Is she already tired of the system so soon? Or what is driving Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala away less than one year in the saddle as the nation’s finance minister? She combines that portfolio with the herculean task of coordinating the economy. That is how much confidence President Goodluck Jonathan has in her expertise to ensure both national growth and development. Shortly after Jonathan took the oath of office last year, Okonjo-Iweala’s name popped up as one of the technocrats expected to make his cabinet tick. Not many people believed until she appeared before the Senate for screening. This column commented on that appearance in the July 18, 2011 edition thus: “Many people in her shoes would not have bothered to answer the national call a second time. And they would be justified. Having been bitten once, they would quit expectedly, wonder how deep the next bite could be. However, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala must be an incurable optimist of the Nigerian project. With her vantage position as managing director of the World Bank, she certainly sees the numerous opportunities this country has to achieve greatness.” And that view was reinforced when her media aide, Paul Nwabuikwu, in a press statement claimed that Okonjo-Iweala was not interested in the presidency of the World Bank, which is becoming vacant next June.
That statement was soon overtaken by events, however. Perhaps, due to the numerous pressure, Okonjo-Iweala has declared her interest in presiding over the world’s foremost bank. In fact, she is being quoted as saying she was the most qualified for the job. The two other nominees are Jose Antonio Ocampo, Colombia’s finance minister, and Jim Yong Kim, president of Dartmouth College in the United States, who was a former staff of UNESCO. Some media have touted him as a health expert. The implication of that is, what does Kim know about the world economy? He surely comes into the race for the job with some intimidating credentials. The one factor the appointing board cannot ignore is that Kim is the candidate of President Barack Obama. And what America wants it gets, especially considering the fact that the country contributes from time to time substantial money to the funding of the World Bank. If like we are being fed that the bank’s insiders are rooting strongly for a leader that is not an American nominee, then the institution must have a strategy to handle the backlash. It would not be surprising if Congress withholds assent to future US’ funding of the global bank. That country did same once when it nearly crippled UNESCO, because the then director-general Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow fell out of favour.
There is sure some political game going on all the time when vacancies occur in these global bodies. What is curious in the Okonjo-Iweala case is that her nomination was made by South Africa. She has equally been endorsed by the Africa Union and the ECOWAS. No statement has yet been released by the Jonathan administration on whether she could go or not. That is some loaded silence. Something is surely amiss here. Methinks, the World Bank job is a golden opportunity for the finance minister to bail out of Jonathan’s government. Why? Perhaps, she has weighed all the options available to her in contributing meaningfully in the drive to rescue Nigeria from the precipice, and discovered that the institutional obstacles are daunting. Don’t forget she drew a lot of flak during the anti-fuel subsidy strike last January. And the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment, SURE, programme has seemingly come unstuck because the government is still subsidising premium motor spirit. Thus she may have come to the conclusion that there is nothing much that Jonathan can achieve in the present set-up which may have informed this current attempt at bailing out even before the ship of state has gathered any steam. Who can blame her? She has name and image to protect. If madam gets the World Bank job, in spite of that great odd, good luck to her. But she should know that her presidency will not in any way benefit Nigeria, her fatherland, where she has once been touted as a vice presidential material.