Council on Foreign Relations
PRINCETON LYMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to what is, I know, going to be an extremely fine program. And I welcome all of you here.
I mentioned before you came in, Madame Minister, that this — unlike many council events, this is on the record, so people can quote you when they leave, if that's okay with you.
MINISTER NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA: That's fine.
LYMAN: That's good. That's good. Very good.
And what we're going to do is I'm going to introduce the minister. We're going to have her speak for a while, we'll engage in a conversation a little bit, and then we'll open it up. And I will mention we have other guests here who are very important.
But let me first introduce to those — and I think many of you know her — Madame Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the minister of finance of Nigeria. Everywhere one goes to talk about Africa, people mention the minister of finance of Nigeria. She has been one of the most dynamic leaders of economic policy reform and advancement on the continent. A former vice president of the World Bank — I think you have her bio with your papers; someone who's written on financial matters and economic matters not only on Africa but on Asia, and published extensively; who gave up the position of vice president of the World Bank to take on the very challenging role of minister of finance of Nigeria under the presidency of president Obasanjo and the new democratic administration of Nigeria. And nothing could have been more important for Nigeria, Nigeria's future, then to have a really dynamic and credible economic reform program. And I know no one could talk about that better than the minister, so I won't try to summarize it. But in every direction, whether it's transparency, whether it is in budget management, whether it is in investment priorities, whether it is international financial arrangements, Nigeria has moved forward extraordinarily. And one of the objectives internationally the president set forth is that if Nigeria carried forward its economic reform program successfully, that the international community would agree to debt relief for Nigeria. And the minister who worked tirelessly on that, achieved an extraordinary agreement with the Paris Club just a few months ago in that direction.
So it's a great pleasure for me to introduce one of the really world's finest finance ministers, and a wonderful friend.
And we're delighted to have you here, Madame Minister. And I would just say, you may want to introduce him, we also have with us the minister of federal capital territories, Minister El-Rufai, who, many of you may know, worked for a long time in privatization policy in the first term of President Obasanjo; now is leading civil service reform and a whole range of other things. One of the really, again, fine ministers under this administration.
So welcome also to you, Mr. Minister.
OKONJO-IWEALA: (Off mike.)
LYMAN: Ah, yes. Why don't I let you introduce him? I'll turn it over to you.
OKONJO-IWEALA: Well thank you, Princeton. You know, it's wonderful to be here again, and particularly wonderful to see Princeton. We hadn't talked for a couple of months. I want to thank you for having us and for the fine presentation that you've made.
Thanks to Frank Ferrari, also to numerous friends in the room — Carl Masters is here — and many of you who have supported us over time.
I want to say that this — first, let me say that there are two of the members of President Obasanjo's economic team here. Princeton introduced Malam Nasir El-Rufai, who is a firebrand in the team and has taken on considerable challenges on civil service reform and on piloting very important initiatives in the Federal Capital Territory that we want to use as a model for the rest of the country. And we'll come back to that.
And we've got Malam Nuhu Ribadu who has — so many of you have read about him in the Wall Street Journal, who has singularly been responsible for demonstrating that Nigeria is not ready to tolerate people who continue to indulge in acts of corruption by ferreting them out and making sure that punitive measures are pursued.
We have another member of the team we had wished would be here, the minister of mines, who used to lead our program — who is really spareheading the anti-corruption initiatives. But she is not feeling very well, so she won't come.
And all this could not have been possible without a committed president. I think we are here, able to deliver today because President Obasanjo has made it possible to do that, and he has been the linchpin of all this program. What we are going to talk about now is really his commitment, his vision that we've tried to deliver.
What I'd like to do is to share the discussion with my two colleagues. I will give a quick focus on results, and then I'd like the minister of the Federal Capital Territory to talk a little bit about some of the achievements that are important to the private sector, that he's undertaking and a little bit of what he's done with civil service reform of public service. And also to have Nuhu Ribadu talk a little bit about issues on the anti-corruption fight. So if you bear with us, the three of us will take the floor.
You know, we'd like you to know that this program could not be possible without the work of a team. And there are 12 — there were originally 12 of us on the economics team along with cabinet members committed to making the sectorial programs work, and we'll touch on that also.
