Nigeria’s Iron Lady

Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria

by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

MIT Press, 2012,198 pp., $24.95 hardcover,

ISBN 9780262018142

On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Cape Town in March 2013, I chaired a book launch starring Nige­ria’s formidable first female finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, re­splendent in her trademark African tra­ditional dress and matching head-gear. She talked unpretentiously, without the affected foreign accent of some Nigeri­ans that have spent two decades abroad. She had recently published a book ti­tled Reforming the Unreformable on her time – between 2003 and 2006 – as finance minister of Africa’s larg­est economy, the world’s eighth most populous state, and its sixth largest oil-producer. She had been the architect of the deal to pay off Nigeria’s $30 bil­lion debt (the second largest such debt deal with the Paris Club of creditors at the time), and led a team of technocrat­ic reformers seeking to tackle corrup­tion, build efficient public and private institutions, obtain Nigeria’s first sov­ereign debt rating, and transform the country into an emerging economy.

Without any notes, Okonjo-Iwea­la gave a fluent, inspiring, and intrep­id 30-minute presentation, breaking down complicated economic concepts in ways that were easy for the general audience to digest. She berated Nige­ria’s failure to create a system of sound planning and financial management of its oil resources; described Hercu­lean efforts to fight vested interests at great personal cost; detailed how she had used her impressive international network to achieve Nigeria’s debt deal; observed that Nigeria’s political class appeared to be intimidated by its economic techno­crats; and brushed off concerns about wom­en not being equal to men. Nicknamed Okon­jo-‘Wahala’ (Trouble­maker) by Nigeria’s lively press, this was a virtuoso performance to a South African au­dience fed on a con­stant staple of stereotypes about corrupt Nigerian drug-traffickers.

My impression of Nigeria’s ‘Iron Lady’ was of an incredibly competent, courageous, and intelligent individual with a strong sense of public service. I, however, also had the impression of a diva who was aware of her own impor­tance, clearly enjoyed her celebrity sta­tus, and came across as a ‘head-of-state in waiting’. Okonjo-Iweala is not shy about blowing her own trumpet and her role in the Nigerian reform team, talking of the ‘legitimacy and dynamism that I brought to the team’. Forbes named her among the ten most influential women in the world in 2011, while Foreign Policy listed her among the top 100 global thinkers in the same year. The 60-year-old technocrat’s brilliant economic credentials are from the prestigious Harvard and Massachu­setts Institute of Tech­nology (MIT), obtaining her doctorate in the latter institution. It is clear that the poor grasp of complex economic issues that many of Nigeria’s political leaders and parlia­mentary dunderheads have exhibited is what has given technocrats like Okon­jo-Iweala their immense power, and a belief that they can take better decisions than the leaders they seek to advise.

In her book, Okonjo-Iweala de­scribes in brutally frank terms the mu­tual antipathy between politicians and technocrats: ‘We would keep away from politics, since in any case most of the politicians left a lot to be desired. In fact, I could sense that the politicians felt our team did not appreciate them and regarded them with disdain.’ During the Cape Town book launch in March 2013, Okonjo-Iweala made the rather intrigu­ing point that she eventually came to see no difference between politicians and technocrats, and noted that she had had to become a politician (while be­longing to no party) in order to be able to do her job effectively. This phenome­non of political technocrats was partic­ularly prominent during the era of the ‘Super Permsecs (permanent secretar­ies)’ of powerful mandarins under mili­tary rule in the early 1970s. It produced such prominent figures as Allison Ay­ida, Philip Asiodu, Abdulazeez Atta, and Ahmed Joda, who dominated Gen­eral Yakubu Gowon’s ‘kitchen cabinet’.

Okonjo-Iweala grew up in a solid­ly middle-class Nigerian family with both parents being professors. Her up­bringing was a happy, idyllic one full of ballet classes and piano lessons un­til the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970 forced her family back east, having lost all their savings. Her father was recruited into the Biafran army. Liv­ing on one meal a day, watching chil­dren dying, and sleeping on the floor of a bunker were formative experi­ences that made Okonjo-Iweala de­termined to succeed, and perhaps also contributed to her three-decade exile in graduate school and at the World Bank in Washington D.C., where she rose to become vice-president in 2002.

