Chukwuma Charles Soludo – Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala And The Missing Trillions

February 1, 2015 8:01 pm

I read some of the responses to my article, “Buhari vs
Jonathan: Beyond the Election”, and I want to thank everyone who has
contributed to the debate. I am glad that the debate has finally taken
off. I have decided, for the record, to re-enter the debate if only to
set some records straight and hopefully elevate the debate further.
 Whom do I respond to? First, let me thank Gov Kayode Fayemi for his
very mature and professional response on behalf of the APC. It forms a
great basis for deepening the conversation. Pat Utomi, Oby Ezekwesili,
Iyabo Obasanjo, and thousands of other patriotic Nigerians have raised
the content of the debate. Femi Fani-Kayode made me laugh, as usual. The
Gov. Jang faction of the Governors’ Forum played the usual politics,
although I know what most of them think privately. Who else? Oh, Peter
Obi. Well, since he can’t write and designated Valentine as usual to
write for him (who never disputed the NBS statistics that Obi broke
world record in the pauperization of Anambra people but instead focused
on lies and abuses) I won’t dignify him with a response here. His third
class performance in Anambra will be the subject of a comprehensive
article later.
Here, I will focus on Dr. ’s response (as Minister
of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy—CME and hence on
behalf of the Federal Government). Since I have known her, out of deep
respect, I have never called her by her name: I call her Madam. I must
state that I have great pains seeing myself on the opposite side of the
table with Madam, in this way. I respect you, Madam, and will always do.
 If you read my article of September 2010 (before you became Minister),
the tone and elucidation were as strong as the current one. It is my
honest effort to ensure that our choice of leaders is based on rigorous
scrutiny of what is on offer.  Part of my frustration is that five years
after, everything I warned about has come to happen and we are
conducting our campaigns as if we are not in crisis. As a concerned
Nigerian, I have a duty to speak out again. Regrettably, you have taken
it very personal.

Charles Soludu vs Ngozi  

I am not bothered about the personal abuses: I actually expected
worse. What name has the government not called President Obasanjo or any
person who has dared to disagree with it of late? Anyone who disagrees
with the government must either be ‘insane’ or have a ‘character’
deficiency or must be ‘looking for a job’ or ‘without honour’, or a
‘charlatan’. Yesterday, Sanusi alleged that $20 billion was missing and
he was accused of gross financial mismanagement, recklessness and poor
governance to the point of being the first governor of central bank to
be suspended from office. Today, he is the good one; and for daring to
award an “F” grade for our economic performance, Soludo has become the
‘worst’ and ‘without character’ or perhaps ‘looking for position’
(Lol!). Some days ago, a former president was called ‘a motor park tout’
and ‘un-statesmanly’ just for disagreeing.  This “how dare you
criticise us” mind-set of the government is dangerous for our democracy.

In this Part One of my planned three part series, I will restrict it
to the main issues you raised. I will not bother about the malicious
attacks on my person. For me, it is nothing personal. In early 2011, I
had a similar heated exchange with then Finance Minister Segun Aganga.
But when the Nigerian economy was at stake and he invited me to a
stakeholders meeting in his office (as Minister of Trade and Investment)
to discuss ’s response to the ruinous EU- Economic Partnership
for Africa (EPA), I flew into Nigeria for that (at my expense)— the
first and only time I have been to any government office to discuss
policy since I left office. It is about Nigeria. I will, as expected,
remind people like you of the salient aspects of my record of public
service in response to your charge; challenge your claim to debt relief,
and your reason for not saving; highlight your forgery of economic
statistics and the lies in your response; but most importantly re-focus
our attention to the historic mismanagement of our economy which you
carefully avoided. I will show that while you are introducing austerity
measures and soon to immiserate the citizens, our public finance is
haemorrhaging to the point that estimated over N30 trillion is missing
or stolen or unaccounted for, or simply mismanaged— under your watch! We
can’t go on like this, and I am convinced that an alternative future is
possible. Can we have a public debate on this alternative future? The
issues at stake are too grave to be trivialized through name calling. As
I write, the naira exchange rate to the dollar is at N215 (from N158 a
few months ago) and unless oil price recovers, this is just the
beginning.  For the sake of Nigeria, I won’t keep quiet anymore!

