Monday, December 31, 2012

The Kidnapping of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s Mother

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye
No matter the very strong views many Nigerians hold about the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, it is difficult not to sympathize with her and her family on the recent kidnapping of her mother, Mrs. Kamene Okonjo, by heartless criminals.  Mrs. Okonjo, 82, a retired sociology professor, is the wife of the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku in Aniocha LGA of Delta State. 



















Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Her
 Mother, Mrs. Kamene Okonjo 


The five days Mrs. Okonjo spent with her captors must have been one long traumatic period for the members of the family. Now that she has been freed and is back home, I must join several other Nigerians to congratulate the finance minister and her family on the happy end to this horrible nightmare. 

It has been quite difficult to determine how exactly Mrs. Okonjo’s freedom was secured.  The public has merely been treated to a cocktail of speculations even by those who ought to have the facts. Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan thinks that the kidnappers may have been panicked by the sudden, heavy presence of security agents in the area and so decided to release the woman.

The army and police have been on their trail and a lot of raids have been done. I think because of the heat they dropped her off on the highway," Uduaghan told the BBC.  

Both the governor and the police avoided direct answers to questions on whether any ransom was paid to secure the release of Mrs. Okonjo, insisting that only the family could authoritatively answer that. Mr. Uduaghan maintained that his government does not have a policy of paying ransom to kidnappers, but quickly added, however, that affected families eager to have their loved ones released have been known to engage in private negotiations with the abductors. 























Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan and
 Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the World Bank Headquarters 
in Washington DC (pix: governoruduaghan.org)


This clearly  loaded answer can only further fuel speculations across the country that some ransom may have been paid before the kidnappers agreed to drop off Mrs. Okonjo on the highway in Kwale, 50 kilometres away, from where she boarded the motorcycle that took her home. It also hints strongly at the likelihood that either the police and the Delta State government were being less-than truthful or they were actually not on top of the situation.

Again, Mr. Uduaghan told the BBC: "For this one we also insisted that we would not pay any ransom [and] as a government we would not negotiate with anybody."  

Now, if such a decision was made for this particular case, as the governor’s statement seems to suggest, does it then mean that in previous cases, the government had paid ransom? What does this say about the ability of government to protect precious lives and discourage crime by making it unprofitable? 

Mrs. Okonjo’s son, Onyema Okonjo, has blamed her mother’s abduction on security lapse. “I think there were definitely some lapses in terms of security… the people that were supposed to have been here were not here…this gave them [the kidnappers] the opportunity to do what they wanted to do… I think it is really a sad reflection of where we are as a society,” he was quoted as saying. 

















President Goodluck Jonathan

Indeed, it is a very “sad reflection” of the society in which we have found ourselves.

That Mrs. Okonjo could still be easily abducted despite the overwhelming security around her (as a powerful minister’s mother and community queen) can only, most sadly, underline the crying vulnerability of most Nigerians out there. It also throws up the cold fact which government often loves to ignore, namely, that the solution to the menace of kidnapping and armed robbery is not to surround privileged people and their families with heavy security.

Rather, sincere efforts ought to be conscientiously deployed to ensure adequate security for all and, most importantly, a gradual reversal of those factors that generously water the ground for the rapid growth and spread of these criminal activities. 
Now, the Finance Minister has introduced another very worrisome angle to the story. She told reporters in Abuja last week that her mother was kidnapped because of her alleged refusal to pay fuel subsidy funds to oil marketers.  

“I can’t give all the details because we don’t want to compromise on-going investigations. But I can tell you one thing: My mother suffered a great deal during this ordeal…They told her that I must get on the radio and television and announce my resignation ...When she asked why, they told her it was because I did not pay Oil Subsidy money. They also said I had blocked payment of money to certain components of the SURE-P programme…These statements are, of course, not true. In the case of subsidy payments, we have been paying all marketers whose claims have been verified by the Aig-Imoukhuede Committee after going through the necessary processes…For marketers whose transactions are proven to be fraudulent, the position of the Jonathan government is also clear: we cannot and we will not pay. We will not back down on this. We will continue to stand firm,” Okonjo-Iweala declared. 


