Okonjo-Iweala avoids such person­al details in Reforming the Unreform­ able and focuses squarely on her time as finance minister between 2003 and 2006. The book took her four years to write. Despite the technical subject matter, it is highly readable, rich in de­tail, and devoid of complex econom­ic jargon. The story is well told and presents a bird’s eye view of Nigeria’s chronically underperforming and stag­geringly corrupt state. Her six-month stint as economic adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2000 had led to Okonjo-Iweala establishing a Debt Management Office and given her in­sights into the country’s parlous policy­making environment. The book covers the strategies of Okonjo-Iweala’s ‘Eco­nomic Team’; the actual implementa­tion of goals to address the structural constraints to private enterprise in Ni­geria’s economy through privatisation, deregulation and liberalisation; restruc­turing the civil service, trade, tariffs, customs and banking sectors; the bat­tle against corruption; the successful and titanic struggle to achieve the an­nulment of Nigeria’s debt; and the les­sons learned from the reform process.

Okonjo-Iweala herself recognises at the outset: ‘Nigeria has always been complex to govern in a way outsiders do not often understand or fully grasp’. She describes the country’s three de­cades of military rule as ‘politically and economically disastrous’ and castigates Nigeria’s ‘kleptocratic elite’ which she notes has ‘a very limited vision’. The country’s Lilliputian leadership had failed to invest sensibly $300 billion of oil earnings since the 1970s. Okon­jo-Iweala observes that the same rapa­cious elite may be one of the largest obstacles to reform, as it continues to feed at the trough of a parasitic state. She describes the deleterious impact of the ‘oil curse’ on Nigeria’s agricultural and other sectors, as well as its destruc­tion of the country’s moral and social fabric. She condemns ‘white elephant’ projects such as the Ajaokuta Steel Mills in which $5 billion was squan­dered without any concrete results.

Before embarking on her reforms, Okonjo-Iweala obtained advice from Brazil’s former deputy finance minis­ter and a World Bank board member, Amauiry Bier. In an impressive ex­ample of South-South sharing, based on Brazil’s own reform experiences, she was advised to pick a like-minded ‘Economic Team’ to fight the tough bat­tles in cabinet; have a comprehensive strategy; and ensure the sustainabil­ity of reforms by underpinning them with binding legislation. In crafting the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007, Nigeria also looked to what Brazil had done and sought to adapt this example to its own legislation. The ‘Econom­ic Team’ – including individuals such as Charles Soludo, Nasir Al-Rufai, Obiageli Ezekwesili, Nenadi Usman, Nuhu Ribadu, and Bode Augusto – crafted the National Economic Em­powerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) which set out to tackle four key challenges: poor economic man­agement; weak public institutions and poor governance; the failure of the state to deliver public services; and a hostile environment for private sector growth. The team sought to bring rationali­ty to a deliberately irrational process designed to enable widespread graft.

The reforms recorded some nota­ble successes. A controversial Excess Crude Oil Account (ECA) was creat­ed to ensure that savings for the future could be used to stabilise the manage­ment of Nigeria’s finances. The coun­try’s rapacious state governors, how­ever, questioned its constitutionality. Half of the country’s revenue has to be shared by the federal government with its 36 states, the federal capital territory, and its 774 local government bodies. To increase transparency, Okonjo-Iweala published monthly in national newspa­pers the funds that state governors and local governments received, in order to empower their constituents to be able to hold them more accountable. Anoth­er major achievement of the reforms was the liberalisation of Nigeria’s an­tiquated telecommunications sector in 2003, allowing private mobile phone operators like South Africa’s Mobile Telephone Networks (MTN) and Ni­geria’ Glo to provide services to mil­lions of Nigerians. Banking reforms also saw the consolidation of banks from 89 to 25 and the increase in their capital base from $15 million to $192 million. A competitive bidding process for contracts saved the country about $1.5 billion in two and a half years.

The climax of this rich story is un­doubtedly the historic debt deal after a successful two-year effort between the Nigerian government and the Paris Club between 2003 and 2005. Okon­jo-Iweala deserves the most credit for this impressive achievement. Before the debt deal in 2002, Nigeria’s annu­al debt service to the Paris club of $3 billion would have represented a third of its overall budget; ten times the na­tional health budget; and five times the education budget. Okonjo-Iweala ne­gotiated a $1 billion annual payment to restore Nigeria’s fiscal credibility. Following marathon all-night negotiat­ing sessions in Paris in October 2005, the deal was struck, with Nigeria pay­ing $12 billion and being relieved of $18 billion of debt. The agreement led to Nigeria’s first-ever sovereign credit rating, and non-oil sector foreign di­rect investment doubled from $2 bil­lion to $4 billion following the accord.