Let me start with Madam’s rather comical, wild judgment on my tenure
of office which I believe to be totally false and baseless. I apologise
upfront that in the process of making a ‘personal defence’, it is
difficult to avoid a rather uncomfortable emphasis on “I”. I did not
want that but since Madam has dragged us this low, I have little choice
but to do so in the next few paragraphs—just to keep the record
straight!

In my view, there are three criteria for evaluating a public
officer’s stewardship: the evaluation by his employer; the satisfaction
of the public he served; and the hard facts of performance. As I will
show on these three counts, I am convinced that I left a world record of
public service, and a thousand Okonjo-Iwealas cannot re-write that
history. I served Nigeria under two presidents (Obasanjo and Yar’Adua)
and as my immediate bosses, below are their written testimonials of my
record.

Said President Obasanjo (December 2004):

“Charles Soludo is a true Nigerian. He is the sort of Nigerian that
we all know we can rely on. Among his numerous virtues is COURAGE. I
have found in him a man who can take tough and realistic decisions,
stand his ground, educate others on the salience of his decision, and
work very hard to ensure that the decision is efficiently and
effectively implemented. His dedication to duty is first rate. His
leadership qualities are admirable and his willingness to listen and
learn is simply infectious. Professor Soludo has within a short time
emerged as one of the leading lights of our nation. Not because he has a
godfather but by sheer hard work, loyalty, dedication to duty,
commitment to the nation, creativity, and undiluted association with the
reform agenda….”

President Yar’Adua (May 2009) had the following to say about the Central Bank of Nigeria under my leadership:

“… the CBN has performed creditably well in delivering on its core
mandates. This is especially even more so in the last five years. Most
people would agree that without the successful banking consolidation and
effective management of our foreign reserves, the current global crisis
would have shaken the financial system and our national economy to
their foundations with calamitous consequences”.

In the President’s special letter of commendation after the
completion of my tenure of office, President Yar’Adua (June 2009) had
the following to say to me:

“As your tenure as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria comes to a
glorious end, I write on behalf of the Government and people of Nigeria
to place on record our debt of gratitude to you for your dedicated
service and uncommon sense of duty over the past five years. I am
confident that your worthy antecedents in the CBN and in prior
appointments in the service of our nation remain sources of inspiration
to an entire generation. As I wish you even more astounding successes in
the years ahead, it is my fervent hope that you will readily avail us
of your distinguished service when the need arises in the future”.

To the best of my knowledge, President Obasanjo has not changed those
views even after ten years. The views of my two bosses, not the
emotional outburst of an angry person desperate to get even, are what
count.

How did Nigerians evaluate my public service? Unfortunately, we do
not have scientific opinion polls on job approval ratings for individual
public officers. But if the public opinions of individuals and
organized groups (labour, employers, depositors, borrowers, stakeholders
of the financial institutions, newspaper editorials, investors, etc) as
expressed in thousands of newspaper/magazine clips during and after my
tenure are anything to go by, then 82% of the public largely agree with
the sentiments expressed by my two bosses. Your views belong to the
other 18% which is okay, after all, no one is perfect. Five Nigerian
newspapers and magazines simultaneously named us “man of the year” in
one year— unprecedented in Nigeria’s history. I do not talk about
hundreds of awards and recognitions by various segments of our society
(during and even after service) for “excellent public service”. I was
particularly touched by the historic award by the staff union of the
Central Bank and the tears in the eyes of many as thousands of the staff
gave me a standing ovation as I walked the aisle after my brief
farewell speech.

