The Travails Of Ngozi Okonjo Iweala By Ndukaku Obiekwe
By Ndukaku Obiekwe
My sister Ngozi Okonjo Iweala came into the Obasanjo Government like a comet, blazing and fiery with knowledge and experience and integrity which is most unusual for political appointees in Nigeria.
She came across as a no-nonsense and professional lady who knows her onions. And she did make some “sacrifice” by leaving her “civil service” job at the World Bank to manage our economy. But I must tell her that no Nigerian or well-informed foreigner believes anyone makes a sacrifice by leaving a seemingly lack lustre World Bank job to be a Government minister in Nigeria. The available loot (mostly due to very weak & loose controls and no punishment for stealing) and lucre of a Nigerian Minister’s office is just too much!
In a nutshell, I was impressed by this daughter of Nigeria who has seen it all but is still proud to wear simple Ankara material and simple jewelry as a serving minister – a huge relief from the regular sight of “corruption induced” fashion associated with some of our first ladies and female political appointees.
The peak of my admiration came when she claimed credit for securing the debt relief exploiting her connections at the World Bank. And thereafter came the rancour between her and the Obasanjo Presidency. I guess her influence, intelligence was beginning to get on the Obasanjo Government. She became an “intellectual snob” (apologies to Pius Adesanmi & co.) and stepped on a few toes in her quest to maintain proper accounting of Government expenditure. In league with Oby Ezekwesili (Madame due Process), she became a blocker for the “normal” Nigerian way of spending Nigerian money. It came as no surprise when Obasanjo quietly moved her away from the Finance Ministry to the Foreign Affairs ministry which is very remote from the former position where she can monitor and regulate what happens to Nigeria’s monies. Expectedly, she got the message and resigned months later…or so we were told.
Nigerians missed her when she left office but I must admit the first chink in her armour of integrity came about when news broke that some unknown “facilitator” agency collected hundreds of millions of dollars for facilitating the debt relief. The news raised eyebrows and Obasanjo’s Government struggled to explain what happened. The House of Assembly took it up but till today nothing has been heard of it. In true Nigerian fashion, hundreds of millions of dollars has gone away largely unexplained and unaccounted for. That was when I began taking a second look at my sister Ngozi. What exactly did she know about the agency fees and its beneficiaries which are still shrouded in secrecy? As usual, our ever unpredictable and compliant Nigerian press/journalists let go the story. It has since died a natural death. And the National Assembly enquires? Your guess is as good as mine.
She did resign and that resignation did some good in wiping off the blemish on her armour of integrity. Nigerian political appointees hardly resign. Ask Abba Moro, Stella Oduah, etc. They simply hang on to the ledge until some magic happens either to pull them up or push them down. What happens really depends on many factors ranging from a frustrated public outcry and positive reviews of bribed journalists to visits by political godfathers/relevant community leaders to Aso Rock. The available loot and lucre of a Nigerian Minister’s office is just too much!
On her second missionary journey – when she was invited to serve by Jonathan Presidency – I recall feeling that Jonathan has made his best move yet. Yes, my sister Ngozi is back to put some sanity into the financial situation of Nigeria especially after the stock market crash and Sanusi’s style of regulating the banks which at times looks like being a bull in a china shop.
But events that rolled out ever since has shown a different Ngozi. Ngozi is now more of a typical Nigerian political appointee than a professional economist. No doubt she has learned the ropes of being a “successful” Nigerian political appointee from her first missionary journey in Obasanjo’s Government. Her lessons learned seems to be:
1) If you can’t beat them, join them. Never rock the boat.
2) As much as possible, avoid stepping on toes.
And therein lies her current travails. My sister Ngozi who railed and screamed when she suspected a fellow Government political appointee of stealing millions of Naira during Obasanjo’s regime is now silent and even dodgy when 20 billion dollars is announced missing by the CBN Governor. She has turned into an “intellectual non-snob”. Forced into a finance reconciliation meeting by pressures due to Sanusi’s stinging revelations, public outcry, Obasanjo’s open letter and National Assembly open hearing, she had no choice but to announce that 10.8 billion dollars is still unaccounted for and suggested an independent audit of NNPC’s accounts. In other words, my sister Ngozi has inadvertently admitted that the office she heads lacks the credibility required by the Nigerian people to look into the finances of Government and needs to have a face-saving measure. The question arises, at which point did Ngozi lose the trust of Nigerian citizens? At which point did she realise that her new principles and the bad company she keeps in Government has maligned her so much that she now needs a referee audit firm to do her job and save her face?
