The Coordinating Minister of the Nigerian Economy (CME) wrote an interesting book titled Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria which presents an account of her activities as the Minister of Finance during the Fourth Republic. The book tells a story of how dedicated and politically committed team of reformers set out to fix Nigerian decadent institutions in ways that would help create a more diversified springboard for steadier long term growth. Some of the giant strides made by this ‘Nigerian economist amazon’ (Like Xena) and her team of reformers was the negotiation of a much needed debt relief burden of $19,293,207,575 from the Paris Club; and the publishing of each state’s monthly financial allocation from the Federal Government on newspapers as well as other laudable reforms.
Her contributions as well as those of her other team members to Nigeria’s economic development from the fourth republic cannot be contained in few words. Little wonder, when President Jonathan assumed office, he had to pull all necessary strings to get her on board his Transformation Team. Currently, as the Coordinating Minister of the Nigerian Economy under Mr. President’s Transformation Agenda, Nigeria has seen improvement in its GDP, reduction in inflation, currency stability and many other benefits. This has been achieved despite the recent global economy crisis.
When I read Jeffery Sachs book (The End of Poverty), I could not help but see a replication of him in our very own CME. On request by the Bolivian government, Sachs had initiated the campaign for debt cancelation for developing countries of Latin America from the 1980s. Such was based on the premise that country-based development efforts might not see fruition because these countries are out-weighed with debt burden to other countries and financial institutions. Apart from this, Sachs currency policies for post-communist countries of Poland, Slovenia and Estonia spurred other macroeconomics policies for transformation to market economies in these countries. This ‘New Keynesian Economics’ approach of Sachs might have been adopted by Ngozi in her attempt to reform Nigeria. Perhaps because they both share Harvard University as Alma Mater (maybe o), but Ngozi has been criticized for her western-doctored approach to reforms in Nigeria and some believe she is not in-tune with the needs of the Nigerian public. For instance, her response to the removal of subsidies on PMS (as advised by Western financial institutions as “unsustainable in the medium term”) has been seen as an ill-conceived policy without recourse to the desires of the Nigerian people. How does the CME expects her driver to get to work on time, when ‘araba buses’ pegs commuting fairs at cut-throat prices? The messenger on the 7th floor of the Ministry of Finance does not care the content of the file which he takes to the Permanent Secretary on the 5th floor; his concern is what story to tell his wife because his take-home pay can-not afford a decent meal for his family. Little wonder, the CME is seen as another PDP member –perhaps part of the much talked about cabal.
Another interesting reformer in Nigeria’s polity today is the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development –Mr. Akinwumi Adesina. Personally, I think his appointment is well deserved and a good case of a square peg in a square hole. The Honorable Minister has over 20 years of experience in African agriculture, development and rural development –a field I have utmost respect for. His experience spans across major agriculture development institutions in Africa and worldwide. In 2009 he was appointed into the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Advocacy Group that will drive the rapid achievement of the Goals across the globe. More so Ban Ki-Moon describes him as an “eminent personality” who has shown outstanding leadership in promoting the implementation of the MDGs.
My admiration for Dr. Adesina is inherent in the fact that unlike the CME he ‘might’ be abreast with what kind of reforms to initiate for Nigeria’s aligning agriculture industry. Most part of his career he had worked on programmes for the African continent, thus it appears he should know the needs of the fast declining farmers. In an iron-clad pledge, Adesina on assuming office assured Nigerian farmers “…I will never let Nigerian down. As [the] Minister of Agriculture, working closely with the Minister of State, we will never let the farmers in Nigeria down. We will revamp the agricultural sector. We will accelerate food production in clear and visible ways that will impact the lives of our people, and we will begin the hard work of restoring the lost glory of agriculture in Nigeria.” His commitment might have been inspired further understanding that whiles his contemporaries in the 1980s where studying courses related to Nigeria’s oil wealth, he patiently studied a course dubbed to be ‘old school’.