Okonjo-Iweala is honest in ad­mitting that her reform efforts could have benefitted more from cultivating cabinet members and consulting more with civil society and the civil service. This suggests that rather than proceed­ing through intellectual argumentation and rational persuasion, it was often assumed that ‘vested interests’ would block reforms. Changes were therefore often pushed through with the assistance of the notoriously autocratic president, Olusegun Obasanjo, without proper intellectual debate and disagreement or wide consultation with key interest groups. It is almost as if some of the genuine opposition to reforms is treated as treasonous, and critics of reform are sometimes unfairly branded as being part of corrupt ‘vested interests’. As­tonishingly, Okonjo-Iweala admits that the reformers actually stopped trying to gain the support of senior civil servants in their efforts to reform the civil ser­vice. It was no surprise that this particu­lar effort at reform failed spectacularly. The reformers often come across in the book as a secret society and cabal of un­accountable priests championing a reli­gion of neo-liberal reform. Such dogma was, however, not to be challenged, and anyone who tried, was brand­ed a heretic to be burned at the stake.

The NEEDS strategy – like the con­tinental New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) championed by leaders like Olusegun Obasanjo and South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki – turned out to be a top-down plan imposed on the country without proper and wide­spread consultation and buy-in from critical civil society actors. The Ni­gerian civil society actors in the book remain mostly nameless and faceless. Their criticisms of NEEDS is never spelt out or explained. One does not have a sense that there was any seri­ous engagement with these groups. The core of Nigeria’s intelligentsia is cari­catured as ‘inclined towards socialism’, as if this somehow made this minority (certainly not a ‘core’, as Okonjo-Iwea­la asserts) less patriotic. She tends to lump all opponents of reform together, sometimes blurring the line between opportunistic vested interests and gen­uine intellectual opposition. The views of Nigerian and African economists and think-tanks are also completely absent from the book, even as Western schol­ars like Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs are admiringly cited. Indigenous solutions to these deep-seated prob­lems clearly do not seem to have been taken as seriously as external advice.

Okonjo-Iweala seems to have an exaggerated faith in external civil so­ciety and other actors, many of whom, such as Ann Pettifor of the Jubilee 2000 campaign, she cites adoringly. Some of these individuals, like the Irish pop stars Bono and Bob Geldof, in fact trivialise African anti-poverty causes, disempower Africans, and expose the poverty of genuine leadership in these critical areas. Okonjo-Iweala’s key re­form allies, from whom advice is often sought, also appear to be external ac­tors: the World Bank and the Interna­tional Monetary Fund (IMF); the British Department for International Devel­opment (DFID); the Commonwealth Secretariat; and the Washington D.C.- based Centre for Global Development.

In terms of other reforms, the author frankly concedes that customs reform was an ‘outright failure’. There were also glaring supervisory and regulato­ry failures that led to a severe banking crisis in 2008/2009 which nearly de­stroyed Nigeria’s financial sector. This industry was exposed to be as riddled with greed and corruption as any oth­er in the country, with lavish lifestyles and spending being sustained with the funds of ordinary depositors. The worst banks were identified as Afrib­ank, Finbank, Intercontinental Bank, Oceanic Bank, and Union Bank, which collectively had $7.6 billion in bad loans, while accounting for 40 percent of Nigeria’s bank credit. The ‘pana­cea’ of privatization also turned out to be a mirage. Okonjo-Iweala herself concedes that its success was mixed, as vested political interests were able to influence the outcomes of these processes to feather their own nests.

She notes that ‘Nigeria had become synonymous with the word “corrup­tion”’. The mechanics and incidents of corruption in the country are vividly described in the book: monitoring and evaluation officials bribed to authorise incomplete projects; ‘leakages’ in the Budget Office and Accountant Gener­al’s office due to poor record-keeping; senior civil servants sharing the ill-got­ten interest on government deposits with officials in commercial banks; ‘ghost workers’ collecting salaries and pensions of non-existent staff; legisla­tors inflating budgets; profligate public enterprises being treated as personal egg nests; private bankers engaging in ‘insider trading’ and squandering de­positors’ funds; General Sani Abacha stashing $505 million of stolen mon­ey in Swiss bank accounts and raiding the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for $2.2 billion which was carried away in trucks; the money-laundering (nearly 2 million pounds) governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyes­eigha, jumping bail from London and escaping back to Nigeria disguised as a woman; the governor of Del­ta State, James Ibori, jailed in Lon­don for fraud and money-laundering; TSKJ consortium (including French, Italian, American, and Japanese firms) paying $180 million in ‘kick-backs’ to win a $2 billion gas contract in 1995; and Siemens paying bribes totalling 10 million Euros to Nigerian govern­ment officials between 2001and 2004.

