The Guardian/Sonala Olumhense
It is not every day that I am inspired by just one word to pen this column.
That word, today, is integrity, as in: “I am a woman of the highest integrity.”
The quote belongs to Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke. Even if you lived under a bridge, you know Mrs. Okereke-Onyiuke to be a woman of substance. Among other things, she is the Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). She is also listed as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Transnational Corporation of Nigeria (Transcorp).
Two weeks ago, Okereke-Onyiuke found herself under arrest, embroiled in a crisis over the N100 million she raised in her “Africans for Obama 08” scandal.
Mrs. Okereke-Onyiuke brags about her intelligence. She does hold a Ph.D, she reminds critics, which she earned. I congratulate her upon her achievements. But earning a string of degrees is not the same thing as earning respect. Or credibility. Or integrity.
When they award you a degree, they certify that you undertook a structured program of study and research. That is usually how some positions of employment are filled.
I presume that to be how Mrs. Okereke-Onyiuke got to be hired by the New York Stock Exchange, and eventually, by the NSE. She has headed the NSE now for eight years. It is her work at the NSE—which is currently being rescued from collapse by operators of the Capital Market and the Central Bank of Nigeria—and not her academic credentials or her tongue, that will define who the public thinks she is.
The omens are not good, as ‘Madam Stock’ has positioned herself in that category of people who believe that the law does not apply to them. In the past five years, Mrs. Okereke-Onyiuke has increasingly demonstrated an aversion for the legal and the correct. Her strategies seem calculated to curry the political favour of the powerful and privileged, rather than to uphold the law or serve society.
Three years after she assumed leadership of the NSE, she helped rig the 2003 presidential elections by taking advantage of her position at the NSE to raise billions of Naira for the Obasanjo/Atiku presidential campaign. She did it in full and flagrant violation of Nigerian law.
That is not “integrity”.
Of course Obasanjo won, and it is on record that from that point, Mrs. Okereke-Onyiuke manipulated the Nigerian system to make Obasanjo happy. She offered her support to such infamous causes as Obasanjo’s Presidential Library project, for which she also helped raise funds, and his short-sighted third term bid.
That is not “integrity”.
Mrs. Okereke-Onyiuke is known to have been part of a fund-raising campaign for Andy Uba, the money-launderer who tried to become Governor of Anambra State.
That is not integrity.
But perhaps her most complicated and questionable gamble is Transcorp, a good idea gone sour in the hands of such ruthless Nigerians as Mrs. Okereke-Onyiuke. Not only was it used to buy up some of the nation’s choicest assets, Mrs. Okereke-Onyiuke saw nothing wrong in President Obasanjo buying 200 million shares in it. In fact, she was instrumental to it.
Nor did she—the Director-General of the NSE—see anything wrong in becoming chairman of Transcorp. Just like her colleague, Charles Soludo, the Governor of the Central Bank could see no contradiction appointing himself chairman of the African Finance Corporation, she could see no dangers gathering Transcorp into her NSE arms.
That is not integrity. That is arrogance. It is manipulation.
But it is not difficult to see why Mrs. Okereke-Onyiuke found no reason to pause for thought. She had chosen her game, played it, and won. Her stars continued to ascend. Much like King Louis XIV of France, who pronounced himself the State, Mrs. Okereke-Onyiuke said to herself: “Integrity? I am integrity!”
It is this same arrogance that influenced her organization of “Africans for Obama 08”, and her falling from grace by being denounced by lovers and haters of Obama on both sides of the Atlantic.
Arrogance does lead to blindness, and Mrs. Okereke-Onyiuke forgot that Barrack Obama is not Olusegun Obasanjo, from whom she may have learned her contempt for the law. The Obama Campaign was quick to disown her and her fundraising.
Worse still, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission arrested her. They seized her passport and gave her a jailhouse chair upon which to reflect on...integrity. Hopefully, she was intelligent enough to realize how unintelligent her protestations of her actions sounded.
The simple truth is that once again, Mrs. Okereke-Onyiuke had taken advantage of her privileged position. This time, it was to organize an illegal fundraiser at which—even by her own “intelligent” explanation—most of the funds (we are talking about N100 million) was being squandered on the evening’s entertainment. She was leaving the accountants to count the kobo that was left!
Luckily, the EFCC has rid “Madam Stock” of the money. It will be returned to their owners until she comes up with another “intelligent” scheme to separate them from it.
Only two questions remain. The simple one is why the EFCC has to do the dirty work. They should have locked her in a room with that accountant and a bag of envelopes and a stack of stamps.
Of greater importance, it is tragic that people like Mrs. Okereke-Onyiuke, who entered the Nigerian work force with claims of a good education and a chance to serve, continue to pollute the drinking water. With a chance to push things in the right direction, they offer themselves up to sundry thieves and murderers.
With their calculating, manipulative abilities, they provide those criminals with options and strategies they may not have thought of. And when they see Obama-quality potential, their instinct is to ignore or destroy it. After all, you cannot serve God and Mammon.
In the light of day, strangely, they sometimes remember where they had wanted to go, or who they had wanted to be. In the case of Mrs. Okereke-Onyiuke, she had probably wanted to be “a woman of the highest integrity.”
No, Madam, that is but another pompous thought. Your slip has been showing for a long time.
By Sonala Olumhense