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“In Spite Of What I Went Through, I Will Do It Again” – Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

By: Churchill Okonkwo Published July 5th, 2010

The date was Thursday July 1st 2010. The venue was at the 16th Annual Convention and Scientific Assembly of the Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas (ANPA) at the Gaylord National Resort on the Potomac, Maryland USA; the theme was “World Bank and Capacity Building in the Healthcare Sector in the Developing World; the challenge to Nigerian physicians in U.S was that “to change something in Nigeria, you must give up something”; and the revelation from Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was that in spite of what she went through, she will do it again.

So, the debate begins. If you were Dr. Okonjo-Iweala will you stick out your neck for Nigeria again? At what point should Nigerian professionals in Diaspora go back home to help effect the much needed change in our system? Are the professionals in a better position to effect change in the private sector or within the government? If from the private sector perspective, does it matter if the right parameters for investment and economic growth are in place? If from within, at what point should they call it quit?

From Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s experience - the redeployment to foreign affairs ministry and discovery of the fraud in her new ministry was enough for her to honorably bow out after an unparallel performance and achievements at the finance ministry. What was however ironic was that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala particularly warned would-be professionals that are planning of going home not to be discouraged by their kids, siblings or any family members while one of her reasons for her resignation from Obasanjo’s administration as foreign affairs minister was “the need to take care of pressing family issues that demand my immediate attention.” I guess though that that’s one of those “compelling’ reasons for honorable men and women bowing out of office when they have had enough.

Listening to Dr. Okonjo-Iweala however, I saw a woman that relished the challenges and triumphs of working with the Nigerian government. While it was clear to her that “crazy” people and circumstances will stand on her way to implement change, she was however stubbornly determined to succeed. And she was successful. She led the debt relief effort and brought Nigeria's external debt down from $35 billion to $5 billion.

What can be said of so many other professionals from Diaspora who went back to help improve on the Nigerian system but ended up being part of the decay and in some cases worse? Will the amendment of the constitution to include independent candidates encourage professionals to go back home and run for elective positions? What does it take to succeed where many have tumbled?

President Jonathan recently said: "…one of the things we are trying to do is to upgrade the department in the Foreign Ministry that deals with Diaspora issues to a full-fledged commission so that we will be able to liaise properly with the Diaspora population, harnessing their talents."

From 1999 when the latest round of democratic experience in Nigeria started, it is evidently clear that it will take a crop of selfless, courageous and incorruptible Nigerians (both at home and in Diaspora) to effect any meaningful change. Assuming that President Jonathan can be taken for his words; how many Nigerian professionals in Diaspora are truly willing to give up something for the difficult task of saving Nigeria? Most importantly, how many of them will not be compromised on getting involved with the running of affairs in Nigeria?

We know that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is not going back to Nigeria, at least not that soon. What she wanted to achieve by that revealing confession was to encourage young professionals to go back and wrestle the bears in the wilderness of Nigerian political system. She is challenging them to give up something here in order to change something back home. She is also challenging professionals at home to get involved too. The Nigerian National Assembly has been a “House of the Incurables” so, she is challenging the members of Nigeria Peoples' Parliament in Diaspora (NPPID) to go back home and teach our dishonorable and corrupt members of house and parliament how laws are made.

My advice is this; if you are a Nigerian professional involved in any form of administration in Nigeria, follow the footsteps of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala but don’t follow the likes Prof. Dora Akunyili.

It was Chinua Achebe who said that "A man who means to buy palm wine does not hang about at home until all the palm wine in the market is sold." Nigerians in Diaspora should stop hanging at home called abroad; the market is Nigeria; the wealth of the nation is the palm wine they have been stealing, drinking and getting intoxicated; 2011 election is just round the corner and the time to act is now.

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