Sunday, September 11, 2011

Jonathan/Okonjo-Iweala: An Unjust Vitriolic

By Orji Kalu, Sun News Online

I read two articles last week, which I found very unsettling, unnecessary and unwarranted. One was an attack on President Goodluck Jonathan for the recent detention and release of some members of the Movement for Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
The other was an acerbic attack on the Minister for Finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whose second coming is attracting undue flakes from some people. I must confess that both articles have, up till this moment, left me disconsolate. Author of one of the articles in question was pointblank and unequivocal in his condemnation of the manner the arrest was handled, and how the Federal Government gaffed by allowing the President openly and personally announced the release of the MASSOB members. According to them, the president should have directed the Inspector General of Police (who arrested and detained the men) to order their release.

In my thinking, there was nothing wrong with the president ordering their release, after all the appeals to have them released by prominent Igbo sons and daughters were made directly to him. If he had asked IGP Ringim to announce the release, then the publicity mileage accruing from that action would have gone to Ringim. In such a political game what determines which direction an action goes is what each player stands to gain. In this case the president stood to gain, and he ingenuously went for it.

Can anybody authoritatively say that the president ordered the arrest of the MASSOB men? I was pleased with the dissection done on the matter by a columnist in one of the national papers. The author in question though sympathetic to the cause of the MASSOB members outright condemned the arrest and burrowed into the possible consequences of what had happened. His position was that the arrest of the men, whom he described as innocuous and harmless, was an unnecessary overheating of the polity. I agree no less.

But I was particularly moved by the request made to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, by Justice Eze Ozobu to prevail on the president to get the men released, and the helplessness of the top Igbo who serves in the present cabinet in that circumstance. Justice Ozobu was so irked and dismayed by what happened that he literally took the president to task. He almost berated the president for not living up to the expectation of Igbo who voted massively for him during the last presidential election by not allowing the men to be arrested in the first place.

Even though Justice Ozobu might be justified in his assessment of the evolving situation, I am quick to point out that the president does not owe anybody any allegiance. His allegiance is strictly to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which he has sworn to defend. Did Jonathan sign any agreement with tribal group in the country that he would shield them from arrest if they broke the law or did anything antithetical to the sovereignty and unity of Nigeria? I believe that the president would not be naive to make such a wild commitment. He approached Igbo leaders who, in their own assessment, saw him as the best candidate that would meet the aspirations of Nigerians and therefore voted for him. That action never meant at any time material that the president would kowtow to such people.

Those who try to hold the president responsible for the arrest and detention of the MASSOB members are not being fair and reasonable. Whoever is familiar with the operations of government would agree that the president might not necessarily have to be contacted before somebody who breaks the law is arrested and detained. To me, the blames for the detention of the MASSOB members should be heaped on the doorsteps of the security agents that masterminded their arrest in the first place.

Dragging Jonathan into the whole imbroglio is an undue distraction. The president has too much already in his hands to be so distracted. He may have his own limitations as a person, but that is not enough to crucify him as is being done at the moment.
As much as I love Igbo and am ready to continue to fight for their cause, as I have always done, I will never support undue sentimentalism. Why blame Jonathan simply that Igbo voted for him? Were Igbo the only people that voted for Jonathan and may not be getting what is due to them as compensation for their faithfulness and support? Hausa, Yoruba and other ethnic groups collectively made Jonathan president. He is not the president of one ethnic group, not even the Ijaw – his sanguineous brothers and sisters.

My defense of Jonathan does not mean that the president should not do something reasonable for those that supported him at the elections. He can achieve this by integrating their interests in the overall national development plan without necessarily being loud about it. It is natural for a person to show soft spot for somebody that has shown him friendship and kindness. That is where such a relationship should end - at an official level.

This does not mean that the President should not make deliberate effort to redress the injustices done to the Igbo since the civil war ended. It is no longer news that Igbo have remained an endangered species in the Nigerian nation. I know what the fears of the security agencies are that made them arrest the MASSOB men. They had thought that by stopping them from holding their ceremony planned for the recognition of some of their leaders, especially Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, they would intimidate them into dropping any plot to replicate what Boko Haram is doing in the North. But sincerely speaking, they got it wrong. Igbo, as I have always said, are very peaceful, republican and enterprising. They do not just embark on a struggle without adequate reason. They do not believe that their rightful place in the scheme of things in Nigeria will be achieved by violence. As well-educated, resourceful and humane people Igbo are ready to continue to work for the peace, progress and prosperity of Nigeria, even at their own discomfort. Probably, this is what some people interpret as weakness. For all I know, Igbo are not a weak race. They supported Jonathan not because he is an Igbo man (anybody who alludes to that is just being mischievous). Rather they gave him support because they thought he had all the qualities of the kind of president Nigeria needed at this time. By the way, is there anything wrong for Igbo to choose to support Jonathan for whatever reason best known to them?

