Nigeria’s former finance minister wrote a book about her time in government. It is a thinly veiled attempt to clean up her image.
NGOZI Okonjo-Iweala served as Nigeria’s finance minister twice since its return to democracy: first from 2003 to 2006 under Olusegun Obasanjo and more recently, from 2011 to 2015, under Goodluck Jonathan. Now she has written a book, published by an American academic press, ostensibly about those experiences.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala comes from a family of academics. Her mother, Kamene, was a renowned sociologist and her father, Chukwuka, an economist (he is also a local king in the Delta region, and a former UN official and government official in Ghana.) She had her elementary education at the legendary St. Anne’s School Molete, which is one-hundred and forty-nine years old. Then completed her secondary education at the prestigious University of Ibadan International School. She then proceeded to Harvard where she obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Economics. She later obtained a PhD in Rural Economics and Development from MIT. Prior to becoming Nigeria’s Finance Minister in 2003, she worked at the World Bank where she rose to become the Vice President for Africa and later one of the several Managing Directors at the Bank. Upon Nigeria’s return to democracy in May 1999, she became an important figure in the shaping of neoliberal economic policies for the new administration, first as an adviser to Obasanjo and later as Finance Minister, where her office literally became an outpost of the IMF/World Bank. She helped populate both Obasanjo and Jonathan’s administrations with current or former employees of the World Bank/IMF and other sympathizers of neoliberal economic policies. Many of these people later constituted her kitchen cabinet. The neoliberal policies of the two administrations she worked for were largely responsible for the selling of national assets to individuals and cronies of the regimes in the name of privatization and commercialization. It wasn’t surprising when opposition to these policies became an important trope for the book that chronicled Okonjo-Iweala’s tenure as Finance Minister in Nigeria.
There aren’t many books by African finance ministers on their tenure, so her book would certainly elicit anticipation in some circles. The book is dramatically titled Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines and opens with a story of the kidnapping of Kamene Okonjo, which she blames on intimidation by those that were benefitting financially from what she calls the “oil subsidy scam” because the alleged kidnappers did not ask for money. In her telling, they wanted her to announce on national radio and television that she was resigning from her job as Finance Minister and returning to the United States. According to Okonjo-Iweala, this incident happened because of her stance on corruption in the oil industry, especially the illegal payment of subsidies to oil marketers.
The kidnapping of Okonjo-Iweala’s mother is depicted as a game, which makes jest of the general insecurity ordinary Nigerians confront on a daily basis. The community where Okonjo-Iweala’s parents live and many communities in Nigeria are known to have recorded many incidents of kidnapping before and after the episode she described. This includes the kidnapping of the king of a nearby Ubulu-Uku community, a senior government official of the state, Professor Hope Eghagha, and the wife of retired Army General Oluwole Rotimi.
Kidnapping became rampant during the oil insurgency in the Delta and continued into the present so it cannot be conclusively said that there is a correlation between these acts of brigandage and the fight against corruption. The only correlation is the general breakdown in law and order as a result of the incompetency of the administration and the overall socio-economic downturn resulting from the neoliberal economic policies of the Obasanjo and Jonathan administrations that Okonjo-Iweala helped shape.