NOI: From economist to a writer

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By UDUMA KALU

The recent launch of the book, Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Finance and Coordinating Minister once again puts the former World Bank Vice President back to the writers’ platform.

She created this profile when she wrote a biography on Chinua Achebe. Not long after, her son, Uzodinma Iweala came out with his award winning novel, Beasts of No Nation. She has been of good help to the Nigerian arts, especially, those in Nollywood. This meeting  brought President Goodluck Jonathan and Nollywood together, with the donation of N100m to the movie industry.

Indeed, Ngozi’s foray into writing came to the fore when she co authored a 160 book called Chinua Achebe, Teacher of Light: A Biography, with Tijan M. Sallah in  2004 published by Africa world press.

She has written other books such as Transparency and Accountability in the Management of Public Funds: How Sensibly Must African Countries Stand? The Debt Trap In Nigeria: Towards A Sustainable Debt Strategy, one of the first major studies to put the debt question in Nigeria into perspective.

Her tribute to Ojukwu was moving, simple and apt that she could pass for a novelist like her son. Okonjo Iweala’s style of writing has indeed caught the attention of international writers. Just basking from the warmth of being listed as Forbes one of the most powerful women in the world, the minister’s work has been well received.

The book is about  Nigeria, corrupt, mismanaged and seemingly hopeless in the eye of the international community in the early 2000s. Then Nigeria implemented a sweeping set of economic and political changes and began to reform the unreformable.

The new book tells the story of how a dedicated and politically committed team of reformers set out to fix a series of broken institutions, and in the process repositioned Nigeria’s economy in ways that helped create a more diversified springboard for steadier long-term growth.

The author, Harvard- and MIT-trained economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, currently Nigeria’s Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance and formerly Managing Director of the World Bank, was a crucial player in the country’s economic reforms.

In Nigeria’s Debt Management Office and later as minister of finance, she spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors that led to the cancellation of sixty percent of Nigeria’s external debt. Reforming the Unreformable offers an insider’s view of those debt negotiations; it also details the fight against corruption and the struggle to implement a series of macroeconomic and structural reforms.

Nigeria’s efforts can be viewed as a laboratory for other countries—not just resource-rich developing countries like Nigeria, but any country interested in reining in debt, managing volatility, saving for the future, or building credibility with debtors and investors. This story of development economics in action, written from the front lines of economic reform in Africa, offers a unique perspective on the complex and uncertain global economic environment.

Speaking at the well-attended event at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, the minsiter said was motivated to write the book to encourage others to tell the Nigerian story by ourselves and not read it from foreigners.

“It is about time we capture our own story. We need to learn from the mistakes of our reform efforts so as not to repeat them. I hope people read it (the book) and capture the spirit of reform because Nigeria can be transformed”. She appealed to the youth not to succumb to pessimism and hopelessness or to be discouraged by people who argue that Nigeria was a lost case.

“Nigeria can and will change”, she said. The Minister said the book was written in part to honour the work done by the Economic Management Team in the Obasanjo administration. “They put in a lot of work. What they did should not be lost”, she said.

Already, international and world figures are commenting on the work. Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Prize Winner in Economics, says, “This insider’s account of the valiant attempt to reform Nigeria’s economy will inspire anyone committed to changing the course of their country.”

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia said, “‘This extremely informative and thought-provoking book provides a masterful account of the interplay of technical economic management and political will constrained by vested interest in undertaking transformative reforms in developing countries.

Every page speaks to the Liberian experience in microcosm. This will be required reading by the Cabinet and students in our institutions of higher learning. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala remains a courageous champion for sound economic management and performance.”

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