“I came because I believe in standing up for something and putting my money where my mouth is.”
culled from The Economist by Chi Ibe
Don’t mess with Okonjo-Iweala, the article reads.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance chatted with The Economist recently where she defended her policies which she hopes will save the Nigerian economy from spiraling further down the drain.
During anti-reform protests in January, protesters and activists concentrated their anger on the finance minister. It reflected how much Nigeria’s 150m inhabitants are increasingly impatient with their government. They see all politicians, including her, as freeloaders and doubt her motivation for seeking a top job in government.
But Okonjo-Iweala plans to change the negativity very soon.During drawn-out negotiations with the president after last year’s election, the 57-year-old insisted on control of all economic ministries, not just finance. At public events she asks to be introduced as the “co-ordinating minister for the economy and the minister of finance”, much to the chagrin of some of her cabinet colleagues.
“The gele is my trademark,” the Nigerian finance minister tells The Economist. “I am very Nigerian from dress to everything.”
“I came because I believe in standing up for something and putting my money where my mouth is. Who is willing to come in and get their hands dirty? Who is going to fight this corruption?” she said.
“Okonjo-Iweala hopes a revamped economy will improve employment, infrastructure and health care. Given that Nigeria’s infant and maternal mortality are among the worst in the world, the bar is low. But after many raids on the piggy bank there is unsurprisingly little left to invest. As much as 74% of official revenues is spent on maintaining the government. Millions go on parliamentary catering and gardening at the presidential villa. Okonjo-Iweala hopes to reduce the government’s bill by a modest 4% by 2015,” says the article.
Ms Okonjo-Iweala is no stranger to dealing with the Nigerian economic situation, when she was finance minister between 2003 and 2006 she brokered a landmark deal to cancel $12 billion of foreign debt that made her a star. The reform course she is now pursuing has erased memories of that.
Often referred to as Okonjo-“Wahala”, the newly crowned Iron Lady does not tiptoe around. “If vested interests, benefiting from corruption, are attacking left, right and centre, then you are doing something right. The degree of attack is a barometer,” she says.
Okonjo-Iweala is currently getting ready to be bashed by the public again as a new reform from the federal government will soon be unveiled. The removal of petrol subsidies earlier this year caused a rise in fuel prices and triggered a six-day general strike. The next battle is already looming. Soon the government will unveil a plan to revamp Nigeria’s electricity. For this, consumer prices must go up to make it workable. Okonjo-Iweala knows who will be blamed for this but is she ready to take another punch?