I want to start by saying that Yushau Shuaib is not speaking for me as a Northerner. People like him who are fast earning a reputation as hit men who blackmail for the right price are not my advocates. I will never support his campaign to blackmail Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala so that she will abandon her reform of the decadent economic system. The progressive new North we are fighting for is different from the discredited old order that Shuaib and his fellow travellers are trying to prop up. Of course, this campaign is bound to fail because as everyone knows, this woman is a tough nut to crack. The orchestrated campaign to smear her with the ethnic tar will fail just like all campaigns against her previous efforts to cancel Nigeria’s external debts and save money for future generations through the Excess Crude Account failed woefully.
As a proud Northerner who believes that no part of the country has a monopoly of brilliance and high performance, I am embarrassed that people like Shuaib are making a case which gives the impression that the North has nothing to offer. It is even worse that the foundation for this campaign is falsehood. It is quite clear that this campaign cannot stand because as the great Uthman Dan Fodio said, “Conscience is an open wound; only Truth can heal it.” As someone who has observed over time the passion of the finance minister for a better Nigeria and the hard work as well as personal risk she continues to bear (it was only last December that her mum, a retired professor in her eighties, was kidnapped).
These allegations of filling top government positions with her fellow Igbo are the latest weapon of blackmail against Okonjo-Iweala by those afraid of the massive cleanup of pension funds administration, the ports operations, and especially the fuel subsidy regime through which barons have looted the treasury in the past. Whipping up primordial sentiments to smear reformist public servants is a favourite tactic of reactionary elements whose interest it is to derail or delay the momentum of reform in order to divert attention from their misdeeds. This rabble-rousing article by someone who cannot justify by meritorious acclaim the public position he presently occupies is part of the on-going subterranean plot to destabilise and cripple the Jonathan administration by hitting what is generally mistaken as its soft underbelly. But they will fail because Nigeria will outlive their lies.
Yushau Shuaib’s awfully illogical and factually manipulated opinion “Still on Okonjo-Iweala’s controversial appointments” lacked the objectivity and attention to available evidence needed to hit the mark. It was high on intoxicating ethnic jingoism but suffered a huge credibility deficiency. The question is: How many appointments have Okonjo-Iweala made since her return to the Finance Ministry in September 2011? So far, only one recruitment process has been concluded under her watch – for the headship of the Sovereign Wealth Fund. And she had no control over the process that produced the brilliant young Nigerian who emerged after a very transparent contest. The position was duly advertised in reputable local and international publications. Uche Orji was adjudged the best following an internationally competitive recruitment exercise conducted by KPMG, a respected global consulting agency. The Nominations Committee which ensured that the recruitment process met the best international parameters was headed by Fola Adeola, one of the most respected pillars of the Nigerian private sector, and included distinguished professionals from all the geo-political zones. Orji’s credentials for getting the job are beyond reproach and nobody has faulted his appointment. If Yushau Shuaib is insinuating that KPMG is an Igbo enclave or was compromised in the recommendation of Orji, a first-class investment banker with an astute resume and a former CEO of a European subsidiary of JP Morgan, then we are dealing here with more than just crass ignorance.
The question that must be asked is: Was the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua promoting Northern hegemony when he appointed Tanimu Yakubu, Omar Mukhtar, Usman Shamsudeen and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as economic adviser, finance minister, national planning minister and governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, respectively? Igbos, Yorubas and other ethnic groups did not question Yar’Adua’s judgment then because these men were qualified for the positions and nobody accused Yar’Adua of Arewanisation policy. What is the lesson here? The best can come from any part of Nigeria. Inciting one ethnic group against another has led to tragic consequences in the past, but, fortunately, the Nigerian public is fast losing its appetite for lies and deceitful propaganda. It is highly dishonest to keep silent when situation favours you and begin a campaign of lies when you think it doesn’t.
If Yushau Shuaib had capacity for factual double check or wasn’t in such a mad rush to blackmail the finance minister, he would have noticed that save for the SWF CEO who came in through KPMG, Arunma Oteh, the director general, Securities and Exchange Commission, Mustapha Chike-Obi, managing director, Asset Management Company, and Abraham Nwankwo, director general, Debt Management Office, were in office before Okonjo-Iweala’s return. So how can she be blamed for appointing Igbos who were already appointed before she returned as finance minister? Oscar Onyema is director general of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, a privately-owned enterprise with no government input whatsoever. This hatchet job by this discredited writer demonstrates how desperate her traducers will go to invent facts in support of their calumnious campaign.
It is a no brainer that the motivating factor for this mischievous campaign against the finance minister is the fear in some quarters that the acting chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service may not be confirmed. The recruitment of discredited and unscrupulous civil society hatchet men to lead Kabiru Marshi’s campaign falls into a predictable pattern of subterfuge which many Nigerians can see through. It is unfortunate that, against global best practices, some people still see the FIRS as a lucrative honey pot for the sustenance of ethnic cronyism, hence an appointee must be of same ethnic stock as they. Many Northerners are holding top positions in the public and private sectors strictly on merit and without blackmailing the approving authority. The impression must be erased that we Northerners are gullible and cannot consider a matter as serious as public office appointment dispassionately.
Yushau Shuaib and co-travellers will be disappointed that their campaign to smear the finance minister is headed for the rocks. Okonjo-Iweala is admired and respected by many Nigerians including Northern elites and ordinary people because they appreciate her genuine love and hard work for a better Nigeria. The notion that she is a tribalist or anti-North will never sell. In all matters, please let us respect facts. Appointing a substantive FIRS chairman must follow due process and only the most qualified will get the position. It is an insult on the dignity and personal integrity of Nigerians, North or South, East or West, that the only way someone can be appointed into high public office is by affirmative action, by by-passing a competitive and rigorous selection process. It is sickening and defeatist for those promoting Marshi’s FIRS candidacy to resort to blackmailing the finance minister. If a Northerner eventually gets appointed FIRS chairman, the unfortunate and unintended impression would have been created by Yushau Shuaib’s inglorious commentary that he or she did not merit the position but rather it was a negotiated ethno-regional geo-power trade-off. That would indeed be most regrettable. There is no future in Nigeria for factually-challenged and ethnically aggravating diatribes like those on which the Yushau Shuaibs of this country built their careers. They must stop peddling rumours to destroy the name of a hardworking woman who has done so much to reform the bad habits of a wayward but ambitious economic giant.
Sani is a legal practitioner and public commentator based in Kaduna.
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