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Calls for finance minister’s resignation

By Dele Sobowale

“Members of the Nigerian Governors Forum [Amaechi’s group] have called on the Minister of Finance, who is also the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to resign if she knew she would not be able to adhere strictly with the Appropriation Act, 2013. PUNCH, September 18, 2013, p 18.

In 2008, I wrote two articles titled “WHEN GENIUS FAILS”. The first was about the former Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Dr Ndidi Onyuike warning about the imminent collapse of the Stock Exchange that year. It happened as predicted. The second was related to the crisis in the banking sector even as Professor Soludo was pretending that all was well with the banks. Today, everybody knows better. Where are OCEANIC, INTERCONTINENTAL, BANK PHB etc today? This article also might have been titled “WHEN GENIUS FAILS -3” and it would have been appropriate because the Federal Minister of Finance is no longer the highly respected figure she was in 2003-2005. Her return is shaping out to be some sort of personal disaster for her for many reasons – mostly political.

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former World Bank Managing Director is set to be among the next victims of Nigerian politics – now based on former President Obasanjo’s template of “do-or-die”. Suddenly, there are no more restraints on what members of the opposing camps will do to each other, and who they will hurt and for the most indefensible reasons. Okonjo-Iweala is one of my favourite Ministers in this administration. Notwithstanding the fact that I wrote an article, on these pages, welcoming her, while warning her about the booby traps, in the polity, that might make her return most unpleasant. And two months ago, I wrote a column wondering when she would quit. I was almost certain she would not last the distance – 2015. Now she faces the prospects of being humiliated out of office. Irrespective of how it happens, the Finance Minister has met her Waterloo; failure stares her in the face.

Unfortunately, she would have been hounded out for developments which are largely beyond her control. She has few supporters because she had also allowed too much politics, and insufficient economics, to dictate her public utterances.

So, this call for resignation is not entirely fair to the Finance Minister. Dr Okonjo-Iweala had nothing to do with the failure of the 2013 budget – which was defective right from the first day – especially after the National Assembly got through amending it. Let me explain the major problem by pointing to the revenue stream since January this year. The Federal Government had budgeted for monthly revenue amounting to N702 billion per month for 2013. Yet in only one month, from January to July, had the actual revenue reached or exceeded that amount. Revenue for the first seven months and the variances generated were as follows, January N621b (-81); February N571b (-131), March N595b (-107), April N621b (-81), May N590b (-112), June N863b (+161) and July N498b (-204). Altogether, there was a revenue shortfall of N686b in the first seven months alone.

Okonjo-Iweala
Okonjo-Iweala

As Governor Uduaghan of Delta State had said in a televised defence of the Finance Minister, she is not responsible for revenue generation; all the other bases of revenue – NNPC, FIRS, Customs etc are the culprits; NNPC being the number one accused. Neither Shell, nor DANGOTE Group, nor anyone else would hold the Executive Director for Finance responsible if sales and gross revenue are far below target; the blame belongs to the Marketing people. Those shifting the blame to Dr Ngozi are probably doing so because they realize that Jonathan has an untouchable in the cabinet. So, they are blaming the victim. And, by God, Okonjo-Iweala is the victim this time around. She is holding the “cow” while others are milking the cow dry. What a pity!

Unfortunately, the Finance Minister had also provided her antagonists with ammunition for shooting at her. At her Press Conference on Wednesday, September 18, 2013, she announced that “The economy is doing reasonably well…In agriculture where we are seeing results, we have seen that 2.5 million seasonal and full time jobs have been created”. That was unfortunate; because she had once again become a victim of the BIG LIE peddled by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture – whose Minister had been making these claims without substantiating them. I had, on three different occasions, challenged “my brother” Dr Adewunmi to provide us with the breakdown of the 2.5 million jobs, state by state, person by person for verification without receiving a reply. It is doubly unfortunate that the Minister had to rely, first on a rumour to declare that Nigeria’s “economy is doing reasonably well”; secondly, Dr Ngozi would be the first to admit that using one index to determine the health of a modern complex economy, and not its most important, is at best political; and at worst intellectual dishonesty. She has not done her reputation any credit.

Just as if the “gods” are really angry with the Minister, the next day Governor Amaechi of Rivers State exclaimed that his state had not received its July allocation in full. No state had received full allocation of revenue. Also next day, Dr Christopher Kolade, Chairman of SURE-P was announcing that the programme was behind in its payments to the participants in the programme. Surely, an economy which is doing reasonably well should be able to pay its bills – as and when due. This economy increasingly is not. The Minister is beginning to sound like the Financial Director who keeps assuring all the stakeholders that all is well with their company even as the liquidators are banging on the door.

In the end, if care is not taken, the Finance Minister, who is not responsible for the mess we are in, will be ruined by two enemies – the political opposition and herself.

THE MANY LIES OF MALAM RIBADU ON IBORI BRIBE.
“Liars ought to have good memories”, Algernon Sidney, 1622-1683, (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 127).
Malam Ribadu, the former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was in the news again last week – in a London Court where an Ibori trial was in progress. And he made statements which could be admitted in evidence by the court. Before quoting Ribadu and providing contrary evidence to that which the witness made in court, let me make one point clear.

I am not holding brief for Ibori. Sufficient evidence had been produced in court to establish the fact that Ibori embezzled a lot of public funds. There is also the court of public opinion which holds the view that Ibori was the person earlier convicted in Nigeria – even when a Nigerian court ruled otherwise. But, I am guided by one principle in my writings on this page and it was handed to me by Malvin Kalb, one of America’s greatest journalists when he wrote: “A journalist should be pursuing a fair rendition of truth without regard to popular moods; the journalist should not be swayed by public opinion..” (BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 109).

. I am not a journalist. Like an Area Boy, I entered journalism through the back door. I am only going to present the truth – which will shock Ribadu and the readers. If I am one of Ibori’s lawyers, at the court in London, I will ask the court to expunge all of Ribadu’s testimony because it is tainted with untruths…..

P.S. The articles on Nigerian Universities will continue but have been shifted to the EDUCATION pages of VANGUARD on Thursdays. Please join me there henceforth. It is in everybody’s interest. Thanks for reading our paper.

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