L-R, Okonjo-Iweala displaying her award, Obi, Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chief Emeka Wogu and Yuguda watching in admiration at the event in Lagos
For Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, it was a night of accolades as she was honoured with the 2012 Silverbird Man of the Year award last week in Lagos, writes Charles Ajunwa
Last Thursday, the road in front of the main gate into Agip recital Hall at Muson centre was jam-packed with cars of different colours and brands. The occupants were heading to the only major event in the city in a who-is-who manner. It was the Silverbird Man of the Year 2012 award ceremony.
The atmosphere at the beautifully decorated hall was electrifying and contagious as personalities from all walks of life defied the scorching sun that fateful day to honour an Amazon, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Okonjo-Iweala, who is the sixth winner of the prestigious Silverbird Man of the Year Award which started in 2005, was voted winner of the award by Nigerians.
Other past winners of the highly coveted award include the former Director General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC) and former Minister of Information and Communication, Prof. Dora Akunyili who was the first recipient of the award, the former Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprise and former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai who received the award in 2006 and the pioneer Executive Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Mallam Nuhu Ribadu awarded in 2007.
Others are former President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the incumbent governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole voted to receive the award in 2008, the telecommunication giant, Dr. Mike Adenuga awarded in 2009, and the chairman of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote awarded in 2011.
This time, the choice of Okonjo-Iweala for the Silverbird Man of the Year award did not come to many as a surprise as she has over the years through a dint hard work, commitment and dedication endeared herself to the international community. Today, she is responsible for managing the finances of Africa’s most populous nation and one of the world’s fastest growing economies. From December 2007 to August 2011, she was Managing Director of the World Bank Group where she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia.
Okonjo-Iweala also spearheaded initiatives to assist low-income countries during the food crisis and later financial crisis, and chaired the raising of about $49.3 billion in grants and low-interest credit for the world’s poorest countries.
The Coordinating Minister for the Economy impressed many recently when she launched out as the first female and black candidate who contested for the World Bank’s top job byseeking to be its president in a move backed by Africa and majority of the developing countries.
Before the citation of Okonjo-Iweala’s abridged profile which received thunderous applause from the guests, the Chairman of Silverbird Group, Mr. Ben Bruce, said that “the Silverbird Man of the Year competition is given because the Nigerians voted. It’s not an award that I and a few others decide to fix. They were voted upon by Nigerian people because you must deserve the award. Aliko Dangote has won the award and I asked a lot of people why? They said, “his group of companies is the largest employer of labour.”
Governors have won the award, radicals have won the award, my good friend Nuhu Ribadu has won the award, Nasir el-Rufai when he shows up in some places people get terrified, they jumped out of the window, and he has also won the award. They won it because they were viewed to have contributed immensely to the country and I was happy when Dora won the award at the inception. We said to her should we change it to personal award? She said ‘no I am a man, it’s Silverbird Man of the Year award.’ Today, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has won the Silverbird Man of the Year award through the votes of Nigerians. I congratulate her for this feat,” he said.
The Bauchi State Governor, Alhaji Isa Yuguda while presenting the award to Okonjo-Iweala who was accompanied to the podium by two of her sons, described the minister as an embodiment of humility whom he said does her work diligently without any air of arrogance.
According to him, “With all the intimidating credentials she has, she is an embodiment of humility. There is what we call intellectual arrogance; we have many of them in Nigeria. My sister, our wonderful mother is a patriotic and detribalised Nigerian. In fact, issues have been made about the debt relief but I must tell you one other thing that Nigerians must appreciate about this gift of God to us. She is the person who established the Debt Management Office in the Federal Ministry of Finance.
“She has played a lot of role on behalf of Nigeria at the international level and when it comes to those in the economic field in Nigeria I think there is one person that I can remember that has brought so much good image to our country. I stand to be corrected there is no other Nigerian that has merited successive position of the World Bank than her. So, I feel highly honoured to give you this honour from the Silverbird,” Yuguda said.
Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, who said he was excited about the award bestowed on Okonjo-Iweala, said “this is my first time of attending Silverbird awards and I am impressed with the award of the 2012 Silverbird Man of the Year given to the person that really deserved it. We are beginning to celebrate those we should celebrate and I am happy for being here.”
Okonjo-Iweala who was moved by the encomiums poured on her by guests, while receiving the Silverbird award said “I feel that being in the company of people such as Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Chief Newton Jibunoh, Mallam Aminu Kano, Major Isaac Boro and Sergeant George is really great indeed and I want to say what a huge difference when you are in the company of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. I want to say thanks to Silverbird for doing this. As Chief Emeka Anyaoku said, there are so many awards and I refused to list all the awards on my curriculum vitae, I just put a few.
But I came because we have a man of passion in Ben Bruce and you all witnessed it, he is a man of passion for Nigeria, a man of passion for his courses and he has built a brand in the Silverbird award that deserves commendation. So I want to thank him, I want to thank your excellencies for coming to support me and my colleagues on the Federal Executive Council and my colleagues from the Ministry of Finance. Thank you so much for coming and lots of friends who have come to join me especially my best friend from childhood, Mrs. Jane Ebong, who is somewhere in the audience. I just want to say thank you to my parents who made it possible for me to get where I am and above all, thanks to Almighty God for patience, for nurture, for care and for the ability to survive in a very tough environment day after day.
“I want to say one thing, I know we have a country with challenges and it’s because of the recognition of these challenges that I was privileged to be asked by two presidents, in fact three, President Olusegun Obasanjo who first gave me the opportunity to serve, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who asked me but I was not able to serve at the time and President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who gave me another opportunity to serve my country. Even though it’s tough, I think it’s a huge privilege and an honour, many people often ask me why did you come? Why are you here? And I just replied to them that “I must be a masterpiece” but the real answer is that I think it’s an honour when your country asks you to do something and you should do it. I know that we are facing a lot of challenges and difficulties in this country but I had experience of over 30 years all over the world and I have been privileged to see where people are living in a wealthy fashion and where they are also living in poverty. I have been to over 60 countries worldwide and I have been able to see and compare what we have here, I remain an unapologetic believer in Nigeria. I believe in what this country will become and what the country can do and I believe that the administration we are in is adding its own share to putting this country on the right path
Uzo, one of Okonjo-Iweala’s sons who accompanied the mother to the event said though his other siblings and the Dad could not make it to the event, that the family is happy with her achievements. “Mummy we love you andwe thank you for everything that you have done for us and we are really proud of you.”
Other awardees include Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Chief Newton Jibunoh and Sergeant Georgeta, a traffic officer with the Nigerian Police; while posthumous awards were given to the late Afrobeat legend, FelaAnikulapo-Kuti; late political icon, MallamAminu Kano; and late Niger-Delta activist, Major Isaac Adaka Boro.