Okonjo-Iweala Says “Out Of Torch With Nigeria’s Economic Reality”

okonjo-iweala

By Benjamin Oghenekome

The Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has hit back at former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Prof. Chukwuah Soludo over his article on Nigeria’s economy saying the former Apex Bank Governor committed “intellectual harakiri”.

The CME noted that Soludo deliberately misquoted facts and maliciously turned statistics on their head to please his masters.

According to Okonjo-Iweala, the one-time Chief Economic Adviser to Olusegun Obasanjo has lost tune the reality of the country’s economic situation  as he has been too busy flying around the globe to understand what is happening with the management of the economy.

The CME asserted that the article is “littered with abusive and unbecoming language. It shows how an embittered loser in the Nigerian political space can get so derailed that they commit intellectual harakiri by deliberately misquoting economic facts and maliciously turning statistics on their head to justify a hatchet job. We hope all the intellectuals in the international circles in which Professor Soludo has told us he flies around in will read what a Professor of Economics has chosen to do with his intellect.

“In this one article Soludo has shamelessly pandered to so many past leaders that Nigerians are asking one more time – what position is Soludo gunning for now? He claims in his article that he has had his own share of public service, yet he has failed twice in his attempts to be Governor of Anambra State and Vice Presidential candidate of various parties. There is definitely an issue of character with Prof. Charles Soludo and his desperate search for power and relevance in Nigeria. Nigerians should therefore beware of so-called intellectuals without character and wisdom because this combination is fatal.”

Okonjo-Iweala, who also doubles as the Finance Minister wondered why having presided over the worst mismanagement of Nigeria’s banking sector, as head of the central Bank between May 2004 and May 2009, Soludo, still had the courage to write about the mismanagement of the economy.

“Nigerians must be reminded of his antecedents as CBN Governor, and even prior to that, as the Chief Economic Adviser to the President. The consolidation of the banking sector was a good policy idea of the Obasanjo Administration but Soludo went on to thoroughly mismanage its implementation leading to the worst financial crisis in Nigeria’s history. So what did Soludo do?

“After consolidation, the regulatory functions of the Soludo-led CBN were very poorly exercised. As Governor, he failed to adequately supervise and regulate the now larger banks – an anomaly in Financial Sector Supervision. In fact as every Nigerian knows, in his time there was very little separation between the regulators and the regulated which is a violation of a key requirement of Central Banking success. This led to infractions in corporate governance in many banks as loans and other credit instruments running to hundreds of billions of naira were extended to clients without following due process, and several of these loans could not be paid back. This massive accumulation of bad debts or non-performing loans as they are called in the banking sector meant that our banks were ill-positioned to deal with the global financial crisis when it hit.

“In fact, the banking sector was brought to its knees and required a massive bailout by Nigerian tax payers. This bailout was done by his successor (now Emir of Kano) who cleaned up all the bad debts and transferred them to the newly-established AMCON, from where they are managed today. So let it be noted for the record books that Soludo’s single-handed mismanagement of the banking sector led to an incredible accumulation of liabilities that will cost tax payers about N5.67 trillion (being the total face value of AMCON-issued bonds) to clean up. Let it be noted also that this amount, which is more than the entire Federal Government 2015 Budget, constitutes the bulk of Nigeria’s “contingent liabilities” mentioned in Soludo’s article. It is only in Nigeria where someone who perpetrated such a colossal economic atrocity would have the temerity to make assertions on public debt and the management of the economy,” she said.

While acknowledging that the economy grew well during the second-term of former President Obasanjo, the CME explained that despite the slow recovery of global growth, Nigeria economy has continued to grow at about the average 3 percent world wide.

“But thorough examination of the facts on performance under the Jonathan Administration will also reveal that at a time when global economic performance was mediocre, with GDP growth averaging about 3 percent per annum, Nigeria’s GDP growth-averaging about 6 percent per annum – is indeed remarkable. Even more interesting is the fact that the oil sector did not drive this economic performance but the non-oil sector (Agriculture, Manufacturing, Telecommunications, the Creative Economy, and so on), which shows that the current Administration’s diversification objective under the Transformation Agenda is working. Transformation equals diversification

