Enter Prime Minister Ngozi Okonji Iweala Of Finance

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The greatest lesson in life is to know that sometimes even fools are right—Winston Churchill

For all my little education, my maths is very poor, my knowledge of economics relatively average, and my level of financial know-how is not more than those high-sounding words and those pages of the financial markets in newspapers and those confusing figures and abbreviations on screen.

I take it that on this matter of Madam Ngozi Okonji Iweala I am a fool, but on account of the issues I am right. What does she bring to the table that will facilitate change and push these tame elephant called Nigeria one big step forward remains to be seen after some three years plus.

So finally after two months Nigeria will finally have a Minister for Finance, she resumes office this week, already as usual ala Nigeriana, vowing, promising, swearing, meeting, huffing and puffing.

Madam is already pledging to tighten fiscal policy amid falling oil prices and turbulent global financial markets. Attending one meeting with some American investors or the other, I laugh because I wonder if these are not the same foreign investors whose economies are collapsing.

Except the Lebanese and their bread, Indians who are running our plastic factories, the Chinese and all its inferior phones, Thailand and rice, and these days that it's become bad we enter MOUs with Vietnamese. Who really is investing in Nigeria with sincere motives for mutual benefits?

The economic clime does not happen to be my expertise but neither am I naive not to know some of the basics.

On her last day at work in Washington as a managing director of the World Bank Okonjo-Iweala according to newspaper reports said in a telephone interview, “We need to tighten fiscal policy. We need to get on a better fiscal path.” She had said the same thing in 2003 and we all are witness to how the fiscal policy was tightened.

Between 2003 and 2006, NOI was head of talks that led the Paris Club group of creditors to write off $18 billion in debt. She resigned from the Cabinet in August 2006 after then-president Olusegun Obasanjo moved her to the Foreign Ministry post and dropped her as head of his economic team.

Today we are almost in debt to the same amount. Arguments and debates would continue regarding the common sense of the pay-go-hungry-borrow-again economics she played. Whom did she serve, will she serve, Nigeria or Washington?

Jonathan had asked and begged Okonjo-Iweala to return to government after 'winning' the presidential vote, expanding her mandate to include the coordination of economic policy. Her priority, find ways to meet Jonathan's goals of increasing investment in power plants, roads and agriculture to help diversify the economy and create jobs. She is supposed to be fresh breath itself!

How she intends to breathe remains to be seen, in a nation literally run by a group of political vandals finding plumage in a bird cage called the PDP.

How do we measure this woman's achievements as minister, what is the prevailing evaluation of what she did during that short three years of Obasanjo's era which IBB has termed visionless.

We watch as banks are nationalized, shareholders losing some N30B, and owners even more billions, with Sanusi on rampage and clashing with everything on his way, how does the new Prime Minister of Finance hope to bring her 'vast experience' to bear?

According to the Debt Management Office website statements domestic debt rose to 5.21 trillion naira at the end of June, from 4.87 trillion naira as of March, If it was bad in 2003, its got worse in 2011, I do not know how the woman from Washington hopes to cope with all the trillions in public space and political thieving of the ruling class.

I listened as presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, told reporters at the presidential villa.“I can confirm that the finance minister will resume duties this week,” One could not but wonder, who is this woman, is she the miracle, is she the one expected to inject pace and speed into a government that seems to have halted movement in virtually all spheres?

The finance strong woman Okonjo-Iweala has already negotiated for an expanded role, apart from being Minister of Finance, she also would be Coordinating Minister for the Economy.

There are no jobs, businesses are falling, industries closing and not that these are new stories, government bazaar spending and borrowing continues, like the FCT incurring a N64billion debt in one month paints the picture. What will madam do?

There is a close to 64.7% drop in non-oil trade, how is this financial witch expected to turn all these around even as we see how expects have literally killed our banking and money systems, a double digit inflation and encouraged importation to the point of importing toothpicks, is there hope?

The Federal Government recently disclosed that N991 billion was spent in the year 2010 for the importation of rice and wheat in the country, monies from crude oil exports, how would the big woman make fundamental changes to diversify our economy, to reduce its over-reliance on crude oil exports.

In the words of the Minister for Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina Nigeria is eating beyond its means. “This is not fiscally, economically or politically sustainable, but what plans does the new Ngozi led economic team have that will be different?

Last week Friday the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) approved the withdrawal of N16.453 billion from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to cater for the shortfall in distributable revenue for the month of July.

But gross revenue for the month rose by 2.6 per cent to N906.759 billion from N883.300 billion in the previous month. The real question is where all these monies are going to?

During her first ride NOI stepped on some toes and investors are watching closely to see how she operates alongside an existing set of transformers or are it reformers, including the influential Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi, Aganga and some eggheads.

A lot of government waste, how does the old wine in another bottle cope, what will be her view and take on some of the drama happening, the Minister for Steel Development, Alhaji Musa Mohammed Sada, told the Senate ad-hoc committee investigating the privatisation exercise that the Federal Government still spends N3.6 billion annually on the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited even though it has been moribund for several years. He said the money, which is broken down to N300 million per month, is use to pay staff salaries.

The man said “I want to concur with everybody that the privatization of the steel sector which I am very familiar with is in a sorry state. We have not been able to move forward.” Truth is that almost all sectors have not moved forward after the melodrama of privatization and each sector has its own money story. How will Ngo as we call her in the South-East tighten the belt, she was part of that government...

We are all waiting, government officials and members of the organised private sector (OPS), bracing up for the tough fiscal policy and macro-economic, reforms that would guide the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan. But will we see these changes?

For an administration that has been largely clueless, and lacking in direction of its macro-economic management at a crucial stage of national and global economic turmoil in the financial sectors and a rash of somersaulting policy by the regulators of the financial sector, which have spread uncertainty in the system is on that Ngozi Okonji enters.

There is no Kerosene in the nation when other nations are even leaving the cooking spirit for alternatives, ex-militants are earning N60K, more that graduates, while Corp members are getting N19K plus small jare on their primary assignment post, more than civil servants who are begging for a mere N18K. I may be a fool, but I pray for the sake of millions we are wrong and Jonathan and his transformers are right.

Prince Charles Dickson
Editor, burningpot.com
Nigeria's 1st Online Newspaper

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Articles by Prince Charles Dickson