|Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala|
By SKC Ogbonnia
Nigeria’s Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has loomed very large for over a decade to the extent that any serious discussion of the country’s problems without a mention of her name is like a practice of the Christian religion without regard to the Ten Commandments. Armed with a royal pedigree, a motherly look, and intimidating credentials, it has been easy for Iweala to also assume a unique audacity to make any claim on the Nigerian leadership, however feigned. But none is more perplexing than her reigning notion which profoundly promotes strong institutions as the sole antidote to the Nigeria’s endemic corruption.
The hoopla on the relationship between institutions and corruption gained full currency in the Nigerian political waters since the first visit of US President Barack Obama to Sub-Saharan Africa. Speaking in Ghana on July 11, 2009, Obama made headlines when he proclaimed that, " Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”
Given that Obama’s speech lacked in specific details, I immediately worried that Nigerian leaders would twist his entire statement to a selfish advantage, especially on the line that emphasized institutions. True to expectations, not long after, 2010 to be exact, President Goodluck Jonathan on a CNN interview echoed Obama, stating thus: “It is not me, Jonathan Goodluck, that will go and catch a corrupt person. But we will strengthen the institutions to do their work. That is what happens in developed societies.” Forward to September 26, 2011, Jonathan was able to finally fine-tune the vision to read as follows: “Strong institutions, not personality, will build Nigeria.”
Today, the common excuse in Nigeria has become that institutions, instead of human beings, are responsible for the failure to curb corruption. It is not surprising then that, after being the central figure in the Nigeria ’s economic team for nearly a decade and hundreds of billions invested on anti-corruption measures, Okonjo-Iweala now says that the problem has worsened because “we don’t have in place the institutions, the systems and the processes to block and prevent it in the first place. That’s the only difference between us and the people abroad.” The widely respected minister concluded that the Nigerian people will readily disengage in corrupt practices once the institutions and systems are in place.
It is easy to overlook any dramatization of leadership theories by President Jonathan for obvious reasons—but not from Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The Nigerian masses had looked up to the intellectual giant as a messiah of sort. Although she had distinguished herself initially to a world-wide admiration, it is now clear that the Double Minister has become a hybrid of intuition and oligarchy. Said differently, Mrs. Ngozi Iweala has quickly become a part of the problem she swore to solve. Typical of Nigerian political lackeys, she is found to just say things to appeal to the government of the day, however mendacious.
For avoidance of doubts, in a 2007 speech titled “Want to help Africa: Do business here”, Iweala paid a glowing tribute to the positive changes taking place in Africa, with a particular mention to the success of the war against corruption under President Obasanjo. She buttressed her point by narrating how a former governor of Bayelsa State , DSP Alamieyeseigha, looted the government treasury and stashed away 8 million dollars in a London bank. In her words, “Alamieyeseigha was arraigned in London . Due to some slip offs, he managed to escape dressed like a woman and ran from London back to Nigeria where, according to our Constitution, those in office as governors and presidents, as in many countries, have immunity and cannot be prosecuted. But what happened? People were so outraged by this behavior that it was possible by his state legislature to impeach him and get him out of office. Today, Alams, as we call him for short, is in jail.”
Iweala’s account above was not only an enthusiastic expression of approval for the efficiency of the institutions in Britain as well as in Nigeria ; it also implied that the manner Alamieyeseigha was prosecuted in his country did not show much gap “between us and the people abroad.” It is no coincidence then that both the Transparency International and the leaders of the “developed societies” also applauded Nigeria ’s efforts on corruption during that period. But that was then. Yes, that was then…
Today, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is the president of Nigeria and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is singing a different tune. Today, it is necessary to remind the Honorable Minister that DSP Alamieyeseigha did not stay longer in the jail, as he was not long after petted with a beguiling plea bargain, later granted state pardon, and now openly eulogized by his political godson who happens to be the president of our country. Or, is it also necessary to remind that today, despite abundance of human resources in our country, the same Alamieyeseigha and his likes are the brain trust of a regime where Iweala herself is the central minister?
Any answer to the question above is suffice to say that today, even though the institutions are expected to have improved since the second coming of Iweala, the entire “developed societies” has passed a vote of no confidence on Nigeria’s approach to the war against corruption. Today, even though Nigeria is one of the most corrupt nations in the world, no politician is currently serving a jail term based on corrupt practices in the Nigerian soil. Today, even though the economy under Iweala’s watch is milling overnight billionaires every day and every where, the masses continue to wallow in abject penury and despair. The painful outcome is that today, our country is further deepened into a false value system that patently erodes motivation for education, industry, competition, and hard work—but only goes to promote a crude accumulation of wealth through any form of corruption. After all, the Nigerian people as well as the very institutions are constantly reminded by their President that “stealing is not corruption.”
The objective fact is that Nigeria is betrayed. The teetering innuendo with institutions and processes is nothing but another guile being conceived to further deceive the masses. Of course, the idea of strong institutions remains a popular leadership proposition and vitally essential. However, it is very apparent that, in attempt to defend the indefensible, the distinguished minister has lately been professing the theory upside down. Dr. Iweala knows quite well or is supposed to know that the theories on institutions clearly state that the human ability determines the degree of efficiency of the institutions, technologies, as well as the processes. Okonjo-Iweala cannot, and should not, feign ignorance of the fact that the same theories have also maintained that incentives, particularly hope for reward, and the fear of punishment, reliably induce cooperative behavior.
The bottom line is that Nigeria has adequate institutions to begin a meaningful war on corruption. As in the “developed societies”, what Nigeria direly needs today are leaders who can lead by example: inspire the people and influence the existing institutions or build and influence new institutions towards the desired objectives. As in the “developed societies”, what Nigeria needs today is not only mere prevention but also leaders who have the character and courage to truly promote consequences for bad behavior so that people can have fear for wrongdoing. As in any human society, when there are no consequences for bad behavior, the bad behavior usually worsens. That is the problem with Nigeria today!
(Dr. Ogbonnia is the Executive Director, Patriots United for Transparency and Accountability in Nigeria (PUTAN))