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Okonjo-Iweala was caught napping

Posted by By Amanze Obi [amaobi@yahoo.co.uk] on 2006/08/09 | Views: 4223 |

Okonjo-Iweala was caught napping


Former Minister of Finance, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was caught napping in the course of duty.....

Former Minister of Finance, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was caught napping in the course of duty. That may explain the slip she has just gone through. She was what romantic addicts would call “ a jewel of inestimable value” in the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration. But that was then. She savoured the glitz and the glamour of her very special position in the Federal Executive Council for as long as it lasted.

Unfortunately, however, she failed to quit the stage at the peak of ovation, as a veteran actor would do. Instead, she went into some form of delirium, the type that has made it possible for Obasanjo to pull the rug off her feet.

Last Thursday, Okonjo-Iweala resigned her position as Nigeria’s foreign affairs minister. She spent about six weeks in that position. Some four days before her resignation, she was removed as the leader of the Economic Management Team. Although the position has so much to do with the job of the Finance Minister, Okonjo-Iweala was still allowed to function in that capacity despite her movement to the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

When she lost her preeminent position as finance minister sometime in June, Obasanjo had declared then that his government was “leading a liberation struggle”, According to the president, his administration was determined to wage a liberation struggle from those things that have not worked in the past; liberation from those things that have not helped this country. He concluded that the new changes in his cabinet constituted the latest phase of the liberation struggle.

This was Obasanjo’s justification for redeploying Okonjo-Iweala and some others who were affected in one way or another by the cabinet changes. But many, including myself, found Obasanjo’s claims rather insupportable. I was not taken in by the linguistic flourishes that his speech writer employed to pull the wool over our eyes. In fact, I found Okonjo-Iweala’s redeployment particularly revolting. I underlined my contrary view on that matter in BROKEN TONGUES of June 26, 2006. In it, I had ridiculed the whole idea of liberation struggle as packaged and sold to us by President Obasanjo.

I wondered at the type of liberation struggle that would take good for bad. I could not come to terms with how the removal of a finance minister who recorded monumental successes, especially in the area of debt relief, can be factored into a liberation struggle from those things that have not helped the country or worked in the past. I then asked: “How… do you begin to rationalize or explain the removal of Okonjo-Iweala as part of the liberation struggle that this administration must undertake?” …. How come that their tenure, amongst some others, constituted some of those things that have not worked in the past?” These questions bear repeating here.

But we need not search too far for their answers. The cat has simply been let out of the bag. What started as mere theatrics directed at the president’s receptive audience has blossomed into an out of stage concert. The story of the behind the scene manoeuvres can now be told in the open. I do not knew how much of this sordid story that we may care to tell. But what is of immediate concern to me is how Okonjo-Iweala bungled a situation that she ought to have converted into immense advantage.

Let us recall that her removal surprised many, including her. As analysts, some of us were quick to note that the minister was falling or had fallen out of favour with the president. I had no doubt in my mind then that her removal was tailored towards spite. The fact that she was retained as the leader of the Economic Team did not impress me. I knew it was done to confuse her and divert her attention from the full import of the president’s action.

I remembered that this woman was even engaged on a differential salary scale. She was considered so important to the system that Mr. President hired her according to the terms largely dictated by her. So, what became of her special status? Did the debt relief breakthrough break her backbone as well? Did it take the shine off her sail?
Beyond these nagging questions, her deployment to the foreign affairs ministry elicited mixed feelings from concerned patriots. What expertise would she bring to bear on the job? How much satisfaction would she find there? We all know that Okonjo-Iweala was not schooled in the art of diplomacy. We did not really think she would distinguish herself in that position.

Given our deep-seated worries, we also thought Okonjo-Iweala was as much concerned. We imagined that somebody with her background would refuse to be tossed about like a snail shell. In a nutshell, we thought that Ngozi would call Obasanjo’s bluff by resigning from his cabinet. But we were utterly wrong. Instead, rationalizations and justifications were introduced into the president’s action. And before long, Okonjo-Iweala reconciled herself to the situation. She stayed on.

At some point into her new position as foreign affairs minister, I had cause to reflect on my June 26 article that I had earlier referred to. Somehow, I felt that I had played the stranger in Chinua Achebe’s pantheon who weeps more than the bereaved.

However, latest developments have shown that we did not cry wolf after all. We had good reasons to ask questions. From what has happened now, it was Okonjo-Iweala that failed to take a holistic look at what transpired during the cabinet shake-up in June. It was because she probably dismissed the president’s action as a mere instance of peevishness that she decided to go to sleep again too soon after she was violently and rudely roused from a deep slumber induced by her exceptional performance as finance minister. But no sooner did she dose off than the alarm bell was knolled. She was roused to a new realization – her loss of her position as the leader of the Economic Management Team.

If the first shake-up was a faint-hearted jab from the president, this second one was a clear upper cut. Ngozi, the idealist, must have felt the wound, and she must have given inward sighs of woe that all was lost.
Looking back now, I am convinced, more than ever before, that Okonjo-Iweala ought to have resigned when she was removed as finance minister. She was needed for a purpose by Obasanjo.

She served that purpose creditably. By the time she was removed, the appointing officer must have felt that she had nothing new to add to the government of the day. Ngozi failed to see it in this light. If only she did. If she did, we would have been saved this jeremiad. If she did, she probably would have left office with her headgear blowing more hilariously in the wind than they are doing now. If her unique headgear were to be our national flag, I would say that it is, at moment, flying at half mast.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.