Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Washington DC
Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is leading the advocacy for a special fund to be established for people fighting corruption.
According to her, it is not enough for development partners and the international community to urge the fight against corruption without support and ready access to safety nets and resources to support those at the forefront of exposing corruption.
She made the call in Washington DC at a signing event for her book ‘Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines’, an occasion attended by family members, friends and colleagues.
“And those fighting (corruption) need help. It’s not good enough to stay out here as development partners and practitioners and urge the fight against corruption. I’m lucky because I had options, I had people who supported me, I had a place to go. I am very grateful to the international community for the support they gave me and for those within the continent who also reached out. There were several heads of states who were supportive. But what if no one knows you? What if you don’t have a track record outside? What if you had nowhere to go?
“This is what the development community must think about. If you want people to fight corruption, they need to feel the support and they need safety nets, they need to be able to come out if necessary and have a place to go to and there be resources to support them. So I am advocating that some of the foundations, some of the institutions, should think about starting a fund.
“I know that when Nuhu Ribadu, at the time that his tenure at the EFCC had finished, he needed somewhere to go when things were not so easy for him. There was no money, no support. I was at the World Bank then as Managing Director and together with Tom Moss of the Center for Global Development and others, we got together and we managed to get the Norwegians to put money for 18 months to support Nuhu and his family, and they gave him a place at Center for Global Development. He was able to bring out his wife and children and they were able to live for 18 months and by that time things had calmed down and he was able to go home again.
“And then Detongo from Kenya, it was only when friends at Oxford University in England arranged something for him that he was able to have support. But these are ad hoc measures, and I want us to think of some kind of a more permanent supportive system that can encourage people who are really putting themselves on the line to stay steadfast and fight corruption.”
Okonjo-Iweala gave reasons why she wrote the book. She said that even though she was expecting attacks, she wrote the book to give hope to the younger generation and to warn those fighting corruption to remain clean or they will be consumed.
“One of the reasons I wrote this book, as I said, is also to give hope and for younger people to know that there are actually things you can do that will block corruption. That if we can build all of those institutions, and we did at that time, and if you can take a stand, that you can have victories that will illustrate that we shouldn’t all give up,” she said.
“There are several lessons that I think we should take away from the book. One of the most important ones, and I call them ‘reflections from the frontline’ is that in fighting corruption, corruption has to be fought from inside, not outside. Outsiders cannot fight it. Outsiders can help, but donors, country partners and others have a role to play but they can only play a supporting role; they have to find partners from inside, who know exactly how the place works and how it can be fought. You can’t also fight alone; you need coalitions of support, it is not one person,” she said.
The former minister added that, “people tend to say ‘Okonjo-Iweala fought corruption’. No. There were teams, there were members, you need coalitions. I had people in my ministry, I had people in the economic team, I had others. You need support from above in other to make it work. You need communications and signaling that this is not the right way a place should run, and that you are going to do something about it.
“And you need your personal integrity if you are going to fight this kind of corruption. You absolutely yourself and your team must keep your nose clean and your head straight because, even if you deviate one iota, they will get you and you will be punished for it. You have got to have a talk with those working with you, you have got to have a lot of personal integrity,” Iweala advised.