Within a year of Okonjo Iweala’s appointment, 121 companies were added to the subsidy management list, bringing the total to 140 companies in 2011. It has been during Okonjo-Iweala’s tenure that entrenched corruption such as the inflation of the subsidy figures, the rise of proxy marketers, over-invoicing and non-record keeping became common in the subsidy business, leading to the present hardship we are experiencing today.
Reading “Yale University Confers Honorary Doctorate on Okonjo-Iweala”, published by Premium Times was no problem to me. What bothered me most was the reason given for the award. Yale one of the United States’ most prestigious institutions of higher learning had previously awarded such honour to the Liberian President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. In this piece, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will not be discussed; rather the focus will be on interrogating the Yale university statement on the presentation of the award. Although the corruption in Liberia, and the distrust between Liberians and their government as a result of the various failures of the government further calls for interrogation of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf award, that will be a discussion of another day.
Quoting Premium Times, the President, Yale University, Peter Salovey, on the presentation of award, described Okonjo-Iweala as “a brilliant reformer and dedicated public servant, who has spearheaded efforts to stabilize and grow Nigeria’s economy, battling widespread government corruption and creating greater fiscal transparency and discipline.” Further to her recognition, Yale said, she focused on building solid foundations and institutions critical for the survival and sustenance of the Nigeria economy, apart from bravely fighting corruption in governance.
The methodology Yale University used in arriving at the above conclusion gives one cause for concern. Is either the university does not know the current situation in Nigeria or it chooses to distort facts deliberately. If Yale University does not know, why did it not ask, and if the university knows and chooses to distort facts, why would such a prestigious University do that?
On spearheading efforts to stabilise and grow Nigeria’s economy, Yale University may be right in its own thinking and standard of judgment. May I remind the university, he who wears the shoes knows where it pinches. Thus, I am more qualified to inform those who seat in the comfort of their homes in the United States and pass judgment on the Nigerian economy. Its ignorance of the situation led Yale University to make such uninformed assertion. Thus, we need to correct Yale university. Many, just like Yale University, are quick to justify the healthiness of the Nigerian economy on the basis of how its GDP was rebased to depict it as Africa’s largest economy. The rebasing took our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to about $432 billion, compared to that of South Africa which stood at $370 billion at the end of 2013.
Has Yale University asked what happened afterwards? At the moment, the biggest economy in Africa managed by Okonjo-Iweala has fallen apart. Both federal and state governments cannot pay salaries, and never in the history of the country has the currency depreciated as much as we have seen under Okonjo-Iweala. As Yale University gives Okonjo-Iweala the pass mark, I doubt if the university knows that she is passing on an economic crisis to the incoming government. It is important for Yale University to be aware that Nigeria’s 2015 national budget is branded as one of ‘austerity’, and this comes as a result of the fall in oil prices and the recourse to external borrowing as the option to save the state from collapse. At the moment, Nigeria’s official debts stand at $60bn USD. While abandoned capital projects in Nigeria that need to be completed are estimated at over $50 billion USD. Let’s remind Yale university that Nigeria cannot do magic to work its way out of the economic crisis Okonjo-Iweala is leaving behind, but to undertake drastic and painful structural adjustments to save the economy from total collapse.
Does Yale University know that Okonjo-Iweala confessed that she has not done well in managing and coordinating Nigeria’s economy, while admitting that Nigeria is in economic crisis? The country is raising its borrowing from N570 billion to N882 billion in order to meet its financial obligations, particularly the payment of workers’ salaries and government contractors. Affirming the economic crisis Nigerian states face, the National Assembly has described the 2015 budget as unrealistic.
Never in the history of Nigeria – not even during the era of military regimes – have Nigerians gone through the hardship we are presently going through to buy petrol.
For my friends in Yale University, please note, Okonjo-Iweala met Nigeria at a 29% poverty rate and she is leaving the country with a 69% poverty rate. We are still contending with the National Bureau of Statistics’ sudden reversal of Nigeria’s unemployment rate from 71% to 6.4%. Also, I think Yale University needs to commission a study on the Nigerian petroleum subsidy regime spearheaded by its award winning hero, Okonjo-Iweala. I am sure that findings from this study will help the university in understanding the impact of Okonjo-Iweala in battling widespread government corruption and creating greater fiscal transparency and discipline in Nigeria.
