By Dr (Mrs) Bernadette Osaro
At the burial in 2000 of Dr Pius Okigbo, Africaâ€™s most respected economist, Chief Kalu U. Kalu, then chairman of Union Bank Plc, made an interesting revelation. Dr Okigbo had applied for a teaching position in the Economics Department of the University of Nigeria at Nsukka shortly after his release from detention for his pro-Biafran role during the Nigerian Civil war of 1967 to 1970, but the people who were to evaluate his credentials were not enthusiastic. Okigbo, who received prestigious degrees in Economics, Law and History from the University of London, had done post graduate studies at Northwestern University at Evanston, one of the worldâ€™s most respected institutions, and a post doctoral fellowship at Oxford University.
He was in the 1960s the chief economic adviser to the Eastern Nigerian Government and later to the Federal Government before becoming Nigeriaâ€™s ambassador to the European Economic Community with headquarters in Brussels, Belgium The relevant persons concerned at the Economics Department of the UNN were not keen on having Okigbo in their midst because his credentials were intimidating. Their attitude turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Dr Okigbo led a couple of highly educated Nigerians to establish SKOUP, Nigeriaâ€™s most intelligent economic and business consultancy.
The Okigbo experience has been on my mind since the Nigerian media began publishing a plethora of simulated articles against Ms Arunma Oteh, Vice President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), following her nomination by President Umaru Yarâ€Adua to become the Director General cum chief executive of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The accusation against her is essentially twofold: that Ms Oteh is not a stockbroker practicing in Nigeria, and that she should not come from the Diaspora to â€œusurp a job meant for those of us who have been working in Nigeria faithfullyâ€.
It is obvious that those behind the orchestrated campaign deliberately want to discountenance Otehâ€™s years as a stockbroker working in Nigeria at Centre-point Securities, founded by Dennis Odife, one of Nigeriaâ€™s most accomplished capital market operators ever. Nor do they want the public to know that when Ms Oteh was between April, 2001, and February, 2006, the AfDB Group Treasurer, her overall responsibility, in the words of the AfDB, included supervising the Bankâ€™s investments. For propaganda purposes designed to make the Senate not to confirm her, Otehâ€™s experience and skills in the capital markets in Nigeria and abroad are deliberately underplayed.
Otehâ€™s academic credentials are no less impressive. She graduated with a first class honours degree in Computer Science from the University of Nigeria in 1985, and did her compulsory one-year national service at the University of Benin, where we met and struck a wonderful relationship. At Harvard Business School in Massachusetts, Oteh was a prize-winning student during her MBA progranme in General Management, specializing in Finance. I need not say anything about her excellent looks and extremely cultured manners. To be sure, her sophistication is a source of jealousy, hence the smear campaign.
The notion in some quarters that well-trained Nigerians living abroad are â€œinterlopersâ€ returning home to grab jobs which could well be given to those at home is dangerous. This notion, which often feeds on inferiority complex, should be discontinued forthwith. Nigerians cannot develop well without the significant input of well -trained professionals abroad. In recognition of this fact, the Petroleum Development Training Fund, for instance, has been awarding scholarships to bright Nigerians to go for post-graduate training in overseas institutions. India, China, and the other emerging economies of the world rely on those with international exposure and skills to leapfrog. In fact, top Engineering and ICT schools in the United States and Western Europe are dominated by Asian students.
In fairness to the smear Oteh campaigners, they are not the first Nigerians to mount a vigorous campaign against the appointment or employment of certain Nigerians from overseas.
The story is the same even in journalism. Dr Stanley Macebuh, the founding Managing Director of The Guardian, who was a respected academic at City University of New York, among others, has said how some Daily Times employees spread dangerous rumours about him in the 1970s when he was appointed by Dr Patrick Dele Cole as the chairman of the editorial board of the Daily Times, then Nigeriaâ€™s most prestigious newspaper. They alleged that Macebuh was an old hungry friend of Dr Coleâ€™s roaming the streets of New York. Dr Cole brought him to Nigeria out of pity, according to the detractors, who even alleged that Macebuh was not a Nigerian; after all, he has an unusual accent and a funny surname. As events were to prove soon, Dr Macebuhâ€™s involvement in Nigerian journalism went a long way to change the intellectual content of journalism practice in the country.
For Nigeria to develop at the appropriate pace which will make Vision 20:20:20 a realityâ€”that is, to say, our country will have one of the largest economies by the year 2020â€”we need a new mindset. Those angling to become the new SEC DG, rather have Ms Oteh assume the position, must know that being a local stockbroker for long should not be enough qualification. The Nigerian stock market is in a mess right now, and SEC itself is not better, considering the manner its last DG left office. There are times it is better to bring in someone from outside in order to provide a breath of fresh air in an environment. SEC is in such a situation.
Not even former President George W. Bush of the United States was a slave of rabid orthodoxy or tradition. Bush chose Paul Wolfowitz to be the World Bank President. Wolfowitz, his Deputy Defence Secretary, is a Political Science professor who was Director of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. His area of specialization is not Political Economy or Administration, but Defence and Strategic Studies. Even in the same school, Francis Fukuyama is proving to be the foremost authority on Political Economy and Public Administration. Yet, his academic training is Eastern European Studies! Prof Ali Mazrui is one of the biggest names worldwide in scholarship on cultural studies, but he is a political scientist by training.
There are similar examples in Nigeria. Professor Green Nwankwo is probably the biggest name in Finance scholarship in Nigeria. He established the Finance Department at the University of Lagos. But all his formal academic training is in Economics! How about Professor Pat Utomi, Director of Lagos Business School at Pan African University who teaches Applied Economics and Business Strategy? Prof Utomiâ€™s academic training is in Public Policy! What all this boils down to is that we should always make provision for those given to versatility and original thinking.
The outside world must consider it strange that there are people in Nigeria in the 21st Century raising objections to the appointment of a Vice President at the AfDB who has for years overseen the Bankâ€™s investments in international capital markets, as the chief executive of the countryâ€™s Securities and Exchange Commission. The argument that Ms Oteh has not practised for donkey years in Nigeria as a stockbroker does no good to the professional standing of the purveyors. So does the reasoning that highly trained and knowledgeable Nigerians living in the Diaspora returning home to take up appointments are interlopers.
The Senate should, of course, not capitulate based on the smear against Ms Oteh. She is the best man for the job!
Dr (Mrs) Osaro is of the University of Benin, Edo State.