Now, what are we here — why are we here? We're here for two reasons. The president said we should come. We've come before to the council and to other places. But before we attempt to tell you what we are proposing to do — we are embarking on such and such a reform and we hope to do this — this time we've achieved results, and we have a lot of concrete things to talk about. We've delivered on the promises that we made. And we want to share with you the results that have come about, including the debt relief that Ambassador Lyman referred to, which is, I think, a consequence of these results.
The second thing is that we want to let investors know that because we've achieved, we want you to know that the door is open, that we're really welcoming, and that we're committed to plug — continuing to plug the holes that exist to meet the challenges. We are not telling people to put — that we have rose-colored spectacles and that all of a sudden we are done. No. We still have enormous challenges in various areas, but we've done enough now with independence immeasurable results, that we feel that we are well-equipped to see how we can meet the ensuing challenges, and invite you to be with us. So that's really the objective of this mission.
And with that, I'd like to perhaps give a broad sketch of what is achieved in this past two and a half years we've been implementing the reforms, and then I'll get my colleagues to talk.
We first said, when we crafted the economic program, that we would be doing — reforming on a broad front. First, focusing on issues of macroeconomic stabilization and trying to spur increased GDP growth of the type that would great employment and create wealth, and make sure that, you know, poor people have a leg up and have better advantages than they've had previously. We said that we would work on anti-corruption, and target specific on concrete areas where we feel that corruption is the worst, and try to deliver results on those areas. We said that we would reform our public expenditures the way we manage our public finances and instill fiscal prudence. We said that we would work on reforming our public service, a very tough endeavor, and that would include privatizing key public enterprises where the government has no competence, or very little, in being involved. We said that we would strengthen our banking sector and make it more supportive to development, and we've even gone beyond that to look at reforms in the insurance sector. These are some of the things that we said we would deliver on a macroeconomic and structural reforms, and we have delivered.
Now, what have we done? And one thing I want to add on this trip that is very important is that we also came with important CEOs in our private sector because we wanted you to know that, you know, there is a public-private partnership that is ongoing and is burgeoning, and it's not just the public sector saying we've done this, they are private people in the private sector who will attest. We have the CEO and the chairman of Virgin Nigeria, who are here with us, and perhaps at some point they would also like to say a word. We have the CEO of one of our largest banks now. He's not here in the room, but he's with us on the trip. And a couple of others who will attest to what is happening.
Now in terms of macroeconomic stabilization, very briefly, in 2004, we delivered on everything and surpassed our target. We targeted 5 percent GDP growth. We grew at 6 percent, compared to an average of 3.5 percent in the past almost eight, nine years. So this is a performance that went somewhat beyond what we had targeted. We brought inflation down from 23 percent to 10 percent. We increased — more than tripled reserves. When we started this program, reserves were at about $7 billion. Today we are at a position where we have reserves of $29 billion. We have done this through instilling fiscal prudence. We put in play what we call a fiscal rule. That is delinking the management of the budget and our public finances from the price of oil. We had never managed to do that in the past. You know, people would say to me, of course we would do well now because oil prices are high. No, we did well in spite of high oil prices. Because Nigeria's history has been one in the past of spending highly when oil prices were high, which meant inefficiency, even corruption in the management of our money, and then crashing down when oil prices fell, and not being able to sustain important public investment and public expenditure programs. That — we have broken that cycle. And we now budgeted last year $25 a barrel, this year at $30, next year we've targeted $33. And what we've done is we've saved the monies above that and we've declared them openly to the public, so that transparency has been entrenched in the way we mange our public finances. Last year we saved $5.9 billion. We put half of it back in this year's budget. As we speak, we saved — we're at $12 billion as of now, which is part of the $29 billion reserve.
We have also been publishing how much we get — each month each tier of government gets from public — from revenues, so that people in local governments know how much their local government chairmen or chairwomen got, that people know now much the state received and they can ask questions — information is power — about why public services are not up to scratch, and hold hold all of us more accountable.
We have also entrenched quite a bit of this in legislation — I'll come back to that — because we have a fiscal responsibility bill. Whilst we are doing all these things at the federal level, the constant question has been what is happening at the state level; that there is not enough, there is still a lot of mismanagement of resources.
So what we tried to do is a couple of things. One, to get a bill, which has now gone to the National Assembly, that would legislate transparent budgeting, that would legislate results, tying the budget to results and accountability and transparency. All that is in the bill at all tiers of government.