The Result of Punitive Economic Policies
 Dinner from the Dustbin 
 
The minister’s statement has raised many questions across the country. From what I have heard and read so far, only an insignificant number of Nigerians are buying this story.  And what they are asking is:  if we agree with the minister that those who organized her mother’s abduction are those oil marketers whose claims  were “proven to be fraudulent” and whose fraudulent claims the minister has vowed not to pay, why then did they release her mother?

Did the minister eventually back down? Because, from every available report, Mrs. Okonjo was released by the kidnappers and not rescued by the security agents, although, the authorities deliberately refused to make this very clear, by choosing to announce her release together with the arrest of “some prime suspects,” thus, making it seem as if the former occurred as a result of the latter.  Let's all hope that the on-going investigations will unravel all the truths behind this very sad and unfortunate incident. 


Well, whether her mother was rescued by security agents or through the payment of ransom (or even subsidy fund), what remains true is that Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala has the status, connection and means to adequately respond to both challenges. In fact, an online platform alleged the other day that N9million ransom was paid by the Delta State government to secure Mrs. Okonjo’s freedom. 

Whatever happened, however, all I can say here is that as the minister and her siblings celebrate their enormous good fortune, sincere thoughts must be spared for that poor, old woman out there who has been pinning away in the kidnappers den because her own children have neither the means nor clout to secure her freedom as promptly and effectively as the Okonjo’s did theirs.  

We live in a country of acute unemployment and excruciating poverty and the Goodluck Jonathan’s government is yet to demonstrate that it is in possession of workable ideas about how the malaise could be effectively combated.  


















Mrs. Kamene Okonjo

In fact, we ought to have been counting ourselves extremely blessed that we have as our chief economic manager, a brilliant, Harvard and World Bank-minted expert in the person of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, yet the economic policies  being formulated and implemented in this country, despite being always wrapped in glittering foils, have only compounded the nation’s woes, effectively ensuring that we are perennially mired in such a primitive and dangerous society where poverty  and despair reign with utmost impunity and life is more and more worthless. What we appear stuck with is a government perpetually groping for direction, always appearing blank and frustratingly confused about how to navigate the country into even some modest economic sunshine.  

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, largely seen as the bold face of the World Bank/IMF policies for Africa, has most zealously championed controversial policies that have rankled the populace. Prominent among them is her insistence on mass retrenchment of workers as a solution to Nigeria’s economic problems, in a country with an incredibly high unemployment rate. It was from her that many Nigerians first heard such spine-chilling phrases like “right-sizing” and “down-sizing” in the civil service – phrases that always unleash fear, dread and panic everywhere.

She is also a passionate advocate of the removal of subsidy on fuel (READ: increase in the price of petrol) – something many regard as phantom since government has repeatedly failed to convincingly prove its existence. And despite this determination to pile more hardship on an already overstretched populace through punitive policies that only compound the country’s already very bad economic problems, public officers obscenely cart away duly approved jumbo salaries and ridiculously inflated allowances right under finance minister’s nose.  I am yet to hear Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala suggest the “right-sizing” or “down-sizing” of the multitudes of aides (many of them with overlapping functions) idling away at our expense at the presidency or even the slightest reduction of their unspeakably inflated salaries and allowances.  

















The Hooded Face of Terror: Is The Government 
Overwhelmed 

And to make matters worse, and clearly underline the gross insensitivity, prodigality and anti-growth mindset that inspire polices and plans at the presidency, President Goodluck Jonathan is spending billions of naira on food at Aso Rock and the construction of a new, more tasteful presidential banquet hall and “more befitting” residence for the vice president even when the current residence is still very cosy and palatial.  Yet this is a country where many people are not able to afford one healthy meal a day, and some have even gone as far as feeding from putrid dustbins just to prolong their miserable existence.  

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala should allow her recent experience to acquaint her with the awareness that punitive policies apart from traumatizing their traditional targets, that is, the people, also produce horrible consequences that have ways of returning to haunt even their very chief architects. Granted, criminally-minded people would always take to crime no matter the situation, yet it remains very difficult to divorce the unspeakable hardship in the country from the growing menace of robbery and kidnapping.  

Also, the unrestrained looting of the public wealth which usually transforms public officers into overnight millionaires, and the penchant by these financially empowered fellows to obscenely flaunt their new-found wealth before Nigeria in the midst of excruciating poverty in a land where over 80% of the citizenry live below poverty level can only provoke the deprived outside the corridors into crime. Little wonder kidnapped public officers and   their relatives hardly attract any sympathy and prayers from the populace. 





















