KWENU: Our Culture, Our Future
THE IMPARTIAL OBSERVER
Matters of the Moment
Nigeria v. United States at the World Bank
Saturday 14 April 2012
When the dust of this World Bank Presidency campaign settles after the 16 April 2012 vote; win-or-lose, Nigerian policymakers should remember to count the collateral damage and long-term casualties. They should also keep in mind that there will be other prices to pay down the line. National interest demands notwithstanding, this was one campaign Nigeria did not need to embark upon. Period!
Some people in Abuja who are quite confident or clever-by-half had decided that it was propitious and seemingly without any consequence, for Nigeria to burn her foreign policy candle from both ends by putting up the candidacy of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the World Bank presidency. Certainly, they convinced President Goodluck Jonathan that gunning for the job was the best option for Nigeria.
Whereas the campaign’s outcome could simply be a matter of win or lose. Win or lose, the fallout of this policy choice could be huge and indeed, costly for Nigeria. Still from where I stand, and setting national pride and emotionalism aside, the decision process seems awfully dubious. And I am dubious about a positive and productive outcome. I hope I am wrong!
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s qualifications and merits which are impeccably well-tailored for the job notwithstanding, this position and who gets it is everything political and more. And if Nigeria covets national pride, they should look again at the competition – the Americans—who also do not like losing and certainly, not to countries like Nigeria.
I am equally dubious about the ongoing process and campaign as a policymaking issue and challenge. Why challenge the U.S., the key and longtime holder of the position, knowing fully well that the chance of losing is highly weighted against Nigeria. Indeed, the goal of supplanting America is a far-fetched idea. Moreover, since France did not lose the IMF slot after all the distractions of the DSK sex scandal, how could one expect the Americans to lose such high-visibility World Bank post in a domestic election year? That the BRICS countries recently failed to come up with parallel institution to the Bretton Wood bodies should have been instructive.
Apropos voting for the candidates, the odds are stacked Kilimanjaro-high against Nigeria. The combined percentage of broad and collective votes likely to go to Nigeria, along with those of South Africa and other Third World or South-South supporters, pales significantly against prospective votes for the U.S., which will include most Asian and all G-7 votes. Moreover, when it comes to the heavy-lifting of lobbying, a most assiduous President Goodluck Jonathan will be no match to President Barack Obama; who no doubt, has been working the phones since he announced on 23 March 2012, his choice of Dr. Jim Yong Kim, Dartmouth College President to fill that post.
Paradoxically, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is far more qualified and professionally suited for the job than Dr. Kim. Additionally, she has gender on her side. And the withdrawal by Colombian finance minister Jose Antonio Ocampo can be counted as a plus. But these facts and related variables will matter very little when realpolitik takes over at the juncture when the votes are cast and counted.
Nigeria’s campaign for this position -- a seeming afterthought triggered by South Africa, in its enlightened self-interest – is worrisome or several reasons. And it does raise some fundamental questions, to wit:
· Why would Nigeria allow South Africa to sucker her into the role of challenging the United States, and thereafter being indebted to South Africa for such unfettered support, regardless of whether she wins or lose?
· Why would Dr. Okonjo-Iweala who knew that Robert Zoellick, the incumbent, would be leaving in 2012, depart from the World Bank in 2011 to take up the post of Nigeria’s Finance and Coordinating Economic Minister, only now to seek to return to the World Bank within a year of her leaving?
· Is the World Bank Presidency campaign a good cover and face-saver for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, and a pretext for her to leave her present job without losing face, either because she is frustrated or being forced out, after having essentially lost the total fuel subsidy removal battle?
· Lastly, in order of importance, should Nigerians assume that the World Bank position is far more important and lucrative for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, than serving Nigeria?
Regarding the last question, I have it on good record that Okonjo-Iweala had at various times told her confidants, that she found it more ennobling and would rather serve Nigeria at the state-level than serve in an international institution. Perhaps this was just parlor and make-me-look-and-feel-good talk; that inevitable ‘I’m a patriot’ sound bite.
What changed? Indeed, something does not quite add up!
In trying to rationalize the present situation, we know that in her second coming, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has not enjoyed the same clout, confidence, prerogatives, and support she had with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, despite having such leeway on paper and in nomenclature.
Presently, tongues continue to wag about personality conflicts, subterfuge, and insidious subterranean politics that intrude endlessly in Okonjo-Iweala’s remit and transformation efforts. Her many painstaking efforts to discountenance such irritants do not seem to have helped.
What this all says, and I am certain the Americans are up to the game, is that Nigeria is hampered by her own untidy housekeeping – a fact that is remarkable for its lack of strategic planning. Had due strategic consideration been given to this whole campaign, it would have been concluded and rightly so, that at this juncture, this is not a job Nigeria should be gunning for. Furthermore, considering that of late, Nigeria has not been able to muster a win in its campaigns for key positions within Africa, why up the ante, when the proposition is not geared to a probable successful outcome beyond the wishful thinking and hope for a miracle.
The only commonsensical basis for seeking this position would have been that Nigeria has United States nod, in which case the U.S. would not have put Dr. Kim’s candidacy forward. I’m sure that Washington is not thrilled by Nigeria’s challenge and certainly, is not taking it for granted. Certainly, this is one battle they don’t plan to lose.
The other justification would be the strict assertion a right to international turf fight and brinkmanship, considering that President Obama is about to end his first term in office; still neither he nor Vice President Joe Biden has seriously considered visiting Nigeria. In that case, the sense for the Nigerian would be, “we’ve got nothing to lose” and we are not going to pull our punches. In that case, the U.S. will pull all stops not just to defeat Nigeria, but as they say on the states side, openly “whoop her ass.”
Finally, one must ask how did all this happen and was the Nigerian Foreign Ministry consulted before Nigeria embarked on this campaign. As noted earlier, it was South Africa and not Nigeria that triggered Okonjo-Iweala’s campaign. Moreover, there are evidently some Nigerian policy wonks and latter-day activists who would prefer with some nostalgia to see that records showed that Nigeria under President Jonathan had the gumption as it did under the Murtala-Obasanjo regime to go eye-to-eye and toe-to-toe in challenging the United States. To them, it would not matter much if Nigeria lost to the lone superpower, which I predict will happen on the voting day.
When the dust of this World Bank Presidency campaign settles after the bank’s board of executive directors makes its pick on 16 April 2012; win-or-lose, Nigerian policymakers should remember to count the collateral damage and long-term casualties. They should also keep in mind that there will be other prices to pay down the line. Compelling national interest demands notwithstanding, this was one campaign Nigeria did not need to embark upon. Period!
With neither anger nor partiality, until next time, keep the law, stay impartial, and observe closely.
Hank Eso is a columnist for Kwenu.com. His observations on Nigerian, African and global politics and related issues, has appeared in various print media, journals and internet-based sites. © Hank Eso, 14 April 2012. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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