Somehow, in the heat of Occupy Nigeria last week, somebody must have convinced Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy (a clever way of calling her Prime Minister and maintaining deniability), Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, to embark on a well-oiled, behind-the-scene, reach-out campaign to carefully selected Nigerian Professors at home and abroad. Mission: persuade them to become paracletes of the IMF philosophy that she and her fellow hijackers of the Jonathan regime – Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and Diezani Allison Madueke – have foisted on Nigerians in the form of oil subsidy removal. Modus operandi: add the selected Professors to her linked-in profile, send them materials favorable to her case, and appeal to them to spread the word.
And some of them did begin to spread the word. I knew something was amiss when the same message from Mrs Iweala began to trickle into my gmail account from listservs and, in certain instances, directly from colleagues, with the rider that they’d been asked to share the minister’s message. I decided to ignore all the pro-government trickle until a message came from Professor Mojubaolu Okome asking colleagues in a diaspora and transnational scholarship listserv she moderates to critique Mrs. Iweala’s message to her. Confession: the appearance of a senior colleague I fondly call “aunty mi” in the flow of discourse between the Mrs Iweala and her target Nigerian professors foreclosed the possibility of further indifference to the Minister’s curious strategy for me. A respected Professor of Political Science, African Studies, and Women’s Studies at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, aunty Mojubaolu’s scholarship and praxis come from the best traditions of commitment and social responsibility. This is one scholar you are not going to ask to just “pass on the word”!
Once I saw her name, I surmised that Mrs. Iweala and her team had made a tactical blunder by contacting this Professor in the hope that she would just be a simple vector of their message. I knew they were in for serious intellectual grilling and critique. I was right. Professor Okome took on the Minister. They exchanged civil but robust emails. I read from the ringside, admiring how beautifully Professor Okome was making the case of the Nigerian people, backed by her characteristic intellectual rigor. Every time I felt like jumping in, I would conclude that there was no way I could state our case as beautifully as aunty Mojubaolu was doing.
Then came the spoiler! I woke up on Wednesday to a new round of exchanges between aunty Mojubaolu and the Minister. Perhaps frustrated that she was not making any headway in selling her argument, Mrs Iweala wrote another civil email but ruined it for me by referring Professor Okome to the offensive and now infamous pro-government subsidy article published by the meddlesome Paul Collier! Reading Mrs Okonjo Iweala’s email, I nearly smashed my computer screen in anger! Here is a Nigerian female Minister discussing Nigerian matters of life and death with a Nigerian female Professor and who, unable to provide superior arguments to back up her pro-subsidy removal position, sends the Nigerian Professor to a rude and condescending British Professor for validation! Why would Mrs Okonjo Iweala believe that Professor Paul Collier is better positioned to advise her about Nigeria and Nigerians than Professor Mojubaolu Okome? Why should she have given that Englishman a say in an otherwise engaging and mutually respectful exchange between two Nigerian female intellectuals? Unable to contain my frustration, I jumped into the conversation with this email to Dr Okonjo Iweala:
Dear Mrs Ngozi Okonjo Iweala:
Greetings and thanks for taking the time to read and react to my comments. I will be brief, mindful of your commitments at this particularly difficult moment in the life of our country. I’ve been following your interesting email exchanges with my sister and senior colleague, Professor Mojubaolu Okome, and have been more persuaded by her submissions than yours. You asked her to share your views in her intellectual circuit and she’s been kind enough to oblige. I wasn’t going to intervene because Aunty Okome has been saying all the things I would have loved to say to you but I woke up this morning to another round of exchanges and your submissions did not help my mood. Honourable Minister, to make your case, to press the argument of your government, you refer a respected Nigerian Professor like Mojubaolu Okome to Paul Collier’s article. Ma, this is an article in which this British meddler insults the Nigerian people. As far as he is concerned, we are foolish and ignorant tea-partyers. Our legitimate and historic movement, Occupy Nigeria, he dismisses in terms that are too painful to be rehashed here. Your wholesale endorsement of Paul Collier’s condescending article raises a lot of questions. Mindful of your time, I’ll ask just two:
1) Are you aware, Honorable Minister, of the outrage that the article in question has generated, especially in Nigeria’s online community? Are you aware of how Nigerians are reacting to yet another spectacular instance of rudeness and condescension by a Western meddler in our affairs? And if you are not aware of how Nigerians are reacting to the offensive article, isn’t that another evidence that Nigerian government officials are alienated from the Nigerian people?
