When I wrote an open letter to the Coordinating Minister in Charge of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, over appointments to some top positions, it was, to me, simply the continuation of an age-old hobby that I developed since my student days in the university. I write with the purest of intentions not to malign anyone. I respect characters in my writings and readers’ views.
It was through my opinion and feature writings that I won some awards in the university and the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) at state and national levels. Though I deferred an admission offered to me by the University of Nigeria Nsukka to pursue Masters Programme in PR after I was honored with Automatic Scholarship for being the best Writer during the NYSC, I accepted automatic employments by both the Delta State Government and the Federal Government in 1993 and 1994 respectively.
In my letter of acceptance, I reflected that I would continue to write opinion articles that will be geared towards making Nigeria a better society that every Nigerian will be proud of. My experiences with great Igbos, Itshekiris and Urhobos formed the fulcrum of my early write ups during my youth service and after I started work at the Government House, Asaba. Their leaders, who took me as their son, protected and provided for my needs. Prof. Chike Edozien, the Asagba of Asaba, Chief Paulinus Akpeki and Ugoh of Okpe Kingdom were among some of the great people that made my youth service year and work experience a worthwhile adventure in Delta State.
When I moved to the Federal Civil Service, I never stopped writing. In fact most of my deployments to different offices were largely influenced by my enthusiasm for generating news items, issuing press releases and producing well-informed features stories.
As a Nigerian and a public official, I have always been conscious of my responsibility to ensure that the general public perceives government in a good light. I have strived to be a good ambassador of the government and people of Nigeria. I performed my roles with the best of intentions.
My writings can be divided into two major categories: official and unofficial. A careful perusal of my writings in the media will show that I sign the first category in my capacity as information/PR officer of the different places that I have been posted to. In the second category, I have been careful to make it clear that I write in my personal capacity as a private citizen. To make that point even clearer I affix my personal home address or email to personal opinions.
Since my employment, I have published books, issued over 2000 news releases, wrote news features and personal opinion, all in my bid to promote the activities of government and contribute to the peaceful coexistence of the diverse groups in the country. Most of my writings are accessible on my blog: www.yashuaib.com.
The recent article, which generated a lot of reactions and comments, was not done to malign anyone. Incidentally, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a personality I have a lot of admiration and respect for. I believe that she is aware of this. And so, when I put pen to paper in what has become routine to me to express my viewpoints on some recent appointments into top positions in her ministry, I never expected that it would be perceived negatively. It was to draw her attention to the strong speculations making the rounds which, in my view, she is not only capable of addressing but would do well to be aware of.
Maybe I should add here that during the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration in which Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was also an influential member, I wrote some critical opinion articles on the activities of the president, Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Nasir el-Rufai, Mrs. Oby Ekwesili, and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), among others. During the short-lived administration of President Umaru Yar’Adua, I x-rayed some of the president’s policies and those of Segun Adeniyi, his spokesman. I even wrote critical commentaries on my supervising Minister then, Mr. John Odey, who on some occasions, publicly responded to and addressed some of the my issues raised in my write-ups. As late as 2012, I wrote an article on President Goodluck Jonathan with the title “Flood in the Eyes of the President” and it was published in most national dailies. Following this, I received words of encouragement even from some of his aides and was consequently requested to support my postulations with photographs.
The Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Muhammad Sani-Sidi, who had intervened several times to resolve the current issue with Madam Minister, is one of the bosses that have tolerated my critical opinions on various issues. We disagree and later agree on issues like normal human beings do.
In essence, encouraging responses that I have received in the past have served as the impetus for me to continue with my cherished hobby. To me, I am simply contributing to the betterment of our country. It was in view of the above, therefore, that I was encouraged to pen the open letter to the Finance Minister on some developments, which I strongly believe she has the capacity to address.
I was initially elated when I received a telephone call from the Minister on Wednesday March 20, 2013 at 6.15pm. Naturally, I was happy that, once again, my effort has yielded fruit. Receiving a call from someone that a reputable international news organization described as one of the most influential women on earth is humbling. I felt jubilant when I heard “Shuaibu, this is Okonjo-Iweala!” However, when she added “Why should you do this to me? You can’t praise me and condemn me and call it constructive criticism. Haba Shuaibu!” I knew that my opinion had not been viewed positively.
Despite the huge difference in age and status, the Minister took her time to explain to me why so much of what I concluded was not the case. During the conversation, the Minister even read portions of my write-up.
While feeling flattered and honored that a world-class technocrat like the minister was humble enough to personally call me and explain her position to me, I couldn’t help wondering why this particular piece attract such concerns and why so much more meaning than I intended has been read to it.
To me, the article was as harmless as every other that I had written in the past. I was still contemplating how to tackle the seeming complications when just a few days afterwards, hate comments and rejoinders pointing out that my article had been inspired by ethnic and religious considerations began to appear in newspapers and Nigerian online forums.
I want to emphasise, once again, that my article was written with the purest of intentions, and even a cursory internet search will reveal that I have done this religiously in the last 20 years. Contrary to insinuations of ethnocentrism, sectionalism and sponsorship in many of the reactions and rejoinders to the opinion, I take full responsibility for the views that were expressed. I have never written with, or caused articles to be published with malice. I am a strong believer in the oneness and potentials of this country, and most of my opinions have been centred on great Nigerians that I admire and will not want to see fall into disrepute.
Despite this, however, I have realised that the said opinion has caused great discomfort to some individuals and groups. I want to reassure my elders and my good brothers and sisters, especially from a section of the country, who might have felt offended by my write-up that I harbor no grudge against them. I will not like to see this discomfort and the continuation of unnecessary hate comments. After all, we are one big family.
Yushau A. Shuaib