Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, former governor of Nigeria's Central Bank, recently rattled the two dominant political parties in Nigeria ahead of the presidential elections on February 14.
Soludo did so in an article titled “Buhari vs Jonathan: Beyond the Elections” which was published late last month, decrying the lack of “issue based debate” by the two contenders to Nigeria's presidency. Current President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is running against former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari for the top seat.
Let me suggest that the fundamental challenge for the next government on the economy can be framed around the goal of creating twelve million jobs over the next four years to have a dent on unemployment and poverty. The challenge is to craft a development agenda to deliver this within the context of broken public finance, and an economy in which painful structural adjustments will be inevitable if current trends in oil prices continue. Most other programmes on corruption, security, power, infrastructure, etc, are expected to be instruments to achieve this objective. So far, neither the APC nor the PDP has a credible programme for employment and poverty reduction.
Naturally, this post drew flak from both parties. The APC in a post written by Dr. Kayode Fayemi stated that “APC does not promise Eldorado. Neither our candidate nor our manifesto has made such promise.” But emphasized their commitment to “job creation”. The ruling party, PDP, through Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, accused Soludo of being “confused” and to have “lost touch with reality”.
Since Soludo's article raised some economic queries, the ministry of finance responded via a statement by Paul C Nwabuikwu, spokesperson of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, coordinating minister of the economy and finance. Nwabuikwu stated that Soludo “has failed twice in his attempts to be Governor of Anambra State and Vice Presidential candidate of various parties” and is now trying to make a “desperate search for power and relevance in Nigeria”. Therefore, Soludo lacks the both “the character and wisdom” to question the nations finances:
So let it be noted for the record books that Soludo’s single-handed mismanagement of the banking sector led to an incredible accumulation of liabilities that will cost tax payers about N5.67 trillion (being the total face value of AMCON-issued bonds) to clean up. Let it be noted also that this amount, which is more than the entire Federal Government 2015 Budget, constitutes the bulk of Nigeria’s “contingent liabilities” mentioned in Soludo’s article. It is only in Nigeria where someone who perpetrated such a colossal economic atrocity would have the temerity to make assertions on public debt and the management of the economy.
This statement drew the ire of ex-apex banker, who stated that his “deep respect” for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala meant he “never called her by her name: I call her Madam”. Yet he went mudslinging against Iweala, who he said “cried like a baby begging OBJ [former President Olusegun Obasanjo] to still allow you remain in the Economic Management team — barely few weeks after the debt relief?” The ping-pong continued with Soludo's accusations against Iweala:
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.[…]
Now add the ‘missing’ $20 billion from the [Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation] 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?) […]
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.
The ad-hominen conversation between the finance minister and the former central bank chief ignited a firestorm across the country. Some Nigerian politicians and commentators chided the finance ministry, while others took the middle ground, and some doubted the authenticity of the figures raised by Soludo. However, a news report shows that government just recently “received the forensic audit report of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) carried out by PriceWater House Cooper”. This counters Soludo's claims that the reports are “missing”.
Pot calling kettle black
Welcome to the murky waters of Nigeria's politics. The long and winding articles, rejoinders, claims and counter-claims above only illustrate the rather complex and opaque milieu associated with government business. This is made more complicated with the heated political climate ahead of the general elections slated later this month. Although Nigeria has a Freedom of Information Act, this does not easily translate into free access to information. Thus, it is difficult to really capture the truth behind conversations like this — especially in an election season. Every actor in this drama and/or their statement is viewed through highly-charged partisan lenses.
This fight between the two world-class economists has pitched Nigerian netizens into different camps. Those in support of Soludo:
Wait, they say Okonjo stole 30 trillion Naira? Egbe e! :D :D :D
— Amara Nwankpa (@bubusn) February 2, 2015
Chiemela thinks that Soludo took Okonjo-Iweala to the cleaners:
Prof. Charles Chukwuma Soludo is wicked!!! See finishing… — Chiemela (@oskinton) February 2, 2015
B insists that the finance minister is yet to answer the main thrust of ex-Central Bank chief's post:
Prof Soludo's first article asked a question about the plan for economy given the collapse of oil price, NOI still hasn't answered. — B (@bbellgam) February 2, 2015
This Twitter user made fun of Dr Okonjo-Iweala:
Ah ah? Why did Soludo accuse Ngozi Okonjo of dancing atilogu to keep her job? Would he rather she danced shoki? — #TheRealBuhari (@AktivIngredient) February 2, 2015
These users were not in support of Soludo's post (GEJ is the abbreviated form of Nigeri's president's name):
GEJ doesn't have to win d election but Soludo's current playing to the gallery insults our sense of history. He messed up in CBN. Period — Magnus Inspire (@magnusinspire) February 2, 2015
Ilyas claims that Soludo has a personal animosity against Okonjo-Iweala:
Soludo shouldn't follow the El rufa'i line, please. Looking intellectually out-of-place because of hate or angst against someone.
— ILYAS (@BexiBecks_) February 2, 2015
Lawal says it's a case of pot calling kettle black:
It's however a case of “kettle calling pot black” perhaps Soludo thinks Nigerians re oblivious of his activities during his reign as CBN Gov — Lawal Oladimeji M. (@Lawal990000) February 2, 2015
Abednego was just hilarious:
Reading That Soludo's Article In This Heat Was A Very Wrong Move.
— Abednego (@MONSIEURBLAC) February 2, 2015
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said she will no longer join issues with Professor Soludo because “you don’t join issues when things don’t make any sense.”