For some strange reasons Nigerians are always better at driving by looking through their rear view mirrors. Ministers out of office suddenly develop clairvoyant vision and discover the wonderful ways to improve performance that they never saw while they spent four unsatisfactory years in office. For example, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s immediate past Finance Minister and Co-ordinating Minister of the economy, has admonished the new administration to be cautious of the rampant kleptomania of a ruthless clique oil industry entrepreneurs. She has also advised that the new economic managers do not give in to the niggling demands of a self-serving group of private entrepreneurs committed to the sadistic task of brutally raping the economy. But pray where hid the Finance Minister was when such horrendous acts of economic sabotage were being perpetrated under her watch?
Why didn’t Madam Minister at the time she held office convince then President Goodluck Jonathan to bite the silver bullet and totally remove petroleum subsidy to free the domestic fuel markets from the restrictions it placed on efficient and effective allocation and consumption of white oil products. Why Madam Minister knowing that subsidies typically create shadow economies that are dominated by’rent-seeking’ activitiesof sabre-toothed corporate sharks and money-mongering oligarchs, remain conveniently silent about the consequences to the economy ofbeing bound to the self-serving aspirations of a small circle of sleazy oil barons?
Talking about these issues from the safe distance of a former government apparatchik is to say the least cowardly. As Minister of Finance Okojo-Iweala was self-absorbedly abstract,arrogant and remote, delighting in the sterile pastime of churning out data that seemingly showed growth unaccompanied by development, the Ministry of Finance was a bean counting centre more interested in the arithmetic of fiscal accounting than the more urgent issues of structural reform and sustained development.
Okonjo-Iweala never one for big, bold, and audacious ideas simply played safe by ensuring that she balanced the books as best she could. The now suddenly voluble ex-Minister was in her dayscomfortably indifferent to the nation’srampant unemployment and high domestic interest rates. The Minister simply could not be bothered with the grinding depression of the real sector of the economy that was squirming under very difficult economic circumstances even when international oil prices averaged over a $100 dollars per barrel. The economic windfall, predictably, went into the cavernous loin sacks of business surrogates, political bagmen and ‘friends’ of government officials. Rather than engineer the deepening of market-based economic growthin the small and medium scale sector of the economy, the former Minister fraternized with a resource allocation system that was based on patronage, nepotism and unrestrained greed. It also rested on the balance of threat of terror by the different tribal militia and the complicity of their state governors.
Hallmark newspaper, therefore, humbly butstrongly, urges the former Finance Minister to pack her bags and quietly shuffle off to whatever sine cure global job she can secure and leave the new economic management team to forge success not out of but despite of her regal failure. Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s quintessential war time Prime Minister once observed that, ”Success is not final, Failure not fatal; It is the courage to continue that counts”. The new economic management team must brush aside the failure of the immediate past administration and forge a new course, a course that is bold and visionary; one that is not afraid of being wrong but is irrevocably committed to being right.
Nigeria needs big ideas backed by incredible sweat to bring the country out of its present mire. The country does not need preachment from yesterday’s men (and women) but what is required is a tough squad of rugged professionals prepared to work their socks off in the interest of the greater good of society. Unlike Okojo-Iweala’s feckless crew this fresh team of professionals must be prepared to take the hard decisions and follow through with action painful as they may seem in the short term.
What Okonjo-Iweala had in abundant good will locally and internationally, she lacked in personal courage, vision, and grit. This is a lesson for President MuhammaduBuhari. The new Finance Minister must be a person of gargantuan faith in the Nigeria of today and of tomorrow, a person who not only understands the numbers but can also competently drive Key Performance matrices (KPI’s) needed to lift the economy from its current baggy state to a level that can sustainably absorb its burgeoning population (estimated to be growing at a thunderous 3.2 per cent per annum or what is equivalent to a doubling of the population every two decades).
Okonjo–Iweala has had her day in the sun, and now it is time for her to melt away into the unflattering annals of Nigeria’s fiscal history. She should respectfully remain silent now.