Certainly, the international community (investors, bankers, scholars,
donors, media, etc) took serious notice of the revolution in Nigeria’s
monetary and financial system. I am recipient of five international
awards as global and African central bank governor of the year, not to
mention dozens of other recognitions (even after leaving office). The
London Financial Times described us as “a great reformer”. Even as the
global economic and financial crisis raged in 2008, the United Nations
General Assembly appointed me to serve on the Commission of Experts to
reform the international monetary and financial system. You don’t
appoint someone who has ‘mismanaged’ his national financial system to
reform the global system. For 8 years until 2012, I served on the chief
economist advisory council (CEAC) of the World Bank, and together with
two Nobel Prize winners in economics and other experts we met
periodically and advised two presidents and two chief economists of the
World Bank, and in 2011, I served on the External Advisory Group of the
IMF.  Again, these are not positions for ‘mis-managers’. Since I left
office, I have been advising countries and central banks; and there is
hardly any two months I don’t consult/advise on banking/financial and
monetary policy. I have given these illustrations to make the point that
for every one Okonjo-Iweala’s attempt to rewrite history, there are
thousands who disagree.

Now, to some skeletal facts of our stewardship! I will be brief as I
have a whole book to tell my story. As chief economic adviser, I had
advised that our banking system could not support the private sector-led
economy envisioned under NEEDS. When I assumed office at CBN, I
inherited 89 rickety, mostly family banks (all of which put together
were not up to the size of number four bank in South Africa). Many were
insolvent, with depositors’ money trapped, and 20 more about to
collapse. To get a credit of $300 million probably required all the
banks to syndicate it. For me, there was a national emergency. I drafted
a 13-point reform agenda, discussed and agreed all the specifics with
the President, and his VP; as well as my management team at the CBN, and
we swung into action. President Obasanjo promised 100% support and
actually delivered 1000%— which was decisive. I apologize to you Madam
because I did not brief or inform you about it. We just wanted to keep
it confidential given the sensitivity of the announcement. It is on
record that you never supported it.

It was both a revolution and a war and most people thought it was
“impossible”, but thank God we succeeded. For the first time in
Nigeria’s history a policy of that magnitude was announced and deadline
kept with precision.  We were courageous to revoke the licenses of 14
banks, including those of my friends, in one day. The FT-Banker
concluded that the scale, precision, and cost of the transformation were
unprecedented in the world. Before then, Malaysia had the least cost of
banking consolidation at 5% of Malaysian GDP. It did not cost Nigerian
taxpayers one penny. Twenty-five new, stronger banks emerged but the
powerful idea behind consolidation ignited something even more
powerful—‘the race to the top’. Banks raised more capital, and even
banks like First Bank, Zenith, GTB, etc that did not merge with others
went on capital raising several times. The consequence was higher levels
of capitalization and within two years, 14 Nigerian banks were in the
top 1000 banks in the world and two in the top 300 (no Nigerian bank was
in the top 1000 before I came). Even after I left office, still 9 banks
were in the top 1000. Our vision was to have a Nigerian bank in the top
100 banks within 10 years. As I see the new Access bank; Zenith, GTB,
Fidelity, Diamond, UBA, FBN, FCMB, Skye, Stanbic IBTC, Union, Ecobank,
etc, I cannot but feel that we have taken giant steps forward.

Deposits and credit soared (from barely N1.2 trillion to over N7
trillion); new technologies (ATM and e-banking) boomed, and banks had
57,000 new jobs; mega businesses emerged (ask any major operator in the
Nigerian economy their experience with banking and credit before and
after Soludo —the Dangotes, Arik, MM2, oil and gas operators; etc);
capital market boomed and dominated by the banking sector. It was a new
dawn for Nigerian private sector. I have heard Dangote twice say that he
would not be near as big as he is today without the banking
consolidation. Many other stakeholders still say it today. FDI and
portfolio inflows flooded into Nigeria. The world celebrated, and one
single transformative idea has changed the face of the private sector
and economy forever.  Banks became Nigeria’s first transnational
corporations with about 37 branches outside of Nigeria.

