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Okonjo-Iweala: The pot, the kettle

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By Josef Omorotionmwan
WE salute the Nigerian spirit – the spirit of enterprise. It is the spirit that rewards excellence and punishes indolence. We have seen the Nigerian team in a football match with another country on our home ground. In the beginning, Nigerians applauded their team to the high heavens but as soon as the Nigerian team fell into goal deficit, Nigerians switched their support to the visiting team and at the very height of their disappointment, they even started hurling stones at the Nigerian players.

This is instructive for Nigerian politicians. In his opening address to the 52nd Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, on August 28, 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan informed the gathering of learned gentlemen that he was “the most criticized President in the world”.

Okonjo-Iweala
Okonjo-Iweala

That could be true but we quickly reminded him of the Nigerian spirit and that in the beginning, he was also the most praised man the world over. How else could Nigerians have demonstrated their love for this man than that after Moshood Kashimawo Abiola (1937-1998), the best President we never had, Jonathan remains the only President who was put in office with votes from across party lines and across geographical boundaries?

In politics, criticism is a fact of life. And as they say, if you can’t stand the smoke, you better get out of the kitchen. We take very seriously, the recent alert by the ebullient Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, when she took a swipe at the State Governors on their profligacy.

Speaking at the 12th Convocation of Babcock University, the Minster wondered why citizens blame the administration of President Jonathan for the failings of state governments that get monthly allocations larger than countries like Liberia, Gambia and the Republic of Benin. Madam urged Nigerians to ask their State Governors what they are doing with their huge allocations.

Hear her: “In 2013 alone, Akwa Ibom got N260 billion, Rivers N230 billion, Delta N209 billion, Bayelsa N173 billion, Lagos N168 billion, Kano N140 billion, Katsina N103 billion, Oyo N100 billion, Kaduna N97 billion and Borno N94 billion.” These were the allocations these States got from the Federation account.

She titled her message, “Leave Jonathan alone: Ask your Governors what they do with their allocations”. Here, Okonjo-Iweala was being clever by half, a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Why would anyone think that the issue of profligacy in government today can be considered without Jonathan who is, indeed, the captain of that industry?

Essentially, profligacy is evil and must not be condoned. But if somebody comes to me to say: “Ask Governor Godswill Akpabio what he did with the billions allocated to him but don’t ask President Jonathan what he did with the trillions in his possession”, I would take a second look at such a person.

Madam’s approach is as un-Harvard as it is un-MIT – Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology – two world-renowned Institutions where Madam poured out her superior brains very early in life. She also made waves in the World Bank where she would today have been the boss but for the accident of geography.

A more mature approach, which would have accommodated the concept of leadership by example, would have been: “Jonathan got ‘A’ and did ‘B’ with it. On the basis of this, I challenge Akpabio to tell the people what he did with the ‘C’ he got.” But by remaining stoically silent on the allocation to the Federal Government, Okonjo-Iweala shows herself a biased umpire.

The timing of Madam’s call also betrays it as political. Coming very close to an election year, the silent aim is to portray the State Governors and their administrations in bad light so that the Federal Government can shine. There is an attempt here to pitch State Governors against their people. More so, it is an established fact that Governors have always been seen by the electorate as tax-eating parasites, under-worked and over- paid. No citizen is happy when governments spend any money, even when such expenditure is in providing amenities for his area. There is this open ambivalence – you must provide amenities but don’t spend money.

On balance, many state governments are, today, more accountable to the people than the Federal Government. By and large, gone are the days when state governors simply diverted monthly allocations to their private pockets and nothing happened.

In abstraction, the allocation of N230 billion to Rivers State is big in the eye of everyone but the Monorail Project, the Afam Power Project, the Model Education Institutions in virtually all the local government areas, health institutions, the massive road networks – to name just a few –loom much larger than the allocation.

Apparently, the states are working. Their peer review mechanism is setting them in healthy competitions among themselves. Many of them now go the extra-mile of publishing their audited accounts at the end of every financial year – something the Federal Government can learn from. There can be no better accountability!

Jonathan sits over the largest Presidential Air Fleet, PAF, of 10 aircraft for which we waste N10 billion annually in running costs. NNPC is unable to account for billions of Dollars of earned revenue, while somebody somewhere is lifting hundreds of billions of Naira pension money. And when one Minster is not busy squandering billions acquiring abandoned bullet-proof cars in Europe, another Minister is busy hiring taxis with N10 billion. Yet, the General Overseer must be left alone?

Okonjo-Iweala failed to tell her audience that if we removed the above sums from the combined budgets of six neighbouring countries, the six countries would collapse immediately.

Nigerians already have enough problems in their hands. Rather than give us the added task of determining who should be held accountable and who should be left alone, our plea is simple: Leave us alone!

 

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