OKONJO-IWEALA: A HERO OR VILLAIN?
We live in an unusual world – a world where vices are seen as virtues, where ignorance is strength, freedom is slavery and war is peace. (Apologies to George Orwell). I recall that when I was growing up, my mother often told me to strive at all times for honour. She believed that ultimately, people will celebrate honour in a person. I took this lesson and lived by it. However, as I grew older, this message appeared not to make sense anymore. Why?
To many people in Nigeria, having women in leadership is a taboo, a vice and a sacrilege. Some even consider it a crime for a woman to be educated. Has anyone ever wondered why women suddenly become targets of heavy public criticism once they assume important positions? This, I fear, is the case with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Minister for Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy.
To the best of my knowledge, her major offence seems to stem from the fact that she is a woman. For the record, Dr (Mrs) Okonjo-Iweala had, before her appointment as minister, served in several capacities in the World Bank, yet many people seem to believe that she is still not good enough for the position she currently occupies in government. Some of us are like Oliver Twist, always wanting more!
In the area of unemployment, we need to be reminded that if not for the hard work of this great economist, many of our youths today would have been roaming the streets. Programmes like the Subsidy Re-Investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P), which has components like the Graduates Internship Scheme (GIS), providing year-long productive engagement for over 200,000 jobless graduates in areas like Agriculture, Information Technology, Education, Engineering and Finance are proof that she is not only tireless in her drive to reduce the rate of unemployment, but has also been successful so far.
Speaking on agriculture, SURE-P, in partnership with some state governments, has developed the Pro-farmers and Agropreneurs Sustainable Scheme (PASS) to boost food production and reduce rural-urban migration. This programme was launched first in partnership with the Ondo state Government under Governor Olusegun Mimiko, who had nothing but commendation for the initiator of this lofty programme in the person of Dr Okonjo-Iweala.
Still on SURE-P, the young and enterprising artisans have not been left out of the party. The system provides for the Technical Vocational Educational and Training Programme (TVET) which is aimed at reducing unemployment and poverty in Nigeria through development of skills, building of institutional capacity and investing in training Infrastructure. What more can we then ask for?
Though some people want us to believe she was not responsible for reduction in our national debt, what these people clearly fail to see is that even though they served at some point in their careers as CBN governors or in other capacities, Okonjo-Iweala’s role in the debt relief granted by the Paris Club in 2006 was monumental. Has any other finance minister recorded such achievement ever since? If not for her influential role in the World Bank, would Soludo or other loquacious elements like him have gone to Paris Club on their questionable moral authority to ask for debt relief? Before Okonjo-Iweala’s success, hadn’t other African countries been asking for reparations from the Western world without much to account for in terms of their success rate?
As far as this writer is concerned, the finance minister is only being vilified unnecessarily. There is nothing she does that is good in their eyes and this is because they are deluded; blind, even though their eyes are wide open. Her critics are people who failed abysmally in the areas of their core responsibilities. They failed in their bid to get back to mainstream politics, which probably accounts for why they have chosen to ride on her back straight to relevance, but they’ve hit the rocks.
They launched vociferous personal attacks on her person, because she chose to serve her nation. Thankfully, her stoic disposition has helped her keep her cool while delivering on her duties. So many seem to have forgotten that Dr Iweala left a lucrative appointment at the World Bank to work for her country, yet some people decided to make a living by criticising her. So much for gratitude.
For me, Madam Okonjo-Iweala is royalty, though no one is bowing at her feet. She is beautiful, though only few admire her. She is a warrior, though no one sings her praises. She is a hero, though no one is telling her.
You are a hero madam, albeit an unsung one. This was perhaps why Jesus Christ said in the Holy Bible that a prophet is not appreciated in his own country!
Uwa Eghomeka is a teacher and budding writer. She resides in the ancient city of Benin.