By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
ONE of the more defining aspects of the new culture of change in Nigeria is taking place right before our eyes today, in the enduring and intense debate on the state of Nigeria’s finances, especially under the Goodluck Jonathan presidency. The protagonists are remarkable representatives of the two sides of the Nigerian coin.
Adams Oshimhole, governor of Edo state is pitted against Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Jonathan presidency’s Minister of Finance, who had the additional title of Coordinating Minister for the Economy.
Oshiomhole is a street-wise, former leader of the Nigerian working class movement, who fought many battles on the shop floor and in the streets, against exploitative and stubborn employers of labour in the textile industry, which in its halcyon days, employed thousands of workers, especially in Northern Nigeria, where Adams cut his teeth as workers’ tribune and leader. He then led the Nigerian working people in bruising battles as a reactionary Nigerian government, especially after 1999, became wedded to the orthodoxy of neo-liberal capitalism and the notorious Washington Consensus.
On the other side of the raging controversy, is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, poster girl of neo-liberal capitalism. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala saw herself as a kind of “God’s gift” to the Nigerian ruling class, having served imperialism at its home base in Washington and the World Bank. She is the ultimate “technocrat”, chosen to administer the one-size-fits-all poison of neo-liberal reforms in Nigeria. Technocrats of this hue are exceedingly arrogant and cannot brook any interference with what they assume is the best cure for the economic woes of a neo-colonial society.
Ngozi was particularly gung-ho about what she did and from the heights of the perch that she occupied, first under Obasanjo, but even more so, under the Jonathan presidency, she became particularly intolerant of scrutiny of her much-vaunted expertise and the cure she was administering to a very sick Nigerian economy!
She had a long list of retainers ever willing to take the battle to adversaries. And everytime that Ngozi was interrogated, we ended up receiving lectures about how allegations ‘show that these people are still in the business of throwing up wild, unsubstantiated figures to damage Okonjo-Iweala’s name”, to quote her Media Adviser, Paul Nwabuikwu, as reported by VANGUARD newspaper of Wednesday, July 1, 2015, responding to allegations from Governor Oshiomhole, that Ngozi had spent $2.1billion from the Excess Crude Account, ECA, without authorisation.
Ngozi’s defence on that occasion was that “decisions on withdrawals from the ECA were DISCUSSED (my emphasis) at monthly meetings of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee, FAAC, attended by Finance Commissioners from the 36 states. Oshiomhole had told the media after the National Economic Council meeting of Monday, June 29, 2015, that: “Dr.Okonjo-Iweala reported by November 2014 that we had $4.1bn. Today, the Accountant-General’s office reported that we have $2.0bn which means the minister spent $2.1bn without authority of NEC and that money was not distributed to states, it was not paid to the three tiers of government”.
The “unauthorised” spending according to the NEC, was one of the anomalies discovered in the management of the nation’s economy between 2012 and May 2015. But the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, in the changed circumstances of post May 29, 2015 Nigeria, was now playing the “victim”: “It is curious that in their desperation” according to Paul Nwabuikwu, “to use the esteemed National Economic Council for political and personal vendetta (seeking the truth about finances that Ngozi managed became vendetta, eh?), the persons behind these allegations acted as if the constitutionally-recognised FAAC, a potent expression of Nigeria’s fiscal federalism, does not exist”. And to take the “victimhood” further, Ngozi’s Media adviser added that: “…this is the latest chapter of a political witch-hunt by elements who are attempting to use the respected National Economic Council for ignoble purposes having failed in their previous attempts to tar the Okonjo-Iweala name”.
It is curious, that in the management of Nigeria’s economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, will describe ELECTED governors of Nigerian states as “elements” attempting to USE the NEC to politically witch-hunt her! But not to be cowed by her deployment of “victimhood” and the effort to hide behind sandbags of obfuscations, Adams Oshiomhole went further to challenge her to publish the letter of authority as to how six billion dollars of excess crude taxes from the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas and other funds were transferred to the consolidated Federal funds. Her main “sandbag” remained the FAAC, but last week Tuesday, FAAC denied approving the withdrawal and spending of about $2.1billion from the excess crude oil revenue account in December 2014.
They described Ngozi’s claim as “misleading and far from the fact”, adding that they were not informed when the former minister approved the release from the ECA account. Furthermore, FAAC reminded that the law setting it up, which predates the ECA, did not empower them to approve such withdrawals, and that there were records of the FAAC meetings, showing they had always queried the activities on ECA, especially the withdrawals: “FAAC did not and could not have approved, nor took the decision to withdraw the sum of Two Billion Dollar ($2, 000, 000, 000. 00) from the Excess Crude Account”. So in one fell swoop, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s FAAC sandbags collapsed in her face.
