Who’s Afraid of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala?, By Reuben Abati
We need to get our acts together… the selection process has become far more competitive than it was in June. This week, I understand the WTO General Council will begin to interview the eight candidates. Nigeria still has a chance to stand up for its candidate. I remain convinced that Nigeria deserves the position and that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is an excellent choice.
Who is afraid of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s nominee for the soon-to-be-vacant post of director-general of the World Trade Organisation? I ask this question because over the weekend, her media adviser, my long-time colleague, Paul Nwabuikwu issued a statement in which he alleged that some “powerful and well-connected forces” in Nigeria were working hard, manufacturing controversies, and “peddling outright lies” to sabotage Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s chances for the WTO top job. Paul Nwabuikwu could not have issued that statement without Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s approval.
Well, I am not shocked that some people would take as their own personal priority and task, sabotaging a compatriot whose elevation and success would rub off positively on Nigeria and the continent. We complain about many issues in our country, but we often overlook the fact that there are many sado-masochists in this country, complete sadists who are perpetually seeking the downfall of others. Such persons do so for a variety of reasons: Their own Luciferian complex, mischief, ethnic or religious reasons, or just plain wickedness to the other. Mental health preservation should become a national priority to mitigate the damage that these victims of the Lucifer Effect do to our national psyche. The sabotage that Nwabuikwu referred to has to do with an attempt to link Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala with the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The claim is that she and IPOB share the same PR consultants, Mercury LLC in the United States. Mercury LLC is a high-profile public affairs firm in Washington D.C. I recall an encounter with some of its officials in the course of official work around 2014. I have no doubt that it is an agency that has some link with Nigeria and Nigerian interests. At that time, there was even a Nigerian who was a prominent member of the agency. It is not impossible that the agency may have done some work for IPOB, but to take a leap from that and use it to blackmail Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala does not make sense to me. Certain persons may disagree with the methods of IPOB and the style of its leadership, but self-determination is certainly not a crime.
To project Nigeria’s local politics unto the canvas of her bid for the WTO top job is yet another ugly manifestation of the Nigerian factor. Who the hell is behind this? Her media adviser did not tell us. There may be need in the future to name and shame those persons who stand in the way of Nigeria’s interest on the global stage.
I have argued elsewhere on this subject that even if the matter of Biafra were to be subjected to a referendum tomorrow or any time in the future, I do not see IPOB getting enough votes to pull the South-East out of Nigeria. Igbos and the rest of Nigeria are so enmeshed, so intertwined, so umbilically linked that a separation, 1967-style, as proposed, may be more difficult today. In the same manner, I do not imagine that those who are calling for an Oduduwa Republic also assume that it would be an easy task. Where the challenge lies is: How do we finally turn Nigeria into a nation where all groups and stakeholders can share a sense of belonging, informed by the principles of equity, justice and fairness? Nigeria as it is, is an unbalanced nation, and a theatre of injustice and inequities. These are the fault lines that promote and fuel the opportunistic resort to primordial sentiments and tactics. Okonjo-Iweala is not a member of IPOB. Mercury LLC has said they are not involved in her WTO campaign. She has also publicly declared that she cannot even afford a PR agency. To project Nigeria’s local politics unto the canvas of her bid for the WTO top job is yet another ugly manifestation of the Nigerian factor. Who the hell is behind this? Her media adviser did not tell us. There may be need in the future to name and shame those persons who stand in the way of Nigeria’s interest on the global stage.
This is my second newspaper commentary on the WTO and the search for a fit replacement for the Brazilian incumbent DG, Roberto Azevedo, who has chosen to leave a year earlier than scheduled. In my earlier commentary, I argued that I consider Okonjo-Iweala the best person for the job. I stand by that comment. I argued that Europe, which has more or less dominated the position, should not be allowed to take it again. I condemned Egypt’s opposition to Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy and called for African solidarity. I made a case for a reform of the WTO. I advised further that the Nigerian government should deploy diplomacy at the highest levels to support Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s aspiration, having chosen to nominate her – a good move, coming also at a time when the president openly supported Akinwunmi Adesina, the Nigerian president of the African Development Bank, who is seeking a second term in office. Many Nigerians accuse President Muhammadu Buhari of sectionalism, nepotism and specifically, of Northern-mindedness but the support that he has shown for both Okonjo-Iweala and Adesina is perhaps indicative of a change of style.
