I deliberately disconnected myself from the bursts of emotion and high tide of encomiums poured on Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (now popular by her initial, NOI), the Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State queen who resumes March 1, 2021 as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO. I was compelled to race through her book Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines. Yes, I had to, at least to appreciate the hypocrisy of some Nigerians especially those who have upstaged the public space and turned politics into a career.
Suddenly the same public officers and their cronies who maligned her during her days as Minister of Finance are now issuing press statements to congratulate the Harvard and MIT-trained Development Economist and financial management expert. I hardly need remind Nigerians that the same Okonjo-Iweala being celebrated and claimed by all manner of Nigerians was the same person that was called names, tagged corrupt and timid by our modern day demagogues who, for want of any fault to stick to her persona, deployed a particular online news portal to tar NOI in very repulsive coating.
The same Okonjo-Iweala who was found worthy in learning and character to lead the World Bank as Managing Director after 25 years of sterling service at the bank; the same person who was a member of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, Finance Committee and who had functioned effectively in global organisations where transparency is a culture suddenly became corrupt and incompetent when she graciously came to serve her fatherland?
Re-reading her book which detailed her work and experience while serving in the Nigerian government as Minister of Finance especially exposed the treachery and larceny that define public service in Nigeria. Two governors in her time, Rotimi Amaechi and Adams Oshiomhole were the arrowheads in the campaign of calumny to slur the character of a woman of rare intellect, courage and integrity. Her offence was her open rebuke of the wanton wastages of public finance by the governors. She counselled them to save for tomorrow through a sovereign wealth fund. She warned the governors that oil price would not remain high in the international market forever hence the need for them to save for winter while the boom of summer lasted.
But the governors rebuffed her. Amaechi as Chairman of the Governors’ Forum was unsparing. He rallied his colleagues to denigrate a woman that has successfully managed economies all around the world from Asia to Europe. She cannot tell them how to spend the money due to their respective states, they argued. Expectedly, the governors wasted their allocations from the Federation Account including the excess crude cash. Oshiomhole took his campaign of mischief to a higher dimension. He accused Okonjo-Iweala of corruption.
In May, 2015 shortly before the exit of the Goodluck Jonathan government, Oshiomhole as governor of Edo State was up and about accusing NOI of mismanaging $1 billion. Then, he tried to link NOI to the controversial $2.1 billion arms deal. Before then, Amaechi, leading the other 35 governors was at every forum attacking a woman whose crime was asking the governors to save money for winter. Nigeria was clearly in the summer of her revenue status with crude oil price topping $100 per barrel. As someone who has seen the global economy totter and dither at different times, she knew that crude oil would not always be highly priced. She saw tomorrow and only wanted to save the nation’s economy from an inevitable low tide. She was rebuffed and resisted. The governors even went as far as the Supreme Court to block her from deducting their allocation in the name of saving for tomorrow. Then, they wanted their money today. They had their way. They got all allocations from Excess Crude Account and other accounts without a thought for the impending drought which NOI alerted them to. What an elder could see sitting, a little child can never see even if he/she climbs an Iroko tree. In this instance, NOI was the elder. Her 25 years of peerless performance at World Bank; being privileged to manage economies of other jurisdictions from Europe to Asia, her membership of respected international fiscal policy organisations, her global network of partners, friends, colleagues and experts in economic management thrusts her to the pedestal of an elder in matters of fiscal policy articulation and management. She was the prophetess who was despised at home by her people.
But our self-serving governors won’t be bothered. They wanted their cash and they got it. But did they deploy the huge sums for public good? It’s res ipsa loquitor (the fact speaks for itself). And that’s how the governors of the 36 states of the federation depleted the excess crude account from $20billion in 2003 to about $3.6 billion in 2012.
Today, the tomorrow NOI predicted from her position of knowledge has come upon us. Oil price has dropped drastically. Then Covid-19 came shutting down global economies. Yesterday’s cornucopia has turned to today’s famine. The days of bounty bonuses are gone. Welcome to the era of dearth and drought. Let me break it down: The refusal of governors spearheaded by Rotimi Amaechi with Oshiomhole as a willing and rabid foot-soldier is the reason the Buhari government cannot fund budgets from our savings today. It’s the reason we have mortgaged our sovereignty to the Chinese because we have no savings to finance rail projects and other projects. It’s the reason the Buhari government has borrowed and keeps borrowing at a frenzy that has already impaired the bargaining power of future generations.
And if you throw in the alarm raised by NOI of the existence of a shadowy fuel subsidy which strangely still subsists till this day, you will see why we owe her an apology and a medal of honour. NOI did not come to serve her fatherland because she was broke. As Managing Director of World Bank, wife of a US-based neurosurgeon and mother of highly accomplished children breaking limits in their respective callings, she was, and still is, very comfortable. She was never a jobber.
Lesson: Next time we have the privilege of having a world-class expert accepting to serve the country, we must have the humility to take heed to their advice. Brigandage is not a virtue. It’s the symptom of men of bovine intelligence. The fiscal recklessness of the Amaechi-led Governors’ Forum is part of the reasons the nation is broke today such that we even borrow to pay salary of civil servants. But NOI has moved on. What we tried to smear at home is the beautiful rose flower whose fragrance refreshes the world.
Lest I forget: NOI is a girl-child, an Ogwashi-Uku girl, a babe, mother, grandmother, a wife, virtuous woman who loves her family and husband warts and all. Educate your girl-child, the maid under your care. Stop breaking your head because you have no male child. NOI, Amina Mohammed, Arunma Oteh, Funmi Olorunnipa Badejo (in Joe Biden’s cabinet), et al, are all women. They tower over many men because they got good education. As we celebrate NOI, let’s not forget that educating the girl-child is the strongest foundation for liberating the society.