Want Cheap Popularity? Attack Okonjo-Iweala
In a saner clime, stardom and public admiration are earned, not swindled. These usually come after years of hard work and personal sacrifice. They come with years of diligent commitment to a worthy cause. However, some people prefer circumventing the arduous process to eminence by taking a shortcut. This they do by throwing stones in the direction of those who have attained prominence with the hope that they will in turn get noticed, thus making a name for themselves in the process – a phenomenon that is popularly called gaining cheap popularity.
To these people, fame is easier and faster attained by looking round and identifying certain prominent individuals for attack as a way of fast-tracking societal recognition. One classical Nigerian example of someone who has become an easy target for hitherto obscure social critics, bloggers, columnists and civil society groups to use as a launching pad for their own national recognition over the years is Dr. Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Inasmuch as this woman has millions of admirers and protégés all over the world who celebrate and draw inspiration from her; there are also numerous jobbers in the guise of social critics, bloggers, columnists and civil society proponents who ride on the wings of her international fame to make a name for themselves by attacking her relentlessly.
You want to check out the profiles of nonentities like Omoyele Sowore, Yushaib Shuaib, Osun Defender, Dele Sobowale, Abdulmumin Jibrin, SERAP, Charles Soludo and many of their ilk in the Nigerian socio-political and media landscape? We will consider some of their infamous activities in a short while.
Since Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala left her World Bank job in September 2011 to assume the position of Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance at the invitation of President Jonathan, she has been the subject of severe attacks from persons desperate to court public attention. These so-called critics, who usually hide under the pretence of airing their opinion on the state of the Nigerian economy, have been found out several times for their mischief as their criticism are sometimes baseless, unfounded, uncalled for or outright lies with the motive being to sully the reputation of Okonjo-Iweala and in the process earn acclaim for themselves.
Even members of the hallowed legislative chamber are numbered in this conspiracy. There is no minister in the history of Nigerian democracy that has appeared before the House of Representative like Mrs Iweala under one excuses or the other, even when it was becoming increasing obvious that she was always trouncing them with her superior knowledge and competence on economy management, this has not deterred them from summoning her over and over again. It became so bad that if anything is not going as expected in the country, it is Okonjo-Iweala’s fault. In fact, if any of the house of reps had a bad day with his wife or crony, the blame will be shipped on Okonjo-Iweala.
The mention of Okonjo-Iweala on the floor of the assembly will awaken the consciousness of the most bereft of honourable, because they know that any confrontation with this Amazon will get their name on the headlines of major newspapers for at least three days if not for weeks! That seems to be the easiest and cheapest way for some of the lawmakers to get visibility instead of burying themselves in serious legislative tasks.
Quite recently, a certain named Yushau Shuaib shot to national fame by writing damaging pieces on Madam Iweala which were, of course, widely published by the media, with the likes of Sahara reporters, Premium Times, Osun Defender and others in their group ensuring the pieces received banner headlines for a long time. Before the articles, Yushau Shuaib was an unknown civil servant. However, his quest to gain attention by writing an op-ed dripping with malice, not only prove a hit, but is one of those experiences Okonjo-Iweala herself will not forget in a hurry. Shuaib played the victim of finance minister’s imperial tyranny and promptly attracted the sympathy of eager media and citizens who did not mind being fed with half-truth. The minister’s media aide eventually set the records straight, but not many people saw his response.
The tactic of Dele Sobowale is very similar to that of Shuaib. He claims that he had mailed Mrs Iweala about some hanky-panky he observed in the running of the Nigerian economy. The minister denied ever receiving or acknowledging his correspondence, but that did not stop conspiring media from giving prominence to Sobowale’s tirades and songs of sorrow at the detriment of the reputation of madam minister.
Abdulmumin Jibrin is a classic example of a lawmaker who would have gone down in history as an also-run at the Nigerian legislative chamber until he seized on the ingenious idea of summoning the finance minister and contracting a consultant to fire the now infamous 50 Questions at her. He was widely hailed as a national hero for taking on Okonjo-Iweala and a genius for coming up with those 50 Questions until the person who developed them for him cried foul and went to court for default on the legislator’ part in paying his fee. Needless to say that the response to the 50 Questions only helped to make Okonjo-Iweala shine and coach the lawmakers on economic matters rather than bring her down as intended.
Can we forget in hurry the manner in which some media houses would publish a screaming negative headline with Okonjo-Iweala’s name even when the attending story has little or no connection to the woman? This has become the norm for Osun Defender, Sahara reporters and other copy and paste blogs, much to the distaste of informed readers, who know they are only using the NOI brand to attract traffic to their sites and/or settle the political scores of their paymasters.
What about the sudden emergence of Charles Soludo who had been out of reckoning since being disgraced out of CBN by Musa Yaradua of blessed memory and being rejected as a governor material by the people of Imo state? Soludo, credit to him, had to choose the best target to tango in order to shoot himself back to public consciousness as well as position himself for public appointment in the emerging government. After releasing his first damaging piece, he got the attention he so desperately craved, and he is now being considered a candidate for the Finance Ministry in the incoming administration. Would anyone have looked at his side if he hadn’t done a hatchet man’s job on Okonjo-Iweala? Would he had stand a chance in this country after he almost wrecked our banking sector with his ill-thought out banking reforms that left our local banks more vulnerable than he met them? What about his Naira redomination policy, where did it leave us? All those ignominies have now become history, as he only needed to attack Okonjo-Iweala and his past sins are forgiven.
Can you see how it pays to criticise Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala? Even if you have no idea what you are talking about or have no solution to the problem you identify, just attack her and let the media do the rest for you. Even when you are bored, have become politically obscure, or are trying to curry the favour of her haters, take up NOI and the rest would fall in place.
However, one thing is clear, no matter how they try to undermine the NOI brand; she will continue to move from glory to glory. Recently, she was named one of the most influential people on planet earth by the prestigious Fortune magazine. This came in the midst of her being cited as the scapegoat to take the fall for President Jonathan’s loss at the polls. While, by now, she may be getting used to those seeking limelight by spoiling her reputation, it does not change the fact that the activities of such fame-hungry people smack of indignity and lack of confidence in their own abilities.
Whatever else we may not be certain about in the months and years ahead, and regardless of how often and dirty the malicious attacks of haters and vested interests may be, it is very certain that the NOI brand is here to stay and will continue to soar.
Temisan writes from Warri, Delta State.