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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Jonathan’s super minister

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By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
WHEN the story broke last week, that Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had ORDERED Information Minister, Labaran Maku, to punish Yushau Shuaibu, spokesperson of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), for daring to criticise her, I wasn’t too surprised really.

The story was that Ngozi not only insisted that the young man be removed from NEMA, he must be posted to one of the Boko Haram areas of the North, as punishment for the “temerity” of criticising the “super minister”, Ngozi! Shuaib’s offence was to have written an open letter to Ngozi, but the super minister’s grouse was located in the last paragraph of the letter: “For those of us who still respect the Hon. Minister of Finance and Economic Development, we strongly believe she should dissociate herself from the current allegations of ‘biafranization’ of top public offices in Nigeria.

We are in a democratic government where policy issues should not be done in dictatorial manner of ‘we-are-now-in-power’. I therefore urge her to ensure that appointments into important positions should be done in credible and transparent manner that can withstand public scrutiny”.

Just to be double sure, I called Yushau and he confirmed that he had received a call from Ngozi, who complained that he had not been fair to her; she then demanded that he must write a rebuttal of the original piece.

He was not prepared to do so. It was in anger that Ngozi allegedly reported directly to President Jonathan, bypassing the Information Minister at first, before her subsequent demand that Shuaib be removed from NEMA and sent as a Federal Information Officer in either Borno or Yobe.

By late last week, the first leg of Ngozi’s wish was fulfilled with Yushau’s removal as NEMA spokesperson. The allegation of Ngozi’s alleged ‘biafranization’ project has gone viral on the web and it was actually an issue that she confronted in a lecture she gave to the Ola Ndi Igbo symposium recently in Lagos.

Her presentation was titled “Values, Mindsets and Culture”; and it was significant that she acknowledged that there were allegations that “I have come to prosecute an Igbo agenda (in respect of public service appointments)”. In response, Ngozi said: “my point is, I don’t give a damn. If the people got there on merit, they deserve it and we will stick with it as long as we know they didn’t get it through the back door”.

She then went on a triumphalist ride: “by the way, when you think of merit and competition Igbos don’t do badly and that is the problem, we do rather well. Somebody said everybody in the financial sector is Igbo; then they begin to list people like the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Director General of Stock Exchange, Director-General of Securities and Exchange Commission, Director General of Debt Management Office, myself and Sovereign Wealth Fund”.

Lionised guru

As THE NATION newspaper’s HARDBALL column of Monday observed “Not only did she miss the import of the complaints against her style, especially on the issue of her interpretation of merit, she incredulously gave the impression that merit could not be compromised by subjectivity and that given Nigeria’s ethnic pastiche, public officials did not need to be more sensitive and more restrained in public service promotions.

Worse, it beggars belief that a minister of her standing could sound so ethnically triumphant by gloating that ‘when you think of merit and competition, Igbo don’t do badly, and that is a problem, we do rather well’.

How smug!” And how smug indeed! This ULTRA- REACTIONARY agent of imperialism can afford to gloat because she has been so lionised as some kind of guru by the Jonathan administration. And since she is the “super minister”, she can go as far as ordering the removal of a spokesman of a body that she does not directly supervise.

One of the tragedies of the transition to a civilian regime in 1999, is the manner that characters who never participated in the struggle against dictatorship and do not share the aspirations of the Nigerian people, have come to occupy a central place in the policy making establishment, starting with Obasanjo.

These reactionary “experts” come mainly from US-based imperialist institutions; the most prominent of them is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. That she is ordering the removal of a public servant from position, gives an indication of their mindset. They cannot tolerate criticism, yet they force down the throat of our country, policies that serve the interest of imperialism and a tiny elite.

These are policies that they did not submit for national debate anyway! They can only thrive in settings that stifle debate or where state power is controlled by a ruling elite sworn to the implementation of the unpatriotic and unpopular policies of the Washington Consensus that they espouse.

