Brain Power: Okonjo-Iweala Made World Thinkers List
By Taju Tijani
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has made the 59th position in the 2013 April Edition of Prospect Magazine’s World Thinkers List. It is time to bring the gong out and celebrate the triumph of intellectual excellence. The iconic Ngozi with her retro-chic and elegant look even at 58 is a torchbearer for feminists everywhere. The only difference is that Ngozi is a not a bra burner but a dutiful housewife of Ikemba Iweala. Her simple sartorial elegance of “ankara” and delicately perched alatika-styled “ankara gele” (head gear) has continued to shame the pomp and parade of “Umblela” Patience Jonathan. Of the 15 female thinkers selected, well over half are known for their work in business, economics or politics—traditionally “male” arenas. Almost a third are economists—a higher proportion than the overall list.
After more than 10,000 votes from over 100 countries, the results of Prospect’s world thinkers online poll of 2013 top 10 offers a snapshot of the intellectual trends that dominate our age. Prospect Magazine in its wisdom has nominated Richard Dawkins, the celebrated Oxford evolutionary biologist and demon as its No1 public intellectual. This is followed by Ashraf Ghani, Steven Pinker, Ali Allawi, Paul Krugman, Slavoj Žižek, Amartya Sen, Peter Higgs, Mohamed El-Baradei and Daniel Kahneman. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the only black redeemer in a list of 65 world’s best public intellectuals. There is no black man in this year’s list.
Prospect Magazine in its yearly invasion of other people’s brain power, achievements and contributions to the life of knowledge has come to redress the wrong of the past. The magazine has come to redeem its omission of Ngozi from its annual list of the best and the brightest in the smart category of brain power. Getting this recognition is not easy. Achieving this worldwide mandarin elevation is not through bribery, cronyism or bottom power. To be regarded as a qualified world thinker, Prospect believes that a candidate must fulfil certain criteria. First, you have to be influential. Secondly, you have to be relevant. Thirdly, you have to be current in your field of endeavour.
Then it stands to reason that Ngozi’s inclusion is down to her World Bank pedigree and her current assignment as an adjuster, change maker and transformer of Nigeria’s failed economic theories. One major influence of Ngozi was to secure the debt write-off of over $18billion from Nigeria’s creditors. Call that her first strategic victory of an economic resurgence of the Nigerian nation. Ngozi is also a willing economic technocrat who has proven her blanket patriotism to be genuine. Her love to see Nigeria move from a pariah nation of graft, corruption and poverty to a prosperous, shining light of transparency, progress and equity has never been in doubt. She has never betrayed her traditional ideological root of sound economic policies embedded in her psyche during those tortured years of learning in that iconic institution – World Bank.
Any person with her silver spoon pedigree deserves the highest honour that brain could get. Ngozi’s intellectual foundations started on hope, dedication and optimism. Dad is a professor. Mum is a professor. Ngozi is an Igbo from Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State where her father Professor Chukwuka Okonjo is the reigning Obi (King) from the Umu Obi Obahai Royal Family of Ogwashi-Uku. She was educated at Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude with an A.B. in 1977. She bagged her Ph.D. in regional economic development from the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1981.
Prior to her ministerial career in Nigeria, Ngozi was vice-president and corporate secretary of the World Bank Group. In this exigent times, it is more than near impossibility for an African woman to call the shot in a US-centred and conservative institution like the World Bank. She left it in 2003 after she was appointed to President Obasanjo’s cabinet as Finance Minister on 15 July 2003. In October 2005, she led the Nigerian team that struck a deal with the Paris Club, a group of bilateral creditors, to pay a portion of Nigeria’s external debt (US $12 billion) in return for an $18 billion debt write-off. Prior to the partial debt payment and write-off, Nigeria spent roughly US $1 billion every year on debt servicing, without making a dent in the principal owed.
In Nigeria, Ngozi is the architect of a new regime of publishing each state’s monthly financial allocation from the federal government in the newspapers. This action went a long way in increasing transparency in governance. She was instrumental in helping Nigeria obtain its first ever sovereign credit rating (of BB minus) from Fitch and Standard & Poor’s. Nigeria is considered to have defaulted on its sovereign debt in 1983 (debt rescheduling is considered a type of default by rating agencies).
In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan reappointed Ngozi as Minister of Finance with the expanded portfolio of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy. During her confirmation as a Minister, she stressed the need to reduce the country’s recurrent expenditure which is presently 74% of the National Budget and embark on capital projects which could improve the 14% unemployment rate in the country. In her role as the Coordinating Minister For the Economy and Minister of Finance, she has extensive influence/exercise to shape the direction of our economic failure and redirects Nigeria to financial probity.
From 2004, Ngozi has been hauling home laurels after laurels. Consider all these: Time Europe Hero 2004, This Day Nigeria Minister of the Year 2004; Financial Times/The Banker African Finance Minister 2005; Euromoney Magazine Global Finance Minister of the year 2005; Nigerian of the Year 2006, Silverbird Woman of the Year 2012 and now Prospect Magazine 59th world thinker. She has been honoured by several world renown instutions of learning. She was honoured with Honorary Doctorate from Brown University, Providence, RI, USA, Honorary Doctorate from Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland, Honorary Doctorate from Colby College, Maine, USA, Honorary Doctorate from Northern Caribbean University, Mandeville, Jamaica and Honorary Doctorate from Amherst College, Amherst, MA, USA. However, she has suffered her own dose of chaos theory in the past. She was regarded as the witch of Anioma during the subsidy removal palaver on 1st of January 2012. Even President Barack Obama in one mad moment of ignorant bias refused to support Ngozi in her 2007 candidature for the vacant position of World Bank President. Above all, Ngozi is an ongoing symbol of boundless curiosity especially in the bestial jungle of Abuja politics.
Her soaring eloquence of economic transformation of Nigeria is yet to be felt among Nigerians. Her economic intervention has not shift away the irritating paradigm of youth unemployment, armed robbers and immoral destitution of majority of Nigerians. It is a well known truism that our dull-witted politicians alienate and loathe brainy redeemers like Ngozi. But Ngozi may have been bludgeoning every subversive argument with sound, rational and relieving counterarguments which support the liberation of our economy from the hands of cabals. Whether the decision to serve the governments of both Obasanjo and Jonathan – both despoilers – is a product of discretion or not, time will certainly tell. There is a kind of homicidal audacity for a technocratic angel like Ngozi to sup, dine and wine with sinners and thieves. There is a reminder in the Holy Bible in Proverbs 11: 22 that ” As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a woman who lacks discretion.”
I celebrate with Ngozi and rejoice with her nomination as a person who is deserving of an inclusion in that cloistered chamber of world heavyweight public intellectuals. Hers is not the typical high heels in high places through bottom power but God’s divine providence and education have all combined to arm her in her battle to conquer the world. 59 gbosas to Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s own iconic superwoman!!!