Foreign Reserve Brouhaha; Let’s Pause and Thank Aunty Ngozi

By Oluwaseun Joseph

Frankly speaking, it is quite heart-warming to see some influential Nigerians coming out of their gilded cage to demand accountability from the present government. It shows that we are now waking up to our civic rights by calling the government to task on the expenditure of our collective wealth, and alerting them that it won’t be business as usual anymore. After all, we are in a democratic dispensation where freedom of speech is a given.

Worthy of note is the recent harangue by former Vice President (Africa) of the World Bank and former Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, and her demand for the account of how the $67billion left in foreign reserve by the administration of her erstwhile boss, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, was spent.

Indeed, the sum must be accounted for to the last cent, as it is our collective right as a people to know how our leaders expend our resources. But, on a closer look, one will wonder in what spirit is Mrs Ezekwesili asking for accountability at this time? And to what purpose is her public address and the media hype that characterized it?

It seems Mrs Ezekwesili has joined the likes of Femi Fani-Kayode and Nasir El-Rufai of this world to score cheap political points under the guise of altruistic patriotism. Isn’t it suspicious that folks that lost out in the power equation in the Yaradua/Jonathan’s government are leading the opposition’s voice against the present government? Have they suddenly discovered that Nigeria is not working? Whatever happened to the allegations of colossal corruption and waste hanging on the OBJ’s regime? Why didn’t they raise their voices when they were in government?

More irritating is Mallam El-Rufai’s new book, Accidental Public Servants, in which he claims that the economic management team, of which he was a member, was against OBJ’s third term ambition. Was Mallam El-Rufai’s voice muffled during that period? Were the pen and paper he could use to write his resignation letter, so that he could prove his patriotism by exposing his boss, missing then? Why did he suddenly recover his voice now and started using his pen in 2013?

I think Nigerians should start asking questions instead of allowing anyone or a group of individuals to manipulate their public sentiment. We need to analyze the questions raised by the opposition to determine their merits and, at the same time, examine the motives behind their clamor.

2015, a year of fresh rounds of elections, is fast approaching and politicians are deploying all tricks in the book to get into the proverbial corridor of power, or to regain what they lost in previous elections. And those in power are also busy strategising how to extend their stay in government. Therefore, we have definitely not heard the last of allegations and counter-allegations from different political quarters. The accusation flying around now is the management of Nigeria’s reserve. While Madam due process claims that the $67 billion (about N11 trillion) left behind by President Obasanjo has been squandered by the incumbent government; the government, in its own response, is claiming that it has added $2.17bn to the foreign reserves since former President Olusegun Obasanjo left office in 2007.

Surprisingly, Dr. Ezekwesili lent credence to this government’s claim on Twitter while responding to the query of one of her followers. The follower, @iamtenseven, asked why she didn’t consult the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, before making her allegations. And in her response, she said the only reason the crashed foreign reserve and Excess Crude Account are once again creeping up is because of the awesome effort of the Minister of Finance, “so you must thank her.”

That means, even while the debate is going on, we need to pause and thank Mrs Okonjo-Iweala for ensuring that Nigeria’s economy is run with prudence. Since she returned in 2011 to manage the nation’s economy, all of us can see the several battles she has had to fight those within and outside the system in her bid to ensure that Nigeria’s finances are in good shape. But for her, the present situation would have been dismal and the narrative would have been totally different. Who knows how many more trillions we would have continued to lose to greedy fuel marketers and their allies in NNPC? Who knows how many trillions of naira the country would have continued to pay hundreds of thousands of ghost workers in monthly salaries? Who knows how many trillions we would have continued to lose in unaccounted for budgetary allocations on a yearly basis? Who knows how many more trillions we will continue to lose to the various holes in the Nigerian system that this woman is blocking with such ingenuity? How much more?

Early last year in 2012, aunty Ngozi was reported to have set a higher target for the nation’s foreign reserves. And by the end of the year, it was widely reported that the balance in the account stood at $43,830,418,364.91! Can we ask for more? Sure, we can. But while demanding more from our leaders, the least we can do is to appreciate this woman who has brought sanity into our national expenditure.

And, as we demand accountability from all those concerned in this debate, let us not forget to give cheers to the honourable Minister of Finance for ensuring that our foreign reserve remains buoyant.

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