swallowed his vomit and went back to his Ministerial post to commit more faux pas at the expense of the parents and students in particular and the nation at large. Whether he and his associates agree or not about the ultimatum of two weeks given to the Minister of Education to resolve the current crisis, the basic fact is that he has lost out because his interventions have been less than noble as he has become part of the problem rather than providing the needed solution. A decent fellow in Ngige’s shoes would have called it quits but for him everything is politics and power.
As my former teacher and supervisor whose name I do not want to mention for obvious reasons has recently written, Chris Ngige “belongs to the shrine and has nothing valuable and decent to offer humanity” especially Nigeria that requires at this crucial moment, men and women of honour and foresightedness to leapfrog it from its backwardness unfortunately created by midgets like him to a society worthy of its name in every material particular. History will surely be harsh on Ngige and his ilk in the fullness of time!
Dr. Uwasomba teaches at the Department of English, OAU, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.