Nigeria survived the global crisis because of this, and it is the
banking sector that has largely been powering the economic growth you
claim (compare banks trillions of naira credit for investments in the
productive sector with your government’s miserable expenditure on
critical infrastructure and investment; much of your borrowing – bonds –
is from the banks). Your privatization of power sector, several PPP
projects on infrastructure, etc, are now possible because of the mega
banks. Today, Nigerian banks syndicate multi-billion dollar loans—
unthinkable before. Madam, if the consolidation was ‘mismanaged’, there
would not have been any bank to start with in the aftermath of the
global crisis— as President Yar’adua correctly pointed out. Even you,
during a recent presentation at the Banquet Hall in Abuja advertised
consolidation as a historic achievement. How can you recognize a
‘mis-managed’ project as an outstanding achievement? As we say in Igbo,
you can’t cover the moon with your palms.

Let me be clear: the quantum size of the new banks following
consolidation presented challenges of risk management and supervision.
We deployed all we had and overworked the CBN staff. The carry-over of
bad loans from the consolidated banks was quickly cleaned up. To the
best of my knowledge, we instituted stringent regulatory and supervisory
regime (consistent with best practices at the time). We even had
resident examiners in the banks and required bank MDs to personally sign
their reports to CBN. I recall that the former MD of GTB complained of
“regulatory intrusiveness”. To our credit, non-performing loans (NPL)
came down from 22% in 2003 and 2004 to 6% as at 2008. Anywhere in the
world, a central bank that brought NPL from 22% to 6% over a four year
period does not look like one with a loose supervisory regime. Name
other developing countries that performed better, Madam. So, on point of
fact, Madam lied. Yours was a reckless assertion without basis by a
Finance Minister.

The banks in Nigeria were supervised by the CBN and NDIC, but other
institutions— international firms which audited them, international
rating agencies which also examined their books, capital market
operators since most were listed companies — all had oversight. I put on
record that there was never any information/report of infractions by
any bank which was brought to my attention and which we did not act upon
decisively during my tenure. I heard the comment that some of the bank
MDs were my friends. Well, my response is that perhaps as CME you should
kill all your friends operating in the economy or become their enemies.
For the record, my successor audited all the banks and none of my
so-called friends was indicted. It speaks volumes. Indeed, it is also a
fact that the alleged personal criminal infractions (including lapses in
corporate governance Madam alluded to) by some bank CEOs were found
out, only AFTER they had been removed from office. My successor told me
that the comprehensive audit of the banks did not reveal such
infractions. Of course, you must be God or have a special tip-off from
inside to get to such information while the MDs are in office.
Unfortunately, all over the world, no financial system has succeeded in
routing out all criminal behaviours by the operators. So, Madam, I
challenge you to provide one shred of evidence that ‘there was no
separation between regulators and regulated’ or be honourable enough to
retract your reckless statement.

What happened? The unanticipated and unprecedented crisis of 2008/09
hit the world. More than 40 US and European banks either collapsed or
were shaken badly (remember the Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae and Freddie
Mac, Wachovia, HSBC, Lloyds TSB, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, even UBS, etc)
and hundreds of billions of dollars were spent to bail them out. The
contagion effects spread like a wild fire, destroying national stock
markets and banks. The nascent (big) banks in Nigeria faced sudden
multiple shocks— liquidity, exchange rate, oil price, capital market,
etc. As oil prices collapsed, loans to oil and gas became non-performing
overnight; loans to the capital market became non-performing overnight;
etc.  Our first priority was to save the entire banking system and the
economy from systemic collapse. I assured Nigerians that no bank would
be allowed to fail, and not many people know what it took to achieve it.
Once we had navigated through the unexpected /unprecedented turbulence,
we laid out a comprehensive plan to clean up the debris which we
presented to stakeholders in Lagos (March 2009). I had pleaded with the
Senate to pass the AMCON bill which we sent to them in 2004. But I had a
comprehensive plan to finish the clean-up with or without AMCON by the
end of 2009, including second round consolidation and a N500 billion
fund (my book will detail all these). I left behind an 11-volume
document of the Financial System Strategy 2020 (FSS2020) which has
remained the policy roadmap for the CBN/financial sector since I left
office.