May I refer Yale University to the House of Representative Report of the Ad-Hoc Committee to Verify and Determine the Actual Subsidy Requirements and Monitor the Implementation of the Subsidy Regime in Nigeria. House Resolution No. (HR.1/2012). The report covered 2009-2011. In that report, before Okonjo-Iweala took over as the Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minster of Nigeria’s economy, N261.1 billion was expended in petroleum subsidy in 2006, N278.8billion in 2007 and N346.7billion in 2008. Yale University must note that five companies, including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) were involved in managing the subsidy in 2006; this rose to ten companies in 2007; and 19 in 2008. Within a year of Okonjo Iweala’s appointment, 121 companies were added to the subsidy management list, bringing the total to 140 companies in 2011. It has been during Okonjo-Iweala’s tenure that entrenched corruption such as the inflation of the subsidy figures, the rise of proxy marketers, over-invoicing and non-record keeping became common in the subsidy business, leading to the present hardship we are experiencing today. We urge Yale University to study that report and answer sincerely if Okonjo were to be a Secretary in United States’s federal cabinet, it thinks would she still be in office or would have been forced to resign, while possibly facing criminal charges?
The former Nigerian Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was sacked for daring to expose the monumental corruption in NNPC. Okonjo-Iweala is yet to give account of the missing $20 billion USD under her watch as the Minister of finance and Coordinating Minister of Nigeria economy.
On January 8, 2012, whilst addressing Nigerians on why they should support subsidy removal, Okonjo Iweala said Nigerians would derive clear and measurable benefits from the removal of subsidy. Some of these, she claimed, would be the construction, completion and rehabilitation of rail lines, petroleum refineries, key federal highways, hydro stations, information technology and water projects, etc. She further said that the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P), created to make savings from the subsidy removal will provide for mass transit, public works, training in artisanship for the unskilled youth, social services, healthcare, etc. On specifics, however, she said the federal government would make available 1,600 buses to remedy the consequence of subsidy removal on public transportation.
At the moment, there is no efficient railway line in Nigeria, and neither have new refineries been built nor the old ones properly repaired. The Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) became a scam and the scheme has since ceased to exist. Christopher Kolade, who was the SURE-P chairman, resigned as a result of entrenched corruption that characterised the scheme, while Nigerians keep saying there has been nothing to show for SURE-P despite the billions of Naira granted to it.
Nigeria, the sixth largest producer of crude oil is facing acute petrol scarcity; a litre of petrol goes for anywhere from N350, N250, N200, N150, N130 to N120, depending on the location where you are buying it from. In Abuja, car owners’ sleep in filling stations to buy petrol, and the confirmation of the availability of the product is in the very long queues of cars waiting to buy petrol in filling stations. Selling petrol in gallons on streets (the black market), which the state frowns at and sees as illegal, has since been ‘legalised’ as the only sure way of getting petrol in Abuja and other major cities in Nigeria. As the scarcity lingers and the masses continue to suffer, Okonjo-Iweala cannot end the petrol scarcity and the crisis created by the economy she was hired to coordinate. The petrol marketers are owed about N200 billion. Never in the history of Nigeria – not even during the era of military regimes – have Nigerians gone through the hardship we are presently going through to buy petrol.
I make bold to point out to Yale University that Nigeria needs an alternative crop of elites with alternative perspectives in order to build a solid foundation and institutions critical for the survival and sustenance of its economy and Okonjo-Iweala is not one of them.
The corruption in NNPC exudes embarrassing odour; neither Okonjo-Iweala nor the government of Goodluck Jonathan has been able to give Nigerians the true picture of what has been happening in NNPC. The former Nigerian Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was sacked for daring to expose the monumental corruption in NNPC. Okonjo-Iweala is yet to give account of the missing $20 billion USD under her watch as the Minister of finance and Coordinating Minister of Nigeria economy.
May we remind Yale University, in power generation Nigeria had 4,500 megawatts (MW) daily in 2007 when Okonjo Iweala was not in charge. Despite the privatisation of power spearheaded by Okonjo-Iweala, which was touted as the solution to Nigeria’s power generation, as at May, 2015, Nigeria’s power generation has dropped to 1,327 megawatts. What can 1,327 megawatts be used for in a country of 170 million populations that is in desperate need of economic diversification?
In case it is not aware or lest Yale University forgets, in 2007, Nigeria’s foreign reserve was $47 billion USD. At the moment Nigeria has about $60 billion USD in debts, while the foreign reserve has been almost totally depleted. Nigeria’s Excess Crude Account, in 2007, was $24 billion USD buoyant, but at the moment state governors in the country have argued that the account is empty and have challenged Okonjo Iweala to account for the money. In spite of the country’s huge debts, the disappearance of money in the Excess Crude Account, the depletion of Nigeria’s foreign reserve, and mega stealing in the oil sector, salaries, allowances, wages, contractors and the oil marketers who brought in fuel are yet to be paid. This is one of the liabilities the incoming administration will inherit.
