The Nigerian press reports that President Goodluck Jonathan is wooing Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be his finance minister, with expanded responsibilities and powers. If Jonathan succeeds, it will boost his administration’s standing with members of the international business and finance community who will take her appointment as a sign that he will prioritize Nigeria’s deep-seated economic and financial problems during his first full term in office.
President Olusegun Obasanjo recruited Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from the World Bank and made her Nigeria’s finance minister from 2003 to 2006, and briefly foreign minister in 2006. During her time in office, she was probably the most successful and highest profile minister in Obasanjo’s government. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala promoted transparency into the Nigerian government’s finances by publishing in the newspapers Abuja’s monthly funding allocations (largely based on oil revenue) to each of the thirty six states. She also oversaw Nigeria’s first sovereign credit ratings from Fitch and Standard and Poor’s, BB- at the time. Perhaps her highest profile achievement was framing and leading the negotiations by which the Paris Club wrote off $18 billion in Nigeria’s external debt in return for Abuja’s payment to creditors of $12 billion. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was part of Obasanjo’s economic reform “Dream Team” that also included Obi Ezekwesili, who was minister for solid minerals and then of education; Charles Soludo, who was chairman of the central bank; and Nasir el-Rufai, who as minister of the Federal Capital Territory headed the largest department in the federal government.
Obasanjo’s shift of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from finance to the foreign ministry in 2006 was regarded by many as a demotion. Obasanjo then removed her abruptly from her position as the head of the Nigerian Economic Intelligence Team while she was in London on negotiations. She resigned shortly thereafter and returned to the World Bank, where she has been Managing Director since 2007. Why Obasanjo made her foreign minister and then removed her from her position on the Nigerian Economic Intelligence Team leading to her resignation has never been satisfactorily explained.
Ngozi Okonjo Iweala was educated at Harvard and MIT. Except for her ministerial stint in Nigeria, most of her career has been spent in the United States. Given the immense challenges facing the Jonathan government, some of which Asch Harwood and I profiled in an 0nline article for The Atlantic, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will have to weigh the benefits of any potential position against the possible drawbacks. Like the other members of Obasanjo’s “Dream Team,” she has no independent power base in Nigeria.