Wake Up, Sirs! There's Danger in the Land
(pix: nigeriaonline) 

It is time for President Jonathan and his team to demonstrate convincingly that indeed some efforts are really being made to fix this country. Power supply, for instance, despite the billions of dollars it has gulped, remains abysmally poor, thereby shooting up the cost of doing business in Nigeria. This continues to force the closure of businesses, kill the dreams of young entrepreneurs and swell the rank of the unemployed, many of who resort to violent crimes as a means of survival, thereby, compounding the country’s insecurity problems.

 It is to be hoped that Nigerian public officers would hasten to learn from their colleagues recent experience that it is impossible to labour to create a dangerous country and expect to be insulated from its often far-reaching consequences.  
This is wishing Mrs. Okonjo a most pleasant recovery from the trauma she had just passed through.

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10 comments:

  1. One of these days, they will kidnap the president or his vice despite their overwhelming security, and some sense will enter into public officers. Like the writer said, you don't willfully destroy your country and hope to be exempted from the consequences of the collapse.

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  2. Tell them, Mr writer, whether they will hear. Look at that poor, hapless man feeding from a putrid dustbin, and Pres Goodluck Jonathan is spending billions of naira to feed idle mouths at Aso Rock and to build a new banquet hall for himself and new palace for his VP. One day, the people will rise and insist that they have had enough of this madness

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  3. How has Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-iweala's about ten years of managing the Nigerian economy affected the Nigerian economy and the welfare of the masses? Things are instead getting worse by the day, and hardship is spreading, increasing involvements in violent crimes. And she is supposed to be Africa's foremost economic expert? So sad.

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    Replies
    1. I think you are not been fair to pile the woes of the nation on Dr. Iweala. There is much and little just a single person can do to eradicate this century long challenge of this nation. If we had more of her in public space, things would have changed a great deal!

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  4. "Ngozi Iweala: Nigeria’s Weakest Link"
    By Sonala Olumhense

    PERHAPS I should have supported all those who wanted Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whom I call Double-D, to return to Washington as President of the World Bank. Double-D, short for Double Duty Minister, is the weakest link in a very weak chain. She is the clearest argument as to why progress may be impossible in the Goodluck Jonathan era because she is painting when she should be digging up. She is nurturing poverty, not combating it.

    Okonjo-Iweala is Nigeria’s Minister of Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy. One ministerial deck chair is trouble enough; that she sits on two reflects how critical she is to Nigeria, the patient. My negative assessment has nothing to do with her mastery of her World Bank rhetoric, or even its economics. If that were the point, I would probably have argued for more time for her.

    My concern is of what mettle those who claim to serve Nigeria are made. My conviction that Okonjo-Iweala’s hands at the helm are hands that row in the other direction is indexed on two facts. The first is her key role as one of the economic architects in the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in which she headed the so-called Economic Management Team (EMT).

    The second is the international advertising given her by her former job as a Managing Director at the World Ban, and her subsequent candidacy for its presidency. On the basis of that background, Okonjo-Iweala took up her position in August 2011, with high expectations. Those expectations were not necessarily mine. While she had enjoyed a somewhat successful run in her first time around as Minister, including the famous debt negotiations with the Paris Club, most other things then and since then have carried, or been covered by, suspicion, indifference or failure.

    Let me name 10.

    One: As I have stated several times in this column, the flagship reform she headed in the Obasanjo government, the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), vanished after only a few months, and with all of the funds that were hurled into it. After helping to persuade members of the international community to support the programme, Okonjo-Iweala simply abandoned it. That may explain why the economic arm of the Goodluck Jonathan government which she heads has no articulated reform component.

    Two: in 2001, Obasanjo vowed he would eliminate poverty by 2010, an end towards which he created the Poverty Eradication Programme (involving 13 federal Ministries), which he said would be funded by a Poverty Eradication Fund. Into that was drained, and is still being drained, billions of Naira.

    Three: in the negotiations with the Paris Club, one “top member” of the government walked away with a personal fee of N60 billion. That was disclosed by a former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) boss, Audu Ogbeh, who reported the matter to the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission. Ogbeh did not disclose who it was, but the allegation seemed to fit either President Obasanjo or Okonjo-Iweala. None of them has ever challenged it.