And we've used a clever little paragraph in the constitution that gives the federal government the power to manage the economy to the benefit of all Nigerian people. So that paragraph has been the saving grace. Otherwise, they would challenge the constitutionality of this bill.
And we're taking the legislators on a tour of Argentina, Brazil and India, where they have similar bills — in fact, our bill is patterned after the Brazilian one — so they can see how these countries are doing this.
So in the area of anti-corruption, the president has personally led a vigorous fight. And I think even those who may have criticisms acknowledge that there is a personal commitment there. And if you hear, “Oh, this is a selective fight,” I want you to take another look at that. It's not so. It's when you catch people who are doing the wrong thing, they suddenly find you are selective — for them, you know.
What is happening is that on a broad front, three things have happened. We've targeted specific areas where there's a lot of corruption. Public procurement, we've reformed that by introducing local and international competitive bidding, and we've put legislation to the National Assembly to (lock this in ?). This process my colleague has been leading has saved us a billion and a half dollars now in the past two and a half years. That's real money that would have gone out of the window if we hadn't done that.
We have targeted the oil sector, the sector that is said to be non-transparent, and enrolled ourselves — the president enrolled us in the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. So right now, Nigeria is the first country in this initiative to be auditing five years of our oil sector, physical audits of how much we produce, financial audits of what money has come in, process audits of the way the sector is run and managed. This will come out in December, the preliminary report, and it will be shared publicly. I don't think you can be asking a government any more than that in terms of transparency.
These are just examples. Now, we have coupled it with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission going after those who are doing the wrong thing. And I'm not going to say more than that, because I want Nuhu to say — expand on that.
Let me move on and say that in the area of public-sector management or public-sector reform, you are going to hear what we've managed to do.
Now you know, that's a tough, tough area. Even in private institutions, doing change management and trying to reform the institution is about the toughest thing, because there's always resistance.
So in our public sector, we've started the process. It's going to be a long one. But already there are two or three areas where we've made significant gains.
In banking sector, we've put in consolidation exercise in the sector, demanding that capital — banks recapitalize from — or increase their capital base from about $50 million to almost $200 million. This has forced almost the 88 banks in the sector to begin to merge, and with 23 groups have now emerged (sic), and we have a contingency plan to take care of those who don't get a suitor in this whole thing.
And that has led the banking sector into more developmentally oriented behavior. And it's a pity that Tony Elumelu, the CEO of the largest bank, is not here, because you know he would have had something to say.
Inflow of capital has come into the banking system as a result of a standard bank, has sent in $140 million, and that has attracted investment.
So insurance sector, we've done the same.
Oh, she's here. This is the minister of mines. But she —
MIN. OBIAGELI EZEKWESILI: I'm sorry to be late.
OKONJO-IWEALA: Yeah. She called me a little while ago. She has malaria, and she had said she couldn't make it. But she's been leading the anti-corruption efforts within the economic team.
So the — as I was saying, the insurance sector, we've also launched the same kind of consolidation, and hoping that that will also strengthen that part of our financial services.
So this is to give you a flavor.
Now what does all this mean, in terms of the real sectors of the economy? Well, before I get there, let me just say something. All these reforms, I think, have led to an acknowledgement that Nigeria is doing the right thing and that it is yielding independently measurable results.
As you know, on anti-corruption, TI index, the World Bank and World Economic Forum have shown a noticeable improvement in what we are doing. As I joke, we are still not in the neighborhood we'd like to be in, in terms of the TI index, but it's shown that the trend has been positive.
All this has led the Paris Club — has led, first, the IMF to certify that the way that Nigeria is doing the reforms is the right way, that the results are real, and a new instrument, a nonfinancial instrument, that certifies Nigeria's reforms has been introduced at the IMF board, called the Policy Support Instrument. Nigeria is the first country to use this instrument. On the 17th of October, it was approved.
And as a result, the Paris Club then agreed to give us debt relief. And we had an unprecedented result in this regard. After intense negotiation, we've got 60 percent debt relief. We have $30 billion debt with the Paris Club; 18 billion (dollars) was written off.
To do this, we went into an arrangement whereby we paid 6.4 billion (dollars) in arrears. And then we did a