Daily Trust (Abuja)

17 November 2012

Nigeria: The Problem With Ngozi's Book

book review

I intend to do a critical review of the recent book written by Nigeria's Minister of Finance and coordinating Minister of the Economy Ngozi Okojo-Iweala which was presented to the public sometime last week.

The book, true to its title 'Reforming the Unreformable Lessons from Nigeria,' correctly captures and exposes the inherent weaknesses and incapacity of the much priced economic coordinator in doing the job that two Nigerian leaders have thought and may still be thinking cannot be done by any other person but her.

General Obasanjo got to terms with some of the critical reservations several Nigerians had on the basic conception and weaknesses of the intellectual late in his second term in office, which probably led to the redeployment of the 'egghead' to Foreign Affairs Ministry. Before she eventually threw in the towel and left back to the Washington Consensus group.

Before the review, I feel it is important to begin to take some of the issues central as raised in parts of the book on item by item basis to raise some questions on the deductions of the author and reasons adduced in relation to certain serious matters, a lot of which were in error and built on weak, biased and cruel judgment.

Let me say the style and language in that document could pass for what one may refer to as near perfect anywhere in the world especially when viewed along the pedestal that several great leaders couched their biographies and memoirs. Beautifully arranged and in smoothly flowing English language.

Reading through some of the sections of the book I was immediately reminded of those days when very brilliant radical students would write opinion pieces x-raying certain flaws in government policies and approach to issues. The author was severe and critical of some of the agencies under her Ministry and wrote things that in the ordinary spelt the gross incapacity of the much taunted reformer invited two times by the government of Nigeria to put things in shape.

In many instances I found that the hard-line postures with which some of the departments of government under the ministry of finance were defined by the minister was more of public pronouncement of the inability to do the work that the presidents thought only she could do, and a clear testimony to the fact that the problem with Nigeria is within so is the solution and does not require any knowledge of the economics and politics of the diaspora to solve.

As I said, the review of the book is in the works but this piece is an examination of some of the positions taken in the author's desire to supervise over reforms in government especially of agencies that relate to fiscal and monetary policies of government.

As said earlier, varying degree of accomplishments were recorded but the sum total of all was that it was a colossal failure. I find it difficult to place within the specter the international expertise that could reform and transform Nigeria.

Ngozi's assessment on the customs service in my view clearly shows the level of un-information to be mild, that the minister has in a major area of national financial and safeguards that are central not just to the ministry of finance but the Nigerian nation as a whole.

Whether Minister Okonjo Iweala accepts it or not, Nigerians have acknowledged the tremendous progress being made in the area of reform of customs and excise in the country.

I am not tempted to void her decision to block what has since been in the national limelight. Yes, corruption is the issue. Why we have failed to get right is physically because those who know are apparently oblivious of basic facts and issues within their immediate and distant control.

The majors adopted in refining the sea-ports, blocking leakages and enforcement of rules and procedure thus re asserting a healthy living for the populous have collectively led to several transformation in the sub sector and eventually the economy.

The morale of officers and men of the service has publicly confessed to the starling peculiarities in the welfare scheme of those who sacrifice their toady for the tomorrow of others. We discourage change deliberately by failing to acknowledge where it occurs when the processes leading to it are in motion. This may be due to some dysfunctional paranoia that those who claim to know it all have.

One can understand the level of frustration and discomfort that some executive like Dr Okonjo-Iweala would feel when their capacity to assimilate ideas superior to theirs are put into practice. They are often scared, and would bring forth semantics to situate gross incapacity. It is not unnatural sometime leaders falter in their perceptions that make them look and behave as if they are completely outside the society.

One thing I am convinced about is that the minister is an unapologetic member of the structural functional economic technocracy. That truly has a lot of toll on her detachment with the reality in Africa and Nigeria IN PARTICULAR. There is a growing need for improvement so when citizens see it in the midst of the rot that is in place; they are quick to point to it. This, I believe is irrevocably acknowledged by even Dr Ngozi's boss, President Goodluck Jonathan.

I am not sure if there was any leadership of the Customs service that was so recognized in the reformation of the very critical segment of the society as much as the current one. Of course, there may still be endemic issues that need further correction, but the failure by the supervisor of the sector to even note the current stride to me speaks volume about the gap between theory which is the strength of Dr Okonjo Iweala and practice, a reality that is becoming impossible for her to adapt.

Sometimes leaders discourage initiative by they deliberately failing to sight those behind such initiatives. I think this may be one reason for those unkind words against the customs and its leadership. My conclusion is that we are in a deep hole and must navigate out so that we may collectively succeed in stemming the nation of the evils that thwart any move to make life better and more abundant.

Let me rest my case here so that I don't mix up the review I intend to make soon with the anger of executive short sight by the minister. In any case I have no doubt in my mind that Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala means very well for Nigeria and its people. What I think is the missing link is like several of her imperial club members drowned in the ocean of international capital and its imaginations.

The book certainly makes an interesting reading.

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