One of the author’s most interesting insights is the fact that state governors in Nigeria have almost complete auton­omy in managing billions of dollars in state funds. The fact that they have im­munity from prosecution for criminal acts while in office often results in a culture of impunity. There is thus a dis­connect between state revenues, service delivery, and these governors being held accountable by their constituents for widespread theft of state resourc­es. It would have been useful to obtain from the author more concrete ideas (rather than the nebulous suggestion of ‘a less permissive Nigerian constitu­tion’) to reform such a fundamentally pernicious system. Okonjo-Iweala’s remedies for tackling corruption – mus­tering political will; focusing on the most damaging corruption; developing measurable indicators for success; and withstanding personal intimidation – also seem rather academic and do not seem capable of addressing this cancer systematically at its roots. Part of the obvious problem which Okonjo-Iweala is unwilling to spell out is that fish rots from the top: many of the political lead­ers with whom she is working are part of the problem of corruption she is seeking to tackle. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arraigned five governors in 2007, convicting two; Nigeria’s Inspector-General was con­victed and sentenced to six months in jail; while several billions of naira in stolen money was recovered. The EFCC was, however, clearly used selectively by Obasanjo as a political instrument to intimidate and neuter his opponents.

This rich narrative demonstrates the importance of cultivating influential peo­ple in order to achieve key goals: in this case, the annulment of Nigeria’s debt in 2005. US President George W. Bush and his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; British Premier Tony Blair and his Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown; Mexican finance minister, Fran­cisco Gil-Diaz; World Bank president, Jim Wolfensohn; the IMF’s first dep­uty managing director, Anne Krueger; deputy German finance manager, Caio Koch-Weser (Okonjo-Iweala’s former boss at the World Bank); senior deputy Director-General in Japan’s finance min­istry, Kiyoshi Kodera (a former World Bank colleague); Secretary-General at the Paris Club secretariat, Emmanuel Moulin (a former alternate World Bank Executive Director); and the World Bank’s Nigeria country director, Hafez Ghanem – all play an instrumental part in Nigeria’s debt drama. It was almost as if Okonjo-Iweala’s two-decade career at the World Bank had prepared her for this historic role.

In one particularly memorable pas­sage in the book, the author recounts a visit to the White House in May 2005 during which President Obasanjo strug­gles to convince George W. Bush to back the annulment of Nigeria’s debt. Okonjo-Iweala steps in, realising that she may never get such an opportu­nity to state Abuja’s case. Her points about Nigeria being a poor, infrastruc­ture-starved country with a large pop­ulation catches Bush’s attention, and he asks for a letter setting out Nigeria’s arguments, eventually obtaining Amer­ican support for the debt deal. In anoth­er colourful passage, Okonjo-Iweala demonstrates great determination and resourcefulness in ambushing Italian finance minister, Domenico Siniscal­co, in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. She button-holes him by grabbing his jacket, explains her mission, and manages to gain his support for Nige­ria’s debt annulment over a cup of tea.

For all her undoubted brilliance, Okon­jo-Iweala has several blind spots. Her criticisms of the World Bank and IMF’s diabolically devastating twenty-year so­cio-economic experiments – the Structur­al Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) – on African guinea-pigs from the 1980s, in­volving large-scale enforced cuts in health and education and consistently wrong advice, and conducted in an utterly unac­countable manner that often undermined the democratic wishes of African popu­lations, are extremely muted. Many of the officials of these institutions are often technically gifted but staggeringly igno­rant about the political, social, and cultural environments in which they are operating, leading them often to cause more harm than good. Okonjo-Iweala unsurprisingly comes across as an ideological prosely­tiser for World Bank doctrines of growth, ‘good governance’, property rights, and private enterprise. Her economic ortho­doxy – and what critics dub ‘trickle-down economics’ that is obsessed with growth – has earned her many enemies on the in­tellectual left, though she often acted more pragmatically in government, not hesitat­ing to promote state intervention when she thought it the right course to take.

