Akin Osuntokun: Why I publicly identify with Finance Minister, Okonjo-Iweala

by Akin Osuntokun

Ngozi_Okonjo-Iweala

Here in Nigeria, we are confronted with a similar tragic correlation where opponents fervently wish that it should not be well for Nigeria so that the Jonathan government can be made to look bad.

On account of my hypersensitivity to anything concerning President Barack Obama I was extremely anxious and alert to all the dynamics and trend of the November 2012 election cycle. I monitored the polls on hourly basis and my mood swings were directly proportional to the see saw of the polls on Obama’s electoral fortunes. One of the major highlights in the reportage of the election was the conduct of the over hyped corporate guru Jack Welch. He was a Republican Party die hard and an ardent supporter of his party’s presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.

After the inexplicable dismal outing Obama had at the first presidential debate, the Republicans were euphoric but their victory dance was cut short by an unexpected but significant endorsement of Obama’s effort at reviving the American economy. In October, a month before the presidential election, the unemployment rate had fallen from 8.1 per cent to 7.8 per cent according to the monthly report by the Labour department. Welch went ballistic and tweeted ‘Unbelievable jobs numbers…. these Chicago guys will do anything.., can’t debate so change the numbers’! It was a sad day for Welch. His peers and colleagues told him that he was flat out of his mind but it was typical and illustrative of the Republican Party’s desperation to black out any positive reflection of Obama’s stewardship.
As the persistent macabre and self-inflicted Republican Party engineered economic gridlock indicates, these guys were prepared to bankrupt the American economy if that was what it took to destroy Obama and regain political power. This self-destructive, it is either me or the highway ideology, is in full flight in contemporary Nigeria. The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has been one of the unique discoveries of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and she was a revelation in whom we were all pleased.

Not any longer, apparently.

My attitude to her has been one of benign indifference. Even though I admire her but she has too many fans and admirers already and I reasoned that adding my own to her already overflowing basket of celebration is superfluous. This is my generic attitude towards super stars. I have also had widely shared reservations about the addition of an inkling of ethnic and sectional politics to her distinguished resume. Can it be a coincidence that almost all the chief executives of finance-related agencies of government including especially the recently appointed governor of central bank share the same ethnic origin with the minister?

Nonetheless I reached a turning point in my nonchalant disposition towards her after the centenary celebrations. At the centenary banquet dinner, she spoke directly to the gap between the stewardship of the federal government and the poor public perception of government performance in grappling with the difficulties of the Nigerian economy. In doing so she doubled effectively as the information minister and thereby identified the communication gap as partly resulting from the inability of the government to effectively market itself. Critically feeding into this vacuum is the scorched earth nihilistic communication philosophy of the opponents of the government.

As it is, the Goodluck Jonathan government suffers a lot of shortcomings but the opponents wish it suffers more. And if it doesn’t?-the balance can be made up with demonisation and suspension of any capacity to be objective in criticising the government. At the height of a similar war of attrition, Obama observed that it looks like the Republicans were rooting for non-recovery of the American economy. For a man distinguished for being measured in communication it was a revelation on the desperate vindictiveness of his political opponents. Here in Nigeria, we are confronted with a similar tragic correlation where opponents fervently wish that it should not be well for Nigeria so that the Jonathan government can be made to look bad. My turning point on Okonjo-Iweala came the following day after her presentation-where she specifically identified what the government had done, where and how it is doing it. I crave the indulgence of the reading public to reproduce here, in-extenso, representative samples from her presentation:

“(ROADS) More than 32 road rehabilitation and construction projects have been completed and several more are ongoing. Major ones include: Apapa-Oshodi Expressway; Benin-Ore-Shagamu Highway; Abuja-Abaji-Lokoja Dualisation; Kano-Maiduguri Dualisation; Onitsha-Owerri Expressway; Vom-Manchok Road (Plateau State), Enugu-PH repaired; Katsina-Daura Road, Kano-Maiduguri Road, and Gombe-Numan Road; progress on New Bridge over River Benue at Loko-Oweto. 2nd Niger Bridge – Financing completed (soon to be launched)

(RAILWAYS) Western Line: Lagos – Kano; 1,124km completed and functional work ongoing on: Eastern Line: Port Harcourt – Maiduguri (2 of 3 sections complete by 3rd quarter 2014) Abuja – Kaduna Standard Gauge Line (72 per cent completed) Itakpe – Ajaokuta – Warri Standard Gauge Rail Line (complete by end of 2014) procured 25 new locomotives from General Electric (GE).

(INLAND WATERWAYS) Dredging of Lower River Niger from Baro (Niger State) to Warri (Delta State) has made possible all year round navigation, and created 532 km of waterways. Onitsha Port completed and commissioned.

