By Muyiwa Adetiba
The dust is yet to settle on the suspension of the CBN Governor Mallam Lamido Sanusi. Until it does, one will never know just how wise the Presidency was in the unprecedented suspension of a CBN Governor three months before his tenure was due.
For starters, the stock exchange reacted badly as foreign investors withdrew their funds. You can argue, if you are on the side of government, that these are never loyal friends to any country. But precisely because they are fair weather friends, they are usually good barometers of good government policies and decisions.
The exchange rate also fell, prompting the need to withdraw over three billion dollars from our reserves just to stabilise our currency. These are not good signs. And the Economist, the respected British journal, says there will be more. Again, we can dismiss the journal as we usually do to unfavourable predictions and commentaries.
But we can’t dismiss the niggling feeling that perhaps we were too sensitive and too hasty to dismiss the messenger because he was deemed voluble and indiscreet, rather than look at the message. (Maybe the message was too stark, too uncomfortable and too close to home). We also can’t dismiss, so easily, the notion that if we did get it wrong, there will be collateral damages not only to the economy, but to some people’s political and professional future.
It is probably in this light that the BBC’s Will Ross asked the co-ordinating minister for the economy, Dr Ngozi Okojo-Iweala in an interview if she feared for her reputation given what is swirling around in the country generally—the prevalent corruption, the parlous state of the economy, and the leakages in NNPC which nobody seems to be able to do anything about.
From where I sat, I thought it was a fair question. Obviously, Dr Okonjo-Iweala did not think so. She became belligerent as she said that Will Ross, a Briton, would not come to Nigeria to repair the economy. She went on to tell the interviewer— and the listening public— how she left a comfortable job at the World Bank to come home in order to contribute her quota to help her country. It was a sacrifice and a labour of love. How could her reputation be damaged by it? She concluded.
This outburst was hardly necessary. It was a simple question, one to be expected, and could have been dealt with professionally. It was not even a probing question. However, as a journalist who has spent the bulk of his professional life conducting interviews, her kind of reaction is the type I used to look out for.
This is where the layer of equanimity is peeled off to reveal the layer of raw, natural emotion. This is where good quotes come from. And precisely because of this, it is where anybody who is used to giving interviews tries to avoid. Simply put, this zone, where guards are down, reveals more than it hides.
Just because Dr Okonjo-Iweala violated the basic rule of interviews which is that you should never, ever lose your composure let alone your temper, she came across as impatient, temperamental and proud. Her reply also portrayed her as someone who has been worried by this question and has been unable to deal with it within herself.
She must however realise that this sort of question must be asked, not only of her, but of anybody who has a reputation to protect and find themselves surrounded by sleaze.
Now, let’s get back to her outbursts. She said she left a comfortable job to come home. That may be true, but I don’t exactly think she is wallowing in poverty here. I may be wrong, but I have never run into her at airports. She probably uses one of the many presidential jets, or at worst, a private jet to do her runs. This is just one of the many perks of office in Nigeria; one that the World Bank is unlikely to give her.
She has the kind of security— financial and social—that is not extended to over 98% of her fellow Nigerians. She is also probably worth tons more now than she was worth at the World Bank. On top of it, she has the power to change lives for good or ill.
That must be heady; even for a woman! And if she said she made a sacrifice to come home and become the de facto Prime Minister of Africa’s most populous country without the rigors of a coup or the ballot box, then it’s the kind of sacrifice all homo sapiens- black, white or yellow- will give anything to make.
Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; you are a privileged person doing a privileged job. Don’t whine about it or patronise us. You also have the skill and the knowledge to make a difference in our dear country and change the world’s perception of the black man when it comes to money and power. So go for it! You will have no one but yourself to blame if you allow your reputation to be tarnished.
And as to how to handle press interviews, I will advice her, and anybody who has to give interviews often, to read Collin Powel’s book ‘It Worked For Me’. He devoted a chapter in it on how to handle press interviews.