Before the Yale University ‘magic’ awarding an honorary doctorate degree to Ngozi Okonjo Iweala (NOI), one has decided not to be part of the argument about her merit or otherwise as ‘Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy’.
While Nigerians are reeling in the ‘economic pains’ that her legacies of the aforesaid portfolio left behind, she was being ‘appreciated’ in faraway Yale for ‘a job well done’, despite protest from Nigerians and not withstanding her implication in a missing $20 billion case.
Thus, Ngozi at one and the same time became the epicentre of the proverbial oddity of ‘one man’s meat, another man’s poison’, which places the question about her squarely thus: ‘who did she come to serve’?
To begin with, a doctoral in Economics is never enough a criterion for a ‘Coordinating Minister of the Economy’ whatever is conceived by that.
This especially for Third World Countries (TWCs) and particularly for Africa whose economy is besieged by structural incapacitation foisted on it from centuries of unequal economic exchanges and transactions, the template of which the global economic power houses continue to refine and re adjust to sustain the lopsided relationship with it.
Running any TWCs’ economy requires not only ‘Economics’ from so called neo liberal ‘macro-economic fundamentals, but a deep knowledge of its history, the place of such country in the current global politico-economic arrangements, its strength (of which human and natural resources especially oil and mineral deposits are Nigeria’s and Africa’s), as well as regional possibilities and alternatives, spiced with a radical intellectual approach which defies ‘iron cast’ prescriptions given nonetheless by the same global economic power houses as solutions, and involving an ‘out of the box’ thinking and thought processes.
Little wonder that in most newly emerging and successful economies, the ‘economy’ as a phenomenon and a challenge has always been managed by a team of experts drawn from such other areas of discipline as political economy, history, sociology, international relations and law, and the management sciences
‘Power Point Economics’
To say that the ‘glamour’ of acclaimed ‘brilliance’ of some so called experts is usually enhanced by the ‘power’ of presentations through computer power point is an understatement. Graphical depictions of whatever is conceived which seems to convey elements of clarity have always dazzled a lot of people.
However, behind the facade of power point fabricated statistics lay hard facts that hungry faces, angry hearts and tensed socio economic environment and realities convey, so obstinately and seemingly permanently too.
For long, many discerning Nigerians have doubted the truth of Ngozi’s ‘statistics’ about the economy which always give a positive outlook in the face of harsh economic conditions. She had boasted severally that the Nigerian economy is not only strong, but immune to stress.
But this ‘power point’ falsehood (which she has knitted together and continuously in the last few years) began to fall apart in the twilight of the Jonathan administration, as her monopoly over the interpretations of the performance(s) of the nation’s economy neared its end.
As she took her exit from the economic scene, the reality that could be read by even the starkest of illiterates began to reel out in the lives of Nigerians confronting brutally the ‘edifice’ she had built and pummelling all her ‘statistics’ into dust.
Fuel suddenly became scarce because so called marketers were being owed; meaning that, all along the claim of reduction in subsidy payment was doctored, spread and/or deferred, implying a continuing statistical fraud.
Incredibly too, many states of the federation increasingly became unable to pay salaries courtesy of ‘cuts’ in their allocations; and the revelation by the newly elected opposition party [the APC] that the country is back in the debt trap to the tune of $60 billion (or N12 trillion – a charge she is yet to deny as she was busy ‘cooking the ‘stats’ as at the time the elections were being won and lost, culminating in an improper handing-over) completed the picture of an economy in a state of serious distress and disrepair.
Yet the fact remains that for close to four years and under her ‘coordination’ the economy earned more than its budgets in oil revenue, with little or nothing to show for all those earnings!
Between incompetence and sabotage
The question then is: has ‘economics’ gone from being a common sense discipline, where what is required is striking a balance between what is earned and spent within a nation’s resource endowment and possibilities?
The late Chief Awolowo was not an economist per se, but in his application of this ‘common sense’, he managed efficiently an economy that was just emerging from the stress of a civil war.
What then is it that our ‘World Bank guru’ didn’t understand with regard to this common sense enterprise? The answer is traceable to two explanations only- either incompetence or sabotage or both!
With regard to competence, it is not difficult to see a lack of this. Baring her being a part of the negotiating team for the country’s debt repayment (which was her major contribution under former OBJ as Minister of Finance), Ngozi came from the World Bank without any genuine economic blue print or road map –the type needed by an economy like ours’ to grow.