I have two analogies for our experience. Ours was really like an
airplane that was cruising and suddenly meets an unexpected and
unprecedented turbulence. After the pilots and the crew succeed in
navigating through the potential crash and probably land the airplane,
people look in and start blaming the crew for the broken tea cups,
chairs, and drinks that fell during the turbulence as evidence that the
crew never kept the airplane clean or serviced it. My second analogy is
that of a sudden earthquake in a region it was never expected and some
houses collapsed. All of a sudden, the housing authority is to blame for
not requiring earthquake-proof foundations for the houses. Well, my
legal experts call it force majeure, an act of nature!

To be fair, after every crisis, there are lessons (and my book will
detail what, with benefit of that experience, we should have done
differently). Risk management— which has always been there— now took a
new centre stage all over the world following the crisis. But for anyone
to suggest that CBN under me, for one minute, took its eyes off the
ball is, to say the least, ludicrous. The US financial system literally
crippled the world costing America hundreds of billions of dollars but
no one has suggested that Alan Greenspan is no longer the great maestro!

AMCON is a big topic (which I will address at a later date) but her
claims show either ignorance or mischief. She claims that N5.7 trillion
of AMCON funds was used to rescue banks and the ‘bond issued’ as ‘cost
to taxpayers’. Really? I will deal with the AMCON I envisaged and the
AMCON under you later but let me state that even if 100% of the banks’
NPL was offloaded on AMCON, it would not be up to N5.7 trillion. Enough
said for now. The fact is that the Federal Government has not put a
penny in the AMCON fund: the banking system is financing itself, and
together with the sinking fund by banks, AMCON surely can’t default
(thanks to consolidation that the banks are now big enough to cough out
such funds to solve the system’s problem). Did you intend to deceive the
readers by refusing to tell them that much of the AMCON fund is
‘investment’ and not ‘expense’. Am sure you heard the IMF’s alarm about
moral hazard? If you want, we can have a focused debate on AMCON.

Next, let me briefly respond to a few outlandish claims. She brags
about ‘single-digit’ inflation rate ‘now’ and alleges that when I left
office, inflation was above 13%. I just laughed at this one. In
Nigeria’s history, no governor of the Central Bank has delivered 24
consecutive months of single digit inflation as I did until the advent
of the unprecedented global crisis in 2008. It was not for nothing that
the world cheered us as monetary policy czar, Madam! Perhaps you are
also not aware that we broke a world record by having a depreciated real
effective exchange rate during a time of export boom and this was at
the heart of our reserve accumulation and the portfolio/FDI inflows. I
resisted the IMF advice to deplete reserves for liquidity management,
and Nigeria had enough self-insurance to survive the global crisis.  The
opposite has happened under you Madam, and the Nigerian economy is in
trouble. Naira exchange rate appreciated under me from N133 to N117
before the global crisis; and reserves grew to all time high of $62
billion. For the first time since 1986, the official, interbank and
parallel market exchange rates converged under me. You can’t match these
records!

I hereby challenge your attempt to blame others for not saving for
the rainy day. It is not a virtue when you are quick to appropriate all
the credit when things are going well, but shift the blame when they go
wrong. You blame the state governors— who, according to you, have taken
the Federal Government to the Supreme Court—not that a Supreme Court
judgment forced your hands. For your information, the governors have
never agreed to savings and always threatened court action even under
Obasanjo. Why did we save under Obasanjo but not under Jonathan? Two
keywords explain it: leadership and integrity.  Governor Amaechi said
the governors insisted on sharing the funds because they found out that
you were illegally fiddling with the savings.  So, as Nigerians still
wonder, if billions of dollars are now ‘missing’ under your nose, why
should governors trust you to keep their money?  Do the states that have
taken the federal government to the Supreme Court and refused to save
also include the PDP governors—who are in the majority? If so, then it
is fatal: even governors of your own party, PDP, do not trust you to
keep their money! Furthermore, did the governors also stop the Federal
Government from saving part of its share? If you ran a surplus budget at
the Federal level, you would have had credibility to blame others or to
say they did not listen to your advice. The key point is that since you
were running huge deficits yourself, it was also in your own interest
to share the ECA. You did not show leadership or credibility, full stop!

