I am sceptical about awards in our country. From the national honours given by the federal government, to the honorary doctorates that our universities bestow on individuals, and to the smallest of awards in our clubs and associations, there is too much sycophancy and opportunism in the air. Our most deserving compatriots, who are exemplary in their personal and professional lives, are hardly honoured while crooks, fraudsters and people of questionable characters have ended up being holders of our nation’s highest honours. The situation has become so bad that I have completely lost the appetite for attending award conferment ceremonies.
I am however deeply pleased to learn that the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is my sister, friend and confidant has been named the winner of the Silverbird Man of the Year award for 2012 following a public poll of prominent personalities across the country. Later this evening, she will be honoured with the award at the Muson Centre in Lagos. I believe she is the right choice and the decision has boosted my confidence in both the station and its people. Ngo, as some of us like to call her, has done so much for our country, her generation and indeed the world that any honour is well deserved. She is a remarkable woman, a committed wife and mother, a great patriot and a selfless professional.
Time and circumstance decide who we meet in life; our hearts decide who we want to retain in our lives; and people’s behaviour determine whether we want them to remain in our lives or not. Although I had known her from afar, I met Ngozi for the first time in mid-2003 after I was appointed Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by then President Olusegun Obasanjo. Ngozi was Minister of Finance. Sooner than later, I began to interact closely with her after I became a member of the National Economic Team of that administration.
Ngozi’s hardwork, commitment, doggedness, humility, commitment to family value and diplomacy left a lasting impression on me. As I dared and fought the corrupt elements in our country, at great risk to my life and those of my colleagues, Ngozi was one of my greatest supporters. We soon became brother and sister, albeit from different parents, and we have continued to be each other’s keeper even when we find ourselves in different political and ideological camps today.
I am out of the country to honour a long scheduled commitment to a friend. I regret my inability to be present at a sister’s moment of joy and celebration. She deserves my presence and that of my family at the Silverbird award ceremony.
I do not intend to bore you with Ngozi’s accomplishments. A lot has been said and written about that and a lot more would be said at the ceremony. I am writing this aboard my flight just to pass a little message of love and appreciation to a compatriot who has made huge sacrifices in a bid to help remake her badly damaged country. It is just a little note about someone I hold in high esteem.
I respect her even more at this challenging time in our country; a period of huge political, economic and security challenges; a period during which citizens look on to their governments in exasperation and disappointment. In the midst of all these, Ngozi has remained calm, focused and even more determined to help fix her fatherland.
Ngo is an extremely loyal and trusted friend. She stood by me through thick and thin, in spite of high-level pressures to disown some of us. Ngo does not betray her friends. And because of her good nature and kind heart, God has blessed her with a beautiful family, especially her husband who I’m equally close to.
Ngozi is known to always make things happen. She believes that hard work and honesty pay. Ngo is an unrepentant workaholic. She hardly leaves her office before 8 p.m. Even while leaving, she heads home with files to treat. Weekends are never free for this woman. She oscillates between one official engagement and another. It seems that the secret of her many achievements lie in hard work, hard work and more hardwork.
Her brilliant mind is world class, yet she is extremely humble. Her simplicity and humility are remarkable. She has a gift of making people around her comfortable. But what I consider her most outstanding attribute is her leadership quality. During the Obasanjo administration, she led the economic management team with intelligence and maturity. Her leadership qualities combined with hard work and an amiable personality gave her the unique brand she has become in the world today. My observations have convinced me of her genuine and deep love for good leaders and ordinary people all over the world.
The Essential Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
In her World Bank office, a beautiful portrait of the Sardauna of Sokoto, the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, occupied a central space on the wall. The portrait was there long before she came to Nigeria to serve in government. I once asked her the reason for exhibiting that picture. She said she admires his leadership qualities and achievements, particularly the positive change he brought to the North of Nigeria.
Ngozi treats others as she likes to be treated. She lives a life of constantly improving herself instead of pulling others down. For her, life is about trust, happiness and compassion. It is about standing up for one’s friends. As a true sister, Ngozi stood by me especially at the time I needed support from the people I consider close to me. For that, I will forever be grateful to her.
One other lesson I learnt from this wonderful woman is that life is too short to be spent nursing animosity or registering wrongs. That helped me to understand better what Mark Twain, the famous American writer, meant when he said “keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions, small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you too can became great.”
Ngo, you are great. The echo of your encouraging voice is still vivid in my memory, always starting with you saying ‘Nuhu the Nuhu’. Thank you so much for everything. Let us all congratulate Ngo and learn a lesson or two from her life of service to her country in particular and mankind in general.
My final words for my sister today is the same apt message of encouragement Mother Theresa left for us in one of her famous quotes. It reads, “Life is an opportunity, benefit from it. Life is beauty, admire it. Life is a dream, realize it. Life is a challenge, meet it. Life is a duty, complete it. Life is a game, play it. Life is a promise, fulfill it. Life is sorrow, overcome it. Life is a song, sing it. Life is a struggle, accept it. Life is a tragedy, confront it. Life is an adventure, dare it. Life is luck, make it. Life is life, fight for it.”
Ribadu was a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)