By Abdullahi Yunusa
Most Nigerians know her more as “Madam Statistics”, who in responding to the cry of starving poor masses in a country literarily flowing with milk and honey would reel out statistics of Nigeria’s ‘bourgeoning’ economy. She is so familiar with statistics that she challenges even the unlettered to assess the President Goodluck Jonathan’s government based on verifiable statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics and not by the growing and biting poverty in the country.
She is a Super Minister. Her colleagues, based on directive from the ‘Oga at the top’, take whatever she dishes out, whether good or bad, hook, line and sinker. One can summarily refer to her to as the “alpha and Omega” of the Jonathan administration. Like the Queen of England, she does no wrong. The Finance Minister operates like the Lord of the Manor. While it is considered a taboo to go against Mr President’s directive, such limitation is not applicable to Mrs Okonjo-Iweala. Like a typical Nigerian “Oga at the top”, this former World Bank staff expects absolute loyalty from her staff, colleagues and people who are even older than her even when she doesn’t deserve it.
She’s so powerful a Minister that she could superintend over the affairs of ministries outside her jurisdiction. Yes, this untoward act can only be possible in a President Jonathan’s Nigeria. One cannot really explain a situation whereby a Minister in charge of the Finance Ministry could call for the sack or redeployment of civil servants in a different ministry for very unexplainable reasons! This is the question that stares many in the face. If one single Minister, obviously with the tacit support of the “Oga at the top” has the monopoly of knowledge and is armed with needed managerial and administrative acumen to oversee other ministries, then its senseless hiring other ministers to carry out similar tasks.
Having taken time to offer a few explanations on the personality of Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and the enormous powers she wields as Finance Minster and Coordinating Minister of the economy, let’s now focus on the issue this piece intends to address. As you read through these lines, two personalities from both the private and public sectors have since been controversially disengaged from service for very spurious and puerile reasons courtesy of our all powerful and indispensable Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. These two personalities were basically given this inhuman treatment for daring to stand on the side of truth and for blatantly refusing to call tricycle a motor car.
The two personalities in question here are Mallam Shuaibu Yushau, who until the time things fell apart was the Head, Media and Information Unit of the National Emergency Agency (NEMA) and Mr. Laurence Ani who until the period his employers, Leaders and Company, Publishers of Thisday titles suspended him, was the Saturday Editor of the paper. Though the ‘sins’ of these gentlemen are similar (they both chose to stand on the side of truth by refusing to call a spade a shovel), but the treatment they got varies.
Mallam Yushau, aside being a civil servant is equally a consistent public affairs commentator as his strong and objective views have become regular on the pages of local and international dailies as well as online sites. He believes in the potency of communication as a lubricant for oiling societal wheels, without which a society could grind to a halt. It is this realization that has continued to drive him to consistently offer his views on wide range of issues, especially as it relates to the masses. He combines this onerous task of dishing humanity with necessary information needed for personal growth with his official assignment as a Federal civil servant. To borrow from the dictionary of story tellers or feature writers, trouble started when Yushau, in line with his resolve to draw public attention to practices capable of igniting crisis in the financial sub-sector of the economy that he stepped on toes. As usual, Yushau innocently wrote against the gradual ‘Biafranization’ of appointments into public service by the Finance Minister, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. He didn’t only advise the Minister not to rubbish her rising global profile by stooping low to promote an ethnic agenda, but equally warned of the huge consequences of her actions. Ironically, instead of commending Yushau’s forthrightness and possibly get a pat on the back for the good done to Nigeria and herself in particular, the minster rather chose to wield the big stick or kill an ant with a sledgehammer.
Minister Okonjo-Iwaela swore never to allow this resourceful government information manager go scot-free. She vowed to use everything, including getting Mr. President’s approval to either sack Yushau or be redeployed to Borno state! Yes, that was the extent to which Madam Finance Minister took her anger to. Even though the public officer in question was not a staff of her ministry, she employed all means just to make sure that Yushau’s wings were clipped or completely chopped off. Informed sources at the Presidency said while the angry Minister of Finance wanted Yushau out of the public service radar, Yushau’s boss and minister of Information and National Orientation, Mr. Labaran Maku stood his ground that he couldn’t afford losing one of the ministry’s competent communication managers to an ego battle. His stance however didn’t go down well with Madam Minster and her collaborators who insisted Yushau must be dealt with. To calm frayed nerves, Mr. Maku had in his wisdom and in the interest of the nation redeployed Yushau back to the ministry where he held sway as the head of Features and Economic Desk before Yushau himself tendered his resignation letter.
As you read through these lines, Yushau’s promising, result-oriented and enviable public service of more than two decades has rather ended abruptly! For daring not to recant, for refusing to speak from both ends of the mouth, for stubbornly failing to call a rake a hammer and for choosing never to act like a coward, he left the civil service prematurely.
In all sincerity, Mallam Yushau Shuaibu hasn’t lost anything. His conscience, which he prides as his invaluable asset remains intact. Unlike others in similar circumstances, he chose to stand by the harmless advice he offered our Powerful Finance Minister. I pity the Nigerian public service for losing Yushau rather controversially. Undoubtedly, the Nigerian nation has invested much into this man, and when it was time to meaningfully offer himself for general good, power shylocks who felt personal interests supersedes national considerations ensured he leaves the service. I weep for my dear country. It is a sad development all together that we feel unperturbed losing our best hands for very selfish reasons. This is one injustice that all well-meaning Nigerians must all rise up to challenge. Silence would amount to endorsing the rascality of leaders as various levels of governance. We must all rise in defence of citizen Yushau.
Another Nigerian who is presently languishing at home, courtesy of Madam Finance Minister’s overbearing dominance is one Laurence Ani, the erstwhile Saturday Editor of Thisday Newspaper. Like Yushau. Mr Ani, a trained media manager refused to play to the gallery by reporting issues about the minister the way they happened.
What landed Laurence Ani in trouble was a report filed by one of Thisday’s business correspondents, James Emejo, which cited data that indicated a drop in Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product. The report had it that Thisday publisher; Mr. Obaigbena had tendered apology to the Minister with a “promise to sanction the editor for daring to publish a story that reflected poorly on the minister’s management of the economy.”
As you read through these lines, Thisday Saturday Editor has been on indefinite suspension.
Madam Finance Minister is fast gaining popularity for the wrong reasons. Like a typical Nigerian leader, Madam Minister always expects media practitioners to be fair to them in their reportage. They don’t really care. All they want is to be praised even where they should be literarily taken to the market square for some strokes of cane.
For how long will Madam Finance Minister continue to use powers at her disposal to tear ordinary Nigerians who dared call her bluff into shreds?
By Abdullahi Yunusa, wrote in from Imane, Kogi State