Next, Madam, I was really embarrassed for you to read that one of the
reasons for declining forex reserves is ‘oil theft’. Under you as
Minister of Finance and coordinator of the economy, the basket of our
national treasury is leaking profusely from all sides. Just a few
illustrations! First, you admit that ‘oil theft’ has reduced oil output
from the average 2.3 – 2.4 million barrels per day (mpd) to 1.95mpd
(meaning that at least 350,000 to 450,000 barrels per day are being
‘stolen’. On the average of 400,000 per day and the oil prices over the
past four years, it comes to about $60 billion ‘stolen’ in just four
years. In today’s exchange rate, that is about N12.6 trillion. This is
at a time of cessation of crisis in the Niger Delta and amnesty
programme. Can you tell Nigerians how much the amnesty programme costs,
and also the annual cost for ‘protecting’ the pipelines and security of
oil wells? And the ‘thieves’ are spirits? Come on, Madam!

Second, my earlier article stated that the minimum forex reserves
should have been at least $90 billion by now and you did not challenge
it. Rather it is about $30 billion, meaning that gross mismanagement has
denied the country some $60 billion or another N12.6 trillion.

Now add the ‘missing’ $20 billion from the NNPC. You promised a
forensic audit report ‘soon’, and more than a year later the Report
itself is still ‘missing’. This is over N4 trillion, and we don’t know
how much more has ‘missed’ since Sanusi cried out. How many trillions of
naira were paid for oil subsidy (unappropriated?).  How many trillions
(in actual fact) have been ‘lost’ through customs duty waivers over the
last four years? As coordinator of the economy, can you tell Nigerians
why the price of automotive gas oil (AGO), popularly called diesel,  has
still not come down despite the crash in global crude oil prices, and
how much is being appropriated by friends in the process?  Be honest: do
you really know (as coordinator and minister of finance) how many
trillions of Naira, self- financing government agencies earn and spend? I
have a long list but let me wait for now. I do not want to talk about
other ‘black pots’ that impinge on national security.  My estimate,
Madam, is that probably more than N30 trillion has either been stolen or
lost or unaccounted for or simply mismanaged under your watchful eyes
in the past four years. Since you claim to be in charge, Nigerians are
right to ask you to account. Think about what this amount could mean for
the 112 million poor Nigerians or for our schools, hospitals, roads,
etc. Soon, you will start asking the citizens to pay this or that tax,
while some faceless “thieves” were pocketing over $40 million per day
from oil alone.

You alluded to debt relief in your response and tried to take credit.
Well, your CV is honest enough to admit that your two achievements in
office as Finance minister under Obasanjo were that “you led the
Nigerian team that struck a deal with the Paris Club” and that you
“introduced the practice of publishing each state’s monthly financial
allocation in the newspapers”. You are right about the two achievements.
Let me put on record that Nigeria would have secured debt relief under
anyone as Minister of Finance. President Obasanjo secured debt relief
for Nigeria. Much of his first term was used to get Nigeria back into
the international community and to campaign for debt relief. Before you
were sworn in as Minister of Finance, President Bush visited Nigeria and
both of us accompanied President Obasanjo during the meeting. There,
Mr. Bush promised to support Nigeria with debt relief and asked our
president to ensure that he met the conditions of the Paris Club.
Obasanjo mobilized the global political support and coordinated all of
us to ensure that the government met the check-list of
‘conditionalities’ as required.  I spent five weeks in the hotel with my
team (as coordinator/chairman for drafting the National Economic
Empowerment and Development Strategy, NEEDS).