I know a time will come when Igbo will assume the presidency of this country without raising a sword. They do not need any rebellion or guerrilla warfare, as some militant groups wage currently, to get the presidency or register their indignation over the way the country is run.

I do not subscribe to the arguments making the rounds in the media that Igbo had blown their chances of clinching the presidency in 2015 because they supported President Jonathan in 2011. Those who make these lame arguments have forgotten that it is only God that makes kings. The emergence of Jonathan as president was purely a mandate actuated by God using man as an instrument. How could Jonathan ordinarily have become president from being an ordinary deputy governor in 1999? There are some people who have spent virtually all their active years on earth seeking the presidency without even making it to the vice presidency position. If it pleases God that Igbo will produce the president in 2015, no man born of a woman can obstruct it.
Sincerely speaking, Jonathan owes Igbo a debt of gratitude for their steadfast support to his administration, even when the situation was hazy. They returned over 97% votes for him in the elections. How he does it is entirely his business.

As indicated in the beginning of this article, the second coming of Okonjo-Iweala as Finance Minister is being criticized for no justifiable reason. Those in the vanguard of this undue media attack claim she is overrated. How realistic is their criticism? How can any rational person claim Okonjo-Iweala – a World Bank Managing Director -is overrated? This is what I mean whenever I write that Nigerians are the architect of their own problems. Instead of commending her courage to accept the ministerial offer to come and salvage the nation’s economy her critics have found pastime in chastising her.

Ordinarily, I would have used my precious time for more useful engagements instead of responding to the chattering of some charlatans. That would have amounted to great disservice to the nation that is currently yearning for honest men and women that would help it regain its lost glory. Have these armchair critics asked themselves why Olusegun Obasanjo – against all odds – sought the services of Okonjo-Iweala as his Finance Minister. Obasanjo was richly convinced that he needed an Okonjo-Iweala if he was to bring out the economy from the doldrums. For true assessors of the performance of that administration she did not fail to deliver. We all were witnesses to the shock the economy experienced when she was moved to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as minister. The thinking of Obasanjo was that the reassignment of Okonjo-Iweala to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would help redeem the sagging foreign image of Nigeria.

In any case, the performance of Okonjo-Iweala in the Obasanjo administration was generally perceived as excellent, which was why Jonathan went for her this time round. For those who did not know: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is one of the best brains in the World Bank and the management of the bank had publicly acknowledged this on numerous occasions. In fact, it took her extra two months after she was confirmed by the Senate to assume duties. This was because her employers in Washington needed her to tie up a few loose ends before resuming in Abuja. Would anybody say such a woman is not an egghead?

I believe that her appointment will attract visible changes in the way the economy has been run in the past one year and in the end yield sound policies that will translate into gains for the transformation of the lives of the citizens.

What Nigeria needs at this time is sound fiscal policy predicated on pragmatic economic principles. We do not need parlous economic formula that have exacerbated the woes of the nation. With the resumption of Okonjo-Iweala comes quick response from other indices that measure the performance of the economy. This means that within a short time the economy will be on its way to full recovery.
Let me make it very clear: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s offer to serve is coming at a very huge price. Apart from the big pay packet she is leaving behind at the World Bank (this is estimated at $543,000 per annum) she is going to spend sleepless nights working out modalities on how to revitalize the economy. What is the salary of a minister in Nigeria in accordance with the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission (RMFC) structure? I know it is not up to N5m annually. If that is true, then multiply $543,000 by the current exchange rate of the naira in the international market and you see what I mean. This amount does not include her allowances and other emoluments as a Managing Director in a top financial institution.

I advise her critics to come up with their own answers to the many problems besetting the economy instead of relishing in their devious recreation of trying to damage the reputation of an innocent woman whose only sin is that she accepted the call by her fatherland to help rebuild the battered economy.
As for those criticizing Jonathan for the detention and subsequent release of MASSOB members, let them apply restraint. They should show some patriotism in their attitude to national issues. At this time of our national development, what we need is concerted effort by all Nigerians to find solutions to the endemic problems of terrorism, corruption, poverty, insecurity and greed seeking to destroy the fabric of our dear nation.
For now, let there be ceasefire.

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