I read some of the responses to my article, “Buhari vs Jonathan: Beyond the Election”, and I want to thank everyone who has contributed to the debate. I am glad that the debate has finally taken off. I have decided, for the record, to re-enter the debate if only to set some records straight and hopefully elevate the debate further. Whom do I respond to? First, let me thank Gov Kayode Fayemi for his very mature and professional response on behalf of the APC. It forms a great basis for deepening the conversation. Pat Utomi, Oby Ezekwesili, Iyabo Obasanjo, and thousands of other patriotic Nigerians have raised the content of the debate. Femi Fani-Kayode made me laugh, as usual. The Gov. Jang faction of the Governors’ Forum played the usual politics, although I know what most of them think privately. Who else? Oh, Peter Obi. Well, since he can’t write and designated Valentine as usual to write for him (who never disputed the NBS statistics that Obi broke world record in the pauperization of Anambra people but instead focused on lies and abuses) I won’t dignify him with a response here. His third class performance in Anambra will be the subject of a comprehensive article later.
Here, I will focus on Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s response (as Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy—CME and hence on behalf of the Federal Government). Since I have known her, out of deep respect, I have never called her by her name: I call her Madam. I must state that I have great pains seeing myself on the opposite side of the table with Madam, in this way. I respect you, Madam, and will always do. If you read my article of September 2010 (before you became Minister), the tone and elucidation were as strong as the current one. It is my honest effort to ensure that our choice of leaders is based on rigorous scrutiny of what is on offer. Part of my frustration is that five years after, everything I warned about has come to happen and we are conducting our campaigns as if we are not in crisis. As a concerned Nigerian, I have a duty to speak out again. Regrettably, you have taken it very personal.
Next, let me briefly respond to a few outlandish claims. She brags about ‘single-digit’ inflation rate ‘now’ and alleges that when I left office, inflation was above 13%. I just laughed at this one. In Nigeria’s history, no governor of the Central Bank has delivered 24 consecutive months of single digit inflation as I did until the advent of the unprecedented global crisis in 2008. It was not for nothing that the world cheered us as monetary policy czar, Madam! Perhaps you are also not aware that we broke a world record by having a depreciated real effective exchange rate during a time of export boom and this was at the heart of our reserve accumulation and the portfolio/FDI inflows. I resisted the IMF advice to deplete reserves for liquidity management, and Nigeria had enough self-insurance to survive the global crisis. The opposite has happened under you Madam, and the Nigerian economy is in trouble. Naira exchange rate appreciated under me from N133 to N117 before the global crisis; and reserves grew to all time high of $62 billion. For the first time since 1986, the official, interbank and parallel market exchange rates converged under me. You can’t match these records!
Next, Madam, I was really embarrassed for you to read that one of the reasons for declining forex reserves is ‘oil theft’. Under you as Minister of Finance and coordinator of the economy, the basket of our national treasury is leaking profusely from all sides. Just a few illustrations! First, you admit that ‘oil theft’ has reduced oil output from the average 2.3 – 2.4 million barrels per day (mpd) to 1.95mpd (meaning that at least 350,000 to 450,000 barrels per day are being ‘stolen’. On the average of 400,000 per day and the oil prices over the past four years, it comes to about $60 billion ‘stolen’ in just four years. In today’s exchange rate, that is about N12.6 trillion. This is at a time of cessation of crisis in the Niger Delta and amnesty programme. Can you tell Nigerians how much the amnesty programme costs, and also the annual cost for ‘protecting’ the pipelines and security of oil wells? And the ‘thieves’ are spirits? Come on, Madam!
Second, my earlier article stated that the minimum forex reserves should have been at least $90 billion by now and you did not challenge it. Rather it is about $30 billion, meaning that gross mismanagement has denied the country some $60 billion or another N12.6 trillion.
