A Vietnamese friend drew my attention to the story last week. A politically discerning lady and a journalist with over ten years experience, we struck a relationship in our very first week in Cardiff. Since then, discussion of international politics has become our pastime.
When the new UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-Moon indicated his intention to appoint a woman from one of the developing countries, preferably Africa, as his deputy and the name of Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala started buzzing in diplomatic circles, she sought to know who the woman is. I told her that she was our immediate past Finance and Foreign Affairs Minister, a Harvard-trained economist and former senior staff of the World Bank.
I assured her that if Okonjo-Iweala’s name had been mentioned, then the job may well be hers. ‘Is she that good’ she asked. ‘Yes,’ I answered without hesitation. ‘Ngozi is a genius. A damn hard worker and very intelligent woman, she turned around the macro-economic policies of the government and Nigeria is the better for it. She is one of the best Finance Ministers any country could have,’ I said, despite my reservations over some of the policies she foisted on the country all in the name of reforms.
You can then imagine my embarrassment when, last Wednesday, the lady confronted me with the question of why Nigeria’s president blocked Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment at the UN. I dismissed the allegation immediately telling her that the Secretary-General for reasons best known to him preferred the Tanzanian Foreign Minister Asha-Rose Migiro to Ngozi and that the decision had nothing to do with the president of my country. She insisted that Ki-moon preferred Okonjo-Iweala but went for the Tanzanian because President Obasanjo could not give the requisite endorsement. Seeing my incredulity, she referred me to the story published by an Australian newspaper on the internet which Thisday newspaper eventually published last Friday.
I am inclined to believing Mrs. Remi Oyo, the President’s media aide who dismissed the report as nothing but a tissue of lie. It would be unimaginable to believe otherwise; that a country’s president, out of spite, would prevent a citizen from bringing home the honour and rare privilege of being the world’s number two civil servant.
Unfortunately, Obasanjo’s reputation for vindictiveness would make many believe the worst of him. The former minister bruised his huge, imperial sense-of-self by literarily walking out on him when she resigned. For a man so used to not only seeing ministers fidget before him but also fawn and massage his ego, Okonjo-Iweala’s audacity may have been recorded as a crime that must be punished.
It will be disastrous if the president saw her UN job bid as payback time, an opportunity to extract his vengeful pound of flesh as it is being insinuated in diplomatic circles. Like I said earlier, it is unthinkable that any president would deny his country such an opportunity even if his worst enemy were to be the primary beneficiary. But with President Olusegun Obasanjo, no act, no matter how unseemly is unbecoming. Therefore, it is not enough that he has denied the allegation; the National Assembly should through its Foreign Affairs committees investigate the circumstances that led to Okonjo-Iweala’s failure at the UN. And if it is true that the president had any hand in it, then he has crossed the Rubicon and must be sanctioned.