By Jide Ajani
To truly understand the shame of the kidnap of Professor Mabel Kamene Okonjo, mother of Nigeria’s Finance Minister and Co-ordinating Minister in charge of the economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, pick a copy of The Economists special edition, THE WORLD IN 2013.
On its cover page, this magazine of prestige is proud to promote Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as one of its contributors in this all-important edition. This is the same woman whose 82-year-old mother has now been kidnapped. Yet, that is not the story.
Okonjo-Iweala’s contribution to that special edition is about the potentials of Africa’s development with Nigeria playing a significant role – while not forgetting the place of women. Under the segment, Leapfrogging to the future, she asserts that “’Africa investing in Africa’ will become an important slogan for Nigeria, South Africa and Angola, and will encourage more African professionals in the diaspora to return to the continent to seek opportunity and contribute their skills”.
The question to ask her now is: Return to where? To a place where kidnappers are running riot? Mind you, Okonjo-Iweala’s mother is the wife of a traditional ruler and she was abducted from the palace.
Still, that is not the story.
The Finance Minister concludes her treatise thus: “(Women) account for about half the continent’s agricultural labour force and manage a large proportion of small enterprises. As one of Africa’s women, I am confident that 2013 will be the year the continent becomes a destination of choice for global investment – a beacon of hope in a still-uncertain world”. She couldn’t have been any closer to the truth about an ‘uncertain country’. Even then, that is not the story.
The dimension, which kidnapping in Delta State has now attained, is better understood in the story of a man (name withheld), who was kidnapped sometime this year and had to plead with his abductors that he had just been released by another kidnap gang a week earlier after parting with N15million.
Upon enquiries from the man on the mode of kidnap, area of operation and possible identification of the earlier kidnap gang, the new kidnappers (yes, new kidnappers) made some telephone calls to other gangs and one of the calls proved productive; that, indeed, the man had been kidnapped and was forced to pay a ransom of N15million just the previous week. He was allowed to go.
Now, you may be wondering, what manner of socio-economic and political factors would have conspired to unleash confetti of vices on the land – Boko Haram ravaging the North, armed robbery and ritual killings in the East, ethno-religious and inter-tribal crisis in some parts of the Middle Belt, and a combination of petty criminal activities in the West? It is about the downward plunge of values and virtues.
Before the kidnapping of Professor Okonjo, there was division on whether the death penalty for kidnapping was appropriate a punishment or not. But if truth be told, when ordinary people are abducted, they represent just the statistics of a vice; and when the powerful and the mighty become victims, all hell is let loose.
Which leads to the question: Is one life more precious than the other? A kidnap victim is nothing but a kidnap victim – minister’s mother or not. If the Finance Minister was not a Nigerian and still working at her Bretton Woods institution, a scenario analysis of investment possibilities in a country like Nigeria would have elicited a negative conclusion.
So, how would she protect her mother when she is released and how would she protect Nigerians with economic policies? Because the input of corruption in high places, coupled with bad economic policies, generate an output of unemployment, underdevelopment and infrastructural paralysis which, in turn, inescapably translate into an outcome
of crime, criminality, militancy and terrorism as being witnessed across the land.
When President Goodluck Jonathan decided to celebrate Nigeria’s independence anniversary in the secluded comfort of Aso Rock because of the fear of Boko Haram, the implication of that move was not lost on us. Were all those residing in the Boko Haram affected states expected to seek cover inside Aso Rock?
It is from that same perspective that we should examine the frenzied search for the minister’s mother. God help if no ransom is paid. And God help even more that the woman is not flustered beyond minimum levels of sanity retention. An 82-year-old woman! Wife of a traditional ruler! A minister’s mother!
Governance is about doing something. It was Ibrahim Babangida who told Nigerians that history would forgive you if you take a wrong decision, but history would not forgive you if you are seen as undecided or, worse, weak.
May be President Jonathan can learn from late American President Ronald Reagan. Hendrik Hertzberg, in his seminal work, Politics (Observations & Arguments, 1966 – 2004), describes the Reagan presidency as a weird one and that it took quite long before people could see it.
”Thanks”, he wrote, “to Nancy Reagan, Kitty Kelley, and now Lou Cannon, we’ve since learnt about the weekly astrology classes Nancy took during the 1950s and 1960s, the “”zodiac parties”” the Reagans attended in Hollywood, Nancy’s annoyance when the White House astrologer insisted on being paid for her horoscopes, and humiliation felt by aides such as James Baker, Richard Darman, and Michael Deaver at having to explain away absurd and arbitrary changes in the schedule that they knew were being made on the basis of super secret astrological prognostications.
Cannon finds no evidence that astrology had any direct effects on substantive policy. But he finds plenty of evidence that this was a government of, by, and for the stars.”
Now, the question on the street is which manner of presidency would watch day-by-day and month- after – month as the country degenerates in security terms to the extent that it has become the butt of jokes in international circles and, yet, it carries on as if shambolism is a directive principle of governance? Governance is about inclusiveness.
Across the land, many of those who fought to ensure the passage of the Doctrine of Necessity have been abandoned. Even with the economic situation, voices of reason that could have come in handy to assure the restive of a better tomorrow are either staying back or also up in arms against the presidency. From the East, North, West and even the South South, there is restiveness everywhere.
Reagan consorted with astrologers and ended up having a good eight-year presidency; whatever the naysayers may say of his tenure – at least he consorted.
Will President Jonathan just do something before this gale of insecurity consumes everybody?