Even that debt repayment exercise was in all sense a patronage of the ‘decoy’ put up by her ‘masters’ – so called international club of creditors – to evade the demand at the time by Africans for outright debt cancellation or the payment of reparation for the injuries of the slave trade.
And for all the years Ngozi spent supervising the economy under Jonathan, there was no such talks as roadmap to industrialization –the very in-thing needed by the economy to propel it towards prosperity.
Under her supervision, an excessive dosage of the often parroted macro-economic ‘principles’ basically from the prism of neo liberalism were applied on the Nigerian economy despite its typical incongruities where there is hardly any connections/linkages between the barely existing manufacturing sector and the primary and extractive sectors like agriculture and mineral resources (even refining our God given crude became written off as an impossibility); where privatisation of national assets like the steel rolling mills deemed the ‘back bone’ of production and germane to any nation’s manufacturing ability continued unabated under a fraudulent ‘private sector- led’ approach! Students of international relations would remember that the Alsace Lorraine- a parcel of land between France and Germany- reputed for its vast deposits of iron ore was at the heart of the Franco-Prussian war of 1871.
In the midst of this charade, the diversification of the mainstay of the country’s economy (oil) was less thought of and the larger un-captured and un-integrated informal sector continues to widen as more and more people are thrown out of formal jobs with big industries folding up due to poor infrastructural facilities like power only to explore production opportunities in neighbouring countries.
Aside these, the common place economic knowledge of the flow/connection between households’ spending and firms’ production and service rendering capacity were ignored; the expansion that the extractive sector could generate when linked with local enterprise and furnished with appropriate framework for any participant (local or foreign); and the effect of all these on the welfare of the citizenry were not priorities. So what really did ‘economics’ meant to NOI?
Being an ‘Economic Hit man’
Perhaps it would not be out of place to say that an ‘economic hit (wo)man’ has been at the helms of the country’s economy in the last few years!
In his confession of what he has been all his life, John Perkins [himself an economic hit man] described an economic ‘hit man’ thus: ‘Economic hit men [EHMs] are highly paid professionals who cheat countries across the globe out of trillions of dollars.
They funnel money from the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign ‘aid’ organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources.
Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, pay offs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization…’ [‘Confession of an Economic Hit man’,-J. Perkins, xi, 2004].
Written in the aftermath of the September 11 2001 incident to enlighten Americans about the many ‘sins’ of their government that is at the heart of the attacks, Perkins described the aims and workings of the system which recruits the EHMs thus: ‘my job (as an EHM)…was to encourage world leaders to become part of a vast network that promotes U.S. commercial interests. In the end those leaders become ensnared in a web of debt that ensures their loyalty. We can draw on them whenever we desire – to satisfy our political, economic, or military needs’.
As to what the debt quagmire is used to achieve, he said, ‘if an EHM is completely successful, the loans are so large that the debtor is forced to default on its payments after a few years. When this happens, then like the Mafia we demand our pound of flesh.
This often includes one or more of the following: control over United Nations votes, the installation of military bases, or access to precious resources such as oil…Of course the debtor still owes us the money – and another country is added to our global empire’ .
More sinisterly, if the leader of a country refuses to ‘buy’ into the EHM’s proposal, Perkins tells of what happens ‘If we falter a more malicious form of hit man, the jackal (i. e. CIA assassin) steps to the plate. And if the jackal fails, then the job falls to the military’ as in Iraq and Libya recently.
Perkins gave the pathetic story of two heads of states (Jaime Roldos of Ecuador and Omar Torrijos of Panama) who refused to patronize the EHMs and whose deaths were organized in fiery crashes, ‘We EHMs failed to bring Roldos and Torrijos around, and the other type of hit men, the CIA-sanctioned jackals who were always right behind us, stepped in’.
If in the 60s when Perkins was recruited only ‘whites’ could be found to do these kinds of dirty jobs around the globe on behalf of their empire, a change in strategy must have occurred over the years with ‘agents’ recruited from other parts of the world for same purpose.
The craving for wealth and greed represent the principal tools of inducement in individuals while the uncritical acceptance of ‘aid’ by governments and communities complemented the ability of the ‘empire’ to penetrate easily and procure new hands for its mission of enslavement and domination.
I remember in a class on International Political Economy at my Master’s program, my lecturer said something with regard to the effects of the Trans- Atlantic slave trade on Africa: that not only did it take away enormous human resources which could have benefited Africa for plantation farms in the ‘newly discovered world’ of America, it also left a culture in Africans in the form of undying taste for foreign products!
Yes, what really were Africans of those periods who colluded to sell their own blood brothers into slavery getting? Wine, mirror, lace and other material stuffs.
