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Re-Nigeria Rising: The Woman Behind The Nation’s Economic Turnaround

April 7, 2014

I read with very keen interest the above named caption in Forbes magazine. The article attempted to paint the economic turn around over the last 14 years as the work of the current Minister of Finance. Though, the minister has contributed largely to the phenomenal growth of Nigeria it is highly dubious to suggest that the turnaround started under her or was propelled by her.  

I read with very keen interest the above named caption in Forbes magazine. The article attempted to paint the economic turn around over the last 14 years as the work of the current Minister of Finance. Though, the minister has contributed largely to the phenomenal growth of Nigeria it is highly dubious to suggest that the turnaround started under her or was propelled by her.  

The Minister of Finance has been in that position from 2003-2006 and from 2011 to date. It is fair to say (and World Bank GDP growth statistics backs up) that Nigeria’s GDP growth of between 5-7% started in the year 2000. Prior to that time, Nigeria had been having at best a volatile cocktail of high growth and negative growth almost back to back in successive years. The effect of that was the average growth of the Nigerian economy from 1980 to 1999 was about 1.7% a year (with the economy contracting by an average of -3.6% a year under Shagari and growing by an average of 4.7% a year under IBB and an average 2.5% a year under Sani Abacha). Within that period there were wild swings (sometimes from year to year) from strong to very weak GDP growth.

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The Drivers

From the year 2000, Nigeria has experienced consistent year to year GDP growth within the same range with no major changes to GDP growth within the 14 year period. That growth has been overseen by Adamu Ciroma (1999-2003), Iweala (2003-2006), Nenadi Usman (2006-2007), Shamsudeen Usman (2007-2009), Mansur Muhtar (2009-2010), Olusegun Aganga (2010-2011), and Iweala (2011 to date).  Nigeria’s GDP growth did not rise sharply from any of the time periods Iweala held the finance ministry under a PDP government nor did it decline precipitously after she left government between 2006-2011. It merely continued along the same growth trajectory year to year irrespective of whether she was the finance minister or not.

The respective finance ministers are but a part of that success story. Another part of that story are the CBN governors who have had to ensure that macro economic policy is devised to stabilize the performance of the Nigerian economy especially where the fiscal policies of the Nigerian government run counter to the interests of the wider economy. In that regard, the performances Joseph Oladele Sanusi (1999-2004), Charles Chukwudi Soludo (2004-2009), and Lamido Sanusi (2009-2014) have been critical and significant.

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Then we have the most important actors in this process (the respective Presidents). They have given direction and have made the decisions approving or rejecting any  critical policies of state during their time in Government. The persons of Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007), Yar Adua (2007-2010) and Goodluck Jonathan (2010-date) have all collectively been the most important legs (and the main drivers) of and behind Nigeria’s economic turn around. These President’s have been the constants over the last 14 year period that has ensured that despite 3 different CBN governors and 6 different finance ministers, the GDP growth of the Nigerian economy has continued with a consistency (and devoid of the volatility that characterized Nigeria’s GDP performance from 1980-1999).

Growth triggers

It is fair to say that a number of factors have led to improved economic performance of Nigeria in recent times. The Telecommunications revolution is the main catalyst. This is where Nigeria transformed, over night, to an economic success story in 2000. It was that singular act that propelled Nigeria down its road of success. That singular event has contributed so much to Nigeria’s growth and continues to propel the growth of the GDP of the nation and its other constituent parts. As we know, Iweala was not finance minister at that time.

Secondly, the debt repayment was also a significant factor as it ensured that the government had more money to spend on other critical areas of the economy and stopped the situation where close to a third of Nigeria’s revenues went to debt repayments. We are  living witnesses to the frequent travels of former president Obasanjo during his first term. He spent almost 4 years (1999-2003) lobbying for debt forgiveness and the like from various leaders of the Paris club. Once, he got the Paris club and their national leaders to agree to negotiate Nigeria’s exit from debilitating debt, he handed over the negotiation of the minutiae of the terms to the finance ministry led by Iweala. Like all negotiations, critical terms will have to be approved by the president. I think it is misplaced to credit Nigeria’s debt relief to Iweala. One can credit the good negotiations of her team to her though.

