Ngozi Iweala: Nigeria's Weakest Link

Perhaps I should have supported all those who wanted Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whom I call Double-D, to return to Washington as President of the World Bank.

Double-D, short for Double Duty Minister, is the weakest link in a very weak chain. She is the clearest argument as to why progress may be impossible in the Goodluck Jonathan era because she is painting when she should be digging up. She is nurturing poverty, not combating it.alt

Okonjo-Iweala is Nigeria’s Minister of Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy. One ministerial deck chair is trouble enough; that she sits on two reflects how critical she is to Nigeria, the patient.

My negative assessment has nothing to do with her mastery of her World Bank rhetoric, or even its economics. If that were the point, I would probably have argued for more time for her.

My concern is of what mettle those who claim to serve Nigeria are made.

My conviction that Okonjo-Iweala’s hands at the helm are hands that row in the other direction is indexed on two facts. The first is her key role as one of the economic architects in the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in which she headed the so-called Economic Management Team (EMT).

The second is the international advertising given her by her former job as a Managing Director at the World Ban, and her subsequent candidacy for its presidency.

On the basis of that background, Okonjo-Iweala took up her position in August 2011, with high expectations.

Those expectations were not necessarily mine. While she had enjoyed a somewhat successful run in her first time around as Minister, including the famous debt negotiations with the Paris Club, most other things then and since then have carried, or been covered by, suspicion, indifference or failure.

Let me name 10.

One: As I have stated several times in this column, the flagship reform she headed in the Obasanjo government, the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), vanished after only a few months, and with all of the funds that were hurled into it. After helping to persuade members of the international community to support the programme, Okonjo-Iweala simply abandoned it. That may explain why the economic arm of the Goodluck Jonathan government which she heads has no articulated reform component.

Two: in 2001, Obasanjo vowed he would eliminate poverty by 2010, an end towards which he created the Poverty Eradication Programme (involving 13 federal Ministries), which he said would be funded by a Poverty Eradication Fund. Into that was drained, and is still being drained, billions of Naira.

Three: in the negotiations with the Paris Club, one “top member” of the government walked away with a personal fee of N60 billion. That was disclosed by a former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) boss, Audu Ogbeh, who reported the matter to the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission. Ogbeh did not disclose who it was, but the allegation seemed to fit either President Obasanjo or Okonjo-Iweala. None of them has ever challenged it.

Four: when the Paris Club negotiations ended, it left Nigeria with $1 billion per year with which to implement the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and boost education. In other words, even if Nigeria did not budget anything else for the MDGs, we had a ready $1 billion in hand; a total of $6 billion since then that has not been accounted for. Nigeria also got a refund from the London Club of $747.82 million she paid—in error—in December 2006.

Five: As Okonjo-Iweala would recall more than anyone else, following the debt deal her government established an Office of the Senior Special Adviser to the President on MDGs (OSSAP-MDGs), charged with superintending the spending on projects that would help Nigeria meet the MDGs targets. Into that position was appointed Amina Az-Zubair who set up a Monitoring and Evaluation team with the objective of ensuring accountability. That team would subsequently find, scandalously, that Ministries, Departments and Agencies, “mismanaged” most of the N320billion allocated between 2006 and 2008. Premium Times reported recently of an ongoing investigation which shows that the Ministry of Health, alone, squandered most of the N54billion it received during that period.

Six: The Obasanjo government relied for its “credibility” on a phantom war against corruption which was actually Obasanjo’s war against Abacha. At least $2.5 billion was recovered, but it promptly vanished. The only official who ever provided an explanation was Mrs. Nenadi Usman, Okonjo-Iweala’s successor at Finance. In March 2007, Usman “explained” that the funds were given to five ministries: Power, Works, Health, Education, and Water Resources. In other words, they each received an average of $500 million!

Seven: In a speech after she left office, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said: “General Abacha looted about $3-5 billion from the Nigerian treasury in truckloads of cash in foreign currencies, in traveler’s checks and other means. Most of these monies were laundered abroad through a complex network including some of the world’s best known banks.”

Eight: Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and a very close friend of Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, has confessed that the Obasanjo government was more corrupt that that of Abacha.

Nine: in December 2011, Obasanjo indicted Mr. Jonathan’s government of squandering $35 billion of Nigeria’s foreign reserves since May 2007, saying the money may have been “shared.” It has been established that the country’s debt profile rose to N1.21 trillion in Mr. Jonathan’s first year.

Ten: Mr. Jonathan claims his is a government of transformation. In a press briefing in August 2011, Okonjo-Iweala had Nigerians salivating when she spoke of the forthcoming ‘Transforming Nigeria Document’ which would give flesh to it. The Secretary to the Government, Anyim Pius Anyim, and the Minister of National Planning, Shamsuddeen Usman, have spoken similarly. Eighteen months into the Jonathan administration, there is no such document.

This narrative is to demonstrate a clear and consistent pattern of corruption, looting, obfuscation, deception, and manipulation in which the only consistent factor is Nigerian officials converting public resources into private hands, making development impossible.

It works in various ways, such as several governors “donating” N500 million each last month to the PDP chairman, Bamanga Tukur, on the occasion of his publication of a biography. The governors were requested to do so by President Jonathan.

But the way in which it affects Okonjo-Iweala the most is that she is the star who came home riding on the mat of international adoration, allegedly to save her people.

The reality is that in her hands, Nigeria seems trapped in a mess bigger than anti-poor World Bank policies: compromise. She seems deeply comfortable with the rot.

Nigeria’s key issue is how to ensure that the commonwealth is used for the commonwealth. I am sure she has seen all the ways in which the people of Nigeria are being robbed and cheated and lied to, and public policy is simply a game of smoke and mirrors in the turf of the development process.

The same government that presented the latest spending proposals to the National Assembly last week knows about its atrocious record, its uncompleted projects, and its abandoned reports that leave Nigerians squirming in frustration, pain and shame.

For those who thought that was the issue Okonjo-Iweala was coming to resolve, perhaps it is now clear that the challenge her is one of character. Is she a principled person? What is the quality of her heart? Is her game of courage, or of compromise?

Last week, Forbes Magazine named her one of the world’s most powerful women. I congratulate her.

Her award came as the Mo Ibrahim Foundation was announcing that its annual prize for leadership would not be awarded this year. Performance had deteriorated in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Egypt, the foundation said.

And Nigeria was the worst case.

· sonala.olumhense@gmail.com