She has said her final goodbye to Nigeria. There will be no third coming for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, unarguably Nigeria’s finest export to the world in the last two decades.
Fighting Corruption Is Dangerous is her painful narration of how she could have done more if the Nigerian political environment wasn’t so hardwired for dysfunction, stinking in everything from the budgetary process to the machinations of ready-to- kill special interest groups. But for her own crew of staff some of whom she had worked with from the Obasanjo years, her four years serving the country again between 2011 and 2015 could have been an utter waste of time, or failure.
And, in fact, it may have been, as many critics have pointed out, no least the former governor of Cross-River state, Donald Duke, who regarded Okonjo-Iweala as a friend but was outraged at her publishing what he thought was a private conversation.
But, in this risky book, the former World Bank Managing Director would take no prisoners. Adams Oshiomhole, Rauf Aregbesola and 2019 presidential aspirant Omoyele Sowore earned black book status for roles varying from chief hound, to chauvinist, to intrusive publisher. She stopped short of mentioning many names – like the powerful presidential aide who interrupted her morning prayer attendance because she stopped the ‘Cargo Tracking Note’ – but the picture of a system with not much desire for order and standardization was no less vivid.
How do you still go to work when your 83-year old mother has been abducted by unknown men who specifically want you not to go to work anymore? That was the defining motivation for this book, even as the former Minister acknowledges that a book on fighting corruption was not necessarily what she planned to follow her 2012 book on reforms with. But it is the closest things to our hearts that move our minds and she is clear that sticking out a neck against those who wished to leave her without legs would not have been worth a loss of a loved one. It is an honest statetement, but one which could leave members of the Armed forces low on equipment and institutional support questioning their own ideals of patriotism.
Which is not to say Okonjo-Iweala has not been or is not patriotic. She seems really proud of her innovations in the Obasanjo administration, when the foundations of the Treasury Single Account – now cheered as a Muhammadu Buhari milestone – was first laid. Nigeria owes the continuous elimination of thousands of ghost workers and non-existing pensioners from recurrent registers to the GIFMIS and IPPIS also initiated in 2004-2005 and re-started in 2012 by Okonjo-Iweala leveraging on her World Bank connections. It must have been patriotism and integrity inspiring the doggedness in refusing loan requests to states with low debt sustainability analysis results, as well risking the ire of the Navy by making a technical case against accepting inconvenient foreign aid.
And, very significantly, it is the mark of leaderhip and accountability to admit where there were short falls. “We did not get the balance right” she says of the Jonathan government’s communication strategy at various times in the administration, from New Year 2012 to Chibok 2014.
A Princess of Ogwashi-Uku, daughter of two professors (one of whom still writes books), Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s account of the danger and cost of corruption in Nigeria is at once depressing (for the filth further revealed) and inspiring. “Fighting corruption can be done!” she writes in one of five reflections in the concluding chapter. But it can be “a long-term game” due to the required task of building institutions:
Institution building is difficult to measure because results cannot be immediately quantified in terms of lives saved, numbers of children educated, or kilometers of roads built. But it is the essential ingredient that saves billions of dollars and ensures the long-term sustainability of development results. It is certainly the key to breaking the back of corruption
Words & Photography by Alexander O. Onukwue | Follow @inquizimedia on Facebook and Twitter