Travails Of Ngozi Okonjo Iweala By Ndukaku Obiekw

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?

Ndukaku Obiekwe
ndukakuobiekwe@yahoo.com

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