The economic reality Okonjo-Iweala will be bequeathing to Nigeria on May 29, 2015 do not deserve a Yale University commendation and honour. Yale University – just like Nigerian bureaucrats, academics and government paid agents – has deviated from reality and joined the illusion-makers who refer to Nigeria’s GDP growth and the rebased GDP to create enlarged illusions of Okonjo-Iweala’s achievements. Its inability to make reference to a firm socio-economic substructure, a functional industrial foundation, and a stable self-regulatory policy, which Okonjo Iweala could not establish during her reign as the Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy further exposes Yale university’s illusion-making and lack of understanding of Nigeria’s current realities. It is embarrassing that Yale University, which trains intellectuals in the areas of political economy and development could not properly appraise Nigeria’s economic realities before arriving at its statement on Okonjo-Iweala.
I am particularly worried. Judging from Nigeria’s poverty and unemployment rates, insecurity, mega-corruption, an import dependent economy, non-qualitative education, inadequate housing and leadership failure, Yale University’s assessment of Okonjo-Iweala as “a brilliant reformer and dedicated public servant, who has spearheaded efforts to stabilize and grow Nigeria’s economy, battling widespread government corruption and creating greater fiscal transparency and discipline” couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yale also said she focused on building solid foundations and institutions critical for the survival and sustenance of the Nigerian economy.
Creating jobs to end poverty and unemployment under the unfolding economic crisis bequeathed to us by Okonjo Iweala is not likely to be an easy task.
I make bold to point out to Yale University that Nigeria needs an alternative crop of elites with alternative perspectives in order to build a solid foundation and institutions critical for the survival and sustenance of its economy and Okonjo-Iweala is not one of them. Yale university’s judgment and evaluation of Nigeria does not change the reality of the country’s situation. Thank God most of us live in Nigeria and do not need class room lectures to understand the situation. In the Yale University ‘camouflage’ statements during the presentation of the award; yes, Okonjo Iweala rebased the Nigerian GDP. However, Kwame Nkrumah, Thomas Sankara and Amilcar Cabral have proven you can only improve the lives of the citizens via purposeful leadership which has been a key missing link during Okonjo-Iweala’s tenure.
At the fall of the price of oil in the international markets, Okonjo-Iweala assured Nigerians that economic diversification is the only way to go. This process requires industrialisation, mechanised farming, competent technology and sophisticated manpower. For Nigeria to achieve this, it needs a huge amount of money to be invested in the infrastructure and manpower that will coordinate the process. The question, therefore, becomes: what foundation has Okonjo-Iweala laid for this to be achievable? One wonders if Yale University ever considered this question. And, if this is the situation, where will Nigeria get the money to finance job-creation and development under the economic crunch that Okonjo Iweala is leaving behind?
Yale University knows that if an American Secretary for finance cannot properly account for very much lesser than $20billion USD of American money, she or he would very likely end up in jail.
If Yale University were to be sincere: is the type of economy coordinated by Okonjo-Iweala, coming with gross material inequalities and exclusion desirable, or sustainable? Are the socio-economic disparities perpetrated by Okonjo-Iweala’s neo-liberal model a necessary price Nigerians have to pay to attract the wilful ignorance of Yale University’s assessment of Nigeria’s economic realities and praise of a western-centric “reformer”? Despite the award, I am sure that Yale University pundits know that Nigeria’s economic model, based on the intensification of its past colonial paradigm of mono-commodity export, is not sustainable for its growth and development.
Thus, Yale, a prestigious American University, must be aware that a state needs industrialisation and job-creation, etc. to address poverty and unemployment, and this has to be done within the context of expanding a country’s resource base. Creating jobs to end poverty and unemployment under the unfolding economic crisis bequeathed to us by Okonjo Iweala is not likely to be an easy task.
In view of Nigeria’s economic realities and the challenges the country will face at the Iweala’s exit, Yale University grossly goofed in offering Okonjo-Iweala its award and honours, and in describing her in falsely glowing terms. I do not frown as much at the award as at Yale’s statement at its presentation. Yale University knows that if an American Secretary for finance cannot properly account for very much lesser than $20billion USD of American money, she or he would very likely end up in jail. Thus, Yale University deliberated distorted facts in order to offer a sanitised version of history that suited its own purpose.
Audu Liberty Oseni, email@example.com, writes from Abuja, Nigeria.