It was a serious argument among some of my friends when the race for the World Bank Presidency started a few weeks ago.
Majority of them were convinced that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala would beat former Colombian Finance Minister, Jose Antonio Ocampo, and President Barack Obama’s nominee, Jim Yong Kim, to become Robert Zoellick’s successor in June as the 12th occupant of the post, 68 years after the bank was founded.
The withdrawal of Ocampo, a few days to the election, for Okonjo-Iweala thrilled my friends.
To them, our Finance Minister and Co-Ordinating Minister for the Economy was the best candidate for the job because she has wide experience of working at all levels of the bank’s hierarchy in various parts of the world. From being an Agricultural Economist to being the Managing Director.
To two of my friends who studied Economics at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Okonjo-Iweala was over-qualified, and that was why Ocampo publicly withdrew for her.
To buttress their argument, they propounded all sorts of economic theories to justify their position that Aunty Ngozi would automatically step into Zoellick’s shoes.
Of course, I couldn’t fault their positions on the issue. Economically, they were right. But, I told them that the position was not a vacancy in the Economics Department, Faculty of Social Sciences of UNILAG. This is international politics, which is not about what is right but the interest of some power brokers, led by the United States.
I asked them: “If Ocampo withdrew for Okonjo-Iweala, has Obama told Kim to withdraw?”
They didn’t reply. Rather, they insisted that voices of credible people all over the world were behind Okonjo-Iweala, that the democratic space should be open to everybody. I asked them: “Are the U.S. and its allies ready to open up this space?”
When the result of the rigged(?) (according to them) election in favour of Kim was announced on Monday, they threw decorum to the wind, calling Obama and the U.S. unprintable names. To them, the U.S. muscled its way through but did not win a moral battle. Rather, it won due to its raw power.
One of them said: “Obama’s country has lost its moral locus standi of advising other countries about democracy. It has shown the whole world that in U.S., democracy is working but outside, it is dictatorship.
Obama has told us that he cannot practise what brought him to power during the November 4, 2008 election, which is democracy. We all know that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was a better candidate. How could they leave a financial expert and pick an health expert as head of the World Bank? The process did not give the job to the best candidate.”
For three days, we didn’t talk to one another. Then I engaged one of them in a related argument on Thursday.
He knows I am from Ondo and I said that in the land of the Ekimogun, where I am a stakeholder, I can point to my father’s house. The moment you mention the name ‘Omo Jesu’ or Archbishop I.M. Akinadewo, you will land in my father’s house immediately.
And if you want to be mischievous and ask for my grandfather’s house, I will just shout ‘Baba Oluso’ or Saint B.A. Adekahunsi and anybody will take you to the Sabo area where the family house of my grand dad, who died in 1979, is located.
Confidently, I can point to my father and grandfather’s houses.
In world affairs, where is Nigeria’s father’s house? In world politics, where is Nigeria’s grandfather’s residence?
World politics borders on what you have as a bargaining power. You don’t get anything at that level as a beggar. You don’t allow anybody to bully you. You will only stand your ground and get what you want if your homefront is not leaking.
There is a saying in my town which is apt for global power relations: E see jeun daja juu? It means in Yoruba: Ta lo njeun taja njuru? (Who is eating and the dog is wagging its tail?)
How can the rich be discussing and a poor man would have the effrontry to tell them that he has an idea?
How can the U.S. be eating and Nigeria would be wagging its tail?
In 1996, the U.S. single-handedly vetoed the re-appointment of the Egyptian diplomat, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, as the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, claiming he had failed in implementing necessary reforms as helmsman of the UN. Whatever that means.
A country which has the power to veto the re-election of UN Secretary-General is capable of stopping a nominee to the office of the World Bank presidency, a post it has occupied since inception in 1944.
Obama deliberately brought out an Asian-American just to prove a point that the moment the U.S. backs any candidate, he or she would win.
In world politics and power play, where is Nigeria’s influence to warrant her daring to contest against a determined U.S. President?
This is not Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. This is an election year. How will Obama explain it to the electorate that since Eugune Meyer, an American, became the first President of the bank in June 1946, he is the first Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful country to cede the position to an outsider?
