By Ochereome Nnanna
It started as one of those normal rumours, especially on the various discussion forums of the Internet. I did not believe it until I actually saw the former Managing Director of the World Bank, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (NOI) gracefully prancing down the steps to take up her place on the podium for screening as minister on the floor of the Senate last Wednesday. Then, I reconfirmed to myself that this lady truly loves Nigeria.
In every human organisation there are people who need the job and those the job needs. Okonjo-Iweala falls into the second category. I am not sure yet what her pay packet is. But I am almost certain she must have given up much of her income in the World Bank to return to serve her country just as she did the other time. For people like her it is usually not all about the money. It is a huge sacrifice to give up the secured and prestigious job she held at the World Bank to return to a crisis-embroiled nation where bombs are going off everyday from terrorists.
It is even more so to come back to a job she abandoned in June 2006 after an untidy parting of ways with former President Obasanjo. Once bitten, they say, twice shy. That was the premise upon which I was initially sceptical about the prospects of her joining the President Goodluck Jonathan government. It is a mark of courage for her to return to the slippery terrain in spite of the fact that she was not exactly jobless. I am holding up Dr Okonjo-Iweala as a role model for Nigerian youth in all parts of the world, irrespective of their level of learning, current employment status and attainments.
No matter what you are in a country where you are a settler (even if you have secured the citizenship of that country) you are still basically nothing if your country of birth is slumped among the comity of virtually failed nations. You are devalued among your colleagues if you cannot volunteer to make a difference. I am so proud of our finest Diaspora products, Okonjo-Iweala, Professor Barth Nnaji and Mr Olusegun Aganga, for abandoning their comfort zones in foreign lands and offering to put their hands on deck to rescue Nigeria.
The assignment before NOI and Barth are enormous, and if they fail to deliver, then it would be truly tragic for Nigeria. If Nnaji is able to fix the power supply problem within the life of this administration as he promised during his screening at the Senate, the sky will be his limit not only for his Geometric Power Company but also for his political career. The same thing applies to Okonjo-Iweala. If she is able to guide President Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda to result in a massive job creation and expansion of the economic space to make Nigeria the next most attractive destination for investors from all corners of the world, your guess is as good as mine what will come after that.
It is not a piece of cake for NOI. Some are already calling her “Ngozi Okonjo-WAHALA”. And already, some cowards have been sending her threat messages. She has seen nothing yet. Some attempts will be made beyond threats and name-calling when she confronts the long-established powerful interests to give the common citizens a new lease of life. The task before NOI this time around is tougher than what she confronted in her first “missionary journey”, when she pursued transparency in public spending and helped ease Nigeria out of external debt trap.
During that first time, the figures showed the economy growing faster than at any other time in the past three decades. But the common man pounding the streets in search of daily bread did not feel the positive effect of her magic touch. Rather, critics were able to form the opinion that she came to advance the Bretton-Woods Institutions’ interests and was rewarded accordingly with the post of MD of the World Bank on completion of her assignment.
NOI must, therefore, labour to change that perception. This time around, she must work for the ordinary citizen. The Goodluck Jonathan presidency is obviously the first genuinely democratically elected in Nigeria’s history (putting aside the June 12 election that was annulled). This was the first time that the choice of the ordinary Nigerian produced the president of the country. NOI and the rest of the economic team must devote their energies to ensuring that the anticipated growth in the economy is not restricted to mere statistical figures.
It must focus on massive job creation and the elevation of the standards of living of the common person. Within the next four years, Nigerians expect that epileptic power supply would end. We want our cities to quieten down from the noise and smoke of private electricity generators. We expect the Federal Government to end the importation of petroleum products, rice and cement, and to make them available and affordable. We look forward to the beginning of the exportation of made-in-Nigeria rice, cement, fashion products, finished petroleum products and what have you.
We want to see the trains – modern trains at that – begin to run all over Nigeria. We want the sea highways to be transformed into bustling economic corridors for movement of people, goods and services.
We want to see our schools and universities once again becoming some of the best in the world. We want to see our people in the Diaspora returning in droves as Ghanaians did when their country was mended.
It will be up to NOI and the economic team to shepherd Nigeria through the difficult and painful privatisation and deregulation processes that we can no longer avoid. There will be many tricky moments with the unions. It will be chiefly up to her to dissuade her principal, President Jonathan, from his free-spending and big government proclivities. She will be depended upon to tame the federal budget and make it work for the common people, not just government employees and civil servants.
Welcome back, NOI. Let the work begin.