The removal of Yushau Shuaib at Ngozi‘s behest, underlines the danger which these Made-in-Washington “experts” constitute to the health of Nigeria; and where they are also openly implementing an ethnic agenda, then the trouble becomes compounded!

What really happened in Baga?

IT took the international media, last weekend to alert Nigerians to the massacre of innocent people that took place in Baga, the border town on the Lake Chad, in Borno State. It was in fact one of the most horrible events of the counter-insurgency activities of the Nigerian security forces, since the emergence of the Boko Haram insurgency.

As we now know, the security forces informed a shocked Borno Governor, Kashim Shettima, who visited, that one soldier had been killed by insurgents. It seemed that the military returned in force and launched a massive attack on the town. No fewer than 185 people were killed and 2000 houses were destroyed.

The Director of Defence Information, Brig-Gen. Chris Olukade told correspondents that one soldier died and 25 insurgents were killed. If that was the case, how did 185 civilians: men, women and children lose their lives? Why are people in the community accusing the military of having been responsible for the savagery visited upon the community?

The argument of the security forces was so disingenuous and I am amazed that they expect any intelligent person to accept it. Brig-Gen. Austin Edokpaye said: “extremists used heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades in the assault, which began after soldiers surrounded a mosque they believed housed members of the radical Islamic extremist network Boko Haram.

Extremists had earlier killed a military officer”. Edokpaye then added that: “extremists used civilians as human shields during the fighting (apparently to justify the mass killing of civilians by soldiers!)”.

His ‘tale-by-moonlight’ continued thus: When we reinforced and returned to the scene the terrorists came out with heavy firepower, including rocket-propelled grenades, which usually has a conflagration effect (thus passing the buck of the near-complete destruction of the town to the insurgents!)”.

I will be the first to agree that the security forces are doing a very difficult job in the counter-insurgency war in Borno. Most of these soldiers cannot often differentiate who the enemy might be and there is also the absence of a nuanced understanding of the cultural sensitivities of the community.

However, having been back in Maiduguri in the past one year, it is clear that the military’s tactics have been more akin to the collective punishment of the people in many places where they have confronted the Boko Haram insurgents.

The government has been desperately attempting to spin the events of the past weekend in Baga, with the hogwash about ‘Rules of engagement for the military and security agencies’ allegedly being in place.

It is also true that President Jonathan has ordered “a full-scale investigation of high civilian casualties” as well as ordered NEMA and federal health agencies to give victims “immediate relief and medical support”. What is clear is that the town has been almost completely destroyed and the mobilisation of NEMA won’t have been necessary if the security forces had not employed scorched earth tactics in the first place.

Southern Media‘s bay for blood

I find it instructive that there are still very influential commentators, especially in the Southern media, who continue to bay for more blood as the best way out of the quagmire in Northern Nigeria. What is happening increasingly is the collective punishment of communities; the killing of innocents and the destruction of the little that very poor people in these communities have.

It is also remarkable that those who will threaten Nigeria, either with war or break up, if these tragic events had taken place in the Southern part of Nigeria, have suddenly lost their voices. The human rights and NGO constituency will not get imperialist dollars, by condemning the massacre in Baga.

Wole Soyinka has not said anything so far (and I am writing on Tuesday night); remember he had alleged that Chinua Achebe’s death had probably been hastened by the killing of “his people” in the North! Baga speaks to our humanity and it underlines the dangers of the impunity trailing the counter-insurgency activities of the Nigerian security forces in the fight against Boko Haram.

Those who do not feel bothered about the destruction of that community, only abet a tragedy that can easily spread to other parts of our country. We first had Odi; then Zaki Biam followed; the next chapter opened last weekend in Baga on the Lake Chad. So bad was the invasion of that community that dead bodies were still being picked from surrounding areas on Tuesday morning.

Those responsible for the massacre of so many people and the destruction of a whole community must be brought to book. The Jonathan administration’s counter-insurgency campaign has clearly reached a tragic dead end! More than ever before, it needs to move faster on the track of a peaceful end to the tragic insurgency that has ground many of our Northern communities to a halt. We cannot continue in the old way!



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