How the woman who was once the toast of the financial world fell from grace!
By Chippla Vandu
Editor's note: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (standing left alongside Senator Hilary Rodham-Clinton in the main picture), the subject of this piece resigned her ministerial position in the Nigerian government on August 4, 2006.
Two months ago, I was involved in a conversation with a friend, who happens to run an IT company in Lagos, the Nigerian commercial capital.
He informed me that I was too optimistic about the current Nigerian administration based on the things I often write about. "I'm not overoptimistic," I said, "but I can see that there is a wind of change.
There is a fight against corruption in Nigeria. Nasir El-Rufai [the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory] is making good attempts at sanitizing Abuja and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala [the then Minister of Finance] just sorted out the mess that was Nigeria’s perennial debt problem."
"At what cost?" he retorted. "These people are the same as the bad guys of the past. They are all the same. Nothing has changed."
"Stop praising Okonjo-Iweala" he said. "She's one of them. Do you know her younger brother handles a great deal of contracts allocated by her ministry? She's just another Nigerian who is using her position to aid and enrich members of her family." "That's sad to hear," I said. "But we should not leave out the excellent job she's done in ensuring that monies allocated to the federal, state and local governments are published regularly. That alone is a significant step that would have been unthinkable half a decade ago."
My friend was unconvinced. In his opinion, nepotism runs so deep in Nigerian society that it could almost be described as being a congenital disease. Not even the acquisition of advanced degrees from Ivy League American universities appears to be able to cure one of this disease, in his opinion. Unlike me, he saw little good coming out of the economic reform program overseen by a team of which Okonjo-Iweala was a vital part.
A few weeks ago, the Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, reshuffled his cabinet. To the amazement of most, he moved the seemingly untouchable Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the opinion of some, this was a sign of rot in Mr. Obasanjo’s government. Why on earth would he move the lady who has worked harder than almost anyone else in securing Nigeria's economic future to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? Rumors and gossips filled the air, including those which stated that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala actually resigned as a sign of protest.
Some bloggers believed that moving Okonjo-Iweala to head the Foreign Affairs Ministry was a sort of preparation for greater things to come. In other words, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, she becomes the de-facto face of Nigeria as seen by the international community. She would also have a say on issues such as the Darfur province of the Sudan, Somalia and reconstruction in Liberia—all of which are key to Nigeria's foreign policy objectives.
Skeptical bloggers read a totally different message from Okonjo-Iweala's 'redeployment'. In their opinion, politics had won the better part of the day.
Okonjo-Iweala was brought in to cure Nigeria's debt burden and now that this had been achieved, she could easily be dispensed of. Furthermore, her principled method of running the Ministry of Finance would be counterproductive to the ruling People's Democratic Party in the forthcoming 2007 national elections.
Being too principled, she would prevent withdrawals from the national treasury for financing party campaigns. A softer person would be needed to head the Ministry of Finance, and one who could easily be manipulated to cough out cash when needed by the ruling party.
Elendureports is no friend to Okonjo-Iweala. She has in the past accused it of running false stories about her. Being a somewhat controversial website that carries out what may be termed Nigerian investigative journalism, Elendureports often stands by its stories irrespective of what those affected by it think.
A few days back, it ran a story on Okonjo-Iweala's 'redeployment' from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While I cannot ascertain how accurate this story is, it bears at least one thing in common with what my Lagos-based IT friend told me two months ago:
"Chi-Chi Okonjo, the … younger brother [of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala] is reported to have a deal with the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) valued at nearly half a billion naira a year [$3.8 million].
This contract with the FCDA is for environmental sanitation and pays him about forty million naira (about US$400,000) a month. Sources also claim that Chi Chi is a consultant to the Ministry of Finance and has deals with two other ministries. Elendureports.com is yet to independently confirm that he has a business relationship with the two other ministries.
Elendureports.com can confirm that Chi-Chi Okonjo was allocated land at the highbrow Maitama area. The land is said to be valued at about forty million naira (N40,000,000.00). The FCDA file number for the land is: DT21001. Another land in the Garki 2 area was also allocated to a member of the Minister’s family. The file number is: AB20914. We will not publish the name of the person to whom the land was allocated until we confirm that the individual is not a minor.
Nobody has claimed that Chi-Chi’s business with the FCDA is illegal. But the deal has raised eyebrows because the FCDA Minister is a member of the country's economic team which is headed by his older sister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. From all available records, Chi-Chi did not get this deal until after his sister became a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Other deals involving Chi-Chi are speculated to have "not been too clean."
While none of the statements above implicate Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, they do show that her position as the Minister of Finance was seriously compromised given that younger brother acted as a consultant to the very ministry that she headed. In the opinion of Elendureports, this worked against her causing Mr. Obasanjo to move her over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with ease.
There are certain rules, which though unwritten, ought to form a core part of our values as human beings. Even if Chi-Chi Okonjo happens to run one of the best consultancy groups in Nigeria that could provide services to the Ministry of Finance, the fact that his sister headed such a ministry should have prevented him from being made a consultant. In the eyes of the public, this would always be viewed as nepotism, whether or not it is.
While Chi-Chi Okonjo's contracts with the FCDA can be viewed as legal and appropriate, those with the Ministry of Finance, if true, would have surely raised lots of eyebrows
There are those bloggers (this blogger inclusive) who would have wished that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala could remain a vital part of the Nigerian economic team even after the exit of the current administration. From the look of things, this may not happen.
Chippla Vandu is a Nigerian writer and academic. He blogs as Chippla.
Please e-mail comments to email@example.com