The Dowden Lecture – Another view

November 3, 2011


by A. Ajetunmobi

Earlier, I commented on Richard Dowden’s forwarded lecture, “Transforming Nigeria” and I put forward a suggestion that the lecture should be welcomed as an addition to myriad of literary endeavours on Nigeria. I have had the chance to read Dowden’s book which was mentioned in that lecture (i.e., Africa: Altered States, OrdinaryMiracles); it is gratifying to note that the book, which is based on Dowden’s many years of travelling in Africa as a journalist and executive of the Royal Africa Society in London, adeptly delves into impact of colonisation on Africa, the collapse many promising African states, including Nigeria (at pp. 439-483), Africa’s struggle with corruption, poor leadership, poverty and disease.
Now, one could argue that, being a Briton, Dowden has nothing new to say on Nigeria about which has not been said before by Nigerians themselves; and, therefore that, there was no justification in the first instance to invite him, by President Jonathan’s Government, to deliver a lecture to mark Nigeria’s 51st Independence Anniversary. Such an argument has some merit: For instance, four months before Dowden’s lecture, Professor Ladipo Adamolekun delivered a speech entitled, “A Transformation Agenda For Accelerating National Development,” to coincide with the inauguration of President Goodluck Jonathan at the helm on May 29 2011. Prof Adamolekun, who is fluent in Yoruba, English and French, is not a beta-brain; I read the text of that speech which I still remember as a masterpiece of reasoning, of wit, of cogency and of eloquence. However, while Prof Adamolekun’s speech, no doubt, adds to the growing library of serious speeches and materials about the challenges of nation’s political and economic growth and solutions to them, yet its authoritativeness should not discount Dowden’s lecture.
Information comes in different flavour. Dowden may not have stated anything new in his lecture (or book) about Nigeria, yet the flavour is totally different. In every august occasion world-wide, international figures, including statesmen, journalists, academics and others, are usually invited to capture the flavour of the event. No more obvious was this than in the United Kingdom where during the prime ministership of Tony Blair, the former US President Bill Clinton was invited to attend the British Labour Party conference in October 2002. In his speech, Mr Clinton advised British people to adopt African view of humanity as expressed in the word Ubuntu. Could it be that British people had never heard of Ubuntu which originated in Bantu languages of southern Africa before, or that no British writer had ever explicated to British people why society was important? I don’t think so; Mr. Clinton’s speech perhaps gave a new flavour to the conference.
Similarly, when the Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa and Ms Monica Naggaga of Uganda were invited to speak at the British Labour Party conference in 2006 about climate change and the plight of Africa respectively, what could these non-British nationals might have said about these two issues for which no the British nationals have touched upon in the past? Again, it seemed that the Party just wanted to smell the flavour which these invitees would blow on its members. The point I’m making here is that we should relish every different flavour of information that impacts the rediscovery of our country’s body politic. It is worth remembering that the purpose of making speeches or writing articles could be to express something which has never been said before; or to reinforce that which has been already expressed in a new way; or to refute that which has been expressed before and thereby attempt to correct the misinformation.
Of course, the presence of foreigners and, perhaps, ‘foreignized’ Nigerians in the country often raises anxiety about the government becoming an instrument of foreign interests. This is reflected in a wider unease about the appointment of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the ‘foreignized’(?) Nigerian Managing Director of World Bank until July 2011, as the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance. But, let’s follow facts and not fears:
Dr Okonjo-Iweala studied economics at Harvard and obtained a PhD in a Regional Economics and Development from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). In her last long sojourn in Nigeria as a cabinet minister during Obasanjo’s administration, she spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors that led to the wiping out of US$30 billion of Nigeria’s external debt, including outright cancellation of US$18 billion [and leaving just $5bn at that time]; helped set up antifraud team to crack down on “419″ letter and Internet advance-fee scams; helped exposed corrupt officials and ministers; etc., etc. In all the actions she took while holding the post of a Finance Minister and Foreign Minister between 2003 and 2006, can it be said, with evidence, that her reputation was bruised or that the sovereign interests of the country were compromised? I agree that great economists have proved hopelessly wrong. But, if we believe that there is no reason to doubt Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s reputation and past instincts, I think it is essential to Nigeria’s economic prospects to make use of her talents for nation’s fiscal reform.
To put things in perspective: When former US President Bill Clinton visited Ghana in 2002, he was accompanied by a great Peruvian economist, Dr Hernando Desoto who is renowned for his theories of relationship between the formal recognition of property rights and poverty alleviation. Obviously, Ghana, like Nigeria, can parade array of Ghanaian experts on professional matters. Yet, on this occasion, the Ghanaian Government wasted no time in enlisting the assistance of Dr Desoto to help it launch a coherent plan in order to make lands in Ghana convertible to assets. So, while it is important that we constantly demand transparency and results from our leaders in government at all levels, suffice we understand that no country is so modern and developed as to comfortably handle its growth alone. We just need to look at the ongoing rows over government borrowing in Britain and America, the eurozone debt crisis and so on and so forth.
More pertinently, Dr Okonjo-Iweala may have been recalled from the World Bank to help carry through issues such as tax and budgetary reforms, as well as the management of the nation’s economy, but there is no reason to suggest that the Boards of Governors and the Boards of Executive Directors at the World Bank are in charge of our political and fiscal system. I’m heartened by the suggestion made earlier by a writer that we should reach conclusions for ourselves based on evidence. Nigeria has been a member of World Bank since March 30, 1961; and, as a shareholder too, alongside other 186 nations, the country has also been contributing to the capital reserves of the Bank. But, in spite of being a member and financial contributor to the World Bank assets, I have not seen any evidence that Nigeria has given up its monetary and fiscal independence by the appointment of Dr Okonjo-Iweala. To my knowledge, the independence of Central Bank of Nigeria, headed by Mallam Sanusi Lamido, is still preserved and our budget priorities are being decided in Abuja, not in Washington, DC, the headquarters of The World Bank.



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