Two days after the University conferred an honorary doctorate to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister, Nigerian political activist Sunday Iwalaiye launched an online petition calling for the degree to be rescinded.
On May 18, as part of Commencement ceremonies, University President Peter Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak awarded Okonjo-Iweala a Doctorate of Human Letters for her contribution to social and economic development in Nigeria while serving as the minister for finance and coordinating minister for the economy, and while working at the World Bank. But a change.org petition with more than 5,200 signatures claims that Okonjo-Iweala has not made a positive contribution to the Nigerian economy and should have her degree rescinded.
“The Nigeria’s economy has remained the same under Ngozi Iweala without any evidence of [diversification] from oil,” the petition reads.
In 2005, Okonjo-Iweala led a team of Nigerian financial experts and negotiated a deal with the Paris Club, a group of bilateral creditors, to pay off $12 billion of Nigeria’s external debt in return for a write-off of $18 billion worth of debt. Okonjo-Iweala also mandated that the amount of money allocated to each state by the federal government be published in newspapers to increase transparency. The year 2014 saw Nigeria overtake South Africa as the continent’s largest economy, with its GDP over $100 billion higher than South Africa’s at the close of 2013.
But Iwalaiye’s petition claims that the University’s award does not fully reflect Nigeria’s economic landscape under Okonjo-Iweala. The online form, which reached its target of 2,500 signatures in less than 2 days and is now aiming to amass 7,500 signatures, argues that there is no “tangible” evidence of economic development under Iweala’s leadership.
Iwalaiye argues that since the Nigerian economy is still dependent on oil and foreign loans, it has not made a significant improvement in its economic structure. The petition also cites financial corruption, including an instance when a central bank governor was fired after he disclosed that $20 billion was missing from the federal budget.
“The culture of official corruption and state resource mismanagement were both honored, celebrated, protected and defended under the leadership of Ngozi Iweala as the supervising coordinator of the Nigerian economy,” reads the petition.
Iwalaiye argues that Nigeria’s foreign reserves and excess crude oil accounts have both been depleted under Okonjo-Iweala’s leadership and that the recurrent expenditures in the federal budgets reached levels that were so high that capital development was hindered. He added that Nigeria’s debt profile has risen rapidly, with over $2 billion borrowed in the last four months to pay federal and state civil servant salaries.
A counter petition launched on May 21, arguing that Iwalaiye’s claims are inaccurate and politically motivated, asks the University to ignore calls to withdraw Okonjo-Iweala’s degree. It has received over 2,000 signatures so far.
In a May 22 email to Pulse Nigeria, a national Nigerian online news platform, Karen Peart, deputy press secretary for Yale’s Office of Public Affairs & Communications, said the University is aware of both petitions and has no intention of rescinding Okonjo-Iweala’s honorary degree. Peart said the award is one of many accolades that have commended Okonjo-Iweala’s commitment to debt relief, food security and socio-economic development, spanning over three decades.
Peart added that the University has never rescinded an honorary degree.
Okonjo-Iweala also holds honorary doctorate degrees from Brown University, Amherst College, Colby College, Northern Caribbean University in Jamaica and Trinity College, University of Dublin in Ireland.