August 2nd, 2013 – Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: Vilified At Home, Celebrated Abroad
A prophet is without honour except in his own house By Omolara Williams
In the dark old days when the military dominated Nigeria’s political scene, the phenomenon of brain drain became crystallized in our national consciousness, as our best brains in all walks of life embarked on an exodus to nations in different parts of the world, in the wake of oppressive military tyranny. Outside the shores of Nigeria, these brains found comfortable abodes where their intellect and works were highly appreciated.
These were times when people we could pinpoint as role models in the country were few and far between. Mammon was then the landmark, and was the only symbol we had left to identify a model. Sadly enough, after the military men were shoved back inside the barracks, things have not improved much with our national psyche and sense of value. Financial opulence still remains a topmost factor in our order of things, and the craze for mammon has blitzed our sense of judgement in identifying the real icons and models of ethical values in our society.
However, at the dawn of democracy in 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo began to woo the best brains from the Diaspora back home to come lend their expertise as the nation began a rebuilding process. Not that our democratic experiment has delivered excellently the way we envisioned in the last 14 years, but we’ve taken a leap from where we used to be. Of course, we are not where we want to be, but governance is always a work in progress.
In page 6 of her book, Reforming the Unreformable, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala ushers her readers into the behind-the-scene events that preceded her appointment into President Obasanjo’s administration. After being suggested by Lady Lynda Chalker, a former International Development Secretary of the United Kingdom and other likeminded individuals in OBJ’s kitchen cabinet, the machine was set in motion for her homecoming. She eventually agreed to come after considering the pros and cons. And no sooner had she come home that she began to drive the reformation agenda of President Obasanjo. Part of that reformation was the write-off of the nation’s debt. That awesome achievement made me an ardent fan of NOI till date.
It was obvious her international exposures and networks helped a great deal in securing the debt relief for Nigeria. Her exploits also opened the floodgates for some Nigerian professionals abroad to start heading home, as things were now look brighter for the country. But, after leaving the OBJ’s cabinet and returning after much plea to serve her fatherland in the GEJ’s government, she has been the butt of critical wags of tongues at home.
Meanwhile, isn’t it ironic that as much as the critics cast the stones in her direction, accolades have not ceased to come her way, especially from the clime where excellence and hard work are celebrated?
Lately, Forbes magazine named her among the most powerful women in the world. Prior to that accolade, the United Nation Secretary General, Mr Ban Kin Moon, appointed her as a member of the Eminent Persons from Around the World working for a new global partnership to eradicate poverty and transform economies through sustainable development.
Also, in not too distant time, the prestigious University of Pennsylvania honoured her with an honorary doctorate degree in law alongside US Vice President, Joe Biden. This award was for a select group of personalities from around the world for high achievement in various spheres.
In the citation read at the ceremony, we are told that: “Okonjo-Iweala is responsible for managing the finances of Africa’s most populous nation and one of the world’s fastest growing economies. She’s a former managing director of the World Bank where she had oversight responsibility for the bank’s $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia.
“She also spearheaded initiatives to assist low-income countries during the food crisis and later the financial crisis, and she chaired the raising of $49.3 billion in grants and low-interest credit for the world’s poorest nations.”
The laurels stated above are just an infinitesimal fraction of all the honours that NOI has amassed in her academic, career and political expedition. And the surprising thing is that, even while our legislators and other not-so-informed people at home are busy maligning her, the world keeps celebrating her. Thus making hers the proverbial prophet who is honoured everywhere except in his own household. For every girl child like me, she is a shining light, who is breasting the tape of achievements and setting a glorious path for upward-looking people to follow.
Isn’t it about time we started celebrating our own?
Omolara Williams is the Coordinator of Youth & Full Initiative.