I share hereunder what I wrote in 2006 when Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was our Minister of Finance. There is no doubt that with her second coming, my prediction of her being President of the country is half-fulfilled by her present status of de facto Prime Minister.
Because the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have praised Nigeria for parting with $12 billion to get out of the debt trap of the Paris Club, I must recall with nostalgia the advice of the late President Nyerere of Tanzania who said that any time the Western press start praising you for what they say you are doing, you must return to the drawing board because something must be wrong with what it is they are praising you for. To him, you are doing well and right in the sight of the West only when what you are doing promotes their interest. The Western press is the mouthpiece of western interests and western interests are focused by everything done by the World Bank and the IMF. Who can be better ambassadors of these world financial giants than those who have worked there or are aware of the way the institutions work?
I have read a lot of the stuff that is being put across to justify the parties we have been having for pulling out of the Paris Club after handing over to them some $12 billion of precious money that would have advanced the needs of the National Economic and Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS)! Try as I have, I still do not see what we are celebrating or why we should beat our chests that we have achieved something. If anything, we have murdered sleep and those who murder sleep shall sleep no more. We have chosen to ignore the crying needs of the people in preference to being praised for raiding our foreign reserve without due process. Consulting the National Assembly is not the due process needed to spend money belonging to states and local governments. We have given away precious money generated from the Niger Delta where there are no schools, no toilets, no light, no roads, no health care, no employment. We seemed to have underwritten the debt commitments of the federal government which borrowed without reference to the states and should have no right forcing the states and local governments to bear its burden.
Late last year, former Minister of Finance Dr. Chu Okongwu put out a widely publicized contribution on our handling of the debt question and the problems we were ignoring by the actions we were about to take. I was particularly taken in by the details he set out which showed clearly that attending to the areas of national stress would do more good than parting with the money which was swelling our foreign reserve because of rise in crude oil prices. His projection was that if we injected $83 billion into growing the economy (which was not there anyway but which our reserve would have been part of), we would reap so much abundance that the debt to Paris Club would fade into insignificance. The $83 billion capital reconstruction programme would go into Roads ($12b); Electricity ($8b); NNPC refineries and pipelines rehabilitation ($5b); Railroads ($6b); Metallurgical engineering composites ($4b); SMEs forex requirements ($3b); Building materials redirection ($3b); Water ($4b); Agriculture ($5b); Education ($10b); Health ($6b); Unemployment ($3b); Law and Order ($3b); The Civil Service machinery ($2b); and Town and Country Planning ($9b).
Chu’s suggestion was that those countries that had made it today started by growing their economies, not undermining them. Charity, he said should begin at home so that like the advanced countries of today, we would become rich, strong and advanced. He looked at a scenario where we paid all debt outstanding to local contractors and suppliers with interest. Not selective (full) payment to foreign contractors resident in Nigeria or to favoured contractors or party supporters or the curious ‘discount payments’ introduced by the administration, but “full payment of debt to all contractors and suppliers.” He looked at what gains we could garner if we promptly paid all overdue pensions with interest, and where we paid pensions as and when due. What great difference it would have made if we “resolutely and intelligently” addressed mass unemployment, particularly of the potentially most productive segment of the population – trained young persons – which has remained an intolerable crime and, “together with decay of the road network, and unreliable electrical power and petroleum energy supplies, represents the most obvious signs of failure of the Obasanjo regime”.
Handing out $12 billion at one go for whatever reason does not make sense to me. This is why I am worried about what may happen if unfolding scenarios in the West African sub region affect Nigeria. The President of Liberia is a World Bank Product. The President of Benin Republic is a World Bank Product. If Obasanjo’s Third Term bid fails, we may be looking out for undreamed-of surprises. We may look towards the North and pull a blank. It would be unfair to look towards the South-West for, if Obasanjo cannot have it from the South-West because the Third Term bid failed to scale the requirements of the Constitution, no one from that zone should advisedly have it.
Looking to the South-East and the South-South may see us killing one bird with two stones, the stone from the South-East and the stone from the South-South. That bird could be Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a product of the World Bank! She is a daughter of the South-South and a wife of the South-East. If the South-South must produce a President in 2007, the candidate must have a credible political party to stand on. And who says that the PDP as reorganized by Obasanjo and Anenih is not a formidable enough platform for anyone to depend on, especially if they are the anointed of an incumbent president? If we want international support for the candidate, Ngozi will be acceptable to the World Bank and the IMF because she is seen to have done wonderfully well as Nigeria’s Finance Minister aside of the fact that she has been ideologically focused as their ambassador. But that is where my problem is – she is a dyed-in-the-wool product of western interests. And those who have other ways of looking at problems, like Chu and Chinweizu, are not impressed with what the economic team led by Ngozi claims to have done and which the western world is trumpeting. My problem, our problem, is that western interests do not value human life nor do human values have meaning in their calculations.
If our economic team that is supposed to grow Nigeria through growing the people and the environment had looked at the shopping list of the people in all areas of need, that team would not have handed over a whopping $12 billion to anyone or advise that such a step be taken. With Ngozi as the preferred candidate for the choice position of President of Nigeria, if OBJ who is increasingly being seen as more ingenuous than those who put him them had ever conceded, emerged with a scheme from the top of his hat, I will be worried about her total commitment to what Breton Woods institutions see as our way out of our economic travails. Here at home, with the handing out of $12 billion which would have provided at least N1 billion a year for the empowerment progarmmes of each of the 109 senatorial districts in the country for the next 15 years, we should be worried about the approach our children who are technocrats would have to ensuring our security and welfare.
To be a candidate I can give my vote to, Ngozi should begin today to look at the two sides of the socio-economic coin. The praises flowing from the IMF and the World Bank on the wonderful job her team is doing is the kudos she will get from protecting western interests. Like Nyerere advised, we must go straight back to our drawing boards to ensure we are doing well and right in the sight and interest of our own people.
First published in Sunday Vanguard of April 30, 2006; See also pages 130 – 132 of Vol. 2 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, published in 2008)
P/S: I called on time to be witness to what we were doing, and the verdict is there for us to behold. We have already started piling up debts because we cannot produce even toothpicks we now import, having handed away the huge sums that would have made the difference. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s outing at a press conference on Wednesday August 24, 2011, points to no other direction (serves us right) than that we will continue to borrow because we have failed/refused/ been too lazy to beard the corruption and mismanagement lion in its den. With 74.5 per cent of our budget going for meeting our lascivious tastes, we should wait to increase the $39.7billion standing menacingly against us in the form of local debts. I wish this our Minister of Finance, Coordinator of our Economic Revival Army and lately Chairperson in the proposed Marketing the power we shall generate, a successful tenure as Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.