FEATURE ARTICLE

Reginald Olisa OranyeFriday, March 14, 2014
reg.oranye@gmail.com
Toronto, Canada

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ON NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA'S ARTICLE:
RECENT SETBACKS WILL NOT UNDO NIGERIA'S PROGRESS

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n an article reported in the Financial Times of March 13, 2014, Nigeria's Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, promises amongst other things to ensure tight fiscal policy, following reports of about $20 billion oil proceeds unaccounted for and ostensibly stolen from the petroleum ministry and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). She states that a portion of oil revenue "will be put aside to insulate the economy from external shocks", and that she will ensure that "the acting central bank governor is committed to tight monetary policies"

Ordinarily, ensuring tight fiscal policies and maintaining economic stability ought to be the job of the finance minister. There is no mention of how much of the oil revenue is to be put aside for insulating the economy, and neither is there any indication that the looting in the oil industry was as a result of the failure of the past CBN governor to commit to tight monetary policies. Her promise at this time to "ensure tight fiscal policy" is not only fatally flawed and hollow but it fails completely to inspire confidence in a system in which the government is yet, or unable, to take any action against those superintending over the petroleum ministry and NNPC, but rather moves speedily to suspend a CBN governor, clearly, over his exposť of this massive fraud. This government action, speaks volumes of its involvement, tacit approval, or at best knowledge, of this criminality.

Her continued defence of the government's financial policies, her inability to cause the petroleum minister to explain the where about of this huge amount of money, and her failure to insist loudly and clearly, on financial accountability at the highest levels of government, suggest a worrying degree of her naivety of the well-entrenched criminal resourcefulness of the political class and their business partners. Furthermore, she unwittingly provides cover for the continued looting of Nigeria's oil resources by a cabal that is well known to, and some will say is, a part, of the government, as well as for the incompetence or complicity of the petroleum minister, who ought to take full responsibility for the mess in her ministry and the oil industry.

Ngozi's article is a public relations gimmick aimed at hoodwinking the international community into believing that Nigeria's economic indices remain healthy even in the face of such massive fraud. Her suggestion that the delay in the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) by the National Assembly is somehow responsible for this fraud distracts from the core of the matter, and is a poor attempt at shielding the perpetrators and protecting government. The article itself therefore does great disservice to her person and diminishes her well-earned reputation.

For the so-called planned forensic audit to be truly independent, devoid of influence, restore stakeholder confidence or even achieve anything meaningful, the minister of petroleum and heads of all agencies under the ministry including NNPC, on whose watch this systematic looting has occurred, must be removed from office immediately. But this is unlikely to happen given the deep culture of corruption in government particularly at NNPC coupled with the presidency's famed notoriety in failing to act promptly in matters of urgent national importance, and Ngozi's seeming reluctance or more appropriately, inability to confront the powerful oil cabal. To redeem whatever is left of her reputation, she needs to be fearless, bold and courageous enough to call for the much-needed sweeping changes in the petroleum ministry including the resignation or termination of the minister as well as dismissal of the heads of NNPC and other agencies involved in this fraud. Alternatively, she should resign forthwith.

Unless and until this is done, Okonjo- Iweala, as coordinator of the Nigerian economy, risks accusation of complicity of some sort in this massive fraud, a situation with potentially grave dangers for Nigeria's economic progress.

Reginald Olisa Oranye is a socio-political commentator and International Environmental Consultant.

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