By Oluwadamidara Aweloye
In the wake of economic reforms that are being implemented in the Nigerian polity, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has become a victim of slander and the target of verbal attack in its various ramifications. With the volume of vituperative statements and ill-informed public opinion against the Nigerian Iron Lady, one is inclined to believe that the sponsors of such statements are either being deliberately malicious or sincerely ignorant. Having trained myself to believe the best of every person, I prefer to assume the latter – that they are sincerely ignorant.
Any honest person would readily agree that Nigeria is indeed fortunate to have this globally acclaimed economist as head of the Finance Ministry. Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has consistently demonstrated incontrovertible leadership skills in various positions which she has held both locally and internationally. An amazon and a woman of many parts, Okonjo-Iweala has established herself as a colossus on the African socioeconomic landscape and a force to reckon with in the global community. In a society where mediocrity is not only tolerated but also explained away, this world-renowned economist and celebrated achiever has risen through the ranks in her career and left indelible marks of performance and result-driven leadership.
Why should our very own be celebrated abroad and denigrated at home? According to The Independent (UK), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a heroine, not just of Nigeria, but of the entire continent. Apparently, we don’t value what we have until we lose it. Her global acclaim notwithstanding, Okonjo-Iweala has not lost touch with her roots. Her unassuming style belies her imperial pedigree, impressive portfolios and celebrity status. In fact, Iweala does not see herself as a celebrity. On the contrary, she is an all-inclusive public servant who will stop at nothing to ensure maximum compliance with established codes in her bid to achieve a vibrant economy while reducing poverty level to the barest minimum.
A trailblazer in many ways, Nigeria’s first female Minister of Finance and first female Minister of Foreign Affairs is one woman who does not excuse laxity on the basis of gender differences. She is reported to have said, “I think being a woman makes you able to deal with a lot of things – and still keep sane. I also think women have less ego. When I became finance minister they called me Okonjo-Wahala – or ‘Trouble Woman’ but I don’t care what names they call me. I’m very focused on what I’m doing, and relentless in what I want to achieve. If someone’s saying things to make me feel bad, I don’t care as long as I get the job done. When it comes to doing my job, I keep my ego in my handbag.”
That Okonjo-Iweala is a woman of integrity is another fact that her detractors will find difficult – nay – impossible to disprove. Her numerous achievements are undergirded by a strong fabric of character. The new fiscal discipline she brought to the nation’s finances and her role in the cancellation of 18 billion US Dollars of Nigeria’s debt to the Paris Club in 2005 is a milestone in our national history. Could we have forgotten that so soon?
On the foreign scene, her work at the World Bank culminated in her nomination as one of three candidates for the World Bank Presidency in the historic elections conducted in April 2012. Undaunted by the outcome, she renewed her commitment to work for the benefit of the poor people of the world. Listed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes, a leading source of reliable international business news and financial information, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a high performer and recipient of several awards. In today’s fast-paced world where success in the public arena is almost always synonymous with failure on the home front, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala stands out as a remarkable reference point. Despite being a celebrated public figure, Okonjo-Iweala has a rich family life. Beyond her several responsibilities as a leader and policy maker on the global scene, she fulfils her roles as a wife and a mother.
The Delta-born minister is like Saul of Tarsus, who has weathered contrasting seasons of life and consequently, has learnt how to abound and how to be abased. Her experience during the Biafran war in 1967 left an indelible mark on her mind as she came face-to-face with the harsh realities of surviving on one meal per day or less. At the end of the Biafran war in 1970, her family had lost everything. Obviously, such an experience would give one a graphic understanding of the plight of the poor who live from hand to mouth. With her trademark traditional attire of printed cotton (popularly called Ankara), head gear and matching accessories, her identity as a Nigerian brand is unmistakable. Rather than the campaign of calumny which has been launched against her, I think this great woman deserves our accolades. If you think otherwise, take a closer look.
Oluwadamidara is social commentator and an academic.