REJOINDER TO SAM NDA-ISIAH: OKONJO-IWEALA WILL NOT SHARE MONEY TO MAKE PEOPLE HAPPY
Sam Nda-Isaiah is someone that all of us would like to respect particularly since the publisher of Leadership newspaper has declared his intention to run for President under the banner of the All Progessives Congress (APC). But reading the article of May 26, 2014 in which he launched an unwarranted attack on the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in continuation of the campaign of certain people to pitch the military against the minister makes one very sad. It is sad because the article shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how the country's economy works.
The campaign to knock the heads of the military and the ministry together will fail because the Federal Ministry of Finance is working collaboratively with the military authorities to ensure adequate funding for security in the fight against insurgency.
The Minister's explanation of the status of the defence budget is already in the public domain. Security is a key priority of the Jonathan administration and this is reflected in the fact that almost 20% of the federal budget is dedicated to it. Between January and April this year, a total of N130 billion, including salaries, was released to the defence sector.
In his article, Mr Nda-Isiah wonders if Dr Okonjo-Iweala wants Nigerians to clap for her for giving information on how much the military received in the first four months of the year. No she doesn't. Providing timely and relevant information on public expenditure is a priority of the Finance Ministry under her leadership and she does not need any cheers for doing her job.
Someone who wants to run for president like Mr Nda-Isiah should not reduce the debate about the management of the country's resources and finances to the pedestrian level of 'Okonjo-Iweala does not want to release money'. Mr Nda-Isiah should know that Okonjo-Iweala is not popular in certain circles in Abuja because she does not dish out money for people to share. She has never done so and she never will. Being an effective Finance Minister anywhere is not a popularity contest because doing the right things is bound to make some people unhappy. And the Minister does not mind doing so as long as the interest of the majority of honest, hardworking Nigerians is served and protected.
For the sake of clarity, the Federal Ministry of Finance manages only those resources that come to it as revenue from major sources:
1. Petroleum resources through NNPC
2. Oil and non-oil taxes through the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS)
3. Customs duties through the Nigeria Customs Service
4. IGR from certain MDAs
5. Whatever NASS appropriates as domestic borrowing
It is with these revenues that FMF can attend to the budget as appropriated. It is the job of the Minister to manage these resources in a prudent, strategic and sustainable manner to ensure that national priorities are achieved. She cannot manufacture any money outside these sources to make the unnamed friends of Mr Nda-Isiah who are complaining that 'things are dry' happy. How does the Finance Minister personally benefit from not releasing money?
Mr Nda-Isiah needs to appreciate the fact that the interest of the narrow band of elites whose interest he seems to be championing is not necessarily the interest of the entire country. The budget is helping to finance an improving network of federal roads; revived railways; the foundation of a mortgage industry; new power and aviation infrastructure and many other important programmes and projects for the country. These are the real priorities of the vast majority of Nigerians which the Jonathan administration is working hard to meet, in spite of challenges.
Paul C Nwabuikwu
Special Adviser to the Coordinating Minister and Minister of Finance