By Sheddy Ozoene
Margaret Hilda Thatcher performed so well by taking on tough tasks in her first tenure as British Prime Minister. His US counterpart, President Ronald Reagan who couldn’t stroll to his local church without adequate security, marveled that Thatcher could make the long-haul trip to the troubled Falkland Islands, unannounced. In any case, her heroics were so profound that Thatcher’s supporters told voters, during her re-election campaign in 1983, that she was the best MAN for the job. Even Russian leader, Leonid Brezhnev said Thatcher was “trying to wear the trousers of Winston Churchill”.
All these underscored her character: she was indeed a woman of iron will—committed, focused and fearless. And on most of her promises, she delivered.
There are no Thatchers here but Nigeria’s Ibim Semenitari qualifies as one woman made for tough jobs too. She simply dares where devils fear to tread, and delivers on her promises too. Over the years, the seasoned journalist whose career has taken her to some leading newspapers and magazines within Nigeria, including a stint as Journalism Trainer/Editor with the BBC World Service Trust, has proved that she could well hold her own, not only in the newsroom but in the murky waters of Nigerian politics.
Today, she sits atop the Niger Delta Development Commission as acting managing director. Anyone with an understanding of the region, its intricate politics, and peculiar development realities will conclude that the task of translating President Buhari’s development vision for the volatile Niger Delta into reality, is not a tea party. But the award winning investigative journalist, editor and publisher, is not a political rookie either. She had served the Rotimi Amaechi administration as Commissioner for Information and Communications. Managing the public image of such a swashbuckling governor at a particularly tempestuous period like Amaechi’s tenure as Rivers state governor did not come easy, but it proved to be the test that brought out her true character.
Those years of stewardship in her home state, proved her as a performer and as a strong-willed lady who can be relied upon to get the job done. And did she get the job done?
The Rivers state opposition will not forget her in a hurry. She proved capable in managing the vociferous lot — word for word and action for action –diffusing in the media, the several crises that the opposition designed to upset the Amaechi administration. Her actions contributed substantially in ensuring that Amaechi concluded his tenure on a particularly high note, against all odds.
Semenitari’s performance in the communications directorate of the Buhari Presidential Campaign Organisation during the 2015 presidential campaign, was perhaps, the turning point. While at the directorate –though her principal, Amaechi, was at the time also heading Buhari’s campaign as Director-General — her effectiveness and zeal did not escape the strict scrutiny Muhammadu Buhari is well known for. The would-be President must have made mental notes, going by the assignment he eventually found her worthy of after removing Mr. Bassey Dan-Abia as Managing Director of the NDDC last December. When the President tapped Ibim for the tough job, it became obvious that her new assignment would make her tour of duty in Amaechi’s Rivers state, look like a picnic.
To say that the appointment was scary is to put it mildly considering the much expected of the regional intervention agency. The NDDC has been deep in rot. Allegation had been rife that it had become in recent times, a cesspool of corruption and unnecessary financial controversies so much that regional leaders in Niger Delta perceive it not as a tool for regional development but as an avenue for distribution of political patronages. At the same time, the harsh realities of underdevelopment were pervasive in the region which is still reeling from the effects of environmental degradation.
Since her appointment, however, she has worked so hard to give a lie to that perception that the NDDC was another Father Christmas, or cash cow for indolent politicians and leaders of the zone. She had launched efforts to refocus the agency, its management and staff towards its original vision and mission, with a wake-up call to brace up for hard work to meet the needs of the people. Her success in so short a time indicates that the NDDC is indeed being repositioned for better service delivery to communities within the Niger Delta.
It is a really hard job, but a duty she has committed to perform with commitment and her trademark zeal. With her stated good understanding of the challenges of the region and an in-depth knowledge of how the commission ought to be intervening in terms of development, the hope that her tenure may well prove the turning point in that region’s development, may not be wrongly placed. The winner of the CNN African Journalist of the Year Awards (she is the first Nigerian female journalist to win the coveted price), Ibim has over the years proved to be a woman with determined go-getter spirit.
Many women have in recent years proved themselves in public service, and the likes of Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Dora Akunyili, Ifeako Omoigui readily come to mind. If Madam Semenitari continues, as she has started, to rise above the unnecessary politics that has blurred the vision of successive leaders entrusted with the management of NDDC over the years, then she is jolly well coasting home to resounding success. And a place in the annals of the nation’s public service history.
Ozoene is Publisher/Editor-In-Chief People&Politics Magazine.