RE: NGOZI IWEALA: Nigeria’s Weakest link By Emeka Chiakwelu

(A rebuttal from Emeka Chiakwelu’s perspective)

It was an interesting and engaging article 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 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
Obsanjo 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 more be
more generous to Nigeria for the money should have found it best use in
Nigeria especially on the provision of health and educational
infrastructures. But that does not take anything away for 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 Obsanjo, 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 need 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. 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. http://www.afripol.org
strategist@afripol.org

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