Okonjo-Iweala as economic reformer

Her second coming into the country’s helm of affairs as a Minister of the Federal Republic is considered in many quarters as a development that portends a huge blessing for the generality of Nigerians. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been described as a frank and forward-moving person who is not given to stopping, or slacking once she sets herself or mind on motion.

Before coming back, it’s with bated breath and great expectations that a broad spectrum of the citizenry, both in public and private sectors of the economy, had hailed the decision by Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Managing Director, World Bank (October 2007-July 2011), based in the United States, to resign her globally coveted job and resume work as Minister for Finance and Head of the Implementation Team of the newly constituted National Economic Management Team (NEMT) of President Goodluck Jonathan Administration.

Hitherto, speculations had been rife across the land, that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, who weeks earlier, had presented herself for screening in the Nigerian Senate Chamber, in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, for consideration for the post, might not resign her position and return to her country after all.

More disturbing at the time was the disclosure, that certain “interests” were threatening her life not to resume work as the Minister for Finance. The revelation, of course, has piqued many informed individuals and groups to reason if members of the so-called socio-political and economic cabal that held down the country’s progress, for months, in the latter days of late President Umaru Yar’Ardua are not re-grouping and mobilising to fight this Administration once more.

Nonetheless, those quite in support of her joining the Jonathan Administration have continued to recall her meaningful contributions to the advancement of the nation’s economy when she was the Finance and External Affairs Minister during the former President Olusegun Obasanjo Government from 2003 to August 2006.

At the time, Okonjo-Iweala was instrumental in tackling corruption, heralding some measure of probity, transparency and accountability in governance, outright cancellation of a larger chunk of Nigeria’s external debt to its major creditors –Paris and London Clubs– and consequently, making the country more desirable for foreign direct investments (FDIs) and job creation, giving her fatherland an exceptional economic progress, among other lovely feats.

According to The Independent (UK), even as a Director of the World Bank and Head of the Makeda Fund, “she works for change in all of Africa,” and that’s one of the fundamental reasons “why the continent should listen to her” in respect of proffering solutions to its sundry socio-economic problems.

With the knowledge of the hindsight that Nigeria is probably facing one of its most challenging moments in history vis-à-vis overwhelming socio-political and economic problems, and as a patriotic Nigerian cum recognised global citizen Okonjo-Iweala is, she, true to her promise, returned recently to do just that.

Such problematic concerns in the economy include rising youth unemployment that has led to continued civil disobedience, lawlessness and violent attacks on innocent people; youth restiveness in the Niger Delta region with its concomitant kidnappings; erratic power supply that has crumbled several businesses; free fall in quality of graduates from the nation’s institutions of learning; and imposing hospitals lacking necessary medical equipment.

Other aspects of concern that really need to be tackled are the dwindling value of the Naira and its attendant hyperinflation; official corruption with impunity; collapsed road network infrastructure; widespread insecurity; striking poverty; pervasive air of mistrust between the leadership and their following; and general aura of hopelessness across the country.

No wonder that Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, Edo State Governor and Guest Lecturer at TELL Magazine’s 20th Anniversary, in Lagos, aptly captured these unbecoming developments in the country, and how such are badly preventing the ongoing democratic project from delivering the much-expected dividends to the people.

Oshiomhole had disclosed to Nigerians: “The greatest threat to democracy are the tensions and explosions usually provoked by mass unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and other consequences of economic and social dislocation.”

However, as a notable economic expert who has never hidden her disdain for wastefulness and recklessness in the management of people’s resources, a retrogressive practice said to be peculiar to leadership in Africa, coupled with her vast expertise in World Economic circles as well as her keen understanding of economic realities in developing countries, this Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) alumna says she is set to tackle some of these thorny issues, particularly youth unemployment first.

As she has rightly acknowledged to members of staff in the Finance Ministry that though she does not possess all the solutions to Nigeria’s multifarious problems alone, she has promised to make functional contribution to her nation through what she described as a three-pronged agenda: Efficiency, Effectiveness and Delivery.

When also asked by the Washington Post on what she actually thinks is the fundamental problem with Africa, the former World Bank’s boss replied: “The biggest challenge we have is creating jobs for our youth. Twenty-five percent of the working-age population is outside of the labour force. Youth unemployment is rising…. We could run a tighter fiscal policy. We have a serious power problem, which is a binding constraint on economic growth.”

It is, therefore, essential for all Nigerians to note that Okonjo-Iweala’s decision to resign her appointment with the World Bank and fly back home to serve once more, is indeed, a great sacrifice. Very humble as she is, during her induction in Abuja, she reportedly declared: “Nobody is too big to serve his or her country. My decision to serve my country is because of my love for my country. I love Nigeria with a passion.”

According to her, now for this country to really do better than it is doing currently, all those entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the Government policies at all levels of governance must play together as a team so as to achieve marked improvements in the economy and record sustainable macroeconomic growth.

Achieving all these sure, is not going to be a tea party for the NEMT members, as the journey along Nigeria’s political terrain is said to be richly laced with “corruption and jolly hedonism of the cabal class”. That is, as she and her National Implementation Team move to effect needed positive changes in this beleaguered system, there certainly, will be “collisions, accidental discharges and plenty of injured players” in the corridor of power. Hence, they need prayers and support of all to succeed in this crucial national assignment.

Written by
Gbenga Kayode
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