The news surrounding Mrs. Okonjo Iweala, Nigeria’s Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy (one wonders if these two portfolio are not the same) and her endorsement by many to head the World Bank position has continued to generate comments both within and without the country. What surprises this writer has been the criticisms against her ambition to head the bank. It is imperative to state here that it is anybody’s right to attain heights in life, most especially when such person have proven himself/herself overtime with a good track record. Mrs Iweala is one such person and if the African Union, many financial and economic leaders in Asia and even our own weak president had endorsed her for the job, even at the detriment of the Obama led administration and his Western allies, then it is pertinent to state that she deserves our prayers and support.
However, this writer is of the opinion that landing Mrs Iweala the World Bank job should be a means to cut her off from further coordinating, planning or implementing any of the World Bank policies in Nigeria. Her track record for the bank even before she became finance minister during the Obasanjo years had been one of huge commendations. She was truly an expert doing her thing and making the bank more useful and as a good tool for the West. She, however, became a disaster soon after Obasanjo brought her to perform her World Bank miracles in Nigeria.
Many Nigerians would easily not forget the jamboree that greeted Mrs Iweala’s first coming in 2003, as the then president stressing on her impressive credentials as a World Bank expert, who had accepted to make the great sacrifice by coming to Nigeria to help salavage the economy, decided to pay her emoluments in dollars. Many brushed this aside, hoping that her economic wizardry and expertise would turn the economy around, but to the greatest surprise of the vast majority of Nigerians, as finance minister and head of the Economic Team, the economy further deteriorated, bringing untold hardship upon millions of people, despite her tenure witnessing unprecedented earnings from crude oil.
Mrs Iweala’s tenure as finance minister led to several policy shifts and changes, but could not salvage the economic situation on ground, giving many the impression that her policies within the economic ambit of the Nigerian space was only meant to serve the whims of her bosses at the World Bank and further bring wanton pain and misery upon the vast majority of Nigerians and its economy.
As soon as Mrs Iweala settled down to do business, many began to perceive the series of repugnant policies she embarked upon as being part and parcel of the World Bank strategies from inception. In adding to the political lexicon that had characterised Nigeria’s socio-political and economic space, Mrs Iweala brought about what became known as ‘down-sizing’ and ‘right-sizing’ in the Civil Service where hundreds were retrenched. Reason given was basically to save our economy from collapse and annoyingly, she reiterated it was going to be temporary.
As if that was not enough, Mrs Iweala successfully persuaded a tough talking and hardened Obasanjo to pay off Nigeria’s debt which ran into billions of dollars. Known as debt relief, the government of the day went into a celebration mood, having paid the London and Paris Clubs, even when many percieved the debts as questionable.
At a time when petro-dollar accrued unprecedentedly from high oil prices, what many had expected Mrs Iweala to do was to advice the president to use the petro-dollars to embark on massive infrastructural projects and the sanitization of the oil industry, firstly by building new refineries and repairing the moribound ones, so that no cabal would perpetrate itself as feudal lords in the sector, secondly, by turning the gas industry into one of envy and pride for the rest of the world and thirdly, by kick starting the power sector which would automatically lead to the booming of industries and massive employment for the jobless coupled with a total revamping of the agricultural sector.
It is not everyday oil prices climb the roof and for this reason, this writer is of the belief (just like during the oil boom of the 70s) that we had lost our chance during the Obsanjo era of developing the nation and taking our economy to the greatest heights. It is quite an irony that even countries like America, France and the likes owe billions and trillions of dollars, yet do not force themselves to pay their debts at the detriment of their economy and sustainability of their people.
If paying the debts was to free our economy, how free is it today? How has the economy impacted upon the people since Mrs Iweala became the finance minister in 2003, 2009 and now under a very unfocused and myopic leadership? Perhaps, as a result of the fact that things were not going on well for the country, socially and in economic terms, Obasanjo deemed it fit to remove her from her duty post which had been under her ‘expert mis-management’.
Even as the Jonathan presidency did not see most of the havoc her policies had brought upon the Nigerian economy (as the excess crude account she initiated is almost non-existent), she was given another chance at the finance ministry and made the Coordinating Minister for the Economy. Not many were disposed to her second coming as this writer amongst many others were proved right when yet another World Bank policy termed in many circles as ‘subsidy removal’ reared its ugly head.
For the single fact that the policy was supposed to bring about a full deregulation in the oil sector and help in reducing the hardship faced by Nigerians (even when we know this as a blatant lie), what we see today is a far cry. The policy has remained unpopular amongst the vast majority of the people, while the mindless corruption in the oil sector continues with the so called cabal yet smiling to the bank.
It is only a mindless government whose citizenry are faced with terrorist challenges, wanton poverty, unemployment and diseases that enact unpopular policies from a Western backed institution. Despite all the speeches and promises made by those in support of subsidy removal, nothing in the last couple of months shows change is here to stay. Nigerians are more miserable, while those in power live in affluence.
Mrs Iweala has done her part and because she is a Nigerian, we wish her well. However, it is high time she resigns her job in the Jonathan presidency because nothing has changed economically even when reports outside says it is, without looking inward at the level of poverty in the country. Mrs Iweala, if handed the World Bank job should be made to play nothing more than a minor role in our economy. Those in Aso-Rock should begin a process of looking for someone whose orientations is not of the Bretton Woods institutions, because many of them have failed not only us but our economy. If president Jonathan wishes to replicate the Asian Tigers’ success in Nigeria within two years (even as it took the Tigers more than four decades to achieve such feat), he must learn to put in place individuals who can turn around our economy, implementing policies fit enough for the Nigerian space.
Mrs Iweala must go along with her World Bank policies, so that the rest of us who continue to be the hewers of wood and drawers of water as a result of years of failed economic policies would one day live in a nation where we would not be judged by the poverty inherent within us, but by the content of how well we can survive in a robust and booming economy. It is not hard to achieve if we do the right things.
RAHEEM OLUWAFUNMINIYI is a social commentator and political analyst. He resides in Ibadan and can be reached via [email protected]
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