By Constance Ikokwu
On May 10, 2015, the Sunday Trust Newspaper published an editorial titled “The Sorry Record of Madam Ngozi”, which seems to be a piece deliberately aimed at destroying the reputation of the Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister for the Economy Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
A paper that has its logo as “The Newspaper that you can Trust” has shown that it does not and cannot adhere to its own guiding principle because of its bias, prejudice and knack for unprofessionalism. Daily Trust Newspaper Group cannot be trusted and I will explain why in the following paragraphs.
The Finance Minister had always said from the beginning when oil prices took a nose-dive that 2015 will be a difficult year for the country given that it has lost half of its revenue. She and her team went to work immediately the problem started, putting in place adequate measures to see us through this challenging time.
A cut in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) overhead, travel and training were initiated along with further cuts in the cost of governance such – 23% cut in the National Assembly and 25% at the State House; a luxury tax was put in place; the work that has already started on increasing revenue through the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) was accelerated; and a cut in overall government expenditure was introduced. Government also prioritized payment of salaries.
For the Sunday Trust to say sarcastically that government “went a borrowing”, it means that the paper has chosen to be selective in reporting the facts in order to suit its agenda. There is room for borrowing in the budget every year as approved by the National Assembly and this year is not different.
There is no household or country that loses half of its income and does not feel the pinch. The most important thing is to stay focused in tackling the issue, which is exactly what the Finance Minister is doing. Papers like Sunday Trust should encourage the incoming administration to focus on measures to properly manage the economy and ensure salaries and pensions are paid the way this administration has done. They should desist from demonization of the Finance Minister. Her record of accomplishments is known the world over, so the paper is wasting its time on negatives.
We must also remember that under the late Presient Umaru Musa Yar’Adua government, a 50% increase in wages was awarded to civil servants. With that comes an increase in pensions as well and this happened when the Finance Minister was not in government. These are issues this government is faced with and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has been dealing with them without demonizing anyone.
Sunday Trust went further to claim that the Minister “controversially rebased the economy and claimed that it is the biggest in Africa despite the stark reality of epileptic power supply, very high unemployment and grinding poverty”.
Again, it is unbelievable that a whole Editorial Board of a newspaper can be this ignorant and myopic! Papers like Sunday Trust are so preoccupied with sowing seeds of discord and hatred that they stand truth on the head. Our school children who read papers are in trouble if this is all an Editorial Board can produce. It is shameful.
Whether Sunday Trust likes it or not, Nigeria is the biggest economy in Africa and that is a fact. Rebasing of the economy does not mean that all the challenges faced by a country disappear immediately. It is a critical exercise that helps policy makers plan appropriately. We cannot move blindly and expect a miracle.
We now know that we have a more diversified economy with services at 51% from 26; Agriculture 33% from 22; Movie Industry at 1.2% from 0.1; etc. Going forward, the government understands the potentials and opportunities and will therefore be in a better position to make the right decisions. If the paper does not like this, it can advise the incoming government to reverse it.
The data from rebasing also shows that the non-oil sector is actually growing while the oil sector is contracting. The important news here is that if we plan accordingly, Nigeria can indeed reduce its dependence on oil. This will take time but it is achievable.
On unemployment, the record speaks for itself. We are not where we would like to be but we have made tremendous gains in the past three years. We have been creating 1.4million jobs yearly. The agricultural sector has undergone serious reforms that have seen us produce more food. Ten million farmers have been captured in the e-wallet scheme that has made it easy to get improved seeds and fertiliser to those who need them.
The Federal Government’s entrepreneurship programme Youwin has created 3,900 entrepreneurs, about 27,000 direct jobs and about 88,000 indirect jobs. Our youths have shown that when supported, they are capable of contributing to the economy through the creation of more jobs and this is what the programme is about.
On the issue of governors being unable to pay salaries, it is important to note that some governors have been doing a good job. States have been advised to prioritise payment of salaries in these difficult times. If they choose to do otherwise, they should answer to their people.
It is only in Nigeria that people who cause a problem turn around to blame someone else including even the victim. These same governors energetically fought against savings in the Excess Crude Account (ECA) and are now crying wolf. The Finance Minister started the practise of publishing all monies accruing to the states. People should ask questions about how their money is being used.
The paper also claimed the Minister spent eight years in power and is “about to hand over an economy that is in ruins”.
Okonjo-Iweala and her colleagues in the economic team achieved what no government in Nigeria had ever done during her first four years in office under President Olusegun Obasanjo by helping the country obtain debt relief to the tune of $30billion. Without that, the country could not breathe under the load of debt. It was suffocating and was stagnating. She has spent her second coming under President Goodluck Jonathan setting up a solid macroeconomic and institutional foundation under the leadership and support of the President.
She started Youwin, Growing Girls and Women in Nigeria (GWIN), Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Corporation (NMRC), Development Bank of Nigeria (DBN), operationalised the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), pushed Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS), Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System ( IPPIS), Treasury Single Account (TSA) and all the biometric and electronic platforms. These are facts. Try as much as it can, Sunday Trust cannot rewrite history!
Nigeria has strong fundamentals with difficult challenges at this time like all oil exporting countries. The Finance Minister has done a classic job to hold the economy together. The policies that she and the economic team put in place to shore up the economy are the same ones that the All Progressive Congress (APC) is now saying it will adopt.
Rather than launch vicious attacks on a woman who has worked very hard for the country at enormous personal cost, including the kidnap of her mother due to her fight against oil subsidy fraudsters, Sunday Trust should focus on being a professional organization.
Constance Ikokwu is a Media Advisor to Nigeria’s Minister of Finance/Coordinating Minister for the Economy Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala