Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The most powerful person in Nigeria?

How much change can the Finance Minister bring about?

The iron lady
Sitting in her half-moon-shaped office overlooking Nigeria’s dusty capital, Abuja, [Finance Minister] Ms Okonjo-Iweala faces an unenviable task. President Goodluck Jonathan has given her just three years to overhaul sub-Saharan Africa’s second-biggest economy, one riven with corruption and inefficiencies, carved up by political bosses and vulnerable to bursts of communal violence…

During drawn-out negotiations with the president after last year’s election, the 57-year-old insisted on control of all economic ministries, not just finance.

At public events she asks to be introduced as the “co-ordinating minister for the economy and the minister of finance”, much to the chagrin of some of her cabinet colleagues.

But none of them could manage the mammoth task of plugging the leaks in an economy built on patronage and rent-seeking. Government overspending and corruption is draining the country’s vast oil revenues, which amount to about $40 billion a year. Ms Okonjo-Iweala hopes a revamped economy will improve employment, infrastructure and health care… As much as 74% of official revenues is spent on maintaining the government. Millions go on parliamentary catering and gardening at the presidential villa. Ms Okonjo-Iweala hopes to reduce the government’s bill by a modest 4% by 2015…

Ms Okonjo-Iweala is no stranger to Nigerian politics, having been finance minister between 2003 and 2006. She brokered a landmark deal to cancel $12 billion of foreign debt, which made her a star. Yet the reform course she is now pursuing has erased memories of that…

Every new reform proposal, no matter how sensible, earns her more ridicule. The removal of petrol subsidies earlier this year caused a rise in fuel prices and triggered a six-day general strike. President Jonathan eventually stepped in, reinstating half the subsidy and promising to use the money he saved to help the poor. The next battle is already looming. Soon the government will unveil a plan to revamp Nigeria’s electricity. Consumer prices must go up to make it workable. No prizes for guessing who will be blamed.

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At 8:49 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Africa Backs Okonjo-Iweala for World Bank Presidency

"South Africa has called a news conference for today to announce an African candidate for the World Bank presidency, widely expected to be Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, sources familiar with the discussions said, yesterday…"


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