When I signed off on the back page of Punch on Monday July 18, 2011, it was with mixed feelings. I knew there would be thorns and uncertainties on the road ahead; I was aware that there were banana peels on the centre stage that could trip the smartest of Nigerians; I was even more at home with the fact that my mission could turn out to be an illusion when dreams gave way to reality. But I was totally unprepared for the unanticipated findings, along my line of duty, which dressed the Nigerian problem in thicker veils than I envisaged.
Barely six months after I joined former Minister Olusegun Aganga at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was a live fish on dry land. I remember calling Mr. Moyo Ajekigbe, a mentor, who had encouraged me to take up the appointment, exactly six months after, that I was sure it was time to leave. I reminded him that my agreement with the Honourable Minister was that I would only serve for one year and then go on to pursue an important dream that was cut short by the appointment. He laughed and said I had not completed my assignment. “Though my wife and I miss your column dearly, we also want you to strengthen our brother’s team and have a chance to make a change while serving Nigeria,” he said. With these words, I reluctantly agreed to endure all ‘unpalatables’ in my quest to contribute my own quota to economic growth, particularly since my boss was overseeing what I would call the centre of Nigeria’s economic activities.
I settled down to see beyond my nose as a way of keeping a close watch on my principal’s ministerial activities. I always recalled an important paragraph in my farewell column on the back page of Punch, which read: “I have inferred, from my interaction with him (the minister) that his desire, right from the time he founded the Nigeria Leadership Initiative in 2006, is to see a new Nigeria driven by committed and purposeful leadership. And I am almost certain that, working with him to revive the real sector should, more than anything else, earn for me a rousing welcome after this time out. It is tough to initiate radical reforms in a society where wounded interests would go to any length to deface the upright. But so long as the investment minister refuses to go the ‘Nigerian’ way, and has the full backing of the President to fix the mess, there will be glorious dance steps for all on this new stage.”
With this argument, I had put the minds of ardent fans, who warned me sternly never to think of exiting the newsroom for the centrestage, at rest, or so I thought. But I found out, in the most painful way, that even Aganga was not in a position to fix what we perceived as the economic mess, as hardworking and restless as he was. Why? There were too many forces to contend with in a daring bid not to go the ‘Nigerian’ way. First, the cabinet of former President Goodluck Jonathan, as celebrated as it was, was nothing but a marriage of strange bedfellows, who failed, unfortunately, to realise that they were appointed primarily to pursue a common goal – the revitalisation of the Nigerian economy. My assessment of the star players of that administration was that they were embarrassingly locked in a push or shove competition to ‘shine’ before a President, whose clue about driving an ailing economy depended so much on their professional abilities.
Scenes behind the curtains revealed how low a world respected technocrat would descend in trying to protect an unnecessary mandate territory, even when giving way for a change would have been in the immediate and overall interest of Nigeria. The results were fantastic policies holed in a mess of unwarranted ministerial rivalry even after the initiator had been able to struggle through the web of controversial stalkers that had made the Aso Villa their second home. By the end of the first year, I was convinced that the ministerial stools were virtually powerless. Where a relatively committed official has to lick his superior’s boot to desperately keep his shirt, he is inadvertently dragged into the same mess he set out to clear. But this is a matter for another day.
Before I continue, I want to thank my fans and well-wishers for their patience during the years of my sabbatical from the newsroom. My colleagues in the media did not only give their unalloyed support, they walked the entire stretch with me, demonstrating in clear terms that we were in it together. I also thank my boss, Olusegun Aganga, for the opportunity to see the other side and for tolerating the excesses of a diehard journalist/ critic, who “refused to come to terms with the fact that she had left the other side.” To you all, I say: thank you; I am back