By Omoade Adelani
For too long, we have been fed with lies, innuendos and sarcasm garnished with semblance of truth by desperate hustlers at the Nigerian political scene. We have been made to believe that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the chief driver of the Nigerian economy, gets her orders from Washington and panders to the imperialists’ demands per the Nigerian economy.
Rather than give this woman the needed support to chart the path to Nigeria’s economic recovery, detractors are busy muddling up the water in public sphere with stale and re-awakened allegation of her being an agent of Western imperialists. Truth is, not many of the persons spreading this baseless tarradiddle have done enough to project Nigeria in a respectable stead on the global map as much as this great woman.
As someone who has keenly observed Dr. Okonjo-Iweala over the years, I feel obliged to share some of the reasons I believe she is not an agent of the West in this little op-ed:
Firstly, NOI, as she is fondly called, is one woman who has promoted the Nigerian brand arguably more than any other Nigerian in the Diaspora. For someone with western education and exposure, it could perhaps be pardonable to see her adorned in western attire and speaking with highfalutin western accent. But, not NOI. Her Nigerianness subsists. What’s more, she seems unabashed and unapologetic about her native identity. Her trademark headgear and stylish African attire are a delight to watch on local and foreign TV stations. In addition, her accent is still very much like any other Nigerian, without the least attempt on her part to give it a western slant.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s Nigerianness could not be discussed in the absence of her root. Her father, Professor Chukwuka Okonjo is the Obi from the Umu Obi Obahai Royal Family of Ogwashi-Uku in Delta State. And NOI, from all indications, seems very proud of her lineage. Do her critics know that her daughter’s wedding was conducted in our traditional setting right in the village of her husband? Do they also know that her son, Uzodinma Iweala, who is an acclaimed writer, has two books set in Africa?
It will be of further interest to note that even as an employee of the World Bank, NOI was very much in touch with home. She was attuned with the social and political situations in Nigeria, and nothing escaped her attention. Perhaps, that informed her frequent shuttling home to see things for herself. Her trips home afforded her the opportunity to discover that there is a dearth of adequate information on public perception across the country. According to her, “this lack often hampers decision-making by both businesses and governments.” That was the reason she put her money where her mouth was by setting up NOI Poll, a non-profit Polling site created to provide timely and relevant information about public opinion on various socio-economic issues in Nigeria. Among others, the Poll’s objective is to give voice to the opinion of ordinary citizens, while empowering decision makers in the private and public sectors with relevant resource for better performance and improved governance.
At TED 2007, NOI made a historic presentation by calling the attention of the world to the fact that what Africa needs is trade and investments, not aid. In her speech, she specifically singled out Nigeria as a choice destination for discerning investors. Even while she was at the helm of affairs at the World Bank as the Managing Director, she promoted the good ideals of Africa by regularly calling attention to the huge amounts of money looted from African states by government officials for deposit in Europe. Listen, friends, no agent of the West will do that!
NOI is known to have pressed the leaders of G-20 to intensify the fight against corruption and asset theft at every given opportunity; and she has long been challenging the G-20s to put this at the top of their agenda whenever they meet. She was also part of those that called for the ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) by all countries. In her own words: “Each year, through acts of corruption, developing countries lose billions of dollars that find safe haven in international financial centres.” Let’s reason friends, a sympathizer of the West would rather want such malfeasance to continue unchecked. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala not only spoke against it; she actively contrived its halt.
While still vigorously canvassing against corruption in Africa, NOI was invited home for the second time to head the Nigerian Finance Ministry; knowing the risks involved in this posting, she could have stayed back in Washington to continue her plum job at the World Bank. But her undying love for her fatherland would not permit that. To Nigeria she returned, and her manning of the finance ministry guard has dealt a huge blow on corruption in the country. In her new role, she has successfully blocked many leakages in government’s spending, notable among which are pension management and oil subsidy financing. Her novel initiative of publishing monthly allocations to the various states and arms of government has also enforced a measure of transparency in governance.
Prior to her return, capital flight to the West by public officials was commonplace. I believe if she was an agent of the West, as some people would have us believe, she would have opened up more freeways for even more illicit funds to find their way overseas. The persons behind these illicit transfers of our national wealth would be better positioned to tell their tales of woe since the reign of this woman they have come to dub “Okonjo Wahala.”
No doubt, her return to the Finance Ministry has led to even more impacts in other areas of our economy. The port reform she is spearheading is one that millions of Nigerians are already benefiting from, as the period of clearing goods have reduced significantly with her eviction agencies with no direct relevance to port activities, except for bureaucratic drawbacks. Now, the reality of a 24-hour port operation has been actualised. This seemed unattainable before her return to the country. The Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) is now a reality. Recurrent Expenditure has been reduced, whilst capital expenditure is on the upward swing.
Now, who says Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is not for us? On the contrary, I think she stands and burns for Nigeria, and indeed Africa!