by Zainab Suleiman Okino
Last year, protests rocked the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC) over allegations of corruption levelled against the Executive Secretary, Mrs Yewande Sadiku. The protesters called for her resignation or sack by President Muhammadu Buhari. The president did not oblige them. Last week, the agency’s union, again called out its members to re-enact their resentment against the Executive Secretary.
Full disclosures first. I have never met Mrs Yewande Sadiku, not even through a third party, but I understand that she was met with resistance almost from the beginning of her tenure. I cannot confirm the allegations of corruption against her either, since she has not been tried in a law court. I have also not seen much of the work of the NIPC in public space, even though the agency “has the mandate to promote, coordinate and monitor all investments in Nigeria”.
My concern is the way some public officials are harangued, taken to the cleaners, and their reputation smeared because of the self-serving interests of a few, who are probably averse to change (if any) or are being remote-controlled by higher authorities for the same selfish interest. I must add, at the risk of being accused of playing the victim card, that these attacks are more often directed at the female CEOs than their male counterparts.
More often than not, the tendency to run into trouble is more prevalent among women appointees than men, for so many reasons: our society, is by and large, patrilineal, so our male dominated society is yet to come to terms with women leadership, and uncomfortable with women who have broken the glass ceiling, giving orders from the rooftop. The perception is that women have uncanny reputation for high-handedness, and when, probably they bring those traces to public works, they unsettle the Augean stable, and in return, they are heckled and harassed.
The term “iron lady” derived from Margaret Thatcher’s tough stance as Prime Minister of Britain, when used to describe a female boss in our clime, is most often not complimentary, that is putting it mildly.
Contrarily, being high-handed is not an offence in itself; most of the women bosses described this way might just be disciplined, competent and capable. So while we seem obsessed with women at the top and who we want to draw back by cultural and religious inhibitions, public works may suffer, even as those inhibitions may blind us to their capacity and competence.
There are misogynistic men, always on the prowl to cast aspersion on women in high places, but this does not mean that there are no bad female leaders taking bad decisions at their workplaces; my opinion is in relative terms.
During the protest last week at the NIPC, staff accused the ES of “executive felonies”. Their grouses according to a Premium Times report are wrongful dismissal, denial of promotion, breach of the public procurement law and failure to pay staff relevant allowances. The civil service union also asked for the reversal of dismissed staff in the last four years, renovation and rehabilitation of zonal offices and NIPC headquarters and above all, the immediate removal of the ES. There are channels to redress all these issues and I hope all parties will explore them for peace to reign.
While Yewande might be traumatised with these incessant attacks, she is still sitting pretty at her job, despite these allegations and criticisms. Sadly, many are not that lucky. The unlucky ones heckled out of office, may have to deal with psychological trauma to their mental health. As someone who had gone through such attacks revealed recently, “nothing prepares any one for the type, severity and quantum of challenges that one can face while in service to our country and contrary to the beliefs of some people, these challenges DON’T strengthen us. Instead, they change the shape of our souls, destroying our inner core; at the end of the service we leave with irreparable damages to our organs, body, spirit and soul. Recovery from the damages one incurs in service to our fatherland is not linear”.
This should not happen to Yewande before an amicable resolution is reached. Women have to work their hearts out, have to work twice as their male counterparts, before they get recognition or get compensated. Women are also wired differently; they can become emotional wrecks if accused wrongly. Not even those we refer to as super women are free from such. Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, the newly appointed World Trade Oorganisation (WTO) Director-General had many of such moments when she was coordinating minister for the economy in the Jonathan administration.
Adams Oshiomhole, then governor of Edo state in 2015, accused her of using one billion Naira government money for Jonathan’s re-election and how the excess crude account was depleted down to $4.1 billion from $10 billion without approval from the National Economic Council, to which the former minister responded and said Oshiomhole was after her because she denied him approval for a N15 billion Naira suspicious loan which would have left “Edo state with a heavy debt burden, and the state would have found it very difficult to pay back”. She also indicated using legal means to clear her name. In the end, it all boiled down to local politics as Okonjo Iweala has since risen again to international reckoning with her WTO appointment.
Another classical example was the case of Dr Marilyn Amobi, then CEO of Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Company(NBET). She had a running battle with two ministers of power, who were not even her supervising ministers by law, and some staff who saw in her a threat to whatever they stood for. In the end, the staff and ministers had their way, and her tenure was not renewed. Long after she is out of the way, the power sector’s sad story at that level has only gotten worse.
After an involuntary assessment tour of NBET and interactive session with her before she was relieved of her position, I wrote then: “Public service is conservative, it resists business unusual and prefers to stick to existing structure even when it doesn’t suit the purpose… clearly she (Amobi) had made her mark, but is Nigeria’s cut-throat elite competition for top jobs ready? …Such is the dilemma of one of a few leading lights of the Buhari administration. Since all these back and forth is not about incompetence and lack of knowledge of the job but mere spoils/perks of office, you’d wonder what we really want as a nation—a patronising novice who uses his/her office to embezzle and dispense favours recklessly or an accomplished, competent and skilful professional whose impact and footprints can engender the attainment of organisational and national objectives”.
I hope Yewande’s lot will not be like that of Marilyn, because while those who wanted Marilyn out had their way, the Nigerian story as far as fighting corruption is concerned has remained unchanged. And despite the fact that she was said to have “constituted clear and present danger”, no case was instituted against her after office. For Okonjo Iweala, Oshiomhole never advanced corruption case against her beyond the political exigency of that time. Yes, women can be unyielding, recalcitrant and tough on the job, but why not, if it can be justified positively.
Contact the writer: zainabokino@com, 08098209791