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Ngozi, the man for the job

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By Ochereome  Nnanna
WHEN the story broke that our Minister for Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (NOI) had been tipped for the Presidency of the World Bank, the first questions that rushed to my mind were: Will she? Should she? Not, can she? I will briefly touch ruminatively on all three.

Will she? On two occasions, she resigned her appointment from the Bank to take up ministerial posts to serve her country. The first time was while she was the Vice President for the African Division in 2003 when President Olusegun Obasanjo had just won his second term in office and sought to involve the best financial technocrats at Nigeria’s command both locally and internationally in running the economy.

Obasanjo shook off all media criticisms and bent a few rules (including negotiating her pay in foreign currency under a special arrangement that took little from our national purse) to ensure that in taking up the offer she would not be a total loser.

When Goodluck Jonathan won his presidential election in 2011, rumours made the rounds he was going for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala yet again. She had resigned her appointment with the Obasanjo regime over disagreements on principle. As soon as Robert Zoellick, the President of the Bank heard she was done with serving her fatherland he jumped and asked her to come back, this time as the Managing Director of the Bank.

She is only about eight months old as a returnee Minister of Finance. Apart from a few reforms she has affected at the Lagos Ports and her ongoing struggles to plug revenue drainpipes within the federal government, she has not been able to achieve much to stand her out in her second coming. She has not done much to achieve her stated mandate of “diversifying the economy and creating jobs”.

By the time she left her duty post in her first time around, she had achieved two clear objectives that made a lasting difference on the national economy: introduce transparent disclosure of earnings from the federation account accruing to the federal, state and local councils. These were published on a monthly basis to provide the basis to assess the quality of work done with the money by those who cared to assess. The second was her assistance in negotiating Nigeria out of her debt trap by easing us out of the Paris Club with the swap of $12 billion for our debt of $32 billion. We were thusly relieved of the debilitating bulk of our external debt burden, though we are still saddled with an internal debt overhang which has now become a real menace.

With so little to show (for no fault of hers since the time is so short) for her second coming, that is where the second question arises: should she go? It seems an odd career behaviour to keep resigning from the Bank, coming to serve her country and going back and forth. What really is the driving motive for the see-saw movements? If she leaves for the Bank job once again, would it not appear that she has seen something bigger than the farm and decided to sell the barn, as our people say? Is the bank bigger than Nigeria?

Africa and Asia’s endorsement

While these questions were running around my mind, I read stories where NOI was already campaigning for the job. I also read that the Federal Government had already endorsed her candidacy, as had the African continent’s biggest economy, South Africa (in spite of our recent bruising diplomatic row over unfairly deported Nigerian travellers to that country).

The entire continent has now signed on to canvass her candidacy, and so has Asia. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is easy the candidate of the developing and rapidly emerging economies and swamps the candidacy of Colombian Finance Minister, Jose Antonio Ocampo, who has been nominated by Brazil. Ocampo’s candidacy is even further questioned by the fact that her country has its eyes on a different international job, perhaps not wanting to rub shoulders with the United States of America.

That is precisely the major burden the NOI candidacy is faced with, and it is a no mean burden. The US has nominated Korean-American, Mr. Jim Yong Kim, who distinguished himself as an astute manager when he served at the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The two Bretton Wood Instutitons (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund IMF) the global lenders, had, historically, been zoned to the US and Europe respectively to provide the overall bosses. This is because the industrialised countries are the major shareholders. Additionally, the World Bank is the only international agency that the US nominates its presiding officer. Asking America to concede the post would leave her empty handed, and may seem unfair a request to make.

Therefore, if America insists on pushing the candidacy of Yong Kim against our own NOI, then we stand little chance. This is where NOI’s main problem is. We are now banking on the US voluntarily giving up the post to us. There is really nothing America stands to lose by doing so. It will not reduce her clout and leadership, even though she may worry it will throw the post open to be contested in the future.

But in terms of qualification and experience, our candidate is easily the “man” for the job. She has worked for nearly thirty years in the institution, knowing it inside out, moving gradually and steadily up the ladder. She is eloquent, charismatic and was in 2011 voted by Forbes Magazine as one of the 87th most influential woman in the world.

Her main advantage over the other three is that she peddles merit as her unique selling appeal. On the other hand, Yong Kim’s is mainly based on the politics of zoning (as we call it in Nigeria). The world has moved on from 1945 when the World Bank and IMF had to be parcelled out to the two major industrialised zones of the world. China has come on stream, as now the second largest economy in the world. Many other countries in Asia and the former Third World are also emerging.

Emerging balance of power

The same logic that led to the universalisation of the Secretary Generalship of the United Nations, whereby Africa was allowed to produce the winning candidates between 1991 and a couple of years ago now stares the Bretton Wood institutions in the face. The emerging balance of power cannot really be ignored for too long, as more developing economies are contributing more to the universal pool of development funds.

The time has come when more emphasis was put on the war on poverty. It is now a menace that is no longer a preserve of Africa, Asia and Latin America. The increasing economic crises in Europe are danger signals that over the long term European countries might begin to fall into the poverty trap unless the problem is tackled with policy that takes care of everyone.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala comes from the right background to maintain the legacies of the Bank and at the same time give it a little more human face. Her  candidacy signals democratisation. It is a sweet song that should resonate on the economic arena as well.

Take it or leave it: the Bretton Wood institutions still carry a stigma in the developing world as instruments of neocolonialism. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the World Bank president will not be able (or even willing) to liquidate this perception, but she will try to strike a balance between the economic extremes.

The world, at this moment in its history needs to reduce influences that lead to “occupy” protests against extreme capitalism.

Re: Was the Awolowo/Akintola feud “senseless”?

THE piece is well conceived and enriching. But for the likes of you, our children will know nothing about our past as our leaders have expunged history, a very vital component of man’s existence, from our lives.

However, I observed three (3) omissions/misrepresentations.

First, you omitted to state that it was the late Bode Thomas’ political philosophy of regionalising the country into three regions. In 1948, West [for Yorubas], East [for Ibos] and North [for Hausa/Fulanis] that was the first political arrangement after the 1914 amalgamation. That philosophy, bizarre at it was, laid the foundation for the regional politics of present day Nigeria.

Second, the Action Group did not win the majority of seats in the West. They only had majority of seals after the cross-carpeting. The six seats won by the Ibadan Pargo party of late Akinloye were donated to the AG to have 48 seats majority.

Third, the civil war was not a war between the rest of Nigeria and the Eastern Ibos. It was primarily a personality war between late Dim Emeka Ojukwu and Gowon and carried to the battle field.

Aside the pogrom of 1966, it was an ego thing between them on the issue of succession upon Ironsi’s assassination. At the start of the war at the Nssukka front [Obollo Afor/Obollor Eke], only troops of Northern extraction [the Shoshos of the Middle Belt (led by Col. Mohammed Shuwa)] fought on the Federal side. This was based on the agreement reached between Gowon and the two other regions [West/Midwest that they will not commit their troops to fight the Ibos]. It was Ojukwu’s blunder of invading the Midwest in 1968 against advice from notable Ibos including the then Biara GOC, Col. Hilary Njokwu that turned the tide against Biafra. And it was that blunder that made Biafra to lose the war.

By hindsight, it is that fatal mistake that is hunting us till this today. Can we have another Biafra? I doubt.

[Please read, Reminiscence (Ejior, 1980), Nigeria: yesterday, today, and … (James O. Ojiako 1981)].

Thanks,
Ochuko V. Saduwa, Esq.,
[Port Harcourt]

 

 

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