    Four: when the Paris Club negotiations ended, it left Nigeria with $1 billion per year with which to implement the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and boost education. In other words, even if Nigeria did not budget anything else for the MDGs, we had a ready $1 billion in hand; a total of $6 billion since then that has not been accounted for. Nigeria also got a refund from the London Club of $747.82 million she paid—in error—in December 2006.
    -----------------------------------------------------
    To Read The Full Piece Follow The Link Below
    http://www.ngrguardiannews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=102231:olumhense-ngozi-iweala-nigerias-weakest-link&catid=38:columnists&Itemid=615

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  5. Being in the state that it is, Nigeria needs a critical mass of people to steer it clear of the calamitous course it is on. It needs people on the outside, constantly demanding better governance at all levels, and keeping politicians and civil servants honest. Equally as crucial, it needs people on the inside, fighting the hard battles necessary for reform.

    In March, The Economist described Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Nigeria’s ‘Iron Lady’, and frankly, one needs an iron will to attempt any kind of reform in a nation that has gone backwards since she left her first stint as Finance Minister in 2006, to wide acclaim. Then, like now, her principal needed her to confer some measure of credibility on the cabinet. Then, like now, she answered the call.

    Sadly for her, this time is different. Her official title: ‘Coordinating Minister for Finance and the Economy’, is as long as the list of problems she faces. 5 years after the first time, she has to confront a federal government bloated out of all proportion which consumes 70% of all its revenues, a petrol subsidy system used to finance the 2011 elections, state governors more reckless than ever, and a National Assembly that has a statutory allocation of N150 billion with no oversight, and little to show for it. The Excess Crude Account left behind by herself and Obasanjo was depleted to fund growing consumption by governors who just want to share whatever oil proceeds come in.

    The results were loud complaints from petroleum marketers, lack of petrol on the streets, and the kidnap of her mother. More on that later.

    In the meantime, she was widely recommended as the best candidate for the vacant position of World Bank President, going up against Jim Yong Kim, the US candidate. She received ringing endorsements from leading development experts, as well as The Economist and other leading publications. Even though the bid was unsuccessful, the moral victory was hers because her candidacy started a debate about what the role of organisations like the World Bank should be, and the lack of transparency around how its leaders are chosen.

    It increasingly appears that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a prophetess that will never truly be celebrated in her own land. She was derided in some quarters for wanting to run away from Nigeria by way of the World Bank Presidency, but if that were ever the case, she didn’t show it by the manner in which she took on subsidy thieves and wasteful governors. Her office has no power to prosecute those who had stolen before, but she made it very, very difficult for them to continue robbing Nigeria blind. The proposed Sovereign Wealth Fund was another source of conflict between her and the governors, whose only mandate is to ‘share’ revenues.

    These battles came to a climax when her mother was abducted on December 9, and held for 5 days. Okonjo-Iweala linked this directly to subsidy payments, a connection many had made with the appropriation of an extra $1 billion for subsidy for the rest of the year, which tallied exactly with the initial ransom demand. Crucially, the 82 year old Professor was released the very next day.

    It highlighted the very real cost faced by those who try to push through reforms in a government awash with corruption, and an indication about how enemies of Nigeria’s progress may proceed in future. Kidnapping is now fair game, and this realization is a disturbing one.

    Her nickname: ‘Okonjo- wahala’, conjures the image of someone who has always been an outsider, and this has proven quite true. Under Obasanjo, she at least had the comfort of fellow reformers, and a principal who – warts and all – commanded genuine respect and brought gravitas to the Presidency.

    This time she has neither, hence the need for iron. Surrender is not an option. The alternative is unthinkable.