2) Why does the government of Nigeria find it so easy to approve of these kinds of foreign interventions in our affairs, often even soliciting and funding such interventions, no matter how condescending, while dismissing the position of patriotic Nigerians? For instance, your government has embraced Jeffrey Sachs and Paul Collier. But this is the same government that dismissed Professor Chinua Achebe as ignorant and out of touch with Nigerian realities (Reuben Abati) when he commented on burning national issues in a statement rejecting the national honour he was awarded. If we are to take your government’s position to its logical conclusion, Jeffrey Sachs and Paul Collier are more knowledgeable, more competent to talk about Nigeria than Chinua Achebe? They are more in touch with Nigerian realities than Chinua Achebe?
I assume that you have no objection to my sharing these queries and your eventual response with my readers in the spirit of national conversation.
I didn’t expect a response. It was more of a symbolic intervention on my part. Unknown to me, my intellectual co-warrior and long-term travel mate in the world of ideas, Professor Wale Adebanwi of the University of California at Davis, was also in on the conversation and had been equally irked by the Minister’s reference to and validation of Paul Collier’s offensive article. Like me, Wale is also one of Professor Mojubaolu’s troublesome “aburos”. Wale fired this email to the Minister:
Dear Dr. Okonjo-Iweala,
First, let me quickly commend your civility in the middle of very difficult circumstances.
I was not going to respond to your invitation for intervention because speaking to those in power in Nigeria, except in the “languages” of interrupting their pleasure, is often a waste of time.
However, given Prof. Okome’s intervention and my friend’s (Pius’s) excellent questions, I am compelled to add a thing or two.
We all have no doubt about either your competence or commitment, we clearly have problems with your paradigm and the competence and commitment of your political bosses.
Three brief questions given the limitations of this forum:
1. What other nation of the world would have such abundance of human and natural resources and regularly recruit the least competent into the topmost level of political leadership? This is a structural and historical question that escapes Sachs and Collier, as displayed in the condescension evident in their responses. The matter is beyond mere economic theories.
2. Haven’t we been here before? On that note, neither you nor President Jonathan can be wiser than Nigerians. As Achebe says, no matter how wise a (wo)man is s/he cannot be wiser that her/his clan; ‘no one wins judgement against his people’. If Nigerians have lived with these arguments in the past and have witnessed the continued and steady deterioration of their quality of life, what makes this different – especially coming from a president who is challenged on many fronts?
3. Please, provide a single social or political – even fiscal – evidence before the January 1 action that showed that this government truly understands the pain of Nigerians? Was it the scandalous self-provisioning for the Villa denizens that litter the 2012 budget or the sheer indulgence that is the life of federal legislators that would have convinced our people about a committed leadership? What is 25% pay cut for a pampered cult whose pay no one truly knows?
I am saying basically that you cannot throw neo-liberal solutions at fundamental structural – political and historical – questions that condition the tragedies that we have, and are, experiencing in Nigeria.
I have no doubt that as you found out under President Obasanjo, when they are done with using your credentials, they will move on to the next in their perpetual project of national humiliation.
You can start the change by telling the president the alternative to a genuine national dialogue on restructuring Nigeria is the collapse of the House.
I wish you well.
UC Davis, CA.
Like me, Wale got no response. It was evident that our reactions, which came within minutes of each other, were going to drive the Minister away from that small forum. The important thing is that we made our point. Professor Mojubaolu Okome did us proud with her robust engagement of the Minister and I believe that Wale and I also made a good case for respect and dignity. I have decided to go public with this to send a clear message to those with Mrs Iweala’s inclination in the Nigerian government: you are welcome to believe that American and British experts and consultants are superior to Nigerian intellectuals; you are welcome to believe that they are more in touch with Nigeria than Chinua Achebe; you are welcome to fly them first class on the back of the Nigerian people to come and advise you in Abuja but, please, do not add insult to injury by referring us to their expertise!
N.B: Professor Okome collated more responses to the minister at her blog. Please see: