“Don’t ask what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”
This is one of the frequently used quotes in the Nigerian advocacy for paradigm shift, it questions our desire to put our country first as patriots. As we all know, Nigeria has not been too efficient at providing basic welfare for its citizens, yet we live with the idea of giving back to a state that continues to rape its citizens. No thanks, to the ruling elites supported by a few political bourgeois, who work hand in hand with born again pro-democracy ex-military officers.
Shortly after President Jonathan was sworn in May 29, 2011, the buzz about how he was ever going to deliver his transformation agenda became the order of the day. For a president with low self-esteem, no exposure to leadership but became the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the virtue of controlling the state resources and security apparatus before the elections, it was a herculean task. He had a choice, to swim with the political sharks and make it business as usual or seek for some sort of legitimacy for his presidency by reaching out for a technocrat who could drive the macroeconomic policies without looting the treasury.
The President sought after Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former Minister of Finance under former President Obasanjo, he was convinced that her credentials which included the World Bank Managing Director, would lend the much-needed credence to his government and derive the trust he needed badly from Nigerians. If the elections were won by luck and some elements of ethnic and religious sentiments, the economy would not be run on that. Some quarters within the ruling party were quick to remind the president of the perceived domineering attitude of this former Minister of Finance, that the presidency may be subdued by her personality and ego. They tried to convince the president not to bring Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala back, the Nigerians newspapers went to town with different versions of what was going on within the presidency. I suppose some quarters felt her presence meant a stop to their feeding off the system and acquiring humongous wealth.
I was not sure of what to make of the return of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. I have never recovered from her October 2005 advertised success of leading the Nigerian team that struck a deal with the Paris Club and a group of bilateral creditors to pay off Nigeria’s external debt of US $ 12 billion in return for a US $ 18 billion debt write off. Her excuse? Nigeria was servicing external debt with US $ 1 billion a year, it was not making sense and she wanted to redeem that. I still question her judgment for repaying a debt of US $12 Billion in 2005, which developing country on planet earth does that? Assuming we built a power station with that US $12 billion, we would turn our economy around and probably run a surplus budget in 10 years to repay those debts. Her first stint as a Minister of Finance was also not without some controversy, she and Olu Adeniji were being paid US $ 240, 000 as salary from a donor supported Diaspora Fund negotiated by the government. In 2007, the Court of Appeal rule that the payment was not in tandem with our laws, and ruled that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Olu Adeniji pay back the excess to the account of the state. The Federal Government of Nigeria, Olu Adeniji and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala have appealed to the Supreme Court and judgment is pending, that is if we ever get a judgement. After paying off the debt, as the head of Nigeria’s Economic Team, she boasted about the number of jobs and growth to derive from paying the debts with a fortune spent promoting the NEEDS agenda. We never had assessment of the outcomes but surely if it worked, we would be better off today.
I believe President Jonathan swallowed his pride, which is if he had one apart from being the president and a member of the ruling party. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was ushered back as Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, more or less the de facto Prime Minister. My friends ask if she’s being paid in US Dollars this time around or the equivalent in Naira, I don’t know how much she’s paid. The country’s finance and economic direction was in a dire strait and she was portrayed as the messiah to put things in order. She comes across as a capitalist economist with the drive to stop the economy from bleeding by promising to reduce the high recurrent expenditure of the budget and the double-digit unemployment rate. What she did not tell us was that the country was back to the same situation she met it shortly before she paid off the Paris Debt, the country’s debt was on the rise, corruption was at unprecedented level with uncompleted projects. What she did not tell us was that, Nigeria could not continue in this same projection over the next 10years without hitting the bottom.
The Federal Government led by the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance set out to remove the fuel subsidy, yet she could not cut down on the crazy cost of running the government instead she came up with SURE and then SURE – P which was dead on arrival. I recall one of her interviews where she said, it would take about 5 years to carry out her economic policies. What she did not tell us was the intent of this government to go a lending from the likes of China and co to fund the 2012 budget. What she did not tell us was how much this government was committed to her economic policies. What she did not tell us was the writing on the wall as a result of the #OccupyNigeria protests.
Overnight we heard rumours of her intent to vie for the post of the President of the World Bank, subsequently she confirmed our fears to jump the ship less than a year after her arrival as the economic messiah. All of a sudden, she’s returning the President’s favour by absconding to the safety of the World Bank where the likes of #occupyNigeria protest will never get to her. I wonder what she told President Jonathan, that her role as World Bank President will be beneficial to the transformation agenda of Nigeria. What she has not told us is how the World Bank Policy has not enhanced our development policies, after all she has been in the World Bank for years, how has this benefitted our macroeconomics. Or has the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance seen the hand writing on the wall and she’s looking for the nearest possible exit?
Without going into the history of how the World Bank alliance is built on the US/Europe relationship and why I think the US will get away with the nomination of the health policy expert Jim Yong Kim, I am surprised that Ngozi Okonjo Iweala will jump ship when the heat is turned on. What happened to her dreams of transforming Nigeria? Does she not know that if she eventually turns around the Nigerian economy, Nigerians would agitate for her to become the Nigerian President in the future which is more prestigious than her present pursuit? Deep down the President’s mind, he must be unhappy with the Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination for World Bank but can’t come out to express this. He must have been caught unaware with the support the minister got within a short time (which cannot be divorced from her career network), that he decided to play along so he’s not seen as the anti-Christ. A serious-minded President would fire Ngozi Okonjo Iweala if she does not make it to become the World Bank President, she’s proven that the job Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance is not her priority especially when the whole economic plan is built around her. But what do I know? The presidency thrives and survives on distractions such as this, if Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala leaves, there would be every reason for a delayed or failed economic policy. The government may even list the Nigeria World Bank President as one of their achievements. Apart from history in the making, a female Word Bank President from a developing country, Nigeria has nothing to gain. The hype will not reduce our debt or the double-digit unemployment rate, it will only distract us as it is doing now. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala can never be indispensable in a nation of 150 million plus but Nigeria especially President Jonathan needs her putting into consideration the circumstance under which she was appointed, the whom too much is given, too much is expected.
“Don’t ask what Ngozi Okonjo Iweala can do for Nigeria but what Nigeria can do to boost her nomination for the World Bank President”
Ngozi Okonjo Iweala’s credentials are not subject to any debate, I believe she’s qualified for the World Bank President as well as helping to build our economy in her present capacity. Her nomination for the World Bank president can never be complete without the mention of her time as the Finance Minister with her career at the World Bank in the background. Yet she comes on air to say this is a personal ambition and not that of the government, sure it cannot be, and poor President Jonathan has been left dry and hung out to his transformation agenda which he has no clue about.