Nigerian Progress Reported On Economic and Political Reforms

Nigeria is making significant progress on major economic and legal reforms in the wake of last year’s elections, the nation’s finance minister told a Washington audience on April 23.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo IwealaAfrica, including Nigeria, is faring better than Europe these days in terms of rate of economic growth said Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, at left. But the world is so inter-connected that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan initiated a series of rigorous reforms to enable progress for times when an adverse cycle of conditions hurts Nigeria.

“We’ve used much of our resources since 2008 to put in place ‘counter-cycle policies,’” said the finance minister. When Nigeria experienced booms previously the country “spent everything,” she continued. But that budget formula “was not sustainable.”  

She
was the developing world’s top candidate this month to lead the World Bank in a rare challenge to United States historic prerogative to pick the bank’s top executive. Instead of her, the bank selected Dartmouth College President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, a medical doctor, as the United States recommended. A former World Bank managing director earlier in her career and the holder of a doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she said the elections process was "fun" but that she had no official comment on the result.She did provide an extensive interview earlier to BBC, linked below.

More generally, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous and resource-rich nation, and thus regarded as a strategic bellwether in the developing world and within the scope of the Justice Integrity Project. In February 2011, I organized a conference at the National Press Club about Nigeria's film industry, and since then have written on such topics as whether the nation's presidential election in April 2011 would be fair, and interviewed former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell on his book: Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink.

Jennifer CookeThis week's lecture was organized by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Jennifer G. Cooke, right, CSIS Africa program director, introduced the program this way:

The Nigerian government has undertaken important reforms in the banking and power sectors that have improved the prospects for inclusive economic growth. Taking place in the face of big national challenges like the emergence of Boko Haram, the fuel subsidy protests, and persistent political divisions, renewed attention is needed on the progress being made. Great strides have been made in tackling corruption, in overcoming obstacles to investment, and in unlocking Nigeria’s growth potential.

Regarding recent reforms, the finance minister, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, said the government made a difficult decision to reduce fuel subsidy payments to the public from oil and to devote more money to long-term economic development, such as paying for better roads and other infrastructure.

“The subsidiary had gotten too large, $11 billion a year,” she said. “A lot of the money was going elsewhere. We had to do something about an unsustainable situation.” She said public protests were a healthy sign on the whole.  “As we expected, people were out on the streets. That was good. People demanded more accountability and more openness. Were Nigerians right to protest? Of course they were! Nigeria is a democracy.” 

Among other changes she described were initiatives:

-- To grow more food in Nigeria, reducing some $10 billion a year in food imports. “Colonialism brought us into wheat, which we don’t grow,” she said. “What we are doing now is turning the clock back to feed ourselves, but also to export.”  

-- To create a modern finance system. Its lack, she said, leads to corruption. “That’s not right. We need to make a system that enables hard-working people to own houses.”

-- To make ports more efficient by dramatically shortening the time needed to unload ships. She said it was taking three weeks in Nigeria to unload a ship “instead of 48 hours,” adding, “I think it was only Nigerian ports that worked from 9 to 5.” She said that change is never easy, and the government must now endure a harsh protest campaign on social media by those who profited by the old ways of delay and chiseling businesses that needed port services. "If you want reform support reformers," she urged the audience. "Sometimes government makes mistakes," she allowed, but concluded, "Get informed."

Cooke, the CSIS moderator, said of the speaker and this month’s World Bank decision: “Let’s look on the bright side: The World Bank’s loss is Nigeria’s gain.”

 

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Related News Coverage

BBC, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala misses out on World Bank top job, Audio inerview by Manuela Saragosa, April 18, 2012. The board of the World Bank has selected a US academic, Jim Yong Kim, as its new president.
Many emerging market countries had hoped that this time, America's lock on the top post at the Bank would be broken. Several governments had been pushing for a non-American to be awarded the position. They were backing Nigeria's finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iwaela. The BBC's Manuela Saragosa spoke to Ms Okonjo-Iwaela and started by asking her how she felt about losing out to Dr. Jim Kim Yong.

Dr. Ngozi_Okonjo_IwealaWashington Post, Can Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala break America’s hold on the World Bank? Brad Plumer, April 14, 2012. The first time Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, right, ever had to convince Barack Obama of anything was back in 2005. At the time, Obama was an ambitious young senator from Illinois with a keen interest in foreign affairs. Okonjo-Iweala was Nigeria’s blunt-speaking finance minister, traversing the globe to convince the world’s wealthiest nations that they should ease her country’s debt burden. “Everybody was saying that this could never be done . . . that it would never happen,” Okonjo-Iweala recounted at an April event in Washington. Eventually, Obama — and the rest of the world — would agree with her. Nigeria paid $12 billion up front to win a further $18 billion in debt relief, and while questions still linger about how good a deal Nigeria got, it removed a major obstacle to the country’s economic growth. She cites the episode as an example of her “persuasive powers.” Seven years later, that young senator is president, and Okonjo-Iweala, now 57, is using her powers on an even more far-fetched idea. She’s making a bid to lead the World Bank, which last year loaned $57 billion to help poor countries develop. But by tradition, the presidency has always gone to the U.S. nominee, and Obama has made his pick: Dartmouth College president Jim Yong Kim. As the bank’s board of directors prepares to make a final decision next week, it’s clear that selecting a woman from Africa would be unprecedented.

Washington Post, World Bank hopeful vows to focus on jobs, Elizabeth Flock, Published: April 9, 2012. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, one of three candidates to lead the World Bank, said Monday that she would focus on an issue that affects developed and developing nations: job creation. After what she called a “marathon” 3 1 / 2-hour interview with the World Bank board of directors, Okonjo-Iweala spoke at an event Monday hosted by Washington Post Live and the Center for Global Development.

She stressed how her vision for the bank would be shaped by personal experience. “I know what it means to go to the stream to fetch water . . . what it means when people are poor and don’t have enough to eat,” she said, recalling what it was like to grow up in a Ni­ger­ian village with her grandmother. “It’s not good enough to say you know about poverty. You have to live it.”

She said that although it’s understandable at a 60-year-old organization for “inertia to set in,” several things that have always been done one way “will have to go.”  Okonjo-Iweala also said she would push the bank to help countries better fight climate change, deal with social and gender rules and build better health systems.

Johnnie CarsonJustice Integrity Project, Peace, Prosperity for Nigeria Are U.S. Priorities, Says Official, Andrew Kreig, April 10, 2012.  The United States supports major initiatives in Nigeria to reduce strife, joblessness and poverty, according to a top State Department official delivering a major speech April 9 in Washington, DC. “Nigeria is too important to be defined by its problems,” Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson told an audience convened by the Center for International and Strategic Studies (CSIS). “It must be defined by its promise – and the resourcefulness of its people." Carson, at left, said the State Department is establishing a consulate in the strife-torn north of the country as a new sign of commitment. The former ambassador to Kenya (1999-2003), Zimbabwe (1995-1997), and Uganda (1991-1994) praised the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan for its progress. But Carson said much more is needed to prevent terrorists such as the Boko Haram from seeking to exploit ongoing social problems. The dissident group is blamed for an Easter Sunday bombing that killed 25 and wounded others in a Christian church in the northern city of Kaduna.