“This current government managed to control inflation, which he Soludo, was not able to do during his time at the helm of monetary policy in Nigeria. When he left the Central Bank in 2009, inflation – which hurts the poor and vulnerable in the society the most – was above 13 percent per annum.  Now, inflation is at single-digit, at 8 percent per annum. What about exchange rates? Well this administration again managed to stabilize the naira exchange rates, such that between May 2011 and the end of 2014, official exchange rates against the dollar rarely moved out of the N153 to N156 band. It is only with the recent dramatic fall in oil prices and the consequent impact on our foreign reserves that the exchange rate has become quite volatile. The drop in oil price has been heavy and rapid impacting all oil producing nations significantly. Nigeria is no exception and appropriate fiscal and monetary policy measures are being put in place to manage this situation.
In fact, history will recall that careless remarks by Prof. Soludo (then Chief Economic Adviser to the President) hypothesizing a possible naira devaluation, condemned the naira to a free fall towards the end of 2003. Ray Echebiri, in his 2004 article in the Financial Standard, wrote that not even the assurances given by the then CBN Governor, Mr. Joseph Sanusi or President Obasanjo that any plans to devalue the naira existed only in the head of Professor Soludo could halt the fall of the naira from N128 to the dollar in the official market to about N140 between September and December 2003.
It is true that our foreign reserve accumulation is less than what it should be but the reason for this has been fully given, not as excuses but simply as fact: lower oil production and crude oil theft along with the refusal to save in the Excess Crude Account (ECA) are the reasons. Contrary to what Soludo said, oil production under President Obasanjo was higher than current levels. Quantities produced averaged 2.4 million bdp, 2.22 million bpd, and 2.21 million bpd in 2005, 2006, and 2007 respectively but has declined now to between 1.95 and 2.21 million bdp due to vandalism of the pipelines and the resulting “shut-ins” to fix the problem. It is true that had production been at the previous levels and had there been willingness to save we would have had more money in the ECA and also in the reserves. But the overriding setback to savings is that the State Governors felt it was their constitutional right to share the money. Please recall that even as we speak the States have taken the Federal Government to the Supreme Court on this issue
Soludo’s claim that 71 percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line is misleading and disingenuous. He uses 2011 statistics on poverty by the NBS to support his argument while ignoring more recent figures. But as stated in the Nigeria Economic Report 2014 by the World Bank, poverty rate in Nigeria has dropped from 35.2 percent of population in 2010/2011 to 33.1 percent in 2012/2013. By the way, the reason why our poverty numbers have been so wrong is that the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), under Soludo’s supervision as CEA and Vice-Chair of the National Planning Commission, departed from the international standard method of poverty measurement. Is he now ignoring the right economic statistics to wilfully manipulate information?
No doubt we have a problem with unemployment in this country and we must deal with it. Indeed this Administration is dealing with it and stands proud of what it has accomplished so far and is pushing hard to accomplish much more. As a first step, the Administration, through the office of the Chief Economic Adviser to the President and the NBS, worked hard to determine how many jobs we need to create in a year. What you don’t measure you cannot make progress on. Why didn’t Soludo do this when he was CEA?” She stressed.
On the issue of debt, the Minister said Nigerians deserved to know the truth.

According to her: “The truth is that the government borrowed in 2010 to pay an unprecedented 53.7 percent wage increase to all categories of federal employees as demanded by labour unions.  The total wage bill rose from N857 billion in 2009 to about N1.4 trillion in 2010, and as a result, domestic borrowing increased from N200 billion in 2007 to about N1.1 trillion in 2010 to meet the wage payments. Where was Soludo at the time? Why did he not react to the borrowing then? Was it because he wanted to pander to labour in preparation for his political career?
“It is noteworthy that since 2011, the Administration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has been prudent with the issue of debt and borrowing. The Economic Management Team not only looks at debt to GDP ratio, where Nigeria has one of the lowest numbers in the world at 12.51 percent but it looks at debt service to revenues. That is why in spite of the rebasing and a larger GDP, the administration has taken a prudent approach to borrowing. The prudent approach helped to drive down domestic borrowing from N1.1 trillion in 2010 to N642 billion in 2014. In fact for the first time in our nation’s borrowing history we even managed to retire N75 billion of domestic bonds outright in 2013.
“Despite the present tough situation, we do not plan to go on a borrowing spree but to keep borrowing modest at a level sufficient to help us weather the present situation. We have already ramped up efforts to generate more non-oil revenues for the government while cutting costs of governance. Therefore, Soludo’s claim that this Administration is reckless with debt does not hold true.”
Okonjo-Iweala added that “Since Soludo seems so ignorant to what has been achieved by the Jonathan Administration, let us present just a few examples of them here again. This information is easily verified,” she stressed.