Though the immediate past Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala may have left office, controversy continues to trail her performance while in office. The recent one is the accusation by the governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole that the former Coordinating Minister of the Economy spent $2.1bn from the Excess Crude Account without the approval of National Economic Council (NEC).
However, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala has responded to the allegation by describing it as political witch hunting. According to a statement by her spokesperson, Paul Nwabuiku, she described the allegation as an attempt by governors who are over whelmed by the current financial challenge to win sympathy.
“It is curious that in their desperation to use the esteemed National Economic Council for political and personal vendetta, the persons behind these allegations acted as if the constitutionally recognised FAAC, a potent expression of Nigeria’s fiscal federalism, does not exist. But Nigerians know that collective revenues, allocations and expenditures of the three tiers of government are the concern of the monthly FAAC meetings. It is important to acknowledge the efforts of governors who are working hard to overcome the current revenue challenges facing their states without resorting to character assassination and blame games,” she said.
This is not the first time Okonjo-Iweala is involved in a controversy over her performance in office. Last March, a civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability (SERAP) took the former Minister to court over the claim by former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi that the country lost about N30trillion due to corruption and mismanagement. The present accusation appears to have diminished Okonjo-Iweala’s achievement when she was the Minister of Finance during the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Also former governor of CBN Prof. Charles Soludo while responding to the accusation by Okonjo-Iweala that his tenure as CBN governor was the worst in the country accused her of grounding the country’s economy.
Prior to her ministerial career in Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala was Vice-President and Corporate Secretary of the World Bank Group. She left it in 2003 after President Obasanjo appointed her as Finance Minister on 15 July 2003. In October 2005, she led the Nigerian team that struck a deal with the Paris Club, a group of bilateral creditors, to pay a portion of Nigeria’s external debt (US$12 billion) in return for an $18 billion debt write-off. Prior to the partial debt payment and write-off, Nigeria spent roughly US$1 billion every year on debt servicing.
However, observers believed that due to years of mismanagement under her supervision, the combined domestic and external debt of the Federal Government was in excess of $40 billion by the end of 2014.
This is in addition to abandoned capital projects that littered all over the country, which amounted to over $50 billion.
Okonjo-Iweala also introduced the practice of publishing each state’s monthly financial allocation from the federal government in the newspapers. This action went a long way in increasing transparency in governance. She was instrumental in helping Nigeria obtain its first ever sovereign credit rating of BB minus from Fitch and Standard & Poor’s. Nigeria was reported to have defaulted on its sovereign debt in 1983.