But where are we at the moment? When I wrote the piece earlier referred to (see “Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, WTO and Africa’s Chances”), there were just three candidates, but the list has since expanded. We now have a total of eight candidates vying for the position of the WTO director-general, namely Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria), Ms. Yoo Myung-Hee (South Korea), Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova), Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), Jesus Seade Kuri (Mexico), Ms. Amina C. Mohammed (Kenya), Dr. Liam Fox (United Kingdom), and Mohammad Mazia al-Tualjri (Saudi Arabia). Just take a look at that list. I don’t know what Liam Fox is doing there. But check again. Only Africa has three candidates! Many African leaders, and particularly in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), have expressed support for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, but only Africa has three candidates in the contest! Nigeria’s foreign affairs is guided by the principle that Africa is the centre-piece of the country’s foreign policy process. Accordingly, Nigeria has done so much for Africa, but whenever Nigeria’s interest is involved, other African countries are ever so eager to sabotage Nigeria and the interest of its citizens, be it at the multilateral, bilateral or citizen-to-citizen levels. Perhaps the time has come for the Father Christmas character of Nigeria’s foreign policy process to be reviewed. Of what use is the country’s benevolence to other African nations if we can not pull our weight and exert influence in return for the enormous goodwill we invest?
When I called on the Nigerian government to mobilise resources to support her nomination, I had hoped that by now, there will be an inter-ministerial committee in place that will be all over the WTO space to solicit support for Nigeria. I also expected that despite COVID-19, President Buhari would have sent envoys to ask for the support of other countries.
It is safe, however, to assume that the treatment we receive outside is a measure of how we treat ourselves shabbily within. Of all the eight candidates vying for the position of WTO director-general, only Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has had cause to protest that she is being sabotaged by some of her “powerful and well-connected” compatriots. When I called on the Nigerian government to mobilise resources to support her nomination, I had hoped that by now, there will be an inter-ministerial committee in place that will be all over the WTO space to solicit support for Nigeria. I also expected that despite COVID-19, President Buhari would have sent envoys to ask for the support of other countries. What I have seen, and I stand to be corrected, is that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is doing all the campaigns by herself, up to the point that she has had to cry out. Some people in government just don’t draw the line between personal issues and the national interest. The other day, one character in government disclosed that Mustapha Chike-Obi had been asked to talk to the Americans to lobby them to support AfDB Akin Adesina’s re-election. Who is the nitwit who thought that was something to disclose publicly? What was that in aid of? Even if Nigeria wants to lobby the United States and ask for fairness, must that be in the public domain?
We need to get our acts together. To go back to the WTO matter, the selection process has become far more competitive than it was in June. This week, I understand the WTO General Council will begin to interview the eight candidates. Nigeria still has a chance to stand up for its candidate. I remain convinced that Nigeria deserves the position and that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is an excellent choice.
II. From My Mailbox
Last week in this column, I wrote a tail-piece titled “Nimi Akinkugbe and the Indigeneship Question” (July 7). The substance of it was the nomination of Mrs. Nimi Akinkugbe, a Rivers State indigene, who has been nominated by President Muhammdau Buhari as a non-career ambassador, to represent her husband’s State, Ondo. A group of Ondo youths kicked against her nomination, claiming that she has no right to represent Ondo State. Can a married woman represent her husband’s State in a public position? What should be the proper definition of indigeneship in Nigeria? Should any Nigerian be classified as an “alien” in any part of the country? I got some reactions in my mailbox. I will like to share just three of those reactions. The authors raise salient questions that may provide an opportunity for a further interrogation of the subject:
Good afternoon, Dr. Abati,
I trust you are good. As the subject of this email suggests I am responding to the short piece in yesterday’s ThisDay (July 7). I believe the subject is big and there is need to further interrogate the issues for a more robust position. That piece as short as it is amplified some of the contradictions inherent and indeed the complexities of the subject matter. A few examples:
The proposed amendment that would grant a married woman the right to the indigeneship of her husband which was referenced in the piece in my view reinforces the reality of indigeneship as a starting point! A married woman would by virtue of being married acquire dual indigeneship and then get an advantage over unmarried women? Would that not be discrimination based on marital status? What would that do to the prospect of men if population numbers swell by marriage?
