Okonjo-Iweala-Adeniji Saga

In my own opinion, controversy, debate and divergent views and opinions, and unexpected moves and resourcefulness play as much a role in Democracy like the egg plays in making an omelet. We do not make an omelet without breaking an egg. By the same token, there is nothing unseemly in people sharing and expressing divergent views on any issue in a Democracy. Who could ever have believed after Pearl Harbor, that America and Japan could be the best of bosom friends and allies few years later. Who could have expected President Clinton a staunch Democrat to make Bill Cohen a staunch Republican his Secretary of Defense. Today, the kite is being flown in some quarters that the Democratic nominee, John Kerry might consider running with John McCain as his running mate. In a Democracy, anything is possible. That is why America is so unique in the world. Who would have believed a wrestler, Jesse Ventura running for office of Governor as an independent in Minnesota and winning with effortless ease. Dissent in a Democracy is a fact of life and not an aberration.

Most rational people condemn Dictatorship and I do so with passion, because it leaves little room for dissent, criticism or debate. Once a decision has been taken, or once the Dictator has spoken, all knees must bow. Even when there are superior arguments, they are nearly always swept under the carpet by force and through intimidation, blackmail, or mindless suppression of the opposition. Democracy is today spreading, all over the world, like bush fire in the Harmattan, because it encourages and welcomes freedom of expression, debate and criticisms both constructive or otherwise. It is never a winner take all kind of scenario that is often the hallmark of a dictatorship. In the end, and regardless of how you cut it, Democracy is fast becoming he only game in town, because the minority is allowed to have its own say while the majority may still carry the day, by quite often using some of the views expressed by the minority or the opposition.

Of course, there have been instances where the minority has been right, and the majority has been totally wrong. But such occasions are few and far between if you are really paying attention. It is therefore disingenuous for anyone to challenge or question the motivation and even the patriotism and integrity of some of us for daring to express a different opinion on the two super ministers’ take-home pay in a financially challenged country like ours. We do not have to agree on everything because our social make-up is different. I dare say that no position anybody takes on any issue is absolutely wrong or right. It all depends on the circumstance, the context and the frame of reference. More often than not, what we all say or do is influenced by our own beliefs and value system, as well as our own individual choices and judgment, our prejudices, backgrounds, circumstances and predilections as human beings, as observed by Professor Emeritus Harold Seidman in his best seller, titled “Poltics, Position and Power.”

I am sure that President Obasanjo, in his own mind, probably believed he was doing something praiseworthy and proper by his decision to offer Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala the job of Federal Minister of Finance on the terms and conditions that are totally out of sync with our country’s crumbling financial status and circumstance. Obasanjo might possibly have viewed that decision as one of the defining moments of his troubling presidency. As a man who has frequently made the mistake of falling in love with his own ideas, he has totally blocked out on new and better ideas from reaching him because of his propensity to stonewall. All he is looking for is an affirmation of what it is he really wants to hear from a lot of “panda bears” advising him. Nigeria ship of state is adrift today under Obasanjo because the president thinks he is wiser than the rest of us, as once observed by Shehu Shagari, the man who took over from him in 1979.

He, Obasanjo, might have thought the whole nation was going to view his decision to bring Iweala on board his sinking ship of state as a bold reflection of his determination to chart a new course for our country, by going for a Nigerian technocrat whose ability had been tested and proved at the World Bank, and who would presumably come back home to repeat the same magic. The mere fact that Ngozi does not come from his own tribe, should possibly have assured the President who many Igbos, at home and abroad, have had cause to view as an arrogant Igbophobist. The President was probably using the Iweala appointment to appease the Igbos in particular and Nigerian women in general, and to demonstrate his nationalist credential and evenhandedness as President. It remains to be seen, however, if the Igbos are impressed, and whether or not this move would ever satisfy them, and the women interest group the President may have been trying to impress.

