OKONJO-IWEALA AND POLITICAL BLACKMAIL

By NBF News
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Mohammed Haruna has used two successive editions of his People And Politics column to assail and denigrate the personality, integrity and professional competence of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (The Nation Wednesday July 6 & 14, 2011). He called the former and new Minister of Finance incompetent. He called her unpatriotic.

He called her a saboteur. He placed on the lady the tag of position grabber. There are two points to make from the onset about Mr. Haruna's vituperative articles. The first is that the columnist did not even bother to support his treasonous charges against Okonjo-Iweala with any iota of credible and scientific evidence.

The second and more important consideration is that the lady is not Mohammed Haruna's intended victim; she represents a route perceived by her assailant as most vulnerable for hitting out at President Goodluck Jonathan.

Once people understand that Mohammed Haruna is desperately groping about, and aimlessly throwing punches at both non-opponents and transient ones, in order that a chance uppercut might land on the presidential cheek, every other of his diatribe will easily fall into place. Goodluck Jonathan, perceptive readers must remember, is not of the ethnic and religious flank canonized and consecrated to perpetual leadership of the Nigerian nation. The fact that the man comes from an area of the country that is the goose that lays the country's golden eggs is no extenuating circumstance. The added fact that he contested and won a democratic election considered across the globe to be credible accentuates rather than mitigates the antipathy trained on him like a laser beam.

When large-scale riots, arson, maiming and killings in parts of the north attended INEC's declaration of Goodluck Jonathan as the victorious candidate in the presidential election, the President did what any right-thinking leader had a duty to do. In a nationwide broadcast President Jonathan said inter alia: 'These disturbances are more than mere political protests. Clearly they aim to frustrate the remaining elections. This is not acceptable. If anything at all, these acts of mayhem are sad reminders of the events which plunged our country into thirty months of an unfortunate civil war. As a nation, we are yet to come to terms with the level of human suffering, destruction and displacement, including that of our children to far away countries, occasioned by these dark days.'

Most Nigerians found the President's words to be correct and proper in the dire circumstances. No one questioned his use of the word 'mayhem' to describe the disturbances. No one denied that the disturbances could frustrate the elections. No one said the riots were acceptable. No historically minded entity failed to link them to the atrocities that culminated in the civil war. But Mohammed Haruna turned the President's words on its head. Writing in his column, and in Newsdiaryonline on April 26, 2011, Mr. Haruna addressed the President on his broadcast with the following words: 'Sir, anyone with even half an eye can see the objective of these words was to set the Christian Igbo against the Muslim so-called Hausa-Fulani. This was as unfortunate as it was a disservice to your exalted office.'

Mohammed Haruna is a study in the saying that old habits die hard. He began his journalism career at the New Nigerian, a newspaper whose 'essential character', he gleefully tells everyone who has the patience to listen, 'is to be the mouthpiece of the North in the context of national unity'! He never bothers to explain to his readers the ways in which, for instance, the mouth and the pieces of Caliphate speech conflate with those of the Idoma and the Tiv. Indeed, it was Ike Okonta who put a finger on Haruna's malaise. Dr. Okonta worked with Haruna at the Comet. Said Okonta in an article published in ThisDay of September 4, 2010: 'Haruna is generally viewed in the wider Nigerian context as the leading voice of the north, clearly and intelligently articulating the region's position on national matters…'

That, really, is Haruna's problem. A man in his 60s, who has worked more than half his life in Nigerian journalism, has never seen the necessity to uphold the entire country as the apple of his eyes, as his area of operation. For him, everything must be viewed through the prism of them and us. We Muslims against them Christians! We Northerners against them Southerners! This explains why, on June 22, 2011, Haruna wrote in his column that Afenifere, the umbrella Yoruba cultural organization, was an ethnic militia comparable to MEND and Boko Haram. What would have happened if a southerner had written that the Arewa Consultative Forum was sponsoring Boko Haram? Would not Haruna's pen have endlessly dripped blood? It is the same thing he exhibited against Afenifere that he has been dishing in the direction of Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala for two straight weeks.

Everyone knows that Nigeria's No. 1 problem is the economy. Of course, political insecurity is a serious national problem. So also are criminal tendencies like armed robbery, kidnapping and hired assassinations. But these are all problems issuing directly from an economy that has remained disarticulated for far too long. If President Jonathan gets the economy right, all other things will fall into place, deviant behavior will be mediated, ethnic tensions will be smothered and the country will be in an advantageous position to look forward to a great future in which elections will become more transparent, the citizenry will be exposed to life in ways that are much more fulfilling and the generality of the people will be proud to claim Nigerian as their collective patrimony.

In his plan to redeem the national economy, President Jonathan decided on the services of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. It was much more than the northern mouthpiece could stomach, whereupon he went to town, for the first and repeated time, hurling insults and abuses on a woman who's only offence is the agreement to return to her country of birth and help salvage it. Already Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala has been inundated with hate text messages threatening her annihilation if she took office as Finance Minister…

After a load of rubbish on the Paris debt relief, in which he accused Okonjo-Iweala of sabotage against the nation, Haruna came to the question that was bugging him: 'This is the lady we have gone on our knees to plead with to return to manage our finances even though it should be obvious that she is more likely to resolve the conflict of interest she would inevitably face between serving International Capital and serving Nigeria in favour of the former.' Clearly, Haruna is making the point that those he speaks for would rather that the lady stayed back in Washington DC.

Having failed to prevent his election as President of Nigeria, Haruna and those he acts for as a megaphone would now go ahead and appropriate Dr. Jonathan's prerogative of choosing the team to work with! Okonjo-Iweala has over 30-years post-doctoral experience as an international banker. She holds a Masters degree in development economics from Harvard and a PhD in the same field from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In 2003, she became the country's Finance Minister from the elevated position of Vice President of the World Bank. Yet Haruna claimed that she was a middle-level staff of the Breton Woods Institution. But Haruna was already in journalism when a certain man from the right geographical area, who was armed with only a first degree in history, was appointed the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. It is not on record that Haruna saw anything incongruous in the appointment.

It is a most serious indictment from Mohammed Haruna to prognosticate a traitorous role for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala in Jonathan's administration. What is even more ominous is that her traducer provided no evidence whatsoever, however intangible, to back up his prophecy of doom. Both the Nigerian President and his Finance Minister, a key element in his economic equation for salvaging Nigeria, have become veritable victims of sectional press and political blackmail. Nonetheless, it is heartwarming that the President has refused to be distracted. From the list of his key appointments so far announced, it is obvious that Dr. Jonathan is focused and is determined to lead Nigeria out of the woods - irrespective of the booby traps strewn in his way by those who consider it infra dignitatem to have someone from the 'wrong' geographical area directing Nigeria's affairs.

Onome is a Lagos-based political historian