- Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Many books written about Olusegum Obasanjo’s presidency (1999-2007) credit his administration with introducing reforms to arrest the declining state of Nigeria’s economy after several years of military dictatorship. Given the number of books written about Obasanjo, one could argue that his administration is the most documented administration in the history of modern Nigeria. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s book, which could pass as a memoir of her role in Obasanjo’s administration, particularly with respect to the conception and implementation of the reform programs, covers the period when she served as Obasanjo’s Minister of Finance from 2003 to 2006. Her main objective for writing the book was to popularize and externalize the lessons of Nigeria’s economic reforms, while simultaneously acknowledging the efforts of the “courageous men and women who undertook the struggle for a better life for Nigerians, by Nigerians.”
The processes that led to the establishment of the Economic Management Team, the challenges of the team, and the development of the essential elements of the proposed reforms are discussed in Chapter One. Chapter Two highlights the macroeconomic problems of the country such as oil price volatility and inconsistent budget processes, which necessitated the series of macroeconomic reforms consisting of budget reforms, procurement process reform, civil service reform measures, as well as a disciplined implementation of monetary policy. Chapter Three chronicles the processes and effects of the implementation of privatization, deregulation and liberalization policies of the administration across some selected sectors of the economy. Other structural reforms covering the civil service, trade, tariffs, customs, and banking sector and their impacts are lucidly explained in Chapter Four. The fifth chapter, which presents the administration’s fight against corruption, analyzes the different manifestations of corruption in the country. Chapter Six details the high level negotiations that eventually led to eliminating $30 billion of Nigeria’s external debt. Chapter Seven presents the lessons that reformers across the world could draw from Nigeria’s experience. The final chapter is an attempt by the author to provide an answer to the question of whether the series of reforms implemented by the Obasanjo Administration launched the country on a path of sustainable growth and development, while presenting what needs to be done to consolidate the reforms across all sectors of the [End Page 261] economy.
The book under review came five years after the end of the Obasanjo Administration when so many of the dramatis personae of the administration had presented detailed accounts of the issues broached by the author in her book. Thus, the book did not reveal any fresh facts. It is strange that Okonjo-Iweala’s book does not make reference to any of the volumes previously written about the Obasanjo Administration, either by critics or supporters. Perhaps, one should just view the book as the author’s personal account of the forces, processes, challenges, and politics of reform that were at play during the Obasanjo Administration. Regardless, it is naïve of the author to assume that by focusing “on four sets of critical though not exhaustive reforms” in the civil service that it would be re-positioned (p. 56). All through the book it is clear that the concern of the reformers was on cutting costs by “lessening the fiscal burden of the Civil Service” on the economy without serious thought concerning ways of gainfully utilizing the 30,000 staff that were laid off.
The author subsequently served as Goodluck Jonathan’s Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy from 2011 to 2015. It could be argued that she had greater freedom to operate under Jonathan than when she served under Obasanjo. Whereas OkonjoIweala’s performance during the Obasanjo administration was comparatively impressive, her performance during the Jonathan administration was scandalous. Following her impressive record of removing the debt burden on Nigeria in 2005, during the Jonathan administration she helped to squander huge receipts from oil sales and ended up imposing a debt burden of $63.7 billion. Therefore, the author’s objective in...