Written by Uche Ezechukwu
There is this truth which none can deny in Nigeria. That truth is that the woman from the Eastern part of Nigeria has never been lacking when it comes to standing up to be counted in public affairs, especially when it has to do with salvaging the society from a knotty scourge. Since those days in 1929 when hundreds of Aba women rose in unanimity under the direction of three women to dethrone warrant chiefs, who as agents of the colonial masters, were taxing women, the Igbo woman of the modern era has never shied away from confronting knotty challenges. That attribute has been borne out by the activities of the Igbo women who have been invited into the administration of President Jonathan and of Olusegun Obasanjo before that, to contribute their quota in governance.
The first coming of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as the finance minister under Olusegun Obasanjo, when out of patriotism, she left her comfort zone at the World Bank to return to Nigeria to transform the economy that had been laid prostrate after years of military rule, does not deserve much expatiation. It goes without saying that without her influence and the respectability which she enjoys in the international financial circles, Nigeria’s economy and business would not have not have emerged from her pariah status, not to talk of emerging from the doldrums, even maybe till now. It was remarkable that in spite of her giant roles in redeeming Nigeria’s image, as well as that of President Obasanjo himself, she was treated shabbily by the government of the day, the fact that made her to resign her job and head back to the World Bank where her services would always better appreciated.
The role and impact of other Igbo women in that administration also stood out prominently. I refer to Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili who became the utility minister and problem solver of the Obasanjo administration and Professor Dora Akunyili who as the director general of NAFDAC dwarfed everybody else that had occupied that position before her and through her vicious battles and conquests of fake drugs, she proved that even in spite of the obstacles and frustrations of the public sector, it was still possible for a tree to make a forest. In retrospect, it would be safe to say that Obasanjo’s administration would not have amounted to much without the roles of certain Igbo women who acted in that government. When that list is expanded, one would also include the role of the likes of Professor Chinwe Obaji who, as the minister of education, brought about many innovative factors in the system, which space would not let me elaborate.
Since independence, but particularly since the Fourth Republic, the roles of Igbo women in governance have been phenomenal but have unfortunately not been adequately recognized and rewarded by a largely ungrateful population. In every sector of the system, she looms large and works her knuckles off while trying to make things better for all sundry. Her plight has however become that of being abandoned and scorned once she has come along and solved most of the problems. It is then that naysayers which Nigeria has in grand abundance start looming large to rubbish all that the Igbo woman has achieved or pretending that those achievements had never happened.
In the current administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, the Igbo women who have been helping things to work for Nigerians have not being having things easy, in the hands of the public, which, egged on by a largely confused and unprincipled opposition, has found the Igbo woman an easy target through whom to vent their frustration. Aware of the capacity of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to make the difference, her help was again sought and in spite of the raw deal she had got from the ungrateful Obasanjo, she still came out of patriotic zeal do for her own country what she has done for others. She has since succeeded in making savings for the economy apart from stabilizing the riotous financial system in spite of the incurable indiscipline of most of the operators of the system. Her position as the Coordinating minister for the Economy has given her a greater leeway to have a more holistic view of the economy and to apply remedial measures across the board.
It is in that capacity that she has made the task of sourcing for opportunities to provide jobs for the teeming population of the nation’s jobless a priority, such that in spite of the lack of power which has become the largest obstacle to industrialization, things are looking up in the direction of employment in the country. The economic growth of Nigeria has also become a reality in spite of hiccup in some sectors, evidenced by the fact western institutions are predicting that in another year or two, Nigeria would be the biggest economy in Africa, ahead of South Africa and Egypt.
In spite of these glaring landmarks, what Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is getting is knocks from those who accuse her of all manners of things, including a failure to manufacture jobs that would wipe out unemployment overnight. After the national tragedy that was recorded during the botched recruitment exercise by the Nigeria Immigration Service that claimed some 20 lives, it was Okonjo-Iweala’s name that was on most lips, even when the Opposition could not establish a linkage between her and the tragedy. The illogic was that if she had single handedly provided jobs for every Nigerian in these three years there would have been nobody to have gone to the NIS recruitment arenas to be trampled to death. Again, if those people had been men enough, they should have just come out and declared that Okonjo-Ikeja has been placed on the slaughter slab because she is an Igbo woman, and that would have elicited no further discussion.