Today as well, the desire to show ‘class’ not via any natural intelligence, but selfish aggrandizement based mostly on ill- gotten wealth lay at the root of Africa’s inextricable subordination to the West.
Wealth are stolen from the African soil by its leaders in collusion with foreign corporations and taken to foreign lands only for the thieves of these collective patrimony to come forward again and lead delegations to beg for a part of what was stolen as ‘aid’, ‘loans’ or ‘assistance’!
The point being made here is that, those who control the planet’s resources today understand the human nature of greed and exploit same to put in debt trap others like Africans whose leaders are chronically ill as far as wealth and material accumulation is concerned.
How then can we talk of growing and developing the continent in the midst of this?
Ngozi betrayed her poor knowledge of Africa’s and Nigeria’s economic history. She not only failed to look inward for appropriate local potentials, but was also unable to create a framework for attracting enduring foreign investment. For instance, Oby Ezekwezili’s initiative in the extractive sector through Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative(NEITI) remains a diligent framework and a catalyst for that sector. This flaw in Ngozi pervaded other sectors like power and manufacturing under her watch.
Fatally too, the phenomenon of borrowing (and subsequent indebtedness) which held Africa’s and Nigeria’s development down for decades was plunged into under her coordination without caution, all because neo liberalism glorifies ‘borrowing’ as a virtue and prod nations of the earth to indulge in it.
Even those nations with earnings far in excess of their needs like the Gulf States are encouraged to borrow! And how do you explain a borrowing that has grown to thrice your annual budget all in less than six years when even neo liberalism suggested a single-digit percentage of your GDP!
The Asian Tigers Example
The Asian Tigers, so called because of their outstanding growth leaps some of whom doubled their growth in just one or two decades, compared to America, 43 years and Europe 54.
Their growth was a lesson in the critical employment of phantom ‘economic prescriptions’ from the World Bank and the IMF.
In other words, what the ‘Bank’ and the ‘Fund’ peddled around as ‘economic remedies’ were in most cases either rejected or heavily modified taking into consideration their own stages of development, local endowments and opportunities, and cultural peculiarities.
After evolving an economy that is internally dynamic through the appropriate linkages of its various sectors; the establishment of various ‘incubation’ centers for technological advancement; the backing provided by government through appropriate frameworks and funding; and the social mobilization of the citizenry especially labor unions which sees in its leaders a sense of commitment to national and cultural revamping -external intervention in the form of FDIs (Foreign Direct Investment) were greatly moderated.
Only after a strong internal economy based on local productive capacity was assured did these nations fully opened up into the international system, because then, they have what to compete with, that is, what to sell.
It was only in that context that they began to apply ‘measures’ or ‘concepts’ which we most uncritically apply here.
Only in that context did the devaluation of their currencies (including its degree or extent) made meaning; only then did they apply subsidy to boost production (and not the consumption of what they do not produce) which made their products cheaper and able to compete well in international market.
They also took measures which protected their infant industries among others. In a nutshell, theirs’ were economies which gave larger and pivotal role to their governments as backers of their private sector.
This approach employed by the Asian Tigers is in essence the ‘Keynesian Compromise’ which saw a role for both the state and the market, and it was the bedrock of growth for Europe and America after the carnage of World War II, so called after John Maynard Keynes, upon whose ‘model’ or ‘thoughts’ the World Bank and the IMF were established.
It was only after the capitalist countries of the West had strengthened their economies using this model did some ‘families’ and ‘establishments’ changed the template for so called ‘market- led’ or neo liberal ‘economics’.
Thus neo liberalism was nothing but a decoy to corner the resources of the nations of the world through so called FDIs and other means in a seamless process of global economic integration- otherwise called globalization!
Of course there always will be uncritical ‘buyers’ of such jokes like Nigeria, which always talk of ‘private-sector’ led ‘progress’ in a disjointed, un-integrated and impoverished economy and a highly stratified society.
Could some of these be the reasons why former President Olusegun Obasanjo parted ways with NOI?
The whole of this goes to show that only an economic hit (wo)man representing the interests of external forces deserves such an honorary award from Yale University.
With all her failures, manifest incompetence and gargantuan corruption cases, Ngozi may have been rewarded for ‘a job well done’: she has after all, returned Nigeria into the debt trap from which it was emancipated less than a decade ago, all within six years!
By Shakiru Yekinni Ayinde
Ayinde is the Executive Director, Center for Global Peace Initiative [CGPI]