Also if the essence of Federal Character is to ensure an even spread of opportunities across the Federation then the Ondo State Youths may be justified in kicking against the nomination of an’ Ondo wife’ as the only candidate from Ondo State. Some States got 2 or 3 nominees. Rivers State already got a ‘daughter of the soil or should that be daughter of the oil/waters’ nominee, Mrs Akinkugbe by extension is a second nomination for Rivers especially as the law remains what it is concerning married women. A few other questions that should concern us regarding this matter; If the reason (for) nominating the woman is for gender balance is it that there is no woman of Ondo State origin that qualifies? Is it not giving Rivers State 2 positions and Ondo none? Would the nominee’s ‘Ondo children’ be entitled to and be afforded such opportunities in their mother’s River State? Knowing how things usually play out in Nigeria would a woman upon completing a term as a ‘wife indigene’ be able to seek opportunities for the same thing or something else in her State of Origin? Should the extent of a woman’s socialisation in her husband’s place of origin count? For example, if a Yoruba woman married to an Ibibio man speaks fluent Efik would that help or perhaps if the couple live in the locality and the wife is more active, productive to the community than the husband? Would men also be able to acquire the indigeneship of their wife (ves)?
Let me say here that I am a Lagos indigene (from Idumota and my mum from Brazilian quarters/Epetedo). I am married to an Ikorodu indigene whose both parents hail from Ikorodu. However, I know for certain that if an opportunity within the State is allocated to Ikorodu. I would be unable to take up such a slot even if I qualify many times over. My Lagos Island origin would preclude me. To be fair, should I really be able to take up that slot on account of being married? And my sister or brother would take up the other slot for Idumota? What would be the fate of my children who do not have the benefit of alternative state? The merit question is not in contention in this reaction. I ask that brilliant minds should do more work on this subject as it is a minefield.
F. K. Dawodu (Mrs)
Re: Indigeneship Question
I hope you are aware that when President Goodluck Jonathan nominated Mrs. Mobola Johnson as minister, Ondo people protested that she could not take the slot for Ondo State because she was married to a Lagosian, the son of Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson. This was regardless of the fact that her father, Chief Bayo Akinola was the Lisa of Ondo!! Both Nimi and Yinka are my friends. But the issue is beyond that. Why not Yinka? Why not Nimi for Rivers State? In this particular case not only is Mrs Nimi Akinkugbe the daughter of late Mr. Ajumogobia who was Vice-Principal of King’s College, Lagos. Her husband, Yinka is also an Old Boy of King’s College!! The matter is settled in her favour.
Bashorun J. K. Randle
Chairman, International Chartered Accountants
It is indeed illegal and unconstitutional to turn any Nigerian into a “foreigner” in any part of the country…….” But it has happened before, most recently when authorities in both the South-East and the South-West laid siege (to) their respective borders to prevent what were clearly migrant seasonal workers from entering those states. Calling them criminals and an advance force for Boko Haram, etc. Even now, a similar injustice has taken place in Cross River State where governor and State House of Assembly refused to appoint the proper person to the office of Chief Judge because she was from neighbouring Akwa Ibom though married to a Cross Riverian. With children.
If former Zamfara State governor Ahmed Sani Yerima did any good it was when he refused advice not to appoint a non-indigene woman Justice to the office of Chief Judge. If only the campaign against these egregious actions can be sustained across the board, irrespective of religion or ethnicity.
Muhammed Tukur Usman
Reuben Abati, a former presidential spokesperson, writes from Lagos.