What Mr. President did not think through are the full ramifications of that appointment and how that decision is likely to impact the entire Public Service as the engine that drives the administration of our country. What the President did not consider is how other Nigerians are going to view his newly cadre of “dolarized” Ministers from this time on, if it became clear to them, it was his own personal decision alone, and not a joint effort with the Senate which is supposed to confirm the nomination to begin with. How much the Ministers were making and how much they were going to make in their new assignment would never have escaped the attention of the Senate and the Press if such nominations were being made by an American President. Crying wolf and locking up the stable after the horse has escaped is a sad reflection on the caliber of the Nigerian Senate and how they carry out their obligations and responsibilities under our military inspired Constitution which was never formally ratified by anyone. The President should have realized by now, if it has not already dawned on him, that where there are five Nigerians, you have as many as eight or nine opinions, because we are all politically polarized, and always suspicious of one another’s motive. I, for one, cannot help but wonder, if this President, as a former military dictator, ever truly believes in the supremacy of the Constitution or understand the real import of his oath of office, to always uphold the Constitution. If he has no confidence in that Constitution which is possible, if he loves Nigeria as much as he claims, one of his first order of business as President in 1999 should have been a formal debate and ratification of that Constitution using the Sovereign National Conference as a launching pad. Because he considers himself the father of modern Nigeria, he thought it was below his dignity to clear the way for the National Conference to take hold.

It is fair to say Mr. President’s track record in the last five years in particular has spoken volumes on how much this President values the separation of Powers between the three tiers of Government or what should be his role as a civilian President. This same President had, once upon a time too many, illegally doctored a Bill passed on to him by the Legislature. He has been behaving as if he is still presiding over a unitary government like the one he headed up until 1979. He seems to believe that the Nigerian National Assembly and the Senate are merely serving at his own pleasure. You could see that from his very disruptive relationship with the former Speaker of the National Assembly and the former Presidents of the Senate. An American President who has dared to commit that kind of violation, would not only have been impeached, he, most certainly, would have been so politically damaged that he would never get a second term, talk less of a landslide victory for his Party!

I think that was the point that Wole Soyinka was making when he said that the Government and the President, and not the two ministers, ought to be the one to be held responsible for not following due process in deciding how much salary to pay the Ministers, and in what currency? A President that does not value his own currency, cannot complain if others take their cue from him. From Soyinka’s perspective, the laborer is worthy of his wages or whatever he or she gets in return for his or her own sweat. Who, in his right mind, can fault that logic? When you are looking for a job, you go for as much as you can get from your employer and not for less. But guess what? The big difference here is that the two ministers did not seek or apply for the jobs they were offered in the ways that people normally seek employment in much of the Public Service as we know it. As a matter of fact, the jobs being an extension of the political spoils system, or the pork barrel, as they American politicians call it, were never advertised, talk less of the appointees being interviewed by anybody other than the President himself who knows next to nothing about how the Public Service o functions, and how much damage that disparity in service conditions can do to the “espirit de corps” of the Service without which a thousand Iwealas can never bring about the kind of magic that Obasanjo was hoping to get.

The two Ministers were sought after from their ivory tower at the World Bank and the United Nations, and given the choice and the privilege to negotiate and determine what they think they are worth in Dollars and regardless of the huge disparity in value between the almighty Dollar and our local currency. I put some of the blame at the door step of Ufot Ekaette the Secretary to Government, but the bucks stop at the desk of Mr. President. I am sure that Professor Wole Soyinka was not suggesting that Mrs. Iweala and Ambassador Adeniji were the very best Nigerians that could be found for those two jobs at home and abroad, if the recruitment process had followed the proper channels and protocol. What Obasanjo had done was his own judgment call, based on his personal knowledge of the two nominees’ ability and competence, and his belief, subjective or otherwise, that the working chemistry between them would be right, and that the two super Ministers could, all of a sudden, heal Nigeria of all of her debilitating maladies as a country in decline. It is quite possible that Okonjo-Iweala could have prevailed on her erstwhile colleagues at the World Bank to reschedule Nigerian loans and debt or possibly cancel it altogether. But repayment of loans is only a tip of the iceberg when you are talking of other problems facing Nigeria like Corruption and managerial incompetence of the worst order. Even if the entire loan is forgiven or written off, Nigeria is still going to be a long way from finding a solution to the endemic problem of corruption and poor work ethics and values that have become an albatross on the neck of our country.