    http://jmacebong.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/why-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-is-my-nigerian-person-of-the-year/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The 'Economist' and 'Financial Times' can praise Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to high heavens. They can shout on roof-tops about her "marvelous achievements" and great credentials. They can call her "iron" or even bronze lady from the comfort of their London offices. They know why they are doing that; but when it comes to choosing who heads the World Bank, the West knows how to look away from the so-called "iron lady" despite endorsements from these papers. I challenge the 'Economist' and 'Financial Times' to say that they will be able to tolerate Okonjo-Iweala if she is a cabinet minister in Britain! They would have ripped her apart and sent her packing with unsparing editorials a long time ago. But for them, she is good for Africa! Yes, it is good to admire Robert Mugabe from hundreds of miles away (for self-serving reasons), when you know that you won’t ever have to live in Zimbabwe. We Nigerians are wearing the shoe, and we know where it pinches. We know the effect of all the directionless economic policies from our “iron lady” on our lives. We know that things are getting rather worse, and are not showing signs of improvement. We know that the only solutions Ngozi Okonj-Iweala has are the ones taught her at the World Bank - which has ruined many African countries -- Retrench workers, removal subsidies, devaluation of currencies, etc. We are tired of hearing about the super credentials of non-performing public officers whose careers are not able to use practical results to prove their so-called expertise. We are tired of hearing about "marvelous achievements” in Nigeria from far-away London and Washington in the midst of growing decay and dilapidation; we are tired of hearing that someone is giving ‘wahala’ to corrupt officials when the government under which she "fighting" the corruption is nothing but an organized banditry. Okonjo-Iweala, if you are an economic expert, demonstrate it by giving a sense of direction to the Nigerian economy! You have spent more than a decade already fixing an ever worsening economy - with only disastrous results. I doubt if you have any more new ideas. How many years does it take an expert like you to realize even the minutest hint of result? Things keep going from worse to zero under your “expert” watch. If an expert can create such a great disaster, maybe what we even need is a non-expert with some bit of sincerity of purpose

      Delete
  6. The 'Economist' and 'Financial Times' can praise Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to high heavens. They can shout on roof-tops about her "marvelous achievements" and great credentials. They can call her "iron" or even bronze lady from the comfort of their London offices. They know why they are doing that; but when it comes to choosing who heads the World Bank, the West knows how to look away from the so-called "iron lady" despite endorsements from these papers. I challenge the 'Economist' and 'Financial Times' to say that they will be able to tolerate Okonjo-Iweala if she is a cabinet minister in Britain! They would have ripped her apart and sent her packing with unsparing editorials a long time ago. But for them, she is good for Africa! Yes, it is good to admire Robert Mugabe from hundreds of miles away (for self-serving reasons), when you know that you won’t ever have to live in Zimbabwe. We Nigerians are wearing the shoe, and we know where it pinches. We know the effect of all the directionless economic policies from our “iron lady” on our lives. We know that things are getting rather worse, and are not showing signs of improvement. We know that the only solutions Ngozi Okonj-Iweala has are the ones taught her at the World Bank - which has ruined many African countries -- Retrench workers, removal subsidies, devaluation of currencies, etc. We are tired of hearing about the super credentials of non-performing public officers whose careers are not able to use practical results to prove their so-called expertise. We are tired of hearing about "marvelous achievements” in Nigeria from far-away London and Washington in the midst of growing decay and dilapidation; we are tired of hearing that someone is giving ‘wahala’ to corrupt officials when the government under which she "fighting" the corruption is nothing but an organized banditry. Okonjo-Iweala, if you are an economic expert, demonstrate it by giving a sense of direction to the Nigerian economy! You have spent more than a decade already fixing an ever worsening economy - with only disastrous results. I doubt if you have any more new ideas. How many years does it take an expert like you to realize even the minutest hint of result? Things keep going from worse to zero under your “expert” watch. If an expert can create such a great disaster, maybe what we even need is a non-expert with some bit of sincerity of purpose

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Abegi! Na bad belle talk be that! Those wey know her worth no go dey talk like this! God bless NOI. God bless Nigeria!

      Delete
  7. I think Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-iweala has tried her best. But her best is not good enough. The honourable thing for her to do now is to quietly hand in her papers and return to the World Bank - where she has a job that she understands. Right now, she appears to have run out of ideas - or never really had workable ideas for reversing the fortunes of the Nigerian economy. The next thing she would do now is to blame her failure on Nigerians by saying that if we had agreed for her to retrench workers and remove the phantom subsidies on fuel, the economy would have bounced back. But, as we already know, those are tired arguments, but trust Okonjo-iweala, she is never tired of recycling tired arguments. President Obama is creating jobs in the US and here in Nigeria, the economic expert from Washington is advocating creation of mass unemployment. What an irony. And those lashing out on Obama for not creating enough jobs are praising the fellow who wants to abolish many jobs in Nigeria. Sometimes, western hypocrisy is not even done intelligently enough.

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