I am a serial optimist, and, no matter how bad things appear, I always look out for the silver lining. Accordingly, I have always believed that, no matter how bad a government is, there must be a few good people in it.
We were told that Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s minister of finance and coordinating minister for the economy, was groomed for leadership by the World Bank where she moved steadily until she became one of its managing directors. So we can take it for granted that she understands the basic tenets and standards of what governance and a decent government should be. It is disappointing enough that she had been enmeshed in the thievery of N2.6 trillion that has bankrupted the country by not showing leadership and strength in dealing firmly with the situation. It is hard to believe that the kind of upbringing we were told that Okonjo-Iweala had would allow her to preside over the finance ministry in a government that has already bankrupted the nation. But that appears to be only the beginning of the paradox about Okonjo-Iweala.
Last week, she actually told the world that she was going to negotiate with oil marketing firms that have been indicted for swindling the country, leading to the theft of trillions of naira. She said: “Those whom we consider their infractions not too grievous, we are willing to talk to them and if they are willing to work with us, we would also be willing to settle their claims so that they can go and import.” The problem with this government which, for all intents and purposes, is a direct offshoot of the crookish Obasanjo government is that the principal officers have forgotten the basic definition of corruption. And even though Okonjo-Iweala has had world-class grooming at the World Bank, she became a real local woman immediately she stepped into the Jonathan government.
In the finance minister’s governance dictionary, some thefts are “not so grievous”. She did not tell us which thefts are not so grievous. Maybe stealing N1 billion in a total theft of N2.6 trillion is “not so grievous”. Or, could it be N100 million? I remember a government official who was recently accused of stealing N3 billion and he answered angrily, saying: “It’s only N2.5 billion.” Is this the kind of advice Okonjo-Iweala would have given her bosses at the World Bank? It’s really wonderful that she is the same person who resigned as Obasanjo’s minister over issues less scandalous than the one she is now so peaceful with. It is still unbelievable that she still sits tight and blissfully comfy in this cesspool of corruption called Jonathan’s government.
And that is not all. Okonjo-Iweala, who considered a $32 billion debt burden too dangerous and unsustainable and led the Obasanjo government, in 2006, to part with $18 billion in exchange for the cancellation of the $32 billion to give Nigeria a clean slate, is the same person who stated recently that our current debt of $45 billion (only six years after clearing $32 billion) is nothing to worry about.
Am I missing something here? This is apart from the fact that no one knows what Jonathan has been doing with the loans except paying salaries. And this is at a time when crude has been selling comfortably at over $80 per barrel. Indeed, at a time when N2.6 trillion was being stolen to rig the 2011 elections, we were borrowing money to pay salaries. What kind of people are these? Is this wickedness or just that they hate the country and all of us who live in it?
Taking loans as a nation is not in itself a bad idea. It only depends on what you do with such loans and how the loans are managed. I actually believe that we need to borrow to modernise our obsolescent infrastructure as quickly as possible. And we would be able to pay very comfortably if we rein in the kind of corruption that we have tolerated in the country. Nigeria badly needs to join the modern world and we need at least $100 billion to move our infrastructure to the level of the modern world. And here I mean $100 billion without the level of corruption we have been fed with. Imagine that our current debt of $45 billion has been properly sunk into infrastructure renewal.
And imagine that the $12 billion that Obasanjo was said to have squandered on “electricity supply” had actually gone into that and not stolen. We can only imagine the number of jobs that would have been created and the level of poverty that would have been alleviated. But we got to the $45 billion debt because some people have stolen the money that was meant to pay salaries via the payment of fake subsidies and then proceeded to borrow money to pay the same salaries. So it is not just that we do not have infrastructure because corruption has taken out the money. We – and possibly our children – have a $45 billion debt overhang to resolve. We cannot continue to run Nigeria this way.
There is no country that has made progress without really and truly fighting the monster of corruption. Corruption kills nations; it has already dealt Nigeria a fatal blow. In Malaysia and Singapore, corruption is punished harshly. It should, therefore, not surprise anyone that a tiny nation like Singapore that has no single natural resource has joined the league of the First World – one of the most developed nations in the world. And, at one time, the Malaysian Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur was the tallest building in the world showing strength and economic power.
This is in spite of the fact that Malaysia produces less than 600, 000 barrels of crude oil per day and we produce or should be producing 2.5 million barrels per day. In fact, but for corruption and lack of seriousness, Nigeria is capable of producing 4 million barrels per day. This does not include our gas reserves which should make peanuts of revenues from crude oil.
Germany is the largest economy in Europe and it is also one in which corruption is punished harshly. China that came from behind to become the second biggest economy in the world is one of a few countries that punish some form of corruption with the death sentence. In the United States, it takes nothing to put in handcuffs a “big man” who is found guilty of corruption. Ask Enron executives or the feekless Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff. Even as I write, a United States army general, William Ward, is being investigated over lavish spending.
Of course, we know Jonathan doesn’t give a damn about matters of corruption. He said he will not make his assets declaration public; that should give us an idea of how seriously he takes the issue of corruption.
But Okonjo-Iweala’s presence in government is clearly not helping the nation. She helps only herself by remaining there. Until she tweaks her definition of corruption and stands out in the government, Nigerians will not take her seriously anymore.
Barka Da Sallah
This is to felicitate with Nigerian Muslims on the completion of the Ramadan and the Sallah festivities yesterday. I initially panicked when I was told that this year’s Sallah had been cancelled. I was informed (or misinformed) that the reason the moon was not sighted on Friday was because Boko Haram had bombed the moon out of existence and, therefore, Ramadan would continue indefinitely. That was quite scary. My main worry was that I would be deprived of my delicious Sallah meat from very many households.
I was relieved to find out that Boko Haram had not attacked the moon after all and that Sallah would hold. I am still devouring the Sallah delicacies. Sallah is for all of us just like Christmas and Easter festivities are for all of us. I, in fact, partake in the daily routine of breaking of fast during Ramadan, listening very intently to hear when prayers are called so that I would not miss the food. It is the fasting (and suffering) that I refuse to participate in. In fact, I have a timetable for breaking of fast for my friends, and they expect me every day in their homes when the time comes.
I remember having a discussion with my bishop friend one day and I heard the call to prayers. I told him suddenly, “An kira Sallah and I have to leave you because I don’t want to miss my food.” We all had a good laugh and he has delightfully told all our friends about it. What God has joined together, let Boko Haram not put asunder!