Obasanjo has kept failing because he is always behaving like an outlaw who thinks he is clearly above the law and wiser, than the other 134 million Nigerians taken together. Having been President three times in such a big and complex country like Nigeria, Obasanjo would appear to have internalized that jinx about himself and his ability. Obasanjo may have started seeing himself as a genius who cannot go wrong on anything he does or thinks. There is some validity to his having that notion of himself like I wrote in one of my previous articles on him when I briefly summarized a character profile of him, as a Nigerian with the best chance to heal the wounds of our Nation. I no longer believe that to be self-evident today if you ask me.

I see Obasanjo as a typical Owu man courageous and militant, but absolutely unpredictable and pathologically contemptuous of people around him and believing he is the only game in town. He had attended Abeokuta Baptist Boys High School with the likes of M.K.O Abiola who was one year his senior or junior, I am told. There was nothing spectacular about him in that school, but he is today their most famous old boy.

While his other class mates were still beating about the bush looking for what career to pursue at a time when career guidance counseling was unheard off in our own part of the world, Destiny had led Obasanjo to join the Military at a time when majority of our people in the West generally viewed a career in the Military or the Police Force as a career meant for the never-do- well boys and the hard-to-manage youngsters who could have been chastened by the iron discipline associated with the Military at the time. That master stroke of a decision is what has given Obasanjo a head start above any of his compatriots in Nigeria today. It was not necessarily because he was a genius. I guess you can say he was uniquely lucky, and has continued to remain exceptionally lucky and calculating for much of his adult life. He had risen to become a full fledged General and Commander-in-Chief, three times already, and could be eyeing it for the fourth time, if rumors about his real intention in 2007 is anything to be believed.

Like I said before, and it bears repeating here that the man did not start the Biafran War, but he, sure, had the good fortune to be the one to end it, and taking all the credit, while sending the Black Scorpion, the real hero of the War into early retirement and oblivion. You will recall the same man was penned down by the coup makers led by Dimkar as one of the Generals to be eliminated along with Murtala Mohammed, but it was Colonel Dumuje, an Obasanjo look-alike, that had the back screen of his car shattered with bullets while Obasanjo had escaped without a scratch. Murtala had started so nice and died a hero, but it was Obasanjo that has lived to tell the story, while wrapped in the Murtala mystique. If Abacha has had his way, Obasanjo should have been dead and forgotten by now, like Yar Adua, thanks to late Bola Ige and others who had saved his life when it mattered the most.

As a matter of fact and History, it was the same Bola Ige, many years later, who has had to physically take the bullet in his own bedroom at Ibadan and died for the causes espoused by the same friend he had saved, some years back. For those who did not know, Obasanjo is a cat with nine lives. Only Yassir Arafat could have beaten his record as a survivor. I have heard from the grapevine that Obasanjo’s old presidential plane had developed engine trouble in flight once or twice during his many overseas travels, but had managed to land safely on both occasions. I can tell you that Obasanjo’s plane once had to land at Abuja airport in total darkness because of power outages in the nation’s capital. So we are talking of a man of destiny who believes at heart he is the smartest Nigerian alive, and can get away with anything. I am told he quite often brags about getting, on a platter of gold, and three times in a row, a position that Awolowo, for all his intellect, political depth and sagacity, was never able to accomplish.

That super man streak in Obasanjo is has been played out by his newly found fellowship with God as he now hosts the Holy Ghost night at his fortress in Abuja where he appears side by side with the best of our preachers and General overseers like the great Enoch Adeboye who often joins him in prayer, from time to time, while the President assures his guests and all Nigerians “It shall be well with you, no cause for alarm” But when you imagime the level of crime, political assassination and lawlessness in our country today, you have to wonder what the hell is going on!