Some of the reform targets in NEEDS became the ‘conditionalities’
Nigeria was required to fulfil to merit debt relief. You and I signed
the various MoU with the IMF on behalf of Nigeria (the policy support
instrument). We had a great team at work and each member of the economic
team had specific aspects of the conditionalities to deliver: Bode
Agusto was in-charge of the budget; Oby Ezekwesili held sway at Bureau
of Public Procurement and later Minister of Solid Mineral, and Education
(but specifically tasked with delivering on EITI and procurement
reforms); Nuhu Ribadu was at the EFCC fighting corruption; I was at the
Central Bank delivering on monetary policy and banking reforms; Steve
Oronsaye worked hard to delist Nigeria from the FATF; Nenadi Usman was
in-charge of the parastatals; El-Rufai held forth at FCT and in charge
of public sector reforms; privatization programme went on, etc. Did you
know that the IMF wrote President Obasanjo threatening that there would
be no debt relief if the CBN did not meet some monetary targets, and do
you know the magic we performed to meet them? Can you tell Nigerians
which of the ‘conditionalities’ that you personally implemented? With
the groundswell of political support and Nigeria meeting all the
‘conditionalities’, debt relief was assured.

Your major role as stated in your CV was to lead the team to
negotiate the specific terms of the relief, having fulfilled the
conditions. I still believe that Nigeria should have gotten far better
terms than you negotiated. Of course, with your eyes on returning to the
World Bank after office, I did not expect you to boldly stand up to the
donor community in defence of Nigeria. Was there a conflict of interest
on your part?

By the way, can you tell Nigerians why you were eased out as Finance
Minister and you cried like a baby begging OBJ to still allow you remain
in the Economic Management team—- barely few weeks after the debt
relief? Why were you eventually also removed from the economic
management team if you were so important?  Ironically, President
Jonathan has recycled you, with a bigger title and greater
responsibilities. But the difference is that the team that did the
actual work is no longer there, and the world has seen that the king is
naked.

You are brilliant Madam, but you need serious help. Having spent all
your life in the World Bank bureaucracy largely in
administration/operations, no one will blame you if your economics has
become a bit rusty. There are firebrand Nigerians all over the world to
draft to service. It is certainly embarrassing to Nigeria for you to be
bothering World Bank economists to help you with most basic economic
analysis.

Your response on the poverty issue is deeply troubling. You accuse me
of using “2011 statistics on poverty by the NBS to support his
argument, while ignoring more recent figures”. At least you did not
refute the NBS figure as valid. In the next sentence, Madam went ahead
to note that “as stated in the Nigeria Economic Report 2014 by the World
Bank, poverty in Nigeria has dropped from 35.2 percent of population in
2010/2011 to 33.1 percent in 2012/2013”. Did you notice that you have
quoted two figures for poverty for the same year as being equally
correct? So, for 2011, was poverty 71% (according to NBS) or 35%
according to the World Bank? To the best of my knowledge, the last
published household survey by NBS was in 2011. The World Bank does not
conduct household surveys in member states to determine poverty
incidence. So, when and by whom was the survey that gave the World Bank
figures?

What worries me is that this government is the first in our history
to attempt to manipulate our national statistics under Okonjo-Iweala.
When NBS published the poverty figures in 2011, she felt indicted and
incensed. She called upon the World Bank to come and examine the
‘methodology’ and get NBS to ‘review’ its numbers. Oby Ezekwesili (as VP
Africa Region rejected the call to try to tamper with a country’s
statistics). Once Oby left, the ‘World Bank’ started talking about ‘new
figures’, without conducting any new surveys.  I was told about it by a
World Bank economist, and I cautioned that it was a dangerous gamble
that would damage the credibility of the NBS. If you want to ‘review
methodology’, you conduct another survey but you can’t change
‘methodology’ because you don’t like the published figures. No
government in our history has tried it: even Sani Abacha allowed a
poverty survey that put poverty at 67% under his regime. At this rate,
who will believe statistics coming from the Nigerian government again?
Is it now the World Bank that sits in Washington and allocates poverty
numbers to Nigeria? Something smells here!

Madam alleges that the NBS—as a parastatal under the National
Planning Commission (under me) departed from the ‘international standard
method of poverty measurement’. How and when, Madam? I was in office at
National Planning for 11 months from July 2003 to May 2004. A poverty
survey was conducted in 2004 and the results computed and published in
2005/2006— more than a year after I had gone to the Central Bank. Or
perhaps, it was a clever way to divert attention from your manipulation
of published economic statistics. The NBS published its poverty data in
2006 when you were Minister of Finance, and you did not question the
‘methodology’ because the figures looked good. In 2011, the poverty
numbers (using the same methodology as in 2005/2006) indicted the
government and suddenly, the ‘methodology’ is wrong. Interesting times!

