By Owei Lakemfa
TRUTH is not always as innocent as it looks or is portrayed. Quite often, it is a burden, especially to the heart, and it is difficult to discharge. The truth can also be a temptation. For instance, for some time now, I have thought of addressing the issue of the World Trade Organisation, WTO and Nigeria’s candidate, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The truth is that I have lacked the courage to do so due to a number of truths. The first is that her father, Prof. Chukwuka Okonjo, the noted Mathematician was a father figure to those who mentored me when I was a student. Many of these mentors revived the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU and turned it into an efficient fighting force for the defence of education in a country run mostly by leaders contemptuous of education and steeped in corruption, regional and ethno-religious jingoism. So, the truth is that it is difficult for me to critically analyse his daughter even when I know their philosophies are on parallel lines.
The second truth is that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s curriculum vitae is so long, windy, weighty and suffocating that she is either a genius like Albert Einstein or an endlessly recycled agent of Western interests. The type of Black elites Franz Fanon described as “Black Skin, White Masks.” A third truth is that she is so well-connected nationally and globally that to write anything, no matter how innocuous, that may portray her in a light less illuminating than she is used to, is to risk serious retribution.. It would amount to a person lying down while tonnes of bricks are off loaded on him. That, in plain language, is committing suicide.
A fourth truth is that the personae of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has been so ingrained in the consciousness or sub-consciousness of many Nigerian middle class elements, that to say anything negative about her is to commit a crime, if not a sin. In fact, there are some rooting for her to succeed Buhari as the next President of Nigeria, my dear country that lays prostrate after decades of relentless pounding by her progressive and conservative children.
The fifth truth is that the Buhari government withdrew the Nigerian nominee for the race of the WTO Director General, Mr. Yonov Frederick Agah, and replaced him with Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. There was no explanation for this unusual step, especially when it came after the African Union, AU, had short-listed Agah, who is the WTO Deputy Director General; Eloi Laourou of Benin Republic; and Egypt’s Abdulhammed Mamdouh as its official candidates. Did the Buhari government take this step having come to the conclusion that she has a better chance? Was it taken to appease the increasing agitation by our Igbo compatriots who have been completely marginalised, or was it pressure from her mother agency, the imperial World Bank and its Western owners?
The sixth truth responsible for my reluctance is the fact that she is Nigeria’s official candidate; would I not be accused of being unpatriotic if I make public my views? Lastly, in a world gripped by a pandemic of falsehood; where many wear face masks not to be infected with the truth, maintain social distancing not to be plagued by the truth, and like Pontius Pilate, wash their hands off the truth so it can be nailed at Golgotha, does it make sense to be a cross bearer of the truth? Or it makes more sense to deny the truth thrice before the cock crows even once?
I was privileged to learn trade unionism at the feet of the greatest trade union organiser in Nigerian history, Wahab Omorilewa Goodluck, who used to say: “You tell the truth, you die, you don’t tell the truth, you die; so why not tell the truth and die?”
Trade had been central to European voyages across the world. The Europeans came to Africa in search of new markets. They first traded in goods like mirrors and guns, and then humans. When slave trade was no longer lucrative, they banned it and used this as pretext to colonise some African societies like Lagos. They also colonised many African states for allegedly impeding ‘free trade’.
After the Second World War, the victorious allies decided to control the economy and finances of the world. They met in 1944 at the Mount Washington Hotel, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, United States, US, where the American International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, IBRD, which was charged with giving out loans, credits and grants, was rechristened the World Bank. A sister agency, the International Monetary Fund, IMF, was also established at the meeting to remove ‘trade barriers’. They became known as the ‘Bretton Woods Twins’ or ‘Institutions’.
To ensure control, the allies shared the leadership of the two institutions. Subsequently, since 1944, only Europeans are allowed to be the Managing Director of the IMF. The absolute control of the IMF Board by US and Western Europe, ensures this dictatorial practice.
On the other hand, although the World Bank is made up of 189 countries, only an American can be its President. In other words, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, despite her 25-year service in the Bank and holding such a high sounding position as Managing Director (Operations) cannot be World Bank President.
In 1947, the allies decided also to control world trade by floating the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, GATT. This body was renamed on January 1, 1995 as the World Trade Organisation, WTO. So, the Western allies succeeded in creating a monopoly over world finance, investment, trade and economic governance. This same group holds military monopoly as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO.
While all these were being perfected, most of the world was under European colonialism. At that time, in Africa, only Egypt, Ethiopia and Liberia were independent with South Africa under Apartheid. However, when many African and Asian countries became independent, they decided in 1964, to break the World Bank-IMF-WTO monopoly by establishing an equitable agency: the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD.
So, the IMF and the World Bank are two monkeys who take turns carrying each other on their backs while their child, the WTO, hops from one tree to another playing at nurturing world trade. That imperial family of three have for 55 years now, carried out a sustained fight to kill UNCTAD, the baby born by the wider world to handle beneficial trade, multilateral relations and all-round human development. They have already aborted UNCTAD’s attempt to give birth to a New World Economic Order in which all humanity will benefit from an increasingly interdependent and globalised world.
Next, we will discuss the fruitlessness of an Okonjo-Iweala leadership of the neo-colonial WTO.