If I am reading Obasanjo correctly, and I believe so, he may be two or three steps above those wanting to succeed him in 2007. The rest of the country are still thinking the choice could boil down to Atiku or IBB, as scary as those choices may be, but Baba Iyabo may be keeping his joker close to his chest, without telling anyone, not even the first Lady. His choice of future Presidential material, in his own mind, as silly as it may sound to any of you reading this, may have come down to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for all you know. I won’t be surprised if Baba Iyabo is not using this appointment as Federal Minister of Finance to consolidate Iweala’s chances, as a future presidential candidate, at a time Nigerians have lost faith in most of their male contenders, and are now rooting for a female leader to emerge on the political stage in our country. The number of women currently serving in various positions in Obasanjo’s Administration are clear indications to me, Obasanjo may have had a change of heart like many in our country that a search for a female contender is not totally out of place.

If you don’t know it already, the Ministry of Finance in Nigeria, is fast becoming the stepping stone for any civilian who may be nursing some future presidential ambition in our country. The first Nigerian to give some credibility to that assertion was Obafemi Awolowo himself who had combined that position with that of the Deputy Chairman of the Federal Executive Council under Yakubu Gowon. When you become a Federal Minister of Finance in Nigeria, you may well be a heartbeat from the presidency, if past experience is anything to go by. Shehu Shagari, I believe, once held that job. So was Alhaji Ciroma, and then Olu Falae. The three of them have all ended up as presidential candidates, at one point or the other. I can tell you, one of the greatest claims of Olu Falae to the presidency had come from his conviction that he had been to the mountain top of political calculus in Nigeria, having been Secretary to Government and then Minister of Finance, albeit for less than six months. Two former holders of that position who had not sought the Presidency at some point in their life are Onaolapo Soleye and Olasore the current Kabiyesi Oba Laloko of Iloko in Ijesha Local Government.

Obasanjo may have concluded in his mind that the time is ripe to start preparing a woman for leadership of our country at a time all of the candidates eyeing the position after him, are carrying so much baggage that should make the country think twice, if we truly want the best interest of our country. Obasanjo is certainly not the kind of President not to show great interest in who succeeds him. He may therefore be looking for another candidate who, in the fullness of time, could be tipped for President from the South East, if the selection exercise becomes as top-heavy and as cantankerous, as it is today, with Atiku, IBB and Buhari probably locking horns in a fight to finish scenario, that might do our country no good, if it survives, as one united country. Obasanjo may have found an answer to that cul-de-sac or stalemate in a superb technocrat like Okonjo-Iweala who is not just eminently qualified, but also comes from the South East which ought to be the next zone to fill the vacancy, if the truth must be told. It ought to be the turn of the South East or the South/South to produce the next President of Nigeria.

This is not a case of Obasanjo wanting to pick or impose a candidate on the South East zone. it is probably Obasanjo looking for candidate who can best serve our country and serve her very well in an age of globalization. Okonjo-Iweala certainly needs some cognate experience in national politics, and that is what she may be getting through this appointment.

Okonjo-Iweala is more than qualified to hold that position, and to, possibly, become the first woman of substance in our country to run for President in much the same way like Bandaranaike had run, and was eventually named the President of Ceylon. Indira Ghandhi following the political legacy of her own father, Pandit Nheru did become the Prime Minister of India. Golda Meir also became Prime Minister in Israel, and Mrs. Benazir Ali Bhutto, also an alumnus of Oxford and Harvard did end up, like her father, becoming, Prime Minister of Pakistan. By the same token, Margaret Thatcher, the daughter of a grocer in Britain another Oxford graduate, did become Prime Minister of Great Britain, while Mrs. Corazon Aquino also became President of the Philippines. I can tell you that none of these great women of knowledge and character can boast of a more attractive resume than our own Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, if you really think about it. If Ngozi is able to rise to the top at the World Bank, she may well do for Nigeria what she has done for the World Bank, if she is able to help Obasanjo turn Nigerian economy around.

That is my take on this issue. I could be wrong, but it is well within the realm of possibility if my psycho analysis of Obasanjo is correct. I am throwing it out for whatever it may be worth in this article. Some may dismiss this viewpoint as totally out of line with reality, because they can argue Ngozi is not a politician and may therefore be a wrong choice. I beg to differ, because some of the women I have mentioned in this article, did not start out as politicians per se, but they all did become one at point in their life. All I am saying is that there could be some validity to what Obasanjo may be up to, by going after Iweala and offering to match her salary at the World Bank, dollar for dollar, to the extent of putting her above his own salary bracket. But the President still has to follow the due process which he has not done in this case, and that is why some of us are complaining or criticizing him.