Though a competent economist, Okonjo-Iweala can sometimes come across as politically naive. Critics have charged her with lacking a political antenna: she received much blame for the bungled effort to eliminate oil sub­sidies of $8 billion in Nigeria in Oc­tober 2004. She had underestimated the widespread anger and cynicism of the Nigerian public towards a corrupt and corpulent political class that was not trusted to spend any surpluses re­sulting from removing oil subsidies in the public interest. (Six people were killed in the ensuing demonstrations). She again came in for scathing criti­cism when she pushed for removal of oil subsidies in her second stint as fi­nance minister in January 2012, which led to nation-wide demonstrations, and the government of Goodluck Jonathan eventually negotiating a compromise.

Okonjo-Iweala sometimes describes issues such as the impact of the remov­al of fuel subsidies on the poor and massive retrenchments of workers in cold, technical language that is devoid of empathy. It is almost as if workers are units of labour rather than real peo­ple with flesh and bones, and families to feed. In April 2014, she declared that the Boko Haram terrorist threat had been ‘isolated’ in Borno and Yobe states. The group certainly had a much wider reach. In terms of gender issues, Okonjo-Iweala also appears to promote the fight by individual leadership rather than by waging specific gender-focused battles, opening her up to charges that, like the original ‘Iron Lady’ – Brit­ain’s Margaret Thatcher – she is no different from her power-seeking male colleagues, and often fails to promote the cause of women systematically.

Okonjo-Iweala also pulls her punches in her complex relationship with President Olusegun Obasanjo, euphemistically talking about him as sometimes using ‘strong-arm tactics’ to describe an autocratic leadership style. She tried unsuccessfully to re­sign a few weeks into the job in 2003 after Obasanjo announced publicly the moving of the Budget Office from the finance ministry to the presidency without consulting her. A compromise was eventually reached, and Okon­jo-Iweala withdrew her resignation. Obasanjo would undermine his finance minister again in failing to support the reform of Nigeria’s corruption-riddled port system. She was moved from fi­nance to foreign minister by Obasanjo in June 2006 after – according to her account – she blocked powerful busi­nessmen and their political patrons from the president’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) from obtain­ing import licences for rice and other products (which would have hurt poor Nigerian rice farmers being encouraged to produce locally), allegedly in order to raise funds for the 2007 election.

Okonjo-Iweala seemed almost to distance the president from his own decision. It would have been interest­ing to know the extent to which she felt betrayed by the notoriously vindictive Obasanjo, having helped to steward the most important achievement of his presidency – the debt deal of 2005. Okonjo-Iweala cites Obasanjo con­demning Nigeria’s public enterprises as incompetent and corrupt without noting that many of these agencies had been set up under military regimes in which he had served in the 1970s. In anoth­er memorable incident in the book, Obasanjo banned – ‘with immediate ef­fect’ – imports of glass bottles to Nige­ria following a complaint from a local manufacturer during a meeting in the presidential mansion of ‘Aso Rock’, without any prior analysis or consulta­tion. (The decision had to be partly re­versed within six months). Despite tak­ing off his military khaki to don civilian presidential robes, Obasanjo surely has to take some responsibility for some of Okonjo-Iweala’s trenchant critiques of the two-decade mismanagement of military regimes and the corrup­tion under his own civilian regime.

A prodigious and skilful network­er, Okonjo-Iweala’s stellar interna­tional reputation was confirmed when she ran for the president of the World Bank in 2012 at the urging of many of Africa’s leaders and her interna­tional backers. She received the en­dorsement of the prestigious Western establishment publications, The Fi­nancial Times and The Economist, as well as prominent economists like In­dian-American Jagdish Bhagwati, who praised her ‘enormous competence and renowned wit’. Shamefully, the World Bank and the IMF have been head­ed for the past seven decades by an American and European respectively.

After serving as the widely-respect­ed Managing Director at the World Bank (its second most powerful position) be­tween 2007 and 2011, Okonjo-Iwea­la returned to Nigeria in the enhanced position of minister for the economy and finance. Her ‘second coming’ has, however, not proved to be as messianic as the first, perhaps confirming the ob­servation that there are no second acts in life. Okonjo-Iweala has struggled to have the same impact in her second stint as finance minister. The great debt deal – the marquee achievement of her first term – is being reversed under her very nose, as Nigeria’s external debt rose to $9.7 billion and its domestic debt to a massive $57.9 billion by De­cember 2014. Her impeccable integrity of the first term has been increasingly questioned. Accusations have increased of her turning a blind eye to graft to pursue greater political ambitions.

