Ngozi Okoboji-IwealaThe last outing as a minister in the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration ended up on a sour note as if she was kicked upstairs in her new capacity as Foreign Minister. I think what Obasanjo lost was then Iweala's economic knowledge and financial management expertise which now a gain for Jonathan. I am glad that Jonathan recognized Iweala's wealth of economic policy experiences and quickly tapped her for the meaningful contributions she is capable of making to Nigeria's economy. This is welcome news for a battered Nigerian economy.
I am writing also about Iweala because of some of the public statements she made at her swearing in ceremony in Abuja, the nation's capital. I believe that Iweala's appointment as a finance minister is a good fit for Jonathan's efforts at transforming Nigeria. The minister of finance has a solid financial policy and management experience in developing economies. More importantly, she is very familiar with the Nigeria's endemic economic issues, and financial troubles. I met Iweala at a Sullivan Foundation conference that was held in Washington, DC last year and I immediately discovered her passion and love for Nigeria. One can appreciate her emotional attachment to her motherland. In her presentation with President Obasanjo in attendance, she recounted some of her innovative and creative economic programs in the Obasanjo administration.
As the country's finance minister the last time around, she was instrumental in radically reducing Nigeria's foreign debt. After the conference, I viewed Iweala as an agent of change in the country. Iweala's pubIic statements last week once again underscored her aim to change the status quo in the Nigeria's economy. First, the change begins at the finance ministry where she shared with the staff her three point agenda of "efficiency, effective (sic) and delivery." This agenda is appropriate for the staff of the ministry because as the saying goes, charity begins at home. I am of the viewpoint that President Jonathan should embrace the Iweala agenda and make it a bureaucratic norm of all federal government ministries and agencies. This agenda if implemented throughout the federal government, it would radically change the way the business of government is conducted and it also would be result oriented.
Iweala identified Jonathan administration's main priority as creating jobs for the Nigerian youths. This is a laudable goal considering the staggering high unemployment rate of19.7%, according to the Bureau of National Statistics in the country, especially among the university graduates. This unemployment issue has serious and far reaching implications for economic growth of the country. It also has negative social implication for the Nigerian society in terms of enhancing the opportunity for increasing crimes. Perhaps, the unemployment problem is a global phenomenon with the high unemployment rate in the U.S. that is creating a political scare for the Obama presidential re-election bid.
Nigeria is fortunate to have Iweala, a "debt hawk" as its finance minister, her past tenure experience revealed that she has zero tolerance for deficit spending, that is, the country is living on borrowed money. The recent debt ceiling political debacle in the U.S. and the Greece debt crisis may have become an eye opener for other countries in their debt management approach. According to Iweala, she believes in prudent debt management. Her acceptance for the responsibility to manage Nigeria's economy is a blessing because the country is already experiencing deficit spending in excess of a trillion naira. A word of caution: Nigeria may be closer to experiencing the Greek debt syndrome in the near future if adequate corrective economic measures are not taken. For example, Iweala is credited with the formation of the National Economic Management Team (NEMT), a body or an organization charged with the responsibility of coordinating the economic activities of the federal government. Utilizing her management experience, she was appointed the coordinator of the NEMT. The composition of the team (members drawn from some government ministries, state representatives, etc.) reflects the sectors linkage to, connection with, and their impact on the Nigerian economy. This new structure also suggests a holistic approach to the treatment of the country's economy.
I hope the second coming of Iweala would be more fulfilling for Nigeria than the last tenure. Her transfer from the finance to the ministry of information or foreign affairs was a political decision on Obasanjo's part which profoundly underutilized her economic expertise and seriously damaged the country's financial reputation in the international community. The fulfillment of Nigeria's aspirations and expectations are exceedingly high in terms of jobs creation and sound economic management under Iweala's leadership at the federal ministry of finance. I am glad to learn of Jonathan's political will and support given to the finance minister in the performance of her functions. Iweala, a seasoned and a well-connected economist at the World renounced development economics, continued to surprise this author because of her affinity for Nigeria and her ethuasuism to serve the Nigerian people.
She falls into the category of global citizens, as in the case of Nigerians in the Diaspora who are being challenged almost in the same way that the late President John F. Kennedy of the U.S. called upon his fellow Americans in the now celebrated question, " Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?" This great Nigerian woman, amazingly said" nobody is too big to serve his or her country." This incredible statement is comparable to Kennedy's belief in public service to one's country and it is also a testament to her interest in and commitment to Nigeria, no matter what? I viewed this statement as a challenge to many successful Nigerian professionals and business men and women in the Diaspora to return to Nigeria to use their knowledge, skills and investment to make a difference in the lives of the Nigerian people. How many Nigerians are willing and ready to follow Iweala's footsteps? Obviously, Iweala's decision to serve as Nigeria's finance minister involves a huge sacrifice of personal success on the altar on Nigerian nationalism because to her service to country is preferred over comfortable life in Washington, D.C. By taking another plunge into the Nigerian government, Iweala has demonstrated her real love and passion for Nigeria. In my book, Iweala is a "national treasure" that must be admired and cherished forever.
The formation of National Economic Management Team (NEMT) revealed Iweala's management philosophy and style in her belief in team work. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, the concept of team work is alien because its effectiveness in the country's bureaucracy is stymied by individualism, rivalry, and division. Team approach to work is a useful management tool, because it allows for coordination and efficient use of resources among diverse government agencies. I figured out some work ethics revealed in Iweala's statement to the press- " work hard" and "delivery." These terms are foreign to the Nigerian work place and are not part of lexicon of the Nigeria's bureaucracy that is known to be unproductive and limited in its delivery of service to the Nigerian public.
The appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as the federal minister of finance in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is encouraging and promising in that the Jonathan administration may after all deliver on its transforming the country and in resolving the economic and infrastructure issues facing it. With Iweala on board as the coordinator of the country's economic team, my confidence in the ability of the Jonathan administration to perform has been significantly enhanced. Now, it is a Great Expectation. I hope the administration would be performance conscious and result driven in meeting the development needs of the country. Of paramount importance, is the president's invaluable political support for the finance minister to ensure a good job based on integrity, accountability, transparency, and effective performance of the NEMT? This is part of the institutional capacity building that is urgently needed to address the issue of poor management in the public sector. On this note, I say warm welcome to Dr. Ngozi Okoboji-Iweala, as the Federal . Many Nigerians are expecting great improvements, meaningful contributions to the country's economy during your tenure.