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Okonjo-Iweala Goes to London

Posted by By Ike Okonta on 2003/07/27 | Views: 910 |

Okonjo-Iweala Goes to London

An important aspect of the sordid drama still unfolding in Anambra state that has not received adequate attention is the role of President Obasanjo in the affair and what it portends for our new Minister of Finance.

An important aspect of the sordid drama still unfolding in Anambra state that has not received adequate attention is the role of President Obasanjo in the affair and what it portends for our new Minister of Finance. I have written in this column that I do not hold out much hope for the new ministerial team, able, well educated, and well-intentioned some of them clearly are. They are

being asked to heal an ill patient - in this case Nigeria - by focusing only on the manifest symptoms of the disease afflicting her. The root cause, which only a proper and dispassionate diagnosis should reveal, is clearly a no-go area for the Ministers, going by Mr President's latest escapade in Anambra state, foisting an area boy and his gang of armed thugs on the hapless citizens of the state.

'Chief' Chris Uba is deeply embedded in the presidential fortress, and is merely one of the Proconsuls our Emperor in Aso Rock has deployed to a 'restive' province of his empire. When Obasanjo surveys the land from the window of his bedroom, what he sees, or wishes to see, is not a socially diverse people yoked to a failing state by force of arms and struggling to reclaim the basic social and economic freedoms that Frederick Lugard and his masters in London stole from them at the turn of the 20th century. No. He sees a glorious empire. He sees a glorious emperor. And he sees a puny and pitiable people groveling at his feet.

He, Obasanjo, is master of all that he surveys. There is no place for self-motivating and self-accounting local government areas, states and regions in his schema. There is no room for reasoned thought, backed by the indisputable facts of our history, which tells us clearly that you do not build a prosperous and united nation by forcing the inhabitants to cohabit cheek by jowl when they have said clearly, again and again, that they desire some measure of autonomy in the key arenas of social and economic life.

Obasanjo is lord of all, and this includes the new ministers he has just appointed to do his bidding. But Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is no groveling, feet-kissing government official.

Obasanjo did not pluck Dr Okonjo-Iweala from the penurious anonymity of a decaying Lagos suburb where some government functionaries were scratching their heads trying to dream up yet another sycophantic scam to put food on the table.

Before she chose to brave the political jungle that is Abuja, Dr Okonjo-Iweala was one of the world's leading financial minds, working to bring a World Bank hijacked by a vicious neo-conservative posse of baby-killers, back to former glory.

I am not a fan of the World Bank as it is presently structured and run, as I have made clear in this column. But I am a fan of its former Vice President. I am a fan of Dr Okonjo-Iweala because she represents all that is noble, accomplished, and resilient in a beleaguered Africa. A talented and versatile author, she had just published a fine biography of Chinua Achebe a couple of months before she packed her bags and headed for Abuja, heeding her nation's call. Prior to that, she had edited a book highlighting the magnitude of the debt crisis in Nigeria, giving ample space to some of the finest minds in the world to point Nigeria and Africa to the path out of the woods. She is a loving mother; and herself the daughter of parents who are academics of global eminence. And to crown it all, Dr Okonjo-Iweala is an African patriot who does not suffer fools gladly, especially when they come in the form of our pot-bellied, nose-picking, women-chasing, and intellectually-challenged President. I admire courage, intelligence, hard work, and self-sacrifice. Our new Minister of finance has all these qualities in abundance, and that is why this column shall pay close attention to her new career in Abuja in the coming months and years, that is if the expert wreckers of our dreams do not force her out sooner than later.

I was not surprised when Dr Okonjo-Iweala chose as her first assignment as Minister the thorny issue of Nigeria's external debt. Love of nation burns brightly in her heart. And she does not shun tough challenges. Last week she headed for London, accompanied by a team of the nation's brightest including Malam Nasir El Rufai and Dr Charles Soludo, to open discussions on this problem with representatives of the Paris Club of creditors. I do not claim to know what her negotiating strategy is, but I do know that the likes of Jeffery Sachs, a development economist of international repute, have weighed in on the side of debt cancellation for underdeveloped and viciously exploited countries like Nigeria. He has argued, and quite rightly, that it makes economic and political sense for poor countries to utilize all the resources they can garner in the vital areas of health, education and adequate nutrition. Taking away a sizeable chunk of the national income desperately needed to feed little children and giving it to wealthy and bloated industrialized countries to service debts contracted in controversial circumstances, Sachs has argued, is not the best way to assist poor countries in their effort to lift themselves out of poverty.

I doubt if anything came out of the London meeting. Dr Okonjo-Iweala must have encountered some of the most cynical and weather-beaten mandarins that Whitehall always throw up when the matter is how the loot England grabbed from her many 'colonies' including Nigeria these past three centuries might be secured. It is an open secret in international banking circles, and in London in particular, that the bulk of Nigeria's debt to the Paris and London clubs were contracted during Obasanjo's first coming as Head of State in the mid 1970s, and Shehu Shagari's improvident presidency from 1979-1983; and that they are unverifiable because a consortium of Asian and Nigerian 'businessmen' and English bankers worked out an elaborate scheme to transfer the nation's funds, running into billions of pounds sterling, to their private accounts in Europe in the guise of financing imports and exports. The JMB affair was born of this daylight rape of our nation.

But shame and contriteness are worthless currency in London. Greed, realpolitik, and a deep and abiding contempt for Africa are the driving force of Downing Street's Nigeria policy. Dr Okonjo-Iweala would have gone into the meeting with the Mandarins from a position of profound weakness. The Mandarins know that the President she speaks for is an election-rigger, that his mandate lacks real authority and legitimacy because he is governing without the consent of the Nigerian people whose votes were rigged last April; and that he is widely reviled because he has failed to deliver on the key necessities of social order and prosperity. Past masters in the dark arts of cynical politics, the Mandarins would have realized that the heavens would not fall, and that Nigeria would not take reprisals, if they told our Finance Minister that there would not be any debt cancellation, and that the most they could do was to reschedule the terms of repayment. Nations are weak and directionless, unable to take concerted action to secure their strategic interests when they are led, as Nigeria is presently, by a President that does not understand that real power flows from the mandate of the people.

Our new finance minister and the team she took with her to Abuja will give their best to the nation. You can be sure of that. But they have been given the impossible task of going to the stream to fetch water with a basket full of holes. The right attitude that us journalists must adopt, faced with the dilemma of rooting for an otherwise fine bunch of courageous sailors trapped in a sinking ship piloted by an incompetent and self-aggrandizing captain is to consistently insist that no good will come out of their efforts to save the ship unless the captain is eased out, attempt is made to decipher the fundamental problem at the heart of the ship's travails, and bold action is taken to remedy the ailment.

And while doing this, we should continue to insist that these intrepid sailor-ministers are some of the nation's best, that we shall contribute our modest bit to make the load they are carrying lighter, and regularly remind them that Nigerians are a people who know how to reward those who serve them diligently, in truth and in spirit.

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