In February 2014, the governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, Sanusi Lami­do Sanusi, blew the whistle on an al­leged $12 billion (from an initial claim of $20 billion) in missing funds from the accounts of the Nigerian Nation­al Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Okonjo-Iweala investigated and noted that the missing amount was closer to $10.8 billion, and demanded a forensic audit of the NNPC. Many asked how a finance minister could be in the dark about the apparent disappearance of a sum amounting to Nigeria’s entire bud­get in 2002. Okonjo-Iweala was clearly rattled by the political damage to her international reputation. In an interview with the BBC following these claims, she lost her cool, noting: ‘It would be very easy for me to sit at the World Bank and earn a nice salary and criti­cise. I gave up a comfortable career to come here...’. In a fit of folie de gran­deur, Okonjo-Iweala appeared to depict her service as a favour to the country. This was clearly not her finest moment.

Despite these difficulties, the fi­nance minister’s second term has not been completely devoid of achieve­ments. Like the fabled tell-tale ‘Ame­bo’ in Nigeria’s grand drama of a ‘Vil­lage Headmaster’, she blew the whistle on the damage of oil bunkering to the national fiscus, revealing, in February 2012, that such theft resulted in the loss of $1 billion a month (155,000 barrels a day) to the treasury. For her outspo­ken courage, Nigeria’s ‘Iron Lady’ has had to endure some difficult personal incidents. Her 83-year old mother was kidnapped for five days in December 2012. The traumatised ‘Iron Lady’ re­vealed a religious side, praying suc­cessfully for her mother’s safe return.

So, was Okonjo-Iweala success­ful in ‘reforming the unreformable’? Though clearly steeped in the dark arts of bureaucratic intrigue after two de­cades in the snake-pit that is the World Bank, Okonjo-Iweala and her band of reformers lacked the necessary po­litical power to move a country as di­verse and complex as Nigeria to adopt her reforms in a sustained manner. If one assesses her efforts in terms of the goals of the comprehensive strategy of NEEDS set out by the reformers, the re­sults are not encouraging. Nigeria still suffers from poor economic management and poor governance; the coun­try’s public institutions remain weak, while the state is still failing woefully to deliver public services in areas such as electricity and water. The author herself notes that Nigeria would re­quire $10 billion annually in infrastruc­ture investments – the amount that the country spent on food imports in 2010, even though it clearly had the capaci­ty to feed itself. Despite $1 billion an­nually being channelled into poverty reduction programmes (a condition of Nigeria’s debt annulment deal), such programmes have clearly failed to have any appreciable impact on relieving the misery of the country’s teeming mass­es. This is despite widespread youth unemployment, even as 70 per cent of Nigerians are 30 years old or younger.

Okonjo-Iweala admits that her team of reformers underestimated how much time it would take to implement and embed their reforms. She also concedes that they had tried to take on too much at the same time, and should have better prioritised and sequenced the reforms. A decade after Nigeria’s historic debt deal, poverty and inequality continue to be unacceptably high in Nigeria, with an estimated 70 per cent of the population of 160 million living below the pover­ty line. The country’s public health and education sectors have crumbled, as has much of its infrastructure. Corrup­tion remains as rampant and embedded in economic life as it was a decade ago. The economy, it seems, is growing, but the people are clearly growing poorer!

For all the loud talk of Nigeria being one of the world’s fastest-growing economies since 2003, Nigerian economist  Adebayo Adedeji’s caution in the 1980s – while serving as the Executive Director of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) – against an approach of ‘growth without development’ that resulted from the two Bretton Woods institutions’ Structural Adjustment Programmes, does not seem to have been heeded. Even Okonjo-Iweala concedes at the end of her book that the jury is still out on whether her reforms had launched Nigeria on the path to sustainable growth and development. Particularly since her doctorate at MIT focused on regional economic development and she served as Nigeria’s foreign minister for three months between June and August 2006, it would have been useful to have seen in the book a strategy for harnessing Nigeria’s domestic development efforts to those of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Despite these shortcomings, Nigeria’s ‘Iron Lady’ should be credited for her incredible achievement in annulling the country’s $30 billion external debt and for bringing some sanity to the country’s financial management. Ever the optimist having survived the trauma of living through a civil war, Okonjo-Iweala’s faith in Nigerians seems undiminished: ‘This is an entrepreneurial country. Everybody’s hustling’. Moving from the local to the continental level, the author also recognises the potential of Pax Nigeriana in noting: ‘When Nigeria succeeds in transforming itself, it will transform Africa’.



Adekeye Adebajo


7 -8 -9

Africa Review of Books/ Revue Africaine des Livres

Volume 11, N°01 - Mars 2015 













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