Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Go, Ngo, Go: This Battle Is Not Yours By Sonala Olumhense
First, let me say that I now fully believe that there are two Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealas.
The first is the one who, when she is in Washington, DC, longs to come home, where home is Nigeria. The other is the one who, when she is in Nigeria, longs desperately for home, home being Washington, DC.
Each is a bold, confident woman, her head resplendent in a colourful Nigerian head-wrap.
Without being told, the current one is the latter. Officially, she is interested in the job-opening atop the World Bank, and fully believes she should be the new boss.
If I were to be the world’s World Bank’s hiring manager, and they gave me the curriculum vitae of the three contenders, I would need no more than one sip of my coffee. I would rip up the other two CVs and immediately recommend the Nigerian woman. Her track record, for the job in question, see, is unimpeachable.
But I do not handle Human Resources for the World Bank. I am a Nigerian whose principal interest—as Mrs. Okonjo and I negotiate our 50s—is Nigeria.
Now, many Nigerians, as well as some foreigners and organizations, support Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister for the economy, for the job.
The lady is serious about her ambition, too. In a key campaign statement last week, said that if she won the top job, she would adopt as her priority the creation of jobs for the world’s young people.
Personally, I think Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala is working too hard. But she must understand: Nigerians are not singing themselves hoarse for her to go and create jobs for anyone; we are sending her to Washington to rebrand our image.
We are not sending her there to achieve; we are sending her there as a country to massage our fragile and battered ego. When she goes there and assumes the seat, she will demonstrate that we are unlike anything they are saying about us, like insincere or unserious.
That is all, and because that is the job description, the entire thing about creating jobs in order to avert an imminent spring—Arab, Nigerian or otherwise—is an overkill. All she has to do is sit her rear end down at the bank, adjust her fancy head-wrap, and before the television cameras start to roll, ensure that the legend in front of her says, “Ngozi, President.”
This is particularly important from the Nigerian point of view because once she takes her seat in Washington, we will be fulfilled as a people. Imagine it, a Nigerian as head of the World Bank! In addition to the prestige she will bring us and the accolades she will be mailing home and the songs she will inspire on YouTube; instant poetry on Facebook, and monumental chatter on Twitter, she will make that yeye Central Bank of Nigeria look like a Bureau de Change at Onitsha Market. In no time at all, she will have us overflowing in all of the world’s major currencies, with a branch of the bank in Asokoro or Maitama. Imagine how massively business will pick up within the People’s Democratic Party! Better still, imagine how Africa’s biggest party will become a massive force in Washington, with Ngo leading Patience by the hand under an umblella to eat lunch with Mitchell and Barak!
With all these goodies in our near future, I reiterate that Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala should not stress herself too much on the campaign trail. Justifying herself last week, she said, “I have an advantage of knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the institution being somebody who has managed a complex economy in a developing country.”
And then, shooting from the penalty spot, she said, “The World Bank has the ability to combine the strength of the World Bank Group, the International Finance Corporation, (IFC), and MIGA, in terms of bringing to bear all its instruments to help countries solve this problem and by creating an environment in which the private sector can be a creator of jobs.”
As I said, we do not care, biko. Here in Nigeria, our people may be looking for jobs but we are not trying to create jobs, and nobody knows that better than our Ngo. Remember that in 2004, she was one of those who put together the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), which, we were assured, would cure employment in Nigeria before our very eyes.
NEEDS, when the scheme was launched early in 2004, would create seven million jobs within three years, they told us, one million of them before the end of the year alone.
They also said NEEDS would lift Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product from 4.6 percent in 2003 to 7 percent in 2007 at the end of Obasanjo’s second term, and--during the same swashbuckling era—drag inflation from 11 per cent down to 9 percent, while uplifting electricity from 4000 megawatts to 10,000.
That was when it became clear NEEDS was a political document, not an economic one. They were building a roof, but there was no foundation. Actually, President Olusegun had first announced NEEDS at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2003, six months ahead of its launching. Six months after that launching, there was nothing to indicate that the much-advertised “economic reform” scheme had commenced. In this column, I asked: “And this “strategy,” this vacuum, this smoke-and-mirrors will yield one million jobs by the end of 2004, and two million more in each of the following three years? Is NEEDS counting “jobs” in armed robbery and political thuggery, or is Professor Peller, the famous magician, now on the economic team of President Obasanjo?”
I expected no answer, and I received none. It was the original 419.
Let me date-stamp all of this: Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala was a key member of the powerful “economic reform team” of that hour. In just months, NEEDS slipped into folklore; nobody from that team has acknowledged its existence since then, let alone taken responsibility for any of its deception.
Certainly not our World Bank President-In-Waiting, who, when Obasanjo re-deployed her, immediately became homesick for Washington, DC. She was there when President Jonathan begged her to come back less than one year ago. Nefertiti returned with a flourish, a new-age heroine who had come to set her people free.
Weeks later, on August 25, 2011 at a media briefing to showcase the government’s economic priorities, she said that the major thrust of the administration's economic agenda was “jobs and pro-jobs growth.”
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala did something else on that day. She spoke of the much-awaited “Transforming Nigeria Document,” a mysterious guide that has remained unpublished until this day. The import is that the Jonathan government is “transforming” the country without a guide, like a blind man crossing Ikorodu Road without breaking a stride.
On that occasion, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala also said that the Transforming Nigeria Document and the “Vision 20:2020 blueprint” would remain the bedrock of the economic agenda.
But Vision 20:2020 is a myth, like transformation, or NEEDS, or reform, or the war against corruption. Only last month, the former Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, and one of the brains behind NEEDS, disclosed the whimsical origins of Vision 20:2020: “The impetus was the Goldman Sachs report on the BRIC countries (Brazil; Russia; India; and China) and the next 11 countries (N-11), which included Nigeria,” he said. It predicted that Nigeria could be among the 20 largest economies in 2025.
“We were reviewing the report with the President one morning and we noted that some of the parameters used by Goldman Sachs such as GDP rate were far less than the actual growth rates for Nigeria as at 2004 and 2005. Then, President Obasanjo said, in that case, Nigeria could reach the goal much earlier. At the televised national dialogue between the public and private sector on that day…Obasanjo enunciated the Vision 2020. If you count 2006, this would be the 7th year since the Vision was announced and eight years before 2020…we all know it is not achievable…it remains a wish list. The numbers simply do not add up. At best, it is a good slogan and an interesting joke.”
Remember that when Soludo says, “we,” he means that small group of economic “whiz kids” that included Okonjo-Iweala. They knew V-2020 was unachievable at that time; they know it remains “an interesting joke” today. Yet the same Okonjo-Iweala, just months ago, was still swearing by V-2020.
The moral of this story is that Ngozi—whoever the real Ngozi is—knows the truth, which is that Nigeria is “a tale told by an idiot,” and manipulable by any dunce. She probably came back for the romance of it all last year, but has since then unveiled herself as being neither whiz-kid nor Queen Amina. In Abuja, she blended with the incompetence, the malfeasance, and the insincerity. The World Bank presidency is certainly no more than instant recognition, for her, that it is time to separate the goats from the (e)scapegoats.
And so, I say, go, Ngo, go. Nigeria was never worth nursing to health, and in nobody can say you didn’t spend a few Naira’s worth of patriotism. So, shake the sands off your feet, for you have better things to do. Let Nigeria, and all those who believed Nigeria needed you here, watch you swagger into the distance.
Sooner or later, they will understand Washington needs you much more than Abuja or Yola or Sapele. And oh, don’t bother to switch off the light; it was never on.