Beyond Professionalism: The Baseless Conclusions Of Yussuf Alli On Okonjo Iweala

Yusuf Alli’s piece titled ‘What becomes of Jonathan’s Women’ and his narrow-minded and unsubstantiated conclusions and barefaced lies about the performance of Okonjo-Iweala is indeed only a classic example of how a ‘Managing Editor’ of a national newspaper should not write. The write-up is but an unfortunate representation of the many tired lies and speculative attacks that have been consistently hurled at the Minister with the singular malicious objective of dragging her unassailable professional reputation to disrepute. But a lie will forever remain a lie no matter how often it is repeated and many a good natured Nigerians will never cease to rise up in strong defense of truth especially when it faces abuse by those who it is their professional duty to protect and defend.

Ordinarily, a Managing Editor of a National newspaper should be someone who has amassed several years of experience, understands clearly the defining and central role that the media plays at forming public perception – for good or bad. He should be a person who is at home with the guiding principles of professional journalism and is aware that he occupies a position that places on him the onerous responsibility to ensure that what is published stays within the limits of fairness, equity, justice and truth. This in the very least should be the pre-requisite qualification of an editor, and even more for a Managing Editor.

It is on this basis that I find it highly disturbing that Yusuf Alli, a so called ‘Managing Editor’ could publish damaging conclusions about a respectable figure like Okonjo-Iweala that are not based on proven facts. It is the height of unprofessionalism for a person of such media standing to resort to citing rumors, lies, gossips and unsubstantiated facts peddled by disgruntled individuals to malign the integrity of the Minister. Such a tendency by one so highly placed speaks to either a sad combination of crass ignorance and incompetence or just plain deceit that is anchored on a penchant to misinform the public. 

Considering the position that Yusuf Ali holds, I am strongly inclined to believe his case is not ignorance or incompetence but that of a deliberate ploy to deceive and misinform Nigerians. And my reasons are simple. If not plain deceit why would Yusuf Alli still be throwing up the long settled matter of the alleged missing $20 billion? How could a Managing Editor of a national newspaper like the Nation not know that this issue has been settled and rested? Is he so overwhelmed with spite that he has lost track of current events?  Is he not aware of the PwC audit and the Senate Committee report which have attested that there was no $20billion missing? But of course, Yusuf Alli is not simply ignorant of these facts, they just do not help his objective which is to malign the person of Okonjo-Iweala. That is the only reason why he has deliberately elected to play deaf and dumb and throw them up as facts. Thank God, Nigerians know better and are not as vulnerable as Yusuf, his paymasters and their minions would want them to be.

For the many Nigerians who our editor friend intends to mislead, I will yet again re-state the facts to set the records straight once again. The issue of the missing $20 billion started when the then CBN Governor now Emir of Kano Mr. Sanusi alleged that as much as $49 billion was diverted by the NNPC. He later reviewed the amount to $20 billion. The Senate Committee on Finance chaired by Senator Makarfi conducted an open probe into the matter which the former CBN Governor also participated and eventually established that no money was missing as alleged. However to put the matter to a definite rest, it was the Minister of Finance, Okonjo-Iweala who suggested the appointment of a reputable international accounting firm to conduct an independent audit of the accounts of NNPC. PriceWaterHouseCoopers (PwC) was eventually contracted and they have done their work and submitted their report stating clearly that no $20billion is missing. PwC only asked the NNPC to refund to the treasury, the sum of $1.4billion and this has also been long done.

With all these facts in the public space, it is curious and suspect that the ‘Managing Editor’ would still be fronting the outlandish claim that under the watch of Okonjo-Iweala ‘about $20b oil cash could not be accounted for’. If an ordinary reporter, an inexperienced journalist were to do such a job, we could excuse him for immaturity but for a ‘managing editor’, it is shamefully unfortunate and suggestive of an unholy agenda.

The likes of Yusuf Ali should know that as much as they hate to admit, Okonjo-Iweala has already written her name in gold on the economic landscape of Nigeria. This fact cannot be obliterated by their many lies. Contrary to what they never tire of projecting, her name is in no way connected to any existing ‘financial sleaze’ that she will have to clear. She has conducted herself creditably well and has in very tough working conditions kept her name and her reputation which after over twelve years of being under ferocious attacks remains strongly unassailable. If there was any iota of evidence that proves otherwise, her manic detractors like Yusuf, who nurse an obsessive desire to destroy her would have latched onto it and dragged her to EFCC or ICPC already. The truth is, from the missing $20billion to the missing $30 trillion, these figures only exists in their creative imaginations and are as empty as air. So try as hard as they can, they will continue to fail in their evil enterprise.

