Why Okonjo Iweala Is Different From Diezani Alison-Madueke
Isn’t it amazing that whenever some people call for the probe of Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke by General Muhammadu Buhari, they always find a way to drag the name of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala into the mix?
This is really unacceptable considering the fact that Dr Okonjo-Iweala has discharged her duties with a high sense of professionalism. Any perceptive observer would agree that every mess that the Petroleum Minister has created, Dr Okonjo Iweala has always been there to fix it. Take for instance the payment of subsidy to oil marketers which has been enmeshed in controversy.
It is controversial in the sense that the Petroleum Minister, who is supposed to have put in place necessary checks to curtail subsidy scam, allowed the scam to fester. Okonjo-Iweala, being a thoroughbred professional to whom integrity is of paramount importance, ensured that genuine subsidy claims were paid.
Okonjo-Iweala also ensured that marketers whose subsidy claims are suspicious are handed over to the anti-corruption agencies for prosecution. That is not the case with the Petroleum Minister. She allowed these marketers to milk the nation dry until Okonjo-Iweala stepped in to stop the rot.
It is also of note the effort Okonjo Iweala put up during the resolution of the controversy surrounding the allegedly missing $20billion in oil revenue. It was through her effort that PwC was appointed to carry out a forensic audit on the books of NNPC.
In no small way, the Minister of Finance has demonstrated that she can be trusted. She is a technocrat and a woman of strong will. She is by all standards, a distinguished economic leader both in the international community and at home here in Nigeria.
To show how highly esteemed she is across the world, she was listed among Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women in the world. She is a member of numerous boards and advisory groups, including the Clinton Global Initiative, DATA and the World Resources Institute. She serves as financial adviser to several international investment groups working in emerging markets.
In October 2005, during her first stint as the Minister of Finance under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, she led the Nigerian team that struck a deal with the Paris Club, a group of bilateral creditors, to pay a portion of Nigeria's external debt (US $12 billion) in return for an $18 billion debt write-off. Prior to the partial debt payment and write-off, Nigeria spent roughly US $1 billion every year on debt servicing, without making a dent in the principal owed. It was suffocating and stagnating. The negotiations resulted in 60% or $18 billion debt cancellation for Nigeria from the Paris Club, the second largest in the club’s history. Consequently, it brought Nigeria’s external debt burden down from $35billion to $5 billion following a Paris Club deal which included an Innovative Discounted Buy Back Operation.
Furthermore, as a result of her professional experience, she also introduced the practice of publishing each state’s monthly financial allocation from the federal government in the newspapers. She was instrumental in helping Nigeria obtain its first ever sovereign credit rating (of BB minus) from Fitch and Standard & Poor's.
Job creation is another area her impact has been felt. At a World Bank meeting in Washington DC, she said: "We have an ambitious programme to create jobs. One of the several priorities is agriculture. We have very detailed plans for investment in agricultural sector.” She assured Nigerians that government would continue to pursue the agenda of growing local food aggressively to reduce food import. Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is not only a professional who knows her onions but also a true ambassador of Africa. She promotes the rich culture of the African heritage wherever she goes.
She implemented a comprehensive homegrown economic reform program that stabilised the macro-economy and tripled the growth rate to an average 6 percent per annum over 3 years. Her achievements as Finance Minister garnered international recognition for improving Nigeria’s financial stability and fostering greater fiscal transparency to combat corruption.
In truth, there are no bases for the volumes of accusation thrown at the Honourable Minister of Finance. She has worked to combat corruption, make Nigeria's finances more transparent and institute reforms to make the nation's economy more hospitable to foreign investment.
She should be commended for her dynamic, selfless and professional contribution towards revamping the economy. No Finance Minister in the history of Nigeria has done half as much as she has done. Her wealth of experience at the World Bank adequately prepared her to manage a diversified economy such as ours; as such she should be appreciated and not unduly castigated.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is not a coward and has no reason at all to run out of the country because she is neither a crook nor a fraudster like some of her contemporaries. She comes across as someone who will willingly submit herself and her good office for probe because she knows she carried out her numerous responsibilities with utmost diligence and excellence.
This can hardly be said of her fellow ministers. She ran her office in such a transparent and professional way than any of her predecessors. Hardly can you link her to any shady deal. Whatever she did was in the best interest of the country. Little wonder she is the toast of many global initiatives.
She is arguably the most competent and experienced economic mind of President Jonathan's administration unlike her infamous colleague who splurges on private jet flights, luxurious and wasteful lifestyles.
‘A prophet is not without honour, save in his hometown’ is still very applicable in our contemporary times. A veteran economist who is globally recognised shouldn’t be unduly denigrated. Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has painstakingly served this country; and thanks to quick measures she had taken, Nigeria’s economy would have suffered a nose-dive after the fall in oil price. She is indeed a patriotic Nigerian par excellence and an uncommon asset to the nation. She is clearly in a league of her own.
Ebun Asagbe writes from Ado Ekiti, where she lives and works as a brand consultant.