Now that you decide which economic statistics published by NBS to
accept and which ones to ‘change the methodology’ to give favourable
figures, you can keep feeding your manipulated figures to your
international media circus for the vain glorious awards to sustain an
empty hype, while Nigerians groan under hardship. We can actually ask
Nigerians whether they are getting better off now contrary to your bogus
figures.

Many of Madam’s responses were comical, but this one is classic.
According to her, the chief economic adviser and NBS “worked hard to
determine how many jobs we need to create in a year”, and went on to
ask, “why didn’t Soludo do this when he was CEA?” (Lol!). Madam, any
good economist needs less than 10 minutes to compute this figure, not
the (months? of) ‘hard work’ by your team. My calculation is that the
number of jobs Nigeria needs to create each year to significantly reduce
unemployment rate to sustainable levels in the next few years is at
least 3 million, and not the 1.8 million by your team. We are talking
about the Nigerian economy, please.

Your magic wand for mass housing is the Mortgage Refinance
Corporation with 23,000 mortgage offers—for a country with 17 million
housing deficit! Then, there is the pedestrian proposal of a new
development bank— financed with loans from the World Bank, etc? A World
Bank loan to set up another ‘development bank’ where we already have
Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture, NEXIM, Federal Mortgage Bank,
etc? People have totally run out of ideas and can’t see anything for
Nigeria without through the prism of the World Bank. I will offer you
free consultancy on how to set up a development bank without a World
Bank loan but we don’t need another one now. I actually gave President
Yar’adua a two page note for a N3 trillion development fund then, and if
we plug your leaking pipes, it could actually be a N10 trillion Fund. I
envisioned and set up the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC)—Africa’s
premier infrastructure bank!

Frankly, I don’t understand why you seem highly troubled that the
Soludo you thought had “disappeared from the political space” seems to
be still around. Well, let me assure you that I will only ‘disappear’ in
God’s own time. I gave credit to two past presidents who laid the
foundation of the market economy we operate today. You did not contest
or contradict any of my points. Rather, what you see is that Soludo must
be ‘looking for a position’. Pity! If I am looking for a position, I
would be running around one of the candidates now just as you are busy
dancing Atilogwu dance at TAN and PDP rallies, struggling to keep your
job. How Yar’adua drafted me to contest for governor in Anambra and APGA
leadership as well and how I was “stopped” on both occasions are in the
public domain. But I am not deterred for one minute. Chinua Achebe said
that on leadership, Nigeria is a country that goes for a football match
with its 10th Eleven. I am proud and happy to have offered to serve my
people, and for the service of Nigeria, I will do it again and again.
How many times did Abraham Lincoln, Obama, Reagan, etc contest before
they got there? I actually encourage everyone who believes he/she has
something to offer to get involved or stop complaining. I am happy
seeing the increasing critical mass of professionals (like you) now
getting involved. It is good for Nigeria!

What is at stake is the survival and prosperity of Nigeria. Next
elections are critical, and for me the key is the ECONOMY. We must offer
Nigerians clarity on the choices before them. Can I propose a three-way
debate with you (representing PDP/Federal Government), nominee of APC
(Utomi or Fayemi? or any other), and myself (as independent citizen— I
don’t belong to any of the two). Let us have two bouts of debate between
now and 12th February, 2015 focusing on: CBN/AMCON and the financial
system (if you want); our economy and its outlook, and
agenda/alternative paths to sustainable prosperity post elections.
Choose the dates and times, and for the sake of Nigeria, I will fly in.
You can invite any of your international media friends as moderators. I
feel the pain of the 180 million Nigerians whose tomorrow you have
carelessly rendered bleak, and when I think of what the missing
trillions could do for them, it becomes extremely urgent that we all
must deepen the debate. Eagerly waiting for your response, please!

is a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria

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