Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s former finance minister was a guest on Al Jazeera’s The Stream today. It was nothing but an exercise in self-promotion, aided by the two hosts, who seemed more pleased to be in her presence than interested in asking questions that would have concerned Nigerians, given the current recession.
It was nothing but soft balls from them and three other women selected to ask questions from Dubai, South Africa and Malaysia.
Watch the programme:
The questioner from Malaysia claimed that Okonjo-Iweala “eradicated corruption” and that this led to her mother being kidnapped. The former finance minister typically lapped up this distortion and did nothing to dispel it. Her mother’s kidnapping in 2012 had nothing to do with corruption, but more about the pervasive criminality that most Nigerians have to endure and kidnapping for ransom – which is one of the only “businesses” that seemed to boom in the seven years that Okonjo-Iweala was finance minister. A ransom of 12m naira ($38,000) was reportedly paid to the gang to secure the mother’s release.
Most of the session continued with fluff about being a woman, her childhood and the only occasion that Okonjo-Iweala was questioned about something of genuine interest was when the doctor in Dubai, Ola Orekurin, asked what would be her top priorities for solving the current economic crisis in Nigeria. Okonjo-Iweala wisely dodged the question, considering Nigerian was no economic El Dorado when she was in office, despite her bogus claim that the country was “doing well”. “Doing well” for whom, that is the question. She mentioned “turning the economy around with 6% economic growth”. She failed to mention that the growth was fuelled by the rice in the price of oil and not any economic alchemy from her and also predictably said nothing about doing precious little to wean the economy of the dependence on oil.
She was quite happy to plug her work as the new Chair of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).
Perhaps it wasn’t good form to question her about her role as a senior adviser with the vulture capitalist Lazard, which was payback for favours she did for them when in office.
One of her hosts claimed that she made a “huge impact at the World Bank” just by being the first woman to run for the presidency of the organisation. Being a woman seemed to be a running theme during the programme, nothing was said about how women suffered the most from the World Bank policies she advocated and helped to implement. Carlos Andres Perez, a former president of Venezuela described World Bank economists as “genocide workers in the pay of economic totalitarianism”. Nigeria has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. According to Unicef, “a woman’s chance of dying from pregnancy and childbirth in Nigeria is 1 in 13”. Most of those deaths are preventable with investment in healthcare provision.
Okonjo-Iweala unwittingly indicted herself when the Dubai-based Orekurin asked her about the link between healthcare provision/investment and economic benefits. A former finance minister, former World Bank Vice President, with a clutch of degrees in economics, replied that she only recently came to realise the importance of healthcare investment in economic well-being and that she is now advising finance ministers about this in her role with GAVI.
It is no wonder that Nigeria squandered its resources from the relatively high oil price in her seven years as finance minister. Investment in healthcare could have laid the foundations and the sustainable development to avoid the current recession and economic malaise that has not been helped by the drop in the price of oil.