As we begin the month of April, 2012, Nigeria appears to have one, and only one priority: To have a Nigerian become the first non-American President of the World Bank. Our candidate for the job is the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
As I write, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala is reported to be in New Delhi, India, canvassing support for her candidature. Earlier today, I read a statement issued by the President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, extolling Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala’s sterling qualities, which make her “the best candidate to lead the World Bank”. Last week, our House of Representatives devoted a good amount of time and effort to the same campaign. We cannot fail to add Retired Brigadier John Shagaya’s contribution by way of urging the Federal Government to set up a high powered committee, whose job would be to lobby the international community to support our candidate for the job.
Now, I happen to know the Minister of Finance and I know that her intelligence, her track record and her proven competence constitute excellent credentials for the World Bank job. But herein should lie the problem for every Nigerian patriot.
Less than one year ago, the President invited Mrs Okonjo-Iweala to come back home and take over the Finance Ministry as well as the overall coordination of the economy. Many a Nigerian, at the time believed that the appointment was based on the need to have the most competent hand at the helm of the Nigerian economy. Are we to assume now that the Nigerian economy has ceased to be our priority? Why is it so important to have the most competent Nigerian as the President of the World Bank rather than right here at home trying to turn our economy around?
There is pretty little that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala could do for Nigeria if she became the President of the World Bank. As President of the World Bank, she would probably devote less one percent of her attention to Nigeria (this is simple mathematics based on the total number of member countries of the organization). Secondly, she can not, in that position, afford to be seen to take any action that might be interpreted as being biased in favour of Nigeria. So really, there is no advantage in this exercise for Nigeria. It might, at best, merely provide another opportunity to hold a “civic reception” in the in her honour and roll out the usual full page newspaper messages congratulating an “amazon” or an “achiever” or a “woman of substance”.
Interestingly, there are only two other candidates vying for the World Bank top job: the American, Mr. Jim Yong Kim and the Colombian, Jose Antonio Ocampo. Mr Kim is the President of Dartmouth College and Mr. Ocampo, a former Finance Minister of Colombia. We should be asking ourselves why the United States did not propose the Treasury Secretary or the Chairman of the Federal Reserve for the job. We should also wonder why Colombia did not propose its current, rather than former, Finance Minister. Indeed, why is it that other emerging countries, such as China, India, Brazil, Malaysia, Russia, Egypt, South Africa and Saudi Arabia have not shown an interest in fielding their own candidates. There can only be one reason. These countries consider the business of managing their economies as a top priority. They cannot afford to pull out their best and send them to the World Bank. In Nigeria, we seem to have a different mind-set and we very often get our priorities wrong. We have an unrivalled tendency to take our eyes off the ball.
Ours is definitely one of the world’s most underperforming economies, given our resources and potential. Our chronically sick economy has begun to throw up social and political side effects that are threatening the very existence of our nation. It is almost mid April yet we do not have an approved national budget for the fiscal year, which began on 1st January, 2012. These are the urgent problems we brought Mrs Okonjo-Iweala back home to help us solve. Her place should be right here at home helping us to dig Nigeria out of its profound economic crisis.
Amb .Garrick is Director of South Strategy Consulting and a former Nigerian Ambassador to Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia