I love Dr Okonjo-Iweala. I love the fact that she has remained committed to the Nigerian project by offering her wealth of experience. I’ve however been feeling uncomfortable over her actions and inactions on the lingering oil subsidy saga that I’m beginning to question her wisdom. So, I set out to answer these questions: by insisting on “oil subsidy removal” by the corrupt administration of Goodluck Jonathan, is Dr. Okonjo-Iweala being stupidly intelligent? Is the revelation by the House Committee report a confirmation of her stupidity? Is the fact that she has remained the
Coordinating Minister in-charge-of the Economy a demonstration of how so intelligent she is, yet so stupid?
To critically answer these questions, I had to peruse a collection of studies conducted by some of the best minds in academia and published under the title “Why smart people can be so stupid.” In the book, the editor, Robert Sternberg, an expert in intelligence testing, contends that stupidity is not the opposite of smartness. Sternberg defines wisdom as the ability to apply knowledge to achieve common good and argues that stupidity is opposite of wisdom.
With this premise, I will rephrase the questions above: did Dr Okonjo-Iweala apply her vast knowledge to achieve common good by insisting in oil subsidy removal? According to John Rawls, common good is defined as “certain general conditions that are…equally to everyone’s advantage.”
It can thus be said that common good is a social system, corporations (like NNPC) and environment that operates in a way that is beneficial to all people. Is there any wisdom in the removal of oil subsidy that is beneficial to 1% powerful, pure evils around Aso Rock, but at the same time compounding the woes of the poor 99%? If the answer is no, then it is stupidity.
I know Dr Okonjo-Iweala is smart. She had to be in order to have been the Managing Director at World Bank. But according to Sternberg, there are aspects of life in a smart person that actually fosters stupidity. Having successfully overseen the cancellation of Nigerian debt in the past, Dr Okonjo-Iweala thinks she is so smart that Nigerian economic survival does and should revolve around her. She foolishly believes her knowledge makes her omnipotent and that she can do whatever she wants and get away with it, even in a corrupt system like ours. I can now recall that in 2004 Dr Okonjo-Iweala had rejected the report of the Transparency International 2004 rating of Nigeria as the third most corrupt country in the world. I wonder what she thinks now or is it all part of intelligent people doing foolish things?
Dr Okonjo-Iweala once said that “to change something in Nigeria, you must give up something.” While the oil subsidy mess– “the biggest corruption scandals in Nigerian history” – was raging, Dr Okonjo-Iweala attempted and failed to make a swift return to the World Bank. Was that failed attempt based on the realization of the folly in her decision to enrich oil merchants in Nigeria through subsidy ‘removal’? If so, what has she done? From Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s first experience with Obasanjo’s administration, her redeployment to foreign affairs ministry and the discovery of the fraud in her new ministry should have been enough for her to honourably bow out after an unparalleled performance and achievements at the finance ministry. With the revelation of the committee report, Dr Okonjo-Iweala has been surprisingly silent that I’m afraid she may have been compromised.
When on Thursday, July 1st, 2010, at the 16th Annual Convention and
Scientific Assembly of the Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas (ANPA), in Washington DC, I listened to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala say that “in spite of what I had gone through, I will do it again” that night, I saw a woman that relished the challenges and triumphs of working with the Nigerian government. While it was clear to her that “crazy” people and circumstances will stand on her way to implement change, she was, however, stubbornly determined to succeed. Where is that stubbornness in Dr.
Okonjo-Iweala? Who has she confronted? Why did she not put her position on the line with the revelation of monumental corruption in the oil subsidy scam? Does it all add up to being foolishly intelligent?
As I conclude this, I think Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s second coming simply exposed her lack of two critical thinking skills – avoidance of my-side bias and avoidance of one-side bias. My-side bias was demonstrated by Dr. Okonjo-Iweala by the egocentrism fallacy that made her foolishly believe that because she is so smart in World Bank, everything about rescuing Nigerian economy should revolve around her. She forgot that the economic dynamics and principles that worked in a functional democracy would not necessarily work in Nigeria with sham democracy.
Okonkwo can be reached at Churchill.firstname.lastname@example.org