But she won’t stop playing victim because in response to the FAAC statement, Paul Nwabikwu retorted that all withdrawals from the ECA: “were DISCUSSED (my emphasis!) at meetings of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC)…at no time did Dr. Okonjo-Iweala say that FAAC approved such expenditures…why is Okonjo-Iweala’s name being battered in this way?” And then the Nwabuikwu clincher: “THIS PERSECUTION MUST STOP”! So the know-it-all, imperialist–trained technocrat, who thought she did Nigeria a favour coming to implement imperialism’s neo-liberal, Washington Consensus policies, that could not be interrogated, suddenly became the “victim of persecution”? We must thank God for the change that Buhari’s emergence as president is signposting for Nigeria! This is because the demolition of the FAAC sandbag finally made Ngozi to own up to the fact that she got President Jonathan’s approval to spend money from the ECA, “to pay for subsidies for the Nigerian people”, according to Paul Nwabuikwu!
But Adams Oshiomhole was not going to let go. This week, he revealed that fuel importers refuted the statement that they collected $2.1billion as subsidy payment.
These importers, according to Governor Oshiomhole “said they got only $1 billion”. So where would the remaining $1billion be? Well, Adams Oshimhole is afterall a politician and he offered a political answer: “He accused (Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) of illegally taking $1billion from the Federation Account to fund the failed re-election bid of former President Goodluck Jonathan”, as reported by THE NATION newspaper of Tuesday, July 14, 2015. Adams went further that: “Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala would have been declared a pathological liar if she were a witness in court due to the inconsistency in her statements”. Ngozi angrily rejected the latest accusation of having spent on Jonathan’s re-election, describing it as “stupid and unfounded”.
Nwabuikwu said the statement was “just another example of the numerical diarrhoea that seems to have afflicted His Excellency (Adams Oshiomhole) in recent times in his effort to damage the reputation of the former Minister”. We can wonder just what remains of the much-vaunted “reputation”, given the mess that Ngozi seemed to have made of Nigeria’s finances. And it was against that backdrop, that activist lawyer, Femi Falana, asked NgoziOkonjo-Iweala to accept guilt on the unauthorised withdrawal made from the Excess Crude Account while at the same time tendering apologies to the Nigerian people. Falana said the contradictory statements she made in her defense of the withdrawals had given her out as a guilty party! So much for the “persecution” and the “reputation”!
A demystified Okonjo-Iweala
In truth, I think Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is being systematically demystified and all that ridiculous talk about her service to imperialism at the World Bank, as the qualification for the manner she worked as minister and CME, is being exposed as having failed to serve the best interest of our country.
As a perceptive observer asked, did Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy to boot, manage the economy well or not? Under her, monthly personnel cost went from about N35billion to about N65billion, even as oil revenue was declining. Another N20billion went for pensions and gratuity monthly, while N50billion went on monthly interest payment for capital market bonds and another N50billion went for monthly statutory transfers.
Our perceptive observer then asked: “Was the handwriting not on the wall? Is it not all about revenue and expenditure and should the ‘manager’ not be heedful so the latter does not outpace the former? I would have thought that she would be when she saw crude oil production- for whatever reasons- going down from 2.3mn bpd to 1.6mn bpd along with prices. What did she do instead? She decided to borrow to pay salaries. Under her watch, personnel costs grew exponentially: when there was a problem at the pension office, a new bureaucracy known as Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) was created.
Excess crude account
There was…the SWF with its own heavyweights; DMO since her first coming with its 200 or so fat cat DG, directors, deputy directors, etc. (does it take more than one person to purchase a bond?)…Then there was the SURE-P mess.
Between April 2012 and 2014, she spent N35bn per month (or $220m) on SURE-P. Where did the money come from? Excess Crude Account. It only stopped when money ran out last year and we stopped hearing about SURE –P, as it died a silent isolated death. SURE-P created additional running costs such as the Graduate Internship Scheme that sent our young men and women to companies paying them N18,000/month until funding ceased in January and left them stranded.
NgoziOkonjo-Iweala mis-advised President Jonathan and sold him the SURE-P dummy as a PTF type scheme, but PTF it was not…YOUWIN, PROJECT NOLLYWOOD, SAFE SCHOOLS INITIATIVE were all additional expenditure created under Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at a time when prudence was required”!
This is the real score sheet for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and her running from pillar-to-post about spending from the Excess Crude Account, is really a tip of the iceberg of a most irresponsible economic management regime. Ngozi thought she was very special and was doing Nigeria a favour as a minister, but we now know better. That is why individuals like Adams Oshiomhole must be appreicated for helping lift the lid off the mystifications of imperialist-trained technocrats like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. This is truly the era of change in our country!