Yale Award to Okonjo-Iweala – I Object

Recently, our honourable coordinating minister of the economy was awarded an honorary doctorate by an Ivy league institution. The award has proved to be controversial, especially for some Nigerian observers. Here is what I have to say. Yale University has a right to honour whoever they deem deserving. However, in doing so, they should refrain from dragging third parties in on the side of a misrepresentation of reality.

If the honourable minister had been credited for achievements at the World Bank, or for work done under OBJ to exit the Paris club debt, I would have held my peace. Those are facts and they are verifiable. However, Yale overreached themselves by including the following in their statement:

“As Nigeria’s coordinating minister of economic development and minister of finance, you have tackled corruption, created a vision and path to long-term economic stability, and worked to build a culture of transparency … you have transformed the economic landscape of your nation.”

This to me is akin to Abacha’s children publishing an article on Sahara Reporters​ in which they tried to portray their late father as some great benefactor of the nation. We all lived through his times, and most of us publicly and loudly disagreed with the family and the publication.

In the same light; we have all lived through the GEJ tenure in which Okonjo-Iweala has held office. I for one cannot say that I agree with this commendation. Indeed I feel insulted, that while I am alive, Yale claims that:
        corruption has been tackled in Nigeria
        the country has a vision to long-term economic stability
        we have built a culture of transparency
        our economic landscape has been transformed

Compare these to the reports, year-on-year from:
        The World Bank
        Transparency International

Do these Yale folk take us for fools? Imagine a situation in the US where an official in one of the States leaves office with record debts, a backlog of unpaid entitlements, and broad criticism about rule of law violations and transparency issues. Would Yale deign to honour such a person? What of if this person was a federal official? Even less likely! Yale would defer the accolade, or decide against it, because of the recent record. Even though such a person might have, in the past, done things worthy of commendation.

So why do they deem it appropriate to confer this honour, at this time, and using this citation? Perhaps the Nigeria lobby in the US is still in its infancy, and they know it. Or could it be that the community takes no interest in such issues. For all the patriotism of Jews, I believe quite a few would come out to protest an award that commends Bibi for “advancing the understanding and accommodation of Palestinians in Israel and a new Palestine”. Which is not to say that Netanyahu is not worthy of commendations for other things.

In my humble opinion therefore, this award is untimely, and the citation is wrong. Yale should reconsider it, and even if they choose not to rescind it, the offending statements should be redacted and an apology offered for the misrepresentation and offence it has caused.

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