The debt forgiveness would have been attained by whichever person that was the finance minister at the time. The credit for debt forgiveness goes to former president Obasanjo. He spent most of his time traveling and lobbying key foreign leaders (to the acerbic criticisms of the domestic populace) for that debt deal.

Thirdly, the banking reform, ably effected by Soludo and skillfully prevented from collapse by Sanusi Lamido, deserve praise. The Banking industry is now playing its part in the regeneration of the Nigerian economy and its growth trajectory. It is playing a greater role in large scale domestic deals for major local entrepreneurs.

Agriculture is turning out to be the major success story of this current PDP government. The Agriculture sector is now being run in such a way that the Nigeria is now exporting more products to the outside world in a greatly efficient manner. The current president needs to be commended for supporting the current Agriculture minister in this regard. No minister can achieve anything without the support and approval of the president under whom they work. Adewumi Adesina and President Jonathan deserve the full praise of Nigerians.

I believe it to be uncharitable for the finance minister to want to take some credit for  work unconnected to her when she claimed that the success in Agriculture was due to the President, the minister and “the team” as opposed to “his” team.

Nigeria’s accumulation of external reserves also had a great role to play in Nigeria’s growth. It signaled to the world that Nigeria has sound macro economic policies. External reserves accumulation did not start or end with Iweala. The then president Obasanjo had in his first stint as head of state, left relatively significant external reserves for former president Shagari and continued (to form) by leaving huge reserves for former President Yar Adua.

High oil prices has not been the significant factor in Nigeria’s GDP growth. Nigeria had -3.6% a year GDP contraction during former president Shehu Shagari’s rule when real oil prices (when adjusted to take account of the fall in value of the dollar over the years) was roughly the same price as it has been during the last 14 years. In fact, GDP growth has been stimulated by growth in the non oil sector of Nigeria’s economy.


The role of the CBN from 1999 up to date cannot be over emphasized. It has been the organ that has ensured (through tight monetary control policies) that the yearly rate of inflation has continued the steady drop from the high double digits in 1999 to 8% a year in 2014.

In achieving this, the CBN has had to mop up the excess liquidity pumped into the system by the reckless federal government spending and the continued foreign and domestic borrowing undertaken by Nigeria under this same finance minister. We note it took the sharp work of Sanusi to identify a gapping hole in Nigeria’s finances which had hitherto gone unnoticed by Ms. Iweala.

Listening to her interview with Forbes magazine one would have thought that she was in control of the CBN and piloting monetary policy.


The role of the BPE has also been critical. Government finally realized that it has no reason to be in the business of running a business. It has consistently rid itself of state run industries over the last 14 years. That process is still continuing. Hopefully, the privatizations of the nations refineries will take place in short order.


In talking about Nigeria, one needs to always be aware that Nigeria’s poor is growing at an obscene level. Youth unemployment is a grave danger to the economy and northern illiteracy is a national security problem. For people that read my article titled “The immigration tragedy and the way forward”, my reasons for this predicament was stated there. I have also noted that the government (as well as this finance minister) have (of recent) been making more noise geared towards sensitizing our young to the need to open small businesses (which was one of the suggestions made by me in that article).

The government will also have to, sooner than later, take over (as a matter of emergency) the education of the youths of Northern Nigeria. It can no longer wait for the incompetent leaders of the North to do this. In fact, it is no longer a Northern issue. It is a Nigerian national security issue. It is imperative that Nigeria ensures within the next 30 years that Northern Nigerian youths are graduating from university at close to the same rates as those graduating from the south. There are too many geniuses that are being lost to Nigeria as a result of the almijiri system of education.


Being successful (acquisition of senior management positions and above) in most western countries (especially within western public and private corporate institutions) is more about the ability to (i) take credit for the work of others (ii) being able to undermine competitors (iii) acquire more areas of responsibility and or departments under ones control and (iv) push your failures on other people than a matter of the competence of the individual. The current finance minister has no doubt mastered that art. She has successfully taken credit for the work of almost all finance ministers within the last 14 year period, the various CBN governors and the respective Nigerian Presidents.  Whilst it cannot be denied that she has done as good a job as the other 5 finance ministers in charge of Nigerian finances during the last 14 years, it is a monumental exaggeration to assert that she was the person behind or singularly instrumental to Nigeria’s economic turnaround over the last 14 years.

Dele Awogbeoba

[email protected]

Dele writes from Lagos Nigeria.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

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