NIGERIA’S former coordinating minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has put the present failure of Nigeria’s economy on the doorstep of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, an ex-president whom she described as lacking in ‘zero political will to save during the oil boom, whereas the Olusegun Obasanjo’s erstwhile administration saved $22 billion in face of global economic meltdown.
This former World Bank President did not mince words by hitting hard on the profligacy and spending spree of Nigeria’s resources under Jonathan, a situation she said was unfortunate for any resounding growth in economy.
The former minister of finance, on Thursday said the zero political will to save under former President Goodluck Jonathan is responsible for the challenges the country is facing. She emphasized that President Muhammadu Buhari should not be blamed or castigated for the present epilepsy in Nigeria’s economy.
This discussion happened during “inequality, growth and resilience,” at George Washington University, the two-time finance minister said the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) must seek means to embed savings in national constitutions devoid of political manipulations.
Okonjo-Iweala maintained that Nigeria was able to save $22 billion under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, which saved the country in 2008, when there was global economic meltdown. Regarding Chilean saving example, Okonjo-Iweala said: “We tried it in Nigeria, we put in an oil price based fiscal rule in 2004 and it worked very well. We saved $22 billion because the political will to do it was there. And when the 2008 /2009 crisis came, we were able to draw on those savings precisely to issue about a 5 percent of GDP fiscal stimulus to the economy and we never had to come to the bank or the fund.
“This time around and this is the key now, you need not only need to have the instrument but you also need the political will. In my second time as a finance minister, from 2011 to 2015, we had the instrument, we had the means, we had done it before, but zero political will. So we were not able to save when we should have. That is why you find that Nigeria is now in the situation it is in. Along with so many other countries.”
As a way forward to solving political will and political manipulations, she said: “That is the question that I ask, what do we need to do to these countries to save over a period of long accelerated growth. We need to devise mechanisms not just that are good technically but find a way to either embed them in the constitution or find a way to separate them from the political manipulation so that these countries can survive over time. To build resilience, African countries need tools, mechanisms and it is doable and we need to interrogate ourselves why we have not done it.”
Okonjo-Iweala stated that manufacturing was critical to growth in Nigeria and the rest of Africa, quoting manufacturing as just 11 percent of GDP in Africa, and nine percent in Nigeria. Her words: “I do not believe that we can be resilient, except if we can encourage manufacturing even on the goods we consume, services, entertainment industry, agriculture.
“I think these are the kinds of questions that policy makers struggle with on a daily basis and that is what we are going to answer to get resilience. If we don’t get these mechanisms, we politicise them, find ways to transform the base of the economy and create jobs including in manufacturing, I believe we are going to go into this looming deceleration that is being talked about.”
Also, Okonjo-Iweala said it was better to allow those managing Nigeria’s economy to do the best they could, noting that there could be solutions to the present economic decline in the country. She noted that she would not be available to serve the present administration if overtures were made to her by President Muhammadu Buhari, noting that Nigeria boasts of competent people, who would offer their services when called upon.
While participating in an Aljazeera programme: The Stream, Okonjo-Iweala, said that she regretted that the economic gains recorded in Africa started eroding a few years ago, noting that solving macroeconomic question was key to fixing the continent’s economic challenges. She specifically said that having a firm control over the rate of inflation in addition to ensuring a stable exchange rate should be prioritised by African governments. She said: ‘’ One of the things you learn as you get wiser is to talk less as you grow older. I have spent my time contributing to the country. It will be better to live those managing the economy to do what they know how to do. There can be solutions.
“I am not a typical politician. I went in as a technocrat. I think on the continent we have seen a period when the economy was doing well, in the last two years we have been experiencing challenges. We need to focus on the basics which are macro-economics. You must get the fundamentals like having a stable exchange rate and having inflation under control. “I served my country for seven years and it was a great honour. The second time was very tough but it is still an honour. I am not the only person who is a repository of knowledge. There are other people who can equally try their hands in running the economy. In her words: “I will advise young people not to wait for employment. They should create jobs to employ six people or more. During my time in government, we had a programme called You Win designed to support young entrepreneurs. The whole idea was to have a business plan competition.
“The idea was that they should create jobs. And each, created 9-10 jobs. The World Bank did an evaluation of it and found it good. I do believe that the government should come in. We started a peer to peer mentoring. Now, one of the things I want to say is that creating employment is not only about struggles, it is about managing success. Also, counseling people on accounting, bookkeeping and not falling apart is very important.”
Responding to a question on how the anti-corruption war was fought during her time in government, she said: “It was a very tough fight, I must thank my team, you don’t do it alone, I had the support of an economic team in the Ministry of Finance. It was tough because at the end of the day you need to have some principles.
Regarding her roles as a Finance Minister, Okonjo-Iweala said: ‘’The average life span of a Finance Minister is two year in a country. No one likes a Finance Minister because it is the business of saying no. It is very difficult and challenging. It was interesting for me. I wish I had seen myself as wielding power. All I saw was the job because I was seeing myself working for the country.