One nagging question is how come Ngozi did not investigate or speak out about the state of the Nation’s finances when the national income was dwindling (even after Sanusi’s signals before his letter to Jonathan was leaked)? Having access to critical economic data, how come she did not know there were discrepancies in the volume of crude oil sold and the money paid by NNPC? Is it due to incompetence, ignorance or is she tainted? I recall State Governors like Rotimi Amaechi claiming the Nigerian Federal Government is broke and Ngozi will counter by saying that all is well…the economy is fine…the national income is intact. If she made an “innocent” blunder by attempting to cover up the unremmitance of billions of dollars by NNPC to the National treasury coming on the heels of her support to remove fuel subsidy, then this is one blunder too many!
I think the start of her travails became apparent with the role she played in supporting the Government to remove fuel subsidy. I remember seeing her campaigning on TV to impose more hardship on Nigerians while a few members of a cabal (some with links to the ruling party) were milking the National treasury – she was supposed to supervise – fraudulently through bogus petroleum subsidy claims. When the high level corruption was uncovered and the Government-given reasons for removing subsidy unravelled, I looked forward to a simple apology for misleading Nigerians but Ngozi came out crying on TV that she is being blamed for spearheading the removal of subsidy whereas she came into Government after the decision has been taken and had no choice but to join the bandwagon. Ngozi missed the point. She failed to realise that Nigerians respected her integrity and expected so much from her in comparison to her fellow cabinet members. Nigerians were so disappointed that she was actually canvassing for more suffering for Nigerians despite all the counter arguments from knowledgeable persons like Tam David West that the reasons by the Government in support of subsidy removal is a mirage. No, her new principle of “if you can’t beat them, join them” held sway and she went against the Nigerian citizens. And the ongoing revelations in the national Assembly concerning the missing Police Pension funds is also not doing her reputation any good.
I have watched and listened with interest, some of her speeches in town hall sessions overseas. She always complains about being criticised and she will remind the audience how she left her “civil service job” at the World Bank to come to Nigeria as a huge sacrifice as if the audience will be impressed by the “huge sacrifice.” She will even challenge them to come home and contribute as if she has jobs for them. I can close my eyes and comfortably imagine one low-life Nigerian politician making the same speeches. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala is really not getting it. She is really out of touch about how the average Nigerian feels.
Sanusi’s suspension was the last straw that seems to confirm Ngozi’s unenviable place in the financial history of Nigeria, for now. Sanusi was suddenly catapulted from being a bull in a china shop to the levels of heroism rarely seen in Nigeria while Ngozi’s reputation nose-dived. Sanusi has carved a niche for himself as the protector of the Nigerian people’s interests, the guardian of their hard earned money which is being looted. Ngozi is being regarded as “one of the people” covering up the looting of the National treasury.
I make bold to say that Sanusi can walk anywhere in the world and hold his head high. I cannot say same for Ngozi.
And this fact irks the Nigerian Government. Little wonder Sanusi is currently being branded a financier of terrorism (still expecting to see some evidence) after the charges of “financial recklessness” is failing to stick.
It will be a very difficult job to wipe of the huge stain on Ngozi’s armour of integrity but all hope is not lost. The only and sure way Ngozi can partially redeem her badly dented image is to explain to Nigerians what happened to the $10.8 billion she herself admitted is still missing/unaccounted for. She need not wait for any foreign accounting firm to do her dirty job. She needs to start querying the NNPC and Ministry of Petroleum Resources to get her answers ready for Nigerians. I will not go the full stretch by demanding for explanation for Sanusi’s claim of $20 billion. But going that full stretch and resigning afterwards will certainly help burnish her currently battered image.
But will her seemingly newly imbibed principles permit her?