One is not trying to justify or rationalize any infractions, if any that is committed by an Igbo person at his or her place of work, but it is obvious that for most Igbo women in public positions of trust, it has been a verdict of guilty before they are even able to defend themselves. Ms. Stella Oduah, the former Aviation minister who completely changed the face of the industry in a short span of three years has suddenly become a national villain over some yet to be substantiated allegations of involvement in car purchase scam. Overnight, all the pride that she has brought to Nigerians through her redeeming touch at all the nation’s airports, had stopped to count. She has become the most condemned person in Nigeria simply because she is being accused of having purchased cars for her official use – allegations that her traducers believe can be conclusively proved through loud and disjointed shouts and sponsored media attacks. Again, would it not have been easier to own up that her predicament is largely owed to the sound of her name.
Ms. Aruma Oteh, the competent and confident boss of the Securities and Exchange Commission also came atop the slaughter slab because she was doing her job with the type of confidence, courage and verve that she had inherited from her roots. Even though she had proved conclusively that she was a victim of her own competence and principles who would not allow unprincipled hands of corruption and graft by some looters masquerading as over-sighters to sour the place for her and Nigerians, nobody seems to be giving her a hearing. Even though the Nigerian capital market has experienced a large scale sanity and respectability since her coming, Aruma Oteh stays on the firing line of those whose words are law, to the extent that for a whole year she was denied the wherewithal to run her very important institution.
This account will be incomplete without referring to the current plight of Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke who suffers a double jeopardy in the hands of an unprincipled opposition for being a close confidante of the president and having an Igbo surname. A woman of great knowledge and experience, especially in the petroleum industry which she currently runs, she has been pursued from pillar to post by enemies without a cause, inventing one wild allegation after another. If she is not being accused of having stolen an amount of money which Nigeria is incapable of earning in a year – an allegation that was started by a demented public official who has turned out to be a national disgrace – she is being accused of blinding everybody in the NNPC and running their business on a day to day basis for them.
Even though it would have been obvious that the so-called whistle blowing by the sinking Mallam Sanusi Lamido was an insane act, given that a Central Bank boss who juggles figures like a drunken magician without being sure of where he started, would not have been treated with any iota of seriousness, yet it is such drunken claims that seem to be forming the basis of the ongoing harassment to which the Petroleum Minster is being subjected. It hardly matters that the Finance Ministry has largely given a lie to Sanusi’s wild allegations, while explaining that if there was any semblance of losses, it would be because adequate reconciliation in the nation’s accounting system had not been fully effected, there are those who hang to the claim that Mrs. Alison-Madueke had stolen $60 billon or 20billion – amounts that are incapable of being hidden in today’s transparent banking system. This dirty and unjust war has been waged against a hard working woman through a section of the media that is being suborned by this unpatriotic opposition which would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.
As if the problems being given Mrs. Alison-Madueke through the so-called lost funds and issues surrounding subsidy payments which could easily be verified through her ministry and the NNPC without necessarily dragging her physically into it, they have started a new one with the re-opening of the issue of the use of chartered aircraft which they claim the minister had done for her personal use. So vile have been her traducers that they now even include the pictures of her family members to show that the jets were for her private use. It is like claiming that because an officer’s children were found inside an official car of the officer, then it means that he is not using the car for his official businesses.
The weightier issue is that those who are accusing and probing the minister for having used chartered aircraft for her official duties have not stopped to do an unbiased cost-benefit analysis of such an option which the NNPC has amply explained. Neither has anybody tried to counter-balance her use of the chartered jet against what obtained during the even less busy eras of say, ministers like Rilwanu Lukman. No, such precedents have not quite mattered to Allison-Madueke’s attackers…after all, she belongs to the group that is always a fair game for shooting down.
This onslaught has become so pervasive as it is shameless. It has refused to recognize boundaries of decency nor accepted that there are hallowed grounds. Last week, Dora Akunyili now joined her sisters at the butt of the attack of other Nigerians. Her offence was that she answered the national call by accepting to serve at the national confab. It is not that she is not amply qualified to participate but rather why should she do so, when, according to them, she looks emaciated from the illness which she has emerged and just waiting to put her weight back on. Her explanations that she is equal to the task, intellectually, psychologically and physically have failed to assuage her attackers, not even after making a stout and characteristically-pointed submission which attracted wild applause, would they let her be. Neither has the explanation of her prominent doctor-husband assuaged the blood-thirsty shacks.
It is important to serve notice to other Nigerians, especially those who have made it a habit to attack and humiliate Igbo women in public ofices, that it is only those who do not understand the make-up of the Igbo personality and psychology that would believe that anything would deter the Igbo woman from being the Amazon that she was made by nature and nurture to be. Their men who see them as the mascot of their race will continue to see them as the mirror of the pride of the Igbo man, for whom they can go to war, if it becomes necessary. And for those cowards who snipe at Igbo women, an invitation has been extended to them to take on their male counterparts instead, or forever live and die as cowards.
Uche Ezechukwu, writes on capital matters for Daily Sun.