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Udenwa lost in action as usual

By Ochereome Nnanna
POOR leadership in Nigeria starts from picking the team list. Nigerian leaders have rarely demonstrated visionary thoroughness in choosing the people with whom to work.

One of the secrets behind the success of the regional leadership that the military abolished was that our founding fathers, in the process of building virile political movements, identified the right materials for the challenging task of filling the posts that the British colonial masters were about to leave behind.

The last time that serious efforts were made at choosing winning teams to fill ministerial posts in Nigeria were during the first General Ibrahim Babangida cabinet in 1985 and Olusegun Obasanjo’s 2003 cabinet.

Babangida and Obasanjo went out of their way to select economic teams that operated at the global level of competence and reach. It was not surprising that the Babangida economic team launched the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) to signal the beginning of liberalisation from statist control to commercialisation and privatisation.

That trend became unstoppable and by the time Obasanjo decided to work for Nigeria and not just his political sponsors, he put together a crack team headed by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, which placed the Nigerian economy on the global playing field. Babangida and Obasanjo had their missions which they knew were not for pedestrians and politicians.

The world noticed the same sense of business when newly elected US President, Mr Barack Obama, created his cabinet and economic team. Midway into his campaign Lehman Brothers collapsed and triggered a worldwide economic rock fall that changed the direction of the presidential campaign.

The economy came to the front burner. In choosing his team, Obama emphasised tested hands with strong links to Wall Street and Congress because of the impending large-scale reforms. As soon as his victory was announced he named Rahm Emanuel as his White House Chief of Staff and built a powerful economic team that took America out of recession within 10 months of assuming office.

The same cannot be said of our President, Alhaji Umaru Yar’ Adua’s approach to team-building. The worldwide economic meltdown was not yet an issue when he assumed office on May 29, 2007.

But Nigeria had a suffocating need to quickly restore power supply and indigenous petroleum refining capacity, among other things. In assembling his first economic team Yar’ Adua conceded the Commerce Ministry to his sponsor, Obasanjo, who nominated his lackey, Engineer Charles Ugwuh, to take up the position.

Ugwuh, an avid supporter of Obasanjo’s botched tenure elongation bid, was being compensated for failing to stand as the governorship candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for Imo State in 2007.

Eighteen months later, Ugwuh was dropped for lack of performance. Nigerians expected that the next holder of that position should be a young, well-educated person probably with private sector track records. But what did they get? A former Governor of Imo State, Chief Achike Udenwa, an accountant by training.

Udenwa’s nomination (along with that of former Ebonyi Governor, Dr Sam Egwu) angered many people and elicited protests at the gate of the National Assembly when he was being screened by the Senate. Apart from his uninspiring personality and average performance as governor Udenwa, dark horse for all seasons, owed his eight years in office to his willingness to lick the political boots of former President Obasanjo. He connived with Sam Egwu and Professor Joe Irukwu to sabotage Ohanaeze’s resolve to oppose the tenure elongation at Abakaliki.

Since he took over as Minister of Commerce, Udenwa has not been able to make his mark. Actually, many of Yar’ Adua’s ministers are simply not up to the task of rescuing our economy out of crisis as their American counterparts have done.

More than two years after Yar’ Adua pledged to revive the textile sector with huge financial injection, nothing has been forthcoming. Nigerian markets are being swamped with cheap and often inferior Chinese textiles. We are funding Chinese industries and keeping millions of  Chinese workers employed while our own are either under-employed or in the job market.

In fact, Udenwa once sent someone to tell a business forum that Nigeria no longer had business protecting local industries now that we had embraced globalisation! Have we really embraced globalisation when we run our industries on generators and imported fuel?

Achike Udenwa, like many of his colleagues, has not been able to spell out to Nigerians how the Federal Government intends to take the Nigerian economy to the world’s Big 20 by 2020. They just lip the slogan and expect it to work the magic by itself (just as “Education for All by the Year 2000” did!) Udenwa is often absent from important forums organised by the private sector.

The major reason for the Minister’s poor performance is his continued obsession with politics of relevance in Imo State. When Governor Ikedi Ohakim returned to the PDP and thus became the leader of the party in the state, Udenwa quickly settled his differences with Senator Ifeanyi Araraume, the jilted governorship candidate of the PDP in 2007.

Udenwa had conspired with Obasanjo and Ahmadu Ali to deny Araraume the party’s ticket after he won the primaries. While Ohakim was still in the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), he invited Udenwa to all his economic missions at home and abroad and all was rosy between them.

There is nothing wrong with politics of relevance on its own. But when you allow your work to suffer as a result of it, there is a problem. Nigeria’s economic recovery is more important than anybody’s political interests.

The best thing is for Yar’ Adua to release Udenwa to go and mind his political business while a more suitable replacement is made immediately.


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