Former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has revealed why she wrote the new book that exposes certain things that happened during the immediate past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Okonjo-Iweala spoke at the event preceding the signing of the book she entitled, “Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines” held at the Politics and Prose, Washington DC, US.
The event had in audience members of her family, friends, colleagues, international institutions representatives.
The former Minister explained, “When I set out to write, I knew I was going to write a book because I wanted to write a sequel to my first book. You may not have seen it, it is also from MIT Press called ‘Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria’. It captures public policy lessons from the first time that I was in government as finance minister and all the various reforms that were done with the economic team that I worked with under President Obasanjo at the time. It talks about our efforts to get debt relief etc but focused a lot on the macro economic reforms.
“I thought after a second time in office I will be writing a volume two which will focus on reforms in the real sector – agriculture, telecommunications, and power. What exactly were the reforms we did in those sectors and what were the successes and failures. So, I actually set out to write volume two but when I sat down, what came out from my laptop was different. I found myself putting down the story of what happened to my mother. And that meant that somewhere deep inside … and as I was doing it I was very emotional, very upset and I realised how upset I was at what had happened and in many senses still I am.
“So, I wrote that chapter and I showed it to my husband and he said, well, ‘you have to finish, why she was kidnapped?’ And that led to the next chapter and the rest is history. So I ended up writing a somewhat different book from what I had expected to write and it became this book about fighting corruption.
“So, one of the reasons was a very personal account of what happened to me and the reasons why it happened and the stories about the different ways that people were trying to engender leakages within the economy just came out. And that became this book. So that was the first thing, to get out that story. As I was doing it, also all the explanations for the personal attacks and the other attacks I suffered during the time within and outside government, this came naturally as part of the flow.
“Why did these things happened, it all began to make sense. I needed to make sense of it to myself, I needed to make sense of it to others, and I needed even to make sense of it to members of the economic team. And I am very, very happy that today we have Dr. Nwanze Okodegbe, right here. He was the Chief Economic Adviser to the president and he was a member of that team. We saw a lot of odd things together. So explanation as to why this thing happened, that is the first part.
“The second was that there is just so much going on about corruption in emerging markets around. South Korea, you saw what happened to the president being jailed for 24 years. Brazil, there was so much noise about the car wash scandal. Venezuela, Mexico, Peru, Malaysia, you name it, so many examples of emerging markets countries having one discussion after the other about corruption. And as a development economist, you know this is something central to the work we do, something we worry about. And we just talked about fighting corruption and trying to make sure that resources that should go to eradicating poverty, providing services for poor people are not hijacked by those in society who would do that.
“The third reason was just one of giving hope. When you hear about corruption there are rarely any success stories action, people don’t focus on those who are fighting corruption and what successes they made. They focus on more salacious aspects. How much people have stolen, how much they have and what is happening to them. And the tough fight that is really needed and the people who are doing it are not talked about.
“In addition to that, there is the tendency to focus as I said on the more sexy aspects in terms of who was arrested, who did what to whom, how much did they steal and what is happening. But the tough, tough work of really wanting to fight corruption of institution building is not talked about. And I am very convinced as I have said to other audiences, that the difference between people in my country and other African countries or the US or Europe is much related. If they had the same weak institutions that we have, people will also put their hands on the money. It is because these countries have very strong institutions that you find fewer leakages. There is corruption everywhere, whether it is in Europe or the US but the degree is less with those countries with stronger institutions. That work of building stronger institutions takes time. And that was partly what we did in Nigeria, put down some few institutions that helped to block some leakages.
“So I also wanted to put that down and draw people’s attention to the fact that it is the hard work that is needed, whether it is strengthening the judiciary, whether it is putting in place in the ministry of finance the kind of financial management systems that are needed in order to manage your finances in modern fashion that doesn’t allow leakages from the budget.”