Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Washington DC
A former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has given reasons why she mentioned former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, in her book ‘Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines’.
At an event, on Tuesday evening, preceding the signing of the book held at the Politics and Prose, Washington DC, she said to an audience which included her husband, aunt, son, brother, friends, colleagues among others that it was just to put the story in context.
Okonjo-Iweala, who also served as minister of finance under President Olusegun Obasanjo from 2003-2006, said she turned down the advice, which Duke allegedly claimed was coming from “a group of concerned people”.
She said, “The thing wasn’t meant to say anything other than just to set the context for the story when I talked about Donald Duke.”
Duke, had through his Twitter handle, @Donald_Duke, reacted to Okonjo-Iweala’s claims that he tried to stop her from joining the Goodluck Jonathan administration in order to deny Jonathan’s government credibility, “weak and not succeed”.
He tweeted, “It is true that I met with Ngozi when the rumors were swirling about her being she being considered for appointment. As “friends”, she having been literally dismissed from an earlier appointment as finance minister, I urged caution. I made no mention of adding or subtracting credibility to anyone or government. It was “two friends” discussing careers. It ended there and she subsequently made her choice which I respected.
“However, I think it is in poor taste and demeaning of her to report a private conversation in whatever self laundering attempt she may be up to.
“With hindsight, I was vindicated, Ngozi, as Minister of Finance and Economy, despite massive revenue receipts, left Nigeria poorer than she met it.”
Okonjo-Iweala, who was responding to why she served a government perceived to have superintended over the highest form of corruption that deprived Nigerians said, “On the question of superintending over corruption, yes many people asked the question, why did you go, why didn’t you didn’t you resign, these are very good questions and I tackled them in the book.
“I say this is a dilemma. I could easily have stayed away, that is the easy answer. Don’t you ask yourself why was I going, why will I put myself through what I went through? It is so easy to do what you said, to let go. But when I talked to many people they are not willing to put themselves on the line or what happened to my family to put my family in danger.
“I didn’t know at the time what I was putting my family in danger obviously, I wouldn’t have consciously done that but I knew I was going to suffer some consequences. But I went because it begins with you. If all of us say we are not going to do anything about it, I think there are at times when resigning sends the correct signal or not going.
“But there are at times when it doesn’t work, you just have to go there and fight and do what you can. And then the efforts to prevent me from coming at all, the thing wasn’t meant to say anything other than just to set the context for the story when I talked about Donald Duke.
“He was conveying a message to me from people including people who said they were my friends telling me not to come. But when I asked why and you will see it in the book, they said so as not to give the government credibility. My feeling was that at some stage, you need to take a stand. And once I got there I actually saw that people were actively trying to get me to go and that is why I didn’t resign.
“So people want to know why didn’t you resign, after they took my mother? And they were discussing how they were going to dispose of her body to her hearing, and after all these attacks. They told me that to get my mother back it was not money they were looking for, that I should go and resign publicly on television and leave the country to come back to America from where I came. That’s why I didn’t resign.
“My father said ‘you are not going anywhere’ and he said ‘your mother and I have lived past…’ you know my father use to make this joke, he is a mathematical economist but a demographer by profession. And he said, ‘we have lived past our due date. So just get used to it she may not come back. But if they are trying to use that to blackmail you, you are not going anywhere, you won’t resign.’
“He was like a rock. And after we went through all that experience, I said if they are so desperate to threaten my mother, threaten me and so on then I must be doing something.”