(WATER RESOURCES) Increased access to safe (potable). The current administration completed seven water supply projects, including Northern Ishan Water Supply in Edo State, Mangu Water Treatment Plant in Plateau, and the Greater Makurdi Water Supply Scheme. Constructed and rehabilitated over 2,500 hand pumps and 885 solar-powered boreholes across the nation. Over 4.3 million more Nigerians now have access to water. Access to water increased to 65.29% of the population, from 60% in 2011.

(HYDRO POWER GENERATION) Nine dams completed in: Akwa Ibom, Katsina, Enugu and Ondo States, capacity to generate 11.2 MW. (IRRIGATION) 10 irrigation projects deployed for crop production. Size of irrigated land increased from 90,000 in 2011 to over 175,000 hectares. Over 375,000 farmers now have access to irrigate land from 236,000 in 2011.

(AGRICULTURE) Redesigned agriculture inputs (Fertilisers and seeds) supply mechanisms through the GES E-Wallet System – Registered 10.5 million farmers and about 6.4 million have received subsidised inputs through the E-Wallet. Rice production increased by 1.1 million MT through dry season production in 10 northern states. Cassava exports are increasing: secured 3.2 million MT contract orders from China for export of dried cassava chips which can earn the government up to $1.3 billion over the medium term.  Promised extra 20 million MT of food by 2015; 15 million MT already produced. Total food imports bill declined by N906 billion, from N2.38 trillion in 2011 to N1.5 trillion by 2013.

(EDUCATION) Construction of 125 Almajiri schools to reduce the number of out-of-school children in the North. Construction of special girls school in 13 states of the federation has begun to improve girls education programme. Rehabilitation of 352 science and technical laboratories, and construction of 72 new libraries have in the Federal Unity Schools. Laboratories of all 51 federal and state polytechnics have been rehabilitated and micro-teaching laboratories are being constructed in 58 federal and state colleges of education.

The following day, I came across a group of Nigerians who are opposed to the government. Fair enough. What was neither fair nor reasonable was that these guys were saying that Okonjo-Iweala was doing a 419, that most of the vaunted accomplishments were mere budgetary propositions that bear no semblance to reality. Well they were calling her a liar but then a liar in her position cannot by any shred of logic have the audacity to tell the world that work was at advanced stage on the dualisation of the Abuja-Abaji-Lokoja road when it is not. This is easily verifiable and would prove extremely counter-productive if the claim is fictitious. That was the moment I committed to publicly identifying with her.

The same day I read a corroborative report in the opposition newspaper — the Nation — to the effect that regardless of the low opinion on the governance competence of the Jonathan administration neutral evaluations are holding otherwise. Here is the testimony ‘Nigeria is set to witness economic growth this year while inflation will continue on a downward spiral, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected over the weekend. According to IMF, Nigeria’s economy is bound to grow at 7.3%, an increase from 6.4% in 2013, a figure greater than the projected 6.75% growth hitherto bandied by the minister of finance and the coordinating minister for the economy, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. IMF also disclosed that inflation is set to reduce, pegging the rate at 7% at the end of 2014, a figure lower than 7.9% at the end of 2013. This downward trend is attributed to tight monetary policy, the IMF said. “Economic growth is expected to improve further in 2014, driven by agriculture, trade, and services. “Inflation should continue to decline, with lower food prices from higher rice and wheat production and supported by a tight monetary policy and a budget execution that maintains medium-term consolidation objectives,” it said.

Now it has been suggested that she is just a scapegoat; that she suffers collateral damage resulting from association with the government of President Jonathan. It matters not at all if indeed this is the case. It matters little who the object of wilful persecution is and it does severe damage to the culture of public accountability and responsibility if we deem it permissible to distort facts and reality in the expression of political opposition. Do unto others as you wish done unto you. In the womb of today’s persecution and intimidation we sow the seeds of tomorrow’s retaliation.

It would be unpardonably naïve to believe Jonathan has no sectional and regional support. Those who wish to replace him employing the present tactics should equally brace themselves for retaliatory hostility from his regionally extended kit and kin. Unfortunately for Nigeria the capacity of his people to pay back in like coins is beyond what Nigeria can afford. At the end of the day it all comes down to who wields imperial powers of patronage over the crude oil fed dispensation of pork at Abuja and so does the policy prescription of devolution and decentralisation of power. Take away the NNPC for instance and see how all sections of Nigeria will hiss and turn their back on this unhappy but potentially great union.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

One comment

  1. This is such a good piece! Opposition should not be synonymous to malicious persecution and blind criticism! The government may not be getting everything right but that does not mean it is not getting some things right. We must learn to acknowledge the things that are working rather than distorting the facts.

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