It was an interesting and engaging article – Ngozi Iweala: Nigeria’s weakest link- written by one Sonala Olumhense. It was not that the piece was illuminating the encumbrances in the affairs of Nigeria’s contemporary democratic dispensation that made it compelling but for the acute misunderstanding on the role and achievements of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her capacity as the minister of finance for both Obasanjo and Jonathan administrations.
Just like the writer of the above aforementioned article, before I proceed any further, I would like to congratulate the Honorable minister of finance, Lady Dr. Okonjo-Iweala on making the Forbes’ list of the most powerful women in the world. Let me remind everybody, I am not easily befuddled by titles and awards but when I see the real thing I do doff my cap.
Without mincing words, Okonjo-Iweala is the real thing. Why will I say that? Her record speaks for herself. After she graduated from the prestigious Harvard University with magna cum laude in Economics, she proceeded and obtained her PH.D from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in regional economic development.
She finally joined the World Bank at Washington DC and contributed immensely in the fundamental restructuring and re-tooling of World Bank ways of doing business to the affirmative benefit of her customers that were primarily third world nations.
Okonjo-Iweala was the managing director of World Bank, when President Obasanjo beckoned her to come home to help in putting the country’s messy financial house in order. When she was appointed the minister of finance in obasanjo’s administration, it was a trying time for our hapless country, Nigeria.
The nation has just came out from long military administration and intervention. The country’s foreign debt that stood between 36-38 billion United States dollars was choking the country financial and economic landscape. There was dwindling in the attraction of foreign capital into Nigeria and most debilitating issue was the low trust of the country as a destination of tourism and capitals was greatly hampering economic development.
There was nadir moral in the country; our sense and sensibility were reflective of a nation in trouble, where capital flight was the order of the day. Another interesting phenomenon was that Nigeria for sure could not say precisely how much they owned to both Paris and London Clubs of Creditors due to poor bookkeeping and opaque financial dealings.
Okonjo-Iweala hit the ground and start performing her duties without much ado and waste of time. First and foremost, she revised the poor book keeping and with lot of expendable energy and deduction she arrived how much the country was in debted. She opened up the country’s book and instituted transparency in the financial undertakings and dealings of the administration.
She began to initiate and implant probity as a way of doing business in the country. She made good use of the country’s gazette and published allocations that went to various departments and state governments. She endured the wraths of the powerful and connected as she was restructuring, changing and opening up the government’s finance. That is not a small matter!
On hindsight and at present we can be begin to take those changes she made for granted. She put a great effort in bailing Nigeria away from the prisons of Paris and London Clubs of Credits. Her intellectual endeavor made it possible for granted $18 billion write-off from the original $36 billion owned to the international syndicates. It was a great achievement but I still believed that IMF should have persuaded Paris Club to be more generous to Nigeria for the money should have found its best use in Nigeria especially on the provision of health and educational infrastructures. But that does not take anything away from the pragmatic minister of finance, Dr. Okonjo-iweala. She was given a project and she did it successfully, for that she deserved the praise and accolade she did receive and garnish in the country’s payment and settlement of her foreign debt in 2006.
When she started working for Obasanjo, the country inflationary trend was blowing down the economic landscape. Annual inflation rate stood at 22 percent and economic output was very poor indeed with anemic growth of about 1-2 percent despite oil export. Naira was extremely weak and feeble, depreciating and depressing the economy.
The monetary policy coming from the Central Bank of Nigeria could not be productive and successful without a complimentary fiscal policy from the executive arm of the government. This is where Okonjo-Iweala brought her talent and knowledge to bear by reduction of some taxes and by giving targeted tax incentives to indigenous industries that needed government aid. Her reform and economic restructure reduced annual inflation rate from 22 percent to 15 percent while the GDP was accelerating above six percent.
Okonjo-Iweala enhanced Nigeria’s economic and finacial climate with her logical and intelligent reforms. Under her leadership together with Dr. Soludo, the then governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the country’s foreign reserve tripled to above $50 billion.This is a serious achievement by any standard and nobody that understands fundamentals of the economy can talk down such a powerful attainment.
In her writings, “Understanding the Nigeria’s debt situation”, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweal wrote: "We have been implementing our own home grown reform program – NEEDS – and the results for last year have been quite positive. GDP growth was 6% compared to a 5% target. Average annual inflation came down from 22% to 15%, while point to point inflation (December to December) came down from 23% to 10%. This was not the single digit inflation we targeted but we came pretty close at 10%. The fiscal deficit at $25 a barrel was 1.9% of GDP, better than the 2.1% we targeted and the reserves recorded healthy growth again from $7 billion to $19 billion thus ensuring that our exchange rate remains fairly stable.”
By no means, Okonjo-Iweal is not perfect and nobody is insinuating that, she is one person and she is not the head of the government. As the American like to say, "the buck stops at president’s desk" and Okonjo-Iweala is not yet the country’s leader.
I do not agree with her all the time; earlier this year, the abrupt and quick removal of the fuel subsidy was not good for the poor masses of the country. Even with that scenario, all she can do is to make a recommendation to the president and she does not have the constitutional right to give the green light or go ahead signal.
As for corruption in the country, it is beyond a problem that can be solved by just one bureaucrat, no matter how gifted or talented the person may be. The corruption in the country is so pandemic and colossal that it has metamorphosed to being accepted as cultural and a way of life. Nigerians have even begun to see corruption as ‘normal’ and unavoidable sin. To make a change with regards to corruption, it must be fundamental, comprehensive and compassing that civics lesson will be devoted to it.
Okonjo-Iweala did not have to leave the comfort of her job at World Bank in United States to come down to our Nigeria with all the country’s problem and disaster. But for the love of country, she sacrificed her good life for the nation to contribute in the rebuilding of the falling nation. She has the prestige, money and fame from doing her job as international renowned economist at World Bank. The last thing she needed is unnecessary headache from living and working in Nigeria but she opted for later because she is a PATRIOT.
Mr. Emeka Chiakwelu is the principal Policy Strategist at Afripol. Africa Political & Economic Strategic Center (AFRIPOL) is foremost a public policy center whose fundamental objective is to broaden the parameters of public policy debates in Africa. To advocate, promote and encourage free enterprise, democracy, sustainable green environment, human rights, conflict resolutions, transparency and probity in Africa. www.afripol.org firstname.lastname@example.org