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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Babatunde Fagbayibo




culled from TRIBUNE, August 13, 2006



AS if I had a premonition of her resignation, I have, in the past few weeks, been telling a friend of mine about the exploits of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. This friend could care less about politics and economics, let alone about Nigeria’s domestic policy, and so I had to break it down to the simplest terms and explained how Ngozi saved Nigeria from itself. Even her detractors will agree unanimously that within the space of three years, she has achieved the impossible with the Nigerian economy. Any country in the world would be blessed to have a Finance Minister like her.

I was sceptic when she was appointed as the Minister of Finance in 2003. Not because of her academic and work background (she graduated cum laude from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was the Vice President of the World Bank), my cynicism stemmed from the fact that we have had other Ivy League trained ministers, governors and what have you in the past, whose actions in office did not markedly differ from that of a village buffoon. The trappings of office (blaring sirens, hundreds of official cars, irrelevant chieftaincy titles and unashamed bootlickers) and the unbridled tendency to be a partaker in the looting and sharing of the oil money, has driven most of them to the abyss of decadence and removed the last strand of humanness in them.

Nigerians have thus been conditioned to think that holders of high offices must at least pilfer while in office. In many of the political discussions and small talks we Nigerians have, we often delude ourselves with the fact that corruption is ubiquitous and mandatory – ‘even Tony Blair and George Bush sef dey steal money’. Yes, it is ubiquitous but there is no pride in romanticising it. Our actions as citizens embolden our political class and enrich their penchant for looting.

Ngozi Okonjo Iweala exudes charisma, integrity and simplicity. She understood from the onset that there was a gargantuan amount of work to be done in Nigeria and she spared no effort in achieving this aim. Unlike many of our holders of high offices, she did not engage in irrelevant distractions. Her critics have labelled her a World bank/IMF lackey, part of a conspiracy plot to finally deliver the soul of Nigeria to these organisations on a silver platter. All her actions, regardless of the good intentions, were seen through the prism of this outlandish conspiracy theory. When she finally delivered Nigeria from the grip of asphyxiating international debt, some economic experts (including the sideline pseudo-intellectuals) retorted that she had committed a financial suicide (as if it was better to be a debtor). Nigerians are indeed very difficult to please.

Her altruistic and resilient personality throughout her tenure as the Finance Minister drew me to her. She literally immersed herself in her work as if there was no tomorrow. She was able to skilfully navigate the chauvinistic and hostile terrain of Nigerian politics. She exemplified the cliché – what a man can do, a woman can do better. To her, corruption is not and should not be part of our national character. Her assiduous drive to rid the polity of this ogre (corruption) drew the ire of powerbrokers whose basis of existence depended on pillaging the wealth of this beleaguered nation. Little wonder why she was not a popular figure within the corridors of power. She is a firm believer in ‘Corporate Nigeria’, she had this to say in an interview granted last year – ‘…there is something called “Nigerians can do spirit” why don’t we teach our children about that…’

While I am a firm believer in the notion that no one is indispensable, I could not help but feel dejected about her sudden resignation albeit as the Foreign Affairs Minister. Regardless of the sentiments her admirers hold, she is entitled to make her own decisions and most times these decisions are largely shaped by family commitments, pride, principles, people and a need for change. For me, the motivation for her resignation is inconsequential, what is of importance is how to build on her legacy. There is no gainsaying the fact that she has laid a solid foundation and revolutionised the financial and economic sector of this country. It is therefore imperative for the good of the country that her successor now and beyond 2007, work within this framework. I am not suggesting that her successor(s) must not come up with new initiatives, what I am rather harping on is that we must adopt a culture of continuity vis-à-vis good and workable ideas. When sentiment and inordinate ambition becomes the guiding principle, the nation suffers.

Shakespeare could not have been more right when he averred that men and women are mere players on the world’s stage and have their entrances and exits. Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala heeded the call to serve her nation, leaving behind her the comfort of Washington and her family, to take up the arduous task of managing one of Africa’s largest and complicated economies. She has done her bit and has now exited. The onus is now on her successor(s) to make sure that the labour and selfless service of this great daughter of Africa is not in vain. Thank you, Ngozi, for ultimately proving to us that our economy and most importantly, our country is not a hopeless case afterall. You are indeed ‘primus inter pares’.

Fagbayibo writes from the University of Pretoria, South Africa.



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