John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on “Reforming Nigeria”

by John Campbell
February 19, 2014

Nigeria's finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala address the audience on the achievements of President Goodluck Jonathan's administration while delivering the mid-term report during Democracy Day celebrations in Abuja, May 29, 2013. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters)


Stuart Reid published in the current issue of Foreign Affairs a fascinating interview with Nigeria Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The finance minister was educated at Harvard and MIT and is a former vice president of the World Bank. More recently she was a candidate for the presidency of the World Bank. International investors and business people associate her with many or most of Nigeria’s economic reforms in the administrations of Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan. She is probably much more popular outside of Nigeria than at home, where her reforms have gored many oxes.

In her interview Okonjo-Iweala reviews what she sees as her most important economic achievements, which range from Nigeria’s accelerated economic growth, to the clearing of Paris Club debt, to a focus on agriculture. She also looks forward to new initiatives such as expanding and invigorating the housing sector with the establishment of a Nigerian mortgage market.

The minister is also candid about the impediments to reform, such as vested interests, corruption, and what she characterizes as the current “poisonous political atmosphere.”

She is less convincing on the Boko Haram insurrection in the north. She sees the president’s policies as working because, she says, Boko Haram is now isolated to Borno and Yobe states. (In fact, there has been an upsurge in violence in Adamawa state.) She describes a three pronged approach: counterinsurgency with the help of the United States, United Kingdom, and France, a “political approach,” which seems to refer to a committee that is supposed to talk “to these people and find out what they want,” and “inclusion,” which seems to be an acknowledgement that Yobe and Borno are much poorer than other parts of the country, and that the government needs to address that poverty. She makes no reference to government human rights abuses in the north. However, to be fair, her writ extends to the formal economy, not to security issues.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is closely associated with Goodluck Jonathan. Her interview casts his administration in the best light she can. As a statement of the government’s position on a number of issues the interview is useful, and her personal observations ranging from Western misconceptions about Africa to why her mother was kidnapped are fascinating. But, her discussion of economic achievements refers to or depends on statistics (such as economic growth) that are being increasingly questioned. See, for example, Morten Jerven’s book, Poor Numbers. Like many other Nigerians from the south and the west, she also downplays religious conflict between Christians and Muslims by citing examples of families that include adherents of both religions. She makes no reference to endemic ethnic and religious conflict in the Middle Belt or threats of renewed insurrection against the government in the Niger Delta, the oil patch.

She concludes her interview with a vision of Nigeria’s future as a more democratic state with high growth rates and reducing poverty. Friends of Nigeria share that vision, which has been articulated in one form or another since the end of the colonial period. As she acknowledges, Nigeria has a ways to go to achieve that vision.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Sulayman Dauda

    A country with a very poor taxation, and inaccurate records and statistics. An administration that is unable to fight corruption and the wrangling among the country’s economic administrator. Iwealas interview is far from been objective, true and real. No doubt the economic coordinating minister is quite eloquent in her field but the Nigerian situation is a difficult one. They should first dealt with electricity, and improved tax system, accountability and the rule of Law. With that we can agree that The Administration is doing good.

  • Posted by John

    Africa is proud of this great woman. Her reform has changed so many things for the better in the Nigerian economy.

  • Posted by Chike

    The tragedy of accomplished African technocrats like Okonjo-Iweala is that while they have the training and capacity to engage Western media, intellectuals & policy makers – they have absolutely no idea on how to communicate with ordinary Nigerians (Africans).

    I’m speaking as a Nigerian, there is a lot of merit to what Okonjo-Iweala has done (& significant grounds to criticise her) – but her attempts to communicate with the Nigerian people and carry them along have fallen flat.

    It is not about having ideas, it is about communicating them to a poorly educated & very cynical population. If you can’t carry them along – you might as well be talking to yourself.

    So while Okonjo-Iweala is feted by the cream of the Western. Nigerians either don’t know, don’t understand or don’t believe whatever she says.

    And it should not be that way.

    There are politicians (like the Lagos governor) who can communicate progress to the ordinary Nigeria. Okonjo-Iweala cannot & I don’t think she has that capacity.

  • Posted by Emeka Chiakwelu

    Let us be frank here, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has played a significant role in bringing Nigeria to this point of economic progress and enhancement. Before her Nigeria was stagnant economically without meaningful reforms.

    Okonjo-Iweala did bring true reforms embedded with transparency and probity that never be seem before in Nigeria. But that has meant that the barque corruption has been obliterated but people of goodwill should acknowledged that Nigerians are not standing at a fixed point.

    Her reforms led to lower inflation rate and sound macroeconomic stability. Nigeria continues to have problems with joblessness among the youths and poor infrastructures but it is self-evident that Nigeria is moving forward. For the first time Nigeria has become a destination of foreign investments in the non-oil sector. Nigeria has made it to MINT nations.

    The mentioned of Morten Jerven’s book, Poor Numbers is not necessary within this context because the economic statistics are verifiable coming from international agencies including World Bank, IMF and Nigeria bureau of statistics.

    For years now Nigeria’s annual GDP is hovering over 6 percent with inflation rate less than 10 percent and with one of the lowest debt economies.

    President Jonathan and his economic team especially Dr. Okonjo-Iweala deserve some credits. Nigeria has so many problems but now we are hopeful about tomorrow.

    Emeka Chiakwelu, Principal Policy Strategist at AFRIPOL.

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