Book review: REFORMING THE UNREFORMABLE: Lessons from Nigeria

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By Kole Omotoso
THE process of finding this book to buy and to read and write this review is worth narrating.

I came back to Jo’burg from Lagos and later in the day went to the Exclusive Books to get a new book on the corrupt empire of Brett Kebble, a corruption so sophisticated and so “ramificated” that the South African authorities are not even bothering to investigate any of its branches, never mind the main frame of it.

Tells you how far South Africa has gone in that direction compared with the easily understood chop-chop corruption of Nigeria.

But let’s leave that for another day. Besides the book, I also picked up a copy of the current issue of The Economist November 23 to November 30. I couldn’t have found a copy in Akure where I was in Nigeria.

One of the books reviewed in its book section is the title listed above by our present Minister of Finance. I went to the Kindle Store and there it was. I bought and downloaded a copy and I have just finished reading it.

I cannot thank Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala enough for her book.

First of all, it told me that it is not true that those in power do not know the problems of the country. People like Dr. Okonjo-Iweala do know and try to do something about them.

Many in power do know but because they benefit from the continuation of the problems, they would rather not have the problems solved.

Second of all, the book documents Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s struggle to do what she had been invited to do and finally resigning in 2006. Hear her: “I resigned because the principles of transparency, openness, and trust that had guided my work in government no longer seemed to obtain and I felt I could not deliver on any important reform agenda in that environment.” Third and last of all, it is possible to reform the unreformable, in spite of the risks of failure and personal security.

Between 2003 and 2006 Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and her Economic Team achieved the historic debt write off from the Paris Club of Lenders. They stabilized the macro-economy of Nigeria by delinking the price of petrol from the funding of the Nigerian budget.

They began the difficult task of getting corruption out of the system of governance in Nigeria.

These efforts led to the debt forgiveness from the Paris Club and helped Nigeria to show some improvement in international measures used to measure corruption, business friendliness and World Bank Doing Business report.

Against these successes are the spectacular failures of the unreformable Nigerian Customs Service, the reform-resistant Civil Service and discontinuation of Structural Reforms into the governments that followed that of President Olusegun Obasanjo. These failures have begun to tell on the international indices once more.

The reasons for these failures are important, especially since Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has allowed herself to be persuaded once more to come back as Finance Minister.

The most important reason is that she confesses that she and her team did not do a thorough enough analysis of politics and the political economy of reforms.

As the elections of early 2007 approached, President Olusegun Obasanjo withdrew his previous support of the team, especially since he had achieved the forgiveness of debt that he wanted Dr. Okonjo-Iweala to perform. She as leader of the team was removed and moved into foreign affairs.

The second reason is that there was an inadequate analysis of the losers and the winners in the reform process and failure to use the winners to pressure the losers to give up their opposition to the reforms.

A third reason is the governors of the states who opposed specific policy products that would help the reform process and the failure of the team to bring them on board to support the reform process.

This is a book to be read by every Nigerian. It is a book that should be translated into Nigerian languages. It is a book that should be recommended to every young man and young woman who asks where do we begin the process of reforming Nigeria.

As many publishers as possible in Nigeria should make this book available to Nigerians. This is a book whose reading would lead the reader to ask why has Dr. Okonjo-Iweala come back?

Things might not be as bad as when she began the reforms in 2003 but they are bad enough and her reforms have not, as she says, fundamentally transformed the Nigerian Economy. It is not creating jobs enough to absorb the youth.

The reform agenda is unfinished. Every sphere of Nigerian economy needs immediate attention: infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, construction and housing, services. . . Can Dr. Okonjo-Iweala finish what she began?

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