Sentiment is alien to world politics. The day Obama announced Kim as his nominee at the White House in Washington D.C., I knew the game was up for Okonjo-Iweala, not because she was not qualified but there was no way she could stand the American machinery and the voting power of its allies.
Okonjo-Iweala described the process that produced Kim as unfair. What does that mean when U.S. is insisting on what it wants?
It was obvious that Okonjo-Iweala never had a chance.
I was amazed at how much energy Nigerians expended on the race. This is a matter of pure, raw, crude politics and power. It’s not about Okonjo-Iweala. I’m sure she herself knows it. I simply don’t know how Nigeria could even think of supplanting the U.S. in the leadership of the World Bank in an election year.
This type of race is not about the certificate you have. I don’t know if Kim ever worked in the World Bank.
The World Bank presidency is not about deciphering some economic theory only. There are thousands of the bank’s workers being paid millions of dollars monthly to do that. To the U.S., the head of a body like that, which is strategic to its global influence, may be a professor of nutrition or physics for all it cares as long as the right power is backing him or her.
I want my readers to be honest. With the way we are running this country, if the rest of the world is being run that way, are we going to have a World Bank?
How this country had been mismanaged, and is being mismanaged, was revealed on Tuesday in Abuja at a session of the Senate Committee on Aviation where foreign airlines operating in Nigeria admitted that they had not been remitting the statutorily-required five per cent from all ticket sales to the government for years.
In the U.S. and other western countries, that is tax evasion, which attracts very serious sanctions.
The agency legally mandated to collect this money is the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) but for years, the officials have been receiving salaries and sleeping. Because of the lackadaisical attitude of some officials and fraud, Nigeria has been losing billions of naira.
Brazenly, these white guys, who couldn’t have done such in their own countries, argued that they were not aware of any law requiring that the Passenger Fuel Surcharge (PFS) should be counted as revenues accruing to the airlines from ticket sales.
The General Manager of Air France-KLM Nigeria, Mr. Christian Herpi, insultingly, said: “If an extant Nigerian law requires our airline to pay five per cent from the PFS, we are ready to comply because this is a worldwide practice by airlines and not peculiar to airlines flying from Nigeria”.
A furious Chairman of the Committee, Senator Hope Uzodimma, attacked the airlines over the breach of aviation laws, noting that the Federal Government was being shortchanged in the non-payment of the statutory levy by the airlines.
He said: “We frown over the breach of aviation laws by foreign airlines. The Federal Government is being shortchanged in the non-payment of the statutory levy by the airlines. It is the opinion of this committee that the government is entitled to the five per cent of the PSF charged by the foreign airlines.
It has been established that the PFS is a revenue accruing to the airlines, since it usually appeared in their account books as a major revenue source to the airline, which is taxable. The NCAA must immediately commence the recovery of the taxes from the airlines as soon as possible”
Eventually, the foreign airlines sweet-talked Senators from treating the tax evasion as a financial crime.
If that is not a financial crime, I wonder what is.
And that is just one, out of the hundreds of financial crimes in high places being committed in this country on a daily basis.
Twenty-four hours later, when the Farouk Lawan-led Fuel Subsidy Regime Panel submitted its report, Nigerians expected the worst and it came - in shapes and sizes.
Somebody authorised the payment of N999 million in 128 places totalling N127.872 billion to unnamed entities which cannot be traced.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), marketers and some companies were accused of fraud totalling N1.07 trillion.
The report also declared that the N1.7 trillion the Federal Government claimed it spent on fuel subsidy was a ruse.
Despite a Presidential directive on July 29, 2009, withdrawing subsidy on kerosene product, NNPC still collected N310 billion on it.
Even the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) overpaid itself to the tune of N312 billion.
With these figures linked to NNPC and PPPRA, government agencies, then marketers are saints after all.
With all these revelations, where is the fight against corruption?
Even the conviction of former Delta State Governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, his wife, mistress and lawyer, in a foreign country, has exposed our legal system to an unprecedented ridicule and embarrassment.
Dear Aunty Ngozi, it was fun while the race lasted. Thank God you have congratulated Kim. Please, as the Finance Minister, try and fix this economy now.