A former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has revealed in her new book titled, “Fighting Corruption is Dangerous –The Story Behind the Headlines” that former President Goodluck Jonathan indeed showed concern and made spirited effort to rescue the schoolgirls abducted in Chibok in 2014.
This revelation is at variance with allegations that the Jonathan administration “looked the other way” when the pupils were abducted.
In the book set for release this month, which THISDAY had an exclusive first look, through a reliable source in the United States’ publishing industry, Okonjo-Iweala said Jonathan called her on the phone while she was in Mexico City on April 15, 2014, a day after the schoolgirls’ abduction, confirming to her that Boko Haram had indeed kidnapped a large number of girls.
“When the President came to the phone, he sounded tired. It was easy to sense the fatigue in his voice. I told him what I had heard in Mexico and the reaction of the participants. The President confirmed that the kidnapping had happened, that they were still trying to determine with the state authorities exactly what happened, and that the total number of girls taken was still not known.”
She quoted Jonathan as saying, “CME, we must get those girls out alive. I don’t care what they say about me. But I don’t want those girls dead. We must get them back alive.”
The former World Bank managing director also revealed a graphic encounter between her and an aggressive South-West governor (still serving) who pounced on her at a National Executive Council meeting.
She related in the book that it took the intervention of the then Vice President, Namadi Sambo, who rescued her from the hands of the south-western governor (who was in the major opposition party at that time; now the ruling party), who pounced on her and was verbally aggressive at the NEC meeting.
In the book, the former Coordinating Minister for the Economy also narrated the challenges and frustration she experienced over the resistance by some governors and other powerful elements to saving for the rainy day even as her efforts were fully supported by both ex-Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Jonathan.
She stated that it was only by sheer force of will that Obasanjo was able to protect the savings in the Excess Crude Account from the governors.
There were times, Okonjo-Iweala noted in the book, that she was reluctant to attend the NEC meetings because of the animus towards her by some governors who saw her as the obstacle to sharing funds in the ECA and saddle their states with ill-advised loans which would have been difficult to pay.
The book reveals that the absence of sufficient buffers against low oil prices was largely caused by some of the governors and, in some detail, listed the roles played by a number of specific governors from the two major parties then, to undermine efforts of Jonathan to institute adequate buffers through the Sovereign Wealth Fund and the ECA even when their states were already receiving more funds from the Federation Account than some African countries.
Okonjo-Iweala also disclosed how a certain aide of Jonathan almost ‘bounced’ her and the then newly elected International Monetary Fund Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, who was on an official visit to Nigeria, out of the Presidential Villa.
She accused the aide of making an attempt, which she frustrated, to use his influence to further an agenda that was inimical to the country’s interest. It was for that reason the aide tried to ‘bounce’ her and Lagarde out of the Villa.
When contacted about the book, Paul Nwabuikwu, Okonjo-Iweala’s media adviser, refused to be drawn into giving further details, though he confirmed that the book was due for release in two weeks’ time.
The 176 pages book was published by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press in Boston, US.