Okonjo-Iweala’s oddities

Chamba Simeh

Nigeria’s public officers could easily pass for the world’s most comical administrators. And it is either these public officers which include ministers, directors-general, executive secretaries, and a host of other appellations at both state and federal levels, do not give a damn as to how the people perceive them and their antics or are simply living in a fool’s paradise. This assertion is particularly true of the Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The gusto and ecstasy with which Okonjo-Iweala celebrated the rebasing of Nigeria’s economy is circumspect, casting serious doubts on the credibility of the exercise. Nigeria’s Statistician-General, Dr Yemi Kale of the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), said last week that the nation’s economy has been rebased, making it the healthiest economy in Africa. But no sooner the report was made public than the finance minister seized the moment of euphoria. Okonjo-Iweala said, “Nigeria has moved to be the largest economy by GDP size in Africa and has moved to be the 26th largest economy in the world; it notched 10 points up.
“On a per capita basis, Nigeria is number 121 in the world, so we have the total GDP size of $2,688 per capita now and moved up from 135. This has pushed us ahead of South Africa as the continent’s largest economy. Factors responsible for the new development include sectors like telecoms, information technology, music, online sales, airlines and film production that we did not reckon with when last we did the rebasing”.

Ordinarily, Nigerians should be celebrating the break-through in its hitherto fledging economy, but this is not to be because the reality on ground makes the rebasing a joke taken too far, as aptly put by the Interim National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. Coming on the heels of a World Bank report that listed Nigeria among the world’s extremely poor countries, Nigeria’s self-acclaimed astronomical growth is expressed in philosophical terms as a fallacy of easy transition.
World Bank President, Dr Jim Kim, had earlier, in Washington, said “the fact is that two-third of the world’s extreme poor are concentrated in just five countries: India, China, Nigeria, Bangladesh and the Democratic Republic of Congo. If you add another five countries, Indonesia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya, the total grows to 80 per cent of the extreme poor.” There are over 112 million extremely poor people in Nigeria.

However, Nigeria’s super minister’s insistence that the nation’s economy is healthy is demolished by the irrebuttable evidence staring us in the face and much of which is elaborately captured by the Bretton Woods institutions which she represents as a former vice president of the World Bank. Okonjo-Iweala’s oddities seem to know no bounds as she continues to reel out figures that are at variance with the Nigerian situation and dynamics. It is now clear that the minister’s long romance with the neocolonial institutions and their economic module has detached her from Nigeria’s socio-economic paradigm.
Okonjo-Iweala’s recent claim that the Federal Government created 1.6 million jobs in 2013 was debunked by the recruitment tragedy that rocked the Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, last month. Over 6 million jobless Nigerians had paid N6 billion in application fees for 4,000 placements in NIS. But the shoddy handling of the recruitment exercise by the Ministry of Interior and NIS resulted in the death of more than 20 people. Anyone who thinks this cannot happen in ‘Africa’s healthiest economy’ would be dead wrong; not only did it happen, but it happened with impunity and ignominy.

In any case, what is the essence of economic growth if its net worth is abysmally austere and its prospect is gloomy? The per capita income of a country rather than the GDP is the key determinant of its standard of living. In spite of the rebasing, Nigeria’s per capita income is one third South Africa’s $6,000. On social progress index which determines the welfare and standard of living of a country, Nigeria ranks 123 out of 132 nations. South Africa which has a population of 50 million generates 40, 000 megawatts of electricity while Nigeria generates a meager 3,500 megawatts for 164 million people, a situation that has rendered extinct the nation’s industrial base.

The finance minister had assured Nigerians that the country will be conscious in borrowing after paying the Paris Club debt in 2005. But in contrast, she has since been presiding over the borrowing of hundreds of billions of dollars. Even though all the constraints have been identified towards enhancing growth, including creating investment climate; infrastructure, incentives and policies affecting agricultural productivity; and quality and relevance of tertiary education, Okonjo-Iweala has not reconsign facts with figures.
Many a Nigerian believes Okonjo-Iweala has the wherewithal to drive Nigeria’s economy to prosperity and into the prestigious 20 industrialised club and the BRICK. But to do so successfully, she must stop the self-deceit and adorn the political will.

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