For Yusuf Ali to describe Okonjo-Iweala’s performance as ‘‘lackluster, riddled with controversies, and largely a disaster’ simply goes to show how unprofessional, unbalanced and base media criticism has sunk. How could Yusuf ignore the unprecedented landmarks that dot her years as the driver of the Nigerian economy as Head of the economic team under Obasanjo and coordinating minister for the economy under the Jonathan administration? How could our friend fail to give due and complete credit to the visionary and effective coordination of the economy, a consequence of which Nigeria now boasts of being the largest economy in Africa and the 26thlargest in the world surpassing not just South Africa (with a GDP of $356 billion as of 2013) but also Austria, Venezuela, Columbia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore? Yusuf should tell us what is ‘disastrous’ about the fact that she has supervised over an economy that is more diversified now more than ever before with the non-oil sectors overtaking oil as the major drivers of the economy and contributing even more to the GDP.

Yusuf Alli should also point out to Nigerians what is ‘lack-luster’ about the fact that our economy has actually been growing at an impressive average of 7% per annum in the past four years and is projected to be among the top economies in the world. The arguments that this growth has not impacted the most number of Nigerians does not take away the positive in the fact that our economy is growing. The Minister is not unaware of the inequality that exist and has openly admitted to this trend which is a product of decades long of insipid growth. However, growth is a necessary factor for judging our economic wellbeing and to ensure that more people are touched the Minister has for one being instrumental to the policies that are meant to stimulate growth in sectors that have the most potential to impact more Nigerians. Yusuf Alli cannot deny the revolution that is going on the Agricultural sector which has kept food prices relatively stable and inflation at single digit in spite of the drastic fall of oil prices. He cannot claim ignorance of the revival of the manufacturing industry with the partial implementation of the National Industrial Revolution Plan which led to the growth of the sector at over 22% in 2013 and now contributes over 13% of formal sector jobs. He should tell Nigerians again, what is ‘disastrous’ about the unprecedented fact that under her watch, our economy has doubled cement production capacity from 16.9 million tons to 39.5 million tons with Nigeria now a net exporter of cement.  

This approach of ensuring inclusive has been commended severally by renowned economists worldwide as an effective strategy which will in the long term surely build growth on a sustainable basis. The setting up of the Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Bank and the Development Bank of Nigeria is a strategic way to ensure that there are strong private sector led institutions with the financial muscle to power those sectors long term and cause the unleashing of their economic potentials. So Yussuf is being shamefully economical with the truth when he ignores these developments in his prejudiced analysis to create the impression that the economy is in ruins.

In addition to these private sector-led institutional measures, direct government intervention programs like YouWin, GIS, MCH, CSWYE are all hugely popular and impactful projects which the economy under her watch have promoted.  Thanks to the brilliant coordination of Okonjo-Iweala, young Nigerians are now being encouraged via a multiplicity of smartly thought-out and Government funded initiatives to be their own bosses. For instance, the unprecedented Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YouWin) program has so far enabled about 3,900 young Nigerians with bright ideas and with grants ranging from five – ten million naira to start and run their businesses. Tens of billions have so far been committed to this transparent program where merit is king and you do not need to know a Senator to win. These beneficiaries are Nigerians. The over 22,000 people they have employed are also Nigerians who have names, locations and businesses and can proudly attest to the fact that this government and this economy under the strong and competent coordination of Okonjo-Iweala is working.

Even in the area of governance and corruption, while it remains a challenge dating back several decades and over many administrations, Okonjo-Iweala has been behind the systems-approach to tackling the problem, especially through the deployment of several electronic platforms, and these have shown good results.

These are the truths about the performance of Okonjo-Iweala that the likes of Yusuf Ali do not want Nigerians to know. But sadly, the more they try to malign her name, question her integrity and create this façade that the economy is not working, the more Nigerians are poised to rise and put a lie to their deceit. Okonjo-Iweala has worked hard, stayed strong on her principles and built a strong name and reputation in the world of development economists. This is a fact that cannot be challenged or destroyed. The Yusuf Alis of this world should know this and cease trying.

Mohammed Seidu writes from Kaduna state where he works as a civil servant

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Articles by Mohammed Seidu