Now add the ‘missing’ $20 billion from the NNPC. You promised a forensic audit report ‘soon’, and more than a year later the Report itself is still ‘missing’. This is over N4 trillion, and we don’t know how much more has ‘missed’ since Sanusi cried out. How many trillions of naira were paid for oil subsidy (unappropriated?). How many trillions (in actual fact) have been ‘lost’ through customs duty waivers over the last four years? As coordinator of the economy, can you tell Nigerians why the price of automotive gas oil (AGO), popularly called diesel, has still not come down despite the crash in global crude oil prices, and how much is being appropriated by friends in the process? Be honest: do you really know (as coordinator and minister of finance) how many trillions of Naira, self- financing government agencies earn and spend? I have a long list but let me wait for now. I do not want to talk about other ‘black pots’ that impinge on national security. My estimate, Madam, is that probably more than N30 trillion has either been stolen or lost or unaccounted for or simply mismanaged under your watchful eyes in the past four years. Since you claim to be in charge, Nigerians are right to ask you to account. Think about what this amount could mean for the 112 million poor Nigerians or for our schools, hospitals, roads, etc. Soon, you will start asking the citizens to pay this or that tax, while some faceless “thieves” were pocketing over $40 million per day from oil alone.
You alluded to debt relief in your response and tried to take credit. Well, your CV is honest enough to admit that your two achievements in office as Finance minister under Obasanjo were that “you led the Nigerian team that struck a deal with the Paris Club” and that you “introduced the practice of publishing each state’s monthly financial allocation in the newspapers”. You are right about the two achievements. Let me put on record that Nigeria would have secured debt relief under anyone as Minister of Finance. President Obasanjo secured debt relief for Nigeria. Much of his first term was used to get Nigeria back into the international community and to campaign for debt relief. Before you were sworn in as Minister of Finance, President Bush visited Nigeria and both of us accompanied President Obasanjo during the meeting. There, Mr. Bush promised to support Nigeria with debt relief and asked our president to ensure that he met the conditions of the Paris Club. Obasanjo mobilized the global political support and coordinated all of us to ensure that the government met the check-list of ‘conditionalities’ as required. I spent five weeks in the hotel with my team (as coordinator/chairman for drafting the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy, NEEDS).
Some of the reform targets in NEEDS became the ‘conditionalities’ Nigeria was required to fulfil to merit debt relief. You and I signed the various MoU with the IMF on behalf of Nigeria (the policy support instrument). We had a great team at work and each member of the economic team had specific aspects of the conditionalities to deliver: Bode Agusto was in-charge of the budget; Oby Ezekwesili held sway at Bureau of Public Procurement and later Minister of Solid Mineral, and Education (but specifically tasked with delivering on EITI and procurement reforms); Nuhu Ribadu was at the EFCC fighting corruption; I was at the Central Bank delivering on monetary policy and banking reforms; Steve Oronsaye worked hard to delist Nigeria from the FATF; Nenadi Usman was in-charge of the parastatals; El-Rufai held forth at FCT and in charge of public sector reforms; privatization programme went on, etc. Did you know that the IMF wrote President Obasanjo threatening that there would be no debt relief if the CBN did not meet some monetary targets, and do you know the magic we performed to meet them? Can you tell Nigerians which of the ‘conditionalities’ that you personally implemented? With the groundswell of political support and Nigeria meeting all the ‘conditionalities’, debt relief was assured.
Your major role as stated in your CV was to lead the team to negotiate the specific terms of the relief, having fulfilled the conditions. I still believe that Nigeria should have gotten far better terms than you negotiated. Of course, with your eyes on returning to the World Bank after office, I did not expect you to boldly stand up to the donor community in defence of Nigeria. Was there a conflict of interest on your part?
What is at stake is the survival and prosperity of Nigeria. Next elections are critical, and for me the key is the ECONOMY. We must offer Nigerians clarity on the choices before them. Can I propose a three-way debate with you (representing PDP/Federal Government), nominee of APC (Utomi or Fayemi? or any other), and myself (as independent citizen— I don’t belong to any of the two). Let us have two bouts of debate between now and 12th February, 2015 focusing on: CBN/AMCON and the financial system (if you want); our economy and its outlook, and agenda/alternative paths to sustainable prosperity post elections. Choose the dates and times, and for the sake of Nigeria, I will fly in. You can invite any of your international media friends as moderators. I feel the pain of the 180 million Nigerians whose tomorrow you have carelessly rendered bleak, and when I think of what the missing trillions could do for them, it becomes extremely urgent that we all must deepen the debate. Eagerly waiting for your response, please!
Chukwuma Charles Soludo is a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria
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