The one we knew was the petite David who turned the table against the Goliath of infernal godfathers in Anambra. They thought they had his hands tied with a dark oath at the Okija altar. He would be slave on the throne to slimy Chris Uba who had availed him the use of an illicit scaffold to the Awka White House.
But once he grasped the handle of the power scythe in 2003, Chris Ngige proverbially chose to answer his father’s name by working for Anambra people, to the political bankruptcy of Uba and the demystification of the Okija gods. (It is however still debatable if mere renunciation of evil godfathers, affectation of populism in office and generally doing good to the larger Anambra society were enough eucharistic atonement for the referenced idolatry by a suppossed Christian.)
The more reason many are, therefore, confounded today at the pathetic character the once heroic Ngige is morphing into in Abuja, burning his old progressive flag. From speaking condescendingly of fellow physicians to setting the cat among the NSITF pigeons simultaneously, the man from Alor appears to be the new agent provocateur of Abuja.
An unkind word from a brother hurts more than the poisoned arrow of an enemy, according to an African saying. Intoxicated by the office of Labour minister, Ngige chose the language of a cold-blooded slave-master against fellow doctors.
Featuring on a Channels TV programme last week, he sneered that doctors are free to leave Nigeria: “I’m not worried. We’ve surplus. If you’ve surplus, you export. It happened some years ago here. I was taught Chemistry and Biology by Indian teachers in my secondary school days… (W)ho said we don’t have enough doctors? We’ve more than enough.”
Those who go abroad, according to his simplistic argument, end up sending dollars home, thereby boosting the nation’s forex.
What worsened the matter is the minister’s attempt to bamboozle us with sophistry following the backlash that the misspeak generated. He would regale us with a touted insider knowledge as someone who rose to the position of deputy director in the health ministry before joining politics. Then, the ingenious subterfuge: his discovery at the Labour ministry is that existing facilities at the nation’s teaching hospitals cannot accommodate all the doctors seeking residency, leaving a gaping deficit of 80 percent.
So, sophist Ngige would have us believe that those so stranded are the ones he said are suitable for export.
Now, let us subject even this spin to a simple test of logic. From statistics, out of over 72,000 medical doctors registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria as at 2018, almost half have migrated abroad in search of better pay and working environment. What that simply means is that Nigeria today can only boast of less than 40,000 doctors to a population of 200million, a far cry from the standard of one doctor to 600 patients set by the World Health Organizarion. That leaves us with one doctor to 5,000 persons in Nigeria!
Incidentally, on the same day Ngige misspoke arrogantly, The Punch ran the second part of an in-depth nationwide report laying bare the very desperate condition in the nation’s health sector. We read ghostly stories of wards crawling with patients waiting on grossly disproportionate number of doctors. To say nothing about other ghastly tales of the afflicted made to sleep on bare floor!
One patient at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital simply identified as Chinenye captured the miserable circumstances thus: “Since we came here (UPTH), mosquitoes have been biting us. Mosquitoes bite people here both in the day and in the night. I’ve been here for a week, but it’s only during the day that I sleep. I cannot sleep at night because mosquitoes torment us.”
How then can Ngige, in good conscience, be claiming “surplus” of doctors – and by inference an overabundance of medicare – in Nigeria?
Indeed, when the minister trained as doctor in the 70s, things were relatively better run in Nigeria. As a member of the nation’s political leadership in the last sixteen years, he should ordinarily be ashamed that generations after him are left to bear the crushing burden of a broken system.
So, bearing all of this in mind, it is insensitive – if not insensate – of Ngige to speak of doctors’ exodus in the tone he spoke. It is like saying that Nigerian youths who, for lack of opportunities at home and out of sheer human instinct for survival, embark on perilous adventure on the Mediterranean Sea or Sahara Desert are free to continue on the callous premise that the nation is already overpopulated!
It is the same bungling hands of Ngige’s that are currently at play at the NSITF (Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund). Once in the saddle, he apparently found the “juicy” commission saddled with workers’ welfare and benefits too irresistible to let go of ministerial oversight. Despite presidential directive, he has practically stalled the board’s inauguration through all known dirty tactics.
True, the last board looted the place dry. But when an enquiry submitted its report outlining an action plan, Ngige was not in a hurry to allow normalcy return. Apparently to buy time, he floated yet another gambit – a committee to examine the findings and advise him on what to. That afforded him a perfect alibi to delay the swearing in of the board long named in 2017. Until its chairman-designate, Frank Kokori, started a public agitation last year.
Ngige only finally chose to let go last week, barely four weeks to the expected dissolution of the federal executive council. But in one last throw of the dice of impunity, he unilaterally smuggled in his own man from the Labour institute in Ilorin to replace Kokori as chairman, directing the latter to take up the lesser posting in Ilorin instead.
Of course, the small party the minister planned as inauguration in Abuja had to be called off abruptly and indefinitely by aides on the appointed day on sighting the siege of notable Rottweilers in the nation’s labour community to the ministry’s secretariat, obviously scaring the daylight out of the pint-sized minister.
The insistence of the workers that the erstwhile NUPENG leader prevail in NSITF should not be misconstrued. The Nigeria Labour Congress was directly involved in Kokori’s nomination in the first place, believing only someone of his moral stature and experience can better serve the interests of Nigeria’s long-suffering workers and resist attempt by any political interest to convert the place to a feeding trough as had been the tradition.
So, only a reckless player like Ngige would think he could casually override the entire labour community on such a sensitive matter. In fact, the way he has been clinging to NSITF only lends credence to the belief in some quarters that the minister would rather the status quo remained indefinitely, since that helps him arrogate all critical decisions (including contract awards) to himself in the absence of a substantive board.
Therefore, the growing whisper in town is that he would prefer a lackey as chairman in such coveted commission as part of his own “retirement plan” after Buhari’s cabinet.
On a sentimental level, let it be said that someone like Kokori least deserves this sort of shabby treatment from Ngige. Here is a man whose exceptional sacrifice, whose courage under fire as NUPENG leader made all the difference in the June 12 struggle against the despotism of Babangida and Abacha between 1993/1994, making the restoration of democracy inevitable in 1999.
Well, maybe Ngige confuses him with the cartel of counterfeit comrades often seen scavenging the corridors of power in funny costumes.
In case the minister read the wrong version of the nation’s recent history, Kokori cannot – repeat, cannot – be counted among that tribe of renegades and charlatans on the military’s dough, who feverishly chanted Aluta in the day in the 90s only to sneak into the dictator’s lair at night to collect blood money to sell fellow comrades down the river, yet ironically ending up being listed among the heroes of that popular struggle.
In a way, they are like Mugo, the traitor in Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s The Grain of wheat, falsely seen as hero by the same folks he had betrayed to the colonial overlord. The crown people had placed on his head in provincial innocence and illusion would turn a wreath of thorns, tormenting his conscience day and night.
Those Ngige might have mistaken Kokori for are, in private, actually haunted souls today. Like Mugo, they are left to endure life in mortal dread, unsure how long their dark shameful past would remain secret.
So, in case Ngige is desirous of salvaging what is left of his name, let him allow Kokori be. In fact, today.
– Odion is a fellow, Nigerian Guild of Editors