Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala does something very un-Nigerian — she resigns!
By Chippla Vandu
When the Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, reshuffled his ministerial cabinet in June 2006, he did something unthinkable. He moved Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In the eyes of some (Nigerian bloggers included), this was a sign of greater things to come. Okonjo-Iweala was being prepared to assume political office, and a short stint in the Foreign Affairs Ministry was seen as a way of improving her political credentials. However, others like yours sincerely were more skeptical: Okonjo-Iweala was gradually being isolated by Mr. Obasanjo's administration. Exactly why, no one could tell.
Mr. Obasanjo is certainly not the most likeable of Nigerian presidents. In recent times, he has become something of an enigma. Having failed in a bid to perpetuate his stay in power beyond the constitutionally stipulated two-term limit, he became estranged from his deputy, Mr. Atiku Abubakar.
Though Mr. Obasanjo never came out in public to state that he was interested in running for a third term in office, evidence pointed to a web of intrigues, lies, bribes and harassments all emanating from Aso Rock, the seat of the Nigerian presidency.
Moving Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to head the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was very unexpected. More and more Nigerians (those online, that is) had come to view Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala as a woman of high standing, given her effort and great success in seeing that Nigeria becomes free from the clutches of the Paris Club of Creditor Nations.
For the first time in recent years, the Nigerian government can now focus on developmental issues rather than on debt servicing, thanks in no small part to Okonjo-Iweala and her economic team, headed by Mr. Obasanjo himself.
So, why then did Mr. Obasanjo remove Okonjo-Iweala as the head of Nigeria's second most coveted ministerial position only to be succeeded by a less qualified and less experienced Esther Nenadi Usman? Could it have something to do with the fact that Okonjo-Iweala (like a number of ministers) was opposed to Mr. Obasanjo's self-succession plan?
Or could it be that she has become, to the international community, the face of what is right in a new Nigeria, while Obasanjo and his ruling party cabal continue to represent old, inefficient and unworkable Nigeria?
As though moving Okonjo-Iweala to the Foreign Affairs ministry wasn't bad enough, Mr. Obasanjo decided to strip her of her position as head of the Nigerian economic team. And adding insult to injury, this occurred while she was in London, capital city of the United Kingdom, negotiating a new debt relief package for Nigeria.
Such humiliation, a common hallmark of the Obasanjo presidency, was too much to bear. Once back in Nigeria Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala drafted a very diplomatic resignation letter, saying she needed to spend more time with her [United States based] family. And Mr. Obasanjo willingly accepted it—diplomatically of course—thanking her for her service.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is certainly not flawless, in the strictest sense of the word. But she did stand out as a principled, though sometimes haughty, personality. Strict fiscal discipline became the trademark of her ministry. By choosing to regularly publish monetary allocations to all tiers of government in Nigeria, she initiated a sort of Nigerian financial perestroika, which could only have be dreamt of half a decade ago.
Now she departs on the eve of what can be considered a monumental political watershed in post-independence Nigerian history—the 2007 elections. This would be the first time in which a change from one democratically elected government to another occurs.
An essential part of a democracy is conducting elections. Elections mean that aspirants campaign under legally recognized political parties or as independents. Campaigning requires money—lots of it. Whether Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's exit might mean greater ease with which the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) can loot the national treasury to finance its political campaigns is anyone's guess.
As ever, the Nigerian political landscape remains unpredictable, controversial and fraught with immense difficulties.
Chippla Vandu is a Nigerian writer and academic. He blogs as Chippla.
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