Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the missing trillions (2)

Continued from yesterday

Second, my earlier article stated that the minimum forex reserves should have been at least $90 billion by now and you did not challenge it. Rather it is about $30 billion, meaning that gross mismanagement has denied the country some $60 billion or another N12.6 trillion.

Now add the ‘missing’ $20 billion from the NNPC. You promised a forensic audit report ‘soon’, and more than a year later the Report itself is still ‘missing’. This is over N4 trillion, and we don’t know how much more has ‘missed’ since Sanusi cried out. How many trillions of naira were paid for oil subsidy (unappropriated?). How many trillions (in actual fact) have been ‘lost’ through customs duty waivers over the last four years? As coordinator of the economy, can you tell Nigerians why the price of automotive gas oil (AGO), popularly called diesel, has still not come down despite the crash in global crude oil prices, and how much is being appropriated by friends in the process? Be honest: do you really know (as coordinator and minister of finance) how many trillions of Naira, self- financing government agencies earn and spend? I have a long list but let me wait for now. I do not want to talk about other ‘black pots’ that impinge on national security. My estimate, Madam, is that probably more than N30 trillion has either been stolen or lost or unaccounted for or simply mismanaged under your watchful eyes in the past four years. Since you claim to be in charge, Nigerians are right to ask you to account. Think about what this amount could mean for the 112 million poor Nigerians or for our schools, hospitals, roads, etc. Soon, you will start asking the citizens to pay this or that tax, while some faceless “thieves” were pocketing over $40 million per day from oil alone.

You alluded to debt relief in your response and tried to take credit. Well, your CV is honest enough to admit that your two achievements in office as Finance minister under Obasanjo were that “you led the Nigerian team that struck a deal with the Paris Club” and that you “introduced the practice of publishing each state’s monthly financial allocation in the newspapers”. You are right about the two achievements. Let me put on record that Nigeria would have secured debt relief under anyone as Minister of Finance. President Obasanjo secured debt relief for Nigeria. Much of his first term was used to get Nigeria back into the international community and to campaign for debt relief. Before you were sworn in as Minister of Finance, President Bush visited Nigeria and both of us accompanied President Obasanjo during the meeting.

There, Mr. Bush promised to support Nigeria with debt relief and asked our president to ensure that he met the conditions of the Paris Club. Obasanjo mobilized the global political support and coordinated all of us We had a great team at work and each member of the economic team had specific aspects of the conditionalities to deliver: Bode Agusto was in-charge of the budget; Oby Ezekwesili held sway at Bureau of Public Procurement and later Minister of Solid Mineral, and Education (but specifically tasked with delivering on EITI and procurement reforms); Nuhu Ribadu was at the EFCC fighting corruption; I was at the Central Bank delivering on monetary policy and banking reforms; Steve Oronsaye worked hard to delist Nigeria from the FATF; Nenadi Usman was in-charge of the parastatals; El-Rufai held forth at FCT and in charge of public sector reforms; privatization programme went on, etc.

Did you know that the IMF wrote President Obasanjo threatening that there would be no debt relief if the CBN did not meet some monetary targets, and do you know the magic we performed to meet them? Can you tell Nigerians which of the ‘conditionalities’ that you personally implemented? With the groundswell of political support and Nigeria meeting all the ‘conditionalities’, debt relief was assured.

Your major role as stated in your CV was to lead the team to negotiate the specific terms of the relief, having fulfilled the conditions. I still believe that Nigeria should have gotten far better terms than you negotiated. Of course, with your eyes on returning to the World Bank after office, I did not expect you to boldly stand up to the donor community in defence of Nigeria. Was there a conflict of interest on your part?

By the way, can you tell Nigerians why you were eased out as Finance Minister and you cried like a baby begging OBJ to still allow you remain in the Economic Management team — barely few weeks after the debt relief? Why were you eventually also removed from the economic management team if you were so important? Ironically, President Jonathan has recycled you, with a bigger title and greater responsibilities. But the difference is that the team that did the actual work is no longer there, and the world has seen that the king is naked.

You are brilliant Madam, but you need serious help. Having spent all your life in the World Bank bureaucracy largely in administration/operations, no one will blame you if your economics has become a bit rusty. There are firebrand Nigerians all over the world to draft to service. It is certainly embarrassing to Nigeria for you to be bothering World Bank economists to help you with most basic economic analysis.

Your response on the poverty issue is deeply troubling. You accuse me of using “2011 statistics on poverty by the NBS to support his argument, while ignoring more recent figures”. At least you did not refute the NBS figure as valid. In the next sentence, Madam went ahead to note that “as stated in the Nigeria Economic Report 2014 by the World Bank, poverty in Nigeria has dropped from 35.2 percent of population in 2010/2011 to 33.1 per cent in 2012/2013”. Did you notice that you have quoted two figures for poverty for the same year as being equally correct? So, for 2011, was poverty 71% (according to NBS) or 35% according to the World Bank? To the best of my knowledge, the last published household survey by NBS was in 2011. The World Bank does not conduct household surveys in member states to determine poverty incidence. So, when and by whom was the survey that gave the World Bank figures?

What worries me is that this government is the first in our history to attempt to manipulate our national statistics under Okonjo-Iweala. When NBS published the poverty figures in 2011, she felt indicted and incensed. She called upon the World Bank to come and examine the ‘methodology’ and get NBS to ‘review’ its numbers. Oby Ezekwesili (as VP Africa Region rejected the call to try to tamper with a country’s statistics). Once Oby left, the ‘World Bank’ started talking about ‘new figures’, without conducting any new surveys. I was told about it by a World Bank economist, and I cautioned that it was a dangerous gamble that would damage the credibility of the NBS. If you want to ‘review methodology’, you conduct another survey but you can’t change ‘methodology’ because you don’t like the published figures. No government in our history has tried it: even Sani Abacha allowed a poverty su


Copyright PUNCH.


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