Dr. Adesina desire of reforms in the Nigeria agricultural sector could be likened to the renewed ‘Paradigm Shift’ in Africa for Agriculture transformation contained in the new Agricultural Transformation Action Plan (ATAP). Calling for this paradigm shift from treating agriculture as a development or social service field to treating it as a basket of opportunities and a field of vast potential, which he maintains should be a business that must be structures, developed, resourced and financed as such. On this basis the Minister hopes to boost domestic food supply and production, create over 3.5 million agriculture-based jobs in the next five years, and reduce massively food imports and dependence on external agriculture supply. But skeptics question if all these ideas would eventually transcend to the much needed change in the agriculture sector. For years, farmers both in the rural and urban areas of Nigeria have heard numerous jingle that ‘change dey come’ for the agricultural sector. Their wait has been both continuous and continual. The ‘farmer’ President did not meet expectations, is it the Lecturer-President’s effort that would make farmers shout ‘Uhuru’ in Nigeria. For instance, the mobile phones palava of Mr. Adesina still remains a bitter pill for CSOs and other policy watchers to swallow. Thus some believe that the status quo might still remain.
With the current trends in globalization, another reformer within Mr. President’s transformation cabinet is the Minister for Industry, Trade and Investment –Mr. Olusegun Aganga. As the pioneering minister for this fledging ministry his idea for reforms boarders within attracting investments in Nigeria to boast development. Investments in relevant sector are indispensible to major sectors for infrastructural development and to spur economic growth in sectors thought to be moribund. Aganga’s experience in investmentand hedge funds managements in Nigeria and other parts of the world makes him another indispensible asset for Mr. President’s Transformation Agenda as well as other development plans. As a Chartered Accountant, Mr. Aganga understands the importance of investments and savings for further re-investments. Evidently, he was credited to have established the Sovereign Wealth Fund in Nigeria. The former UK branch Boss of Goldman Sachs, had studied and extensively the experiences of Kuwait, Norway, China, Iran, Russia, Kiribati (formerly Gilbert Islands), Qatar who had similar portfolio for national revenue savings. Thus the fund provided Nigeria with the opportunity to save and invest the excess liquidity that arises from natural resource exploitation.
I have no doubt towards the capability and credibility of the Minister for Trade and Investment as he had demonstrated repeatedly that Nigeria continues to be top on investor’s destination in Africa (sanctioned by Nigeria’s Fitch ratings). Possibly as a result of vast markets and potential areas which remain untapped, investments in Nigeria continues to rise –and is predicted could surpass South Africa. But is Mr. Aganga like other ‘Reforming Ministers’ in tune with the grass root? For instance, the Rice Importation Policy, which he says will end the importation of rice in Nigeria by 2014; does he know what this will portend to Nigerians? Of course we have the ‘Abakaliki rice’ but who is willing to forgo of the ‘precious’ rice brands for the ‘stone-filled’ indigenous rice. Besides, does the gallant Minister have what it takes to battle the ‘cabal’ that has amassed wealth from Nigeria’s import-driven economy? Like it or not, Aganga is part of the status quo as his wife’s people might not support his ‘Reforming policies’
One thing these reformers agree on is that there must be a change in Nigeria not only a change, but an immediate change driven by these reforms they have put in place. With these reforms, Nigerians could be guaranteed of better living conditions and her rightfully status among nations. But how far have these reforms been carried out, giving the reformers background which might becloud their policy formulations and pattern for development. Can these reforms be liken to the home-driven reforms advocated for certain development economist?


Austine Okere (FF @Wales_C) lectures in the Department of History and International Studies, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Anambra State, Nigeria. His research interest boarders on International Economic Relations and Sustainable Development; and he has presented numerous papers on these areas. Austine also is a research fellow at the Center for Policy Research and Development Solutions (CPRDS), a think-tank established to address policy gaps in Nigeria.