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala is, without any question, is a great pick for our country considering her qualifications and track record at the World Bank. She would have an uphill task, though, dealing with the assignment, and making a huge success of it, because of the caliber and the work ethics and the general indiscipline of the workforce she has to work with in Nigeria. They are a far cry from the type she is used to at the World Bank.

As for me what was uppermost in my mind as a retired public servant with a great deal of respect for the Civil Service in the days of Simeon Adebo, Ejueyitchie, Abdul Azeez Atta, the late Odumosu, Allison Ayida, Grey Longe, Francisca Yetunde Emmanuel Philip Asiodu, Eme Ebong, Ahmed Joda, Yusuf Gobir, Sunday Awoniyi, S.O. Awokoya and Dr.S.B. Cookey, Ogbuefi Gilbert Chikelu, just to mention a few, was how the morale of the Public Service could have been seriously compromised by the way the President has handled the situation. Because Obasanjo has not done it the right way, he has left himself open to criticism and may have embarrassed the two Ministers in so doing. My own position is not at variance with the views expressed by the Nobel Peace Laureate, except in emphasis, I might add.

And to those who have some problems with my suggestion that Iweala may still have her job waiting for her at the World Bank, I have this explanation to offer. In my days in the Federal Service, there was something called “Secondment” of good and capable officers to some assignments for a limited time. If the temporary secondment develops some “k” leg at any point in time, the officer can still return to where he or she has come from, without sustaining any loss. I made that suggestion based on my knowledge of that practice. I will be more than happy if some acceptable solution can still be found to the embarrassing stalemate for the President and his embattled super Ministers.

My last point is the notion being peddled around in certain circles that Mrs. Iweala and Ambassador Adeniji are making huge sacrifices by agreeing to work for Nigeria for some time. While that may appear correct on the surface, I don’t think we should overstretch it or push the envelope too hard. Most of the jobs at the World Bank and the United Nations are given out on quota basis to staff drawn from most member countries. Both Iweala and Ambassador Adeniji may have gotten their jobs based on their personal merit, qualifications and competence. But that is only one side of the coin. They may have been offered those jobs from the quota reserved for Nigeria as a member country. If that is so, they have an obligation to make a sacrifice for their country without making a mountain out of that. That is my first point. But the argument does not end there.

The point can also be made that both Iweala and Ambassador Adeniji also stand to gain so much from their appointment as Ministers of Finance and Foreign Affairs in one of the leading countries south of the Sahara, with our kind of potential in Geo Politics despite our country’s glaring weaknesses and shortcomings. The two Ministers, after successfully holding those positions, can only make it a stepping stone to something higher in their career. Robert Rubin the Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton had left a job at Goldman Sacs paying him 26 million a year to accept a job paying less than 200,000.00 . He knew what he was doing, and you could call that a sacrifice. Dick Cheney left his job at Halliburton paying him multiple millions to become Vice President earning much less than 300,000.00 per year. You can also call that a sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice with some difference. Bill Clinton, instead of becoming a corporate Lawyer earning millions at the age of 26 had chosen to go into Politics, becoming Attorney General of Arkansas and then Governor for 12 years when his highest pay was only 35,000.00 dollars per year. That is what you call a big sacrifice. But that same sacrifice had laid the foundation to Bill Clinton becoming President of the United States at the age of 43, and one of the youngest Americans to ever hold that position. Bill Clinton makes today 100,000.00 to 200,000.00 dollars per speech, as he goes around the world. Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, by having the Nigerian Minister of Finance added to her impressive resume has a potential to even rise higher in the World Bank or any other international organization she might want to work for, in the future. She might even run for president or become like Theophilus Danjuma chairperson of several multi national Fortune 500 type of companies in Nigeria in the foreseeable future. So those who think she is making a sacrifice to come serve as our Finance Minister are only looking at one side of the coin and not the total picture. She stands to gain everything from this appointment. It is a win, win situation for her, and she deserves the honor, and we all should be proud of her, But the President must follow due process, and do it right, is all we are saying.

I rest my case.

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