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Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and the sin of cowardice

By Ugoji Egbujo

Okonjo Iweala, the famed technocrat , has returned to the pulpit. The gospel of good governance, like that of Christ, is easily preached. Technocrats come into public service in Nigeria brandishing reputations and clutching unto self righteousness.


But they often prove too sterile to affect the filth, and always leave as ineffectual as ordinary politicians. Okonjo Iweala came richly credentialed. Iweala was hardworking. She was one of our best ministers. But she is perhaps oblivious of the concept of collective responsibility. And she was gutless. She tamely supervised the squandering of national resources.

She has sauntered out of the wreckage with the gaiety of a bride. She is now preaching her way to redemption. Grace abounds in Nigeria. The masses are too forgetful. Glory is milked for little achievements and hypocrisy is let loose to deflect blames for woeful failures.

When Nigeria paid her debts and swelled her foreign reserves under Obasanjo, Iweala was exceptionally savvy. That was the impression. She concedes obliquely that Jonathan’s was an era of gross mismanagement but she won’t take any blames. She, the coordinator of the economy. They didn’t listen to her admonitions. And she stayed on coordinating!

There was “zero political will to save”. She says it oozing the righteous indignation of a jilted seer proven right by disaster. It is supposed to be an exculpatory revelation. Obasanjo had managed to conjure some ‘political will’ .

But with Jonathan? No, it wasn’t him, it wasn’t Okonjo Iweala either. It must have been the special breed of greedy governors that unlucky Jonathan inherited. They drained all the “political will”. But you would think Okonjo Iweala’s insights won’t be that simplistic. That she must be too stricken , too sober, to tell trite tales. Because the federal government got almost 50% of oil boom revenues and Okonjo Iweala was coordinating minister. That arm of government later resorted to borrowing to pay salaries.

The bane of African politics isn’t academic insufficiency. No, good theories abound everywhere, even in Zimbabwe. Often it’s authoritarianism and gross inefficiency. But more often it is moral bankruptcy. It is immoral to be silent in the face of conspicuous evil.

The political will to enthrone rectitude is where the snare lies. So when technocrats come with abundance of academic talk and sermons about global best practices they are no more than soulless mercenaries. They get the perks of office, the privileges of power and do not bother about practical freedom and concrete empowerment of the poor. They mouth capitalist ideas but treat democratic ethics with contempt. They will not stand against election rigging, they stay aloof, ready to serve whoever wins, however he wins. They will not fight corruption frontally, they pay lip service. “We are doing their best in the circumstance”.

Their characters are tested when their principals begin to subjugate national interests to private considerations. Corruption and theft of public resources will be clothed with the garments of lofty policies provided by technocrats. Nepotism, they cannot resist.

The poor will be harangued about the virtue of sacrifice in nation building while monies meant to fight insurgency walk into private pockets. Flimsy poverty alleviation programmes that fatten only politicians will be trumpeted. A multitude of workshops and seminars to pretend to intellectualism will be thrown around. Spurious data would be spawn to deny the grim reality of life on the streets.

They will close their eyes to absurdities like Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN) and join in mouthing gibberish like Transformation Agenda. They will wring their hands like Pilate. Yes, a finance minister will sign a memo that opens up the vault of the Central bank to the carting away of stacks of dollars to private homes, without compunction. Or was there? She sneaked in a dubious “my hand no dey inside” clause by reminding them of the need to render accounts. She retained her sainthood, lapped up international awards. They never get fed up, technocrats, never get angry. They always play along.

Corrupt regimes love them. They lend them legitimacy. When in such governments they lose scrupulousness. Who would have thought that after the financial commonsense exhibited during the Obasanjo regime that prodigality would return with vengeance with Iweala on the saddle? Okonjo Iweala attributes our present woes to recalcitrant governors. Iweala’s second stint was a chronicle of wastefulness. Impunity institutionalized corruption and theft in public service. 350 million dollars Abacha stole came back to the country and was reported re-stolen under Iweala’s nose. Iweala had been in government long enough to know what happens during elections. Yet she crafted a memo seeking approval to ‘lend’ 350 million dollars to the NSA three weeks to the original date for national elections ostensibly for the procurement of arms.

Since politicians disregarded her, why didn’t Okonjo Iweala resign? When the then CBN governor spoke about widespread looting , she was irritated. As irritated as she was when foreign journalists pestered her about Chibok girls. If Iweala had put the interest of the nation above the benefits of remaining a minister she would have easily resigned. She knew the country was clearly headed in the wrong direction . Her cowardice was even more baffling because she, apparently, did not need the job. Why are these technocrats never really patriotic beyond mouthing? “I have come to contribute my quota to national development?” And having failed pitiably as finance minister to do that which was most important , why is Okonjo Iweala not mourning? Why is truthful sober reflection , an ingredient of intellectualism , so lacking amongst our political technocrats? Why can’t Okonjo Iweala keep quiet if she isn’t ready to tell the whole truth yet?

Okonjo Iweala, international civil servant, substantially immune to the troubles and potential fallouts of outspokenness at the highest levels. She was in Aba campaigning for the return of Jonathan and the same set of circumstances she now cleverly refers to as ‘zero political will’. She has been one of our best ministers. And that is why our politics has remained a study in sycophancy.

Let the technocrats in Buhari’s government know that a president is not a deity. Their ultimate loyalty is to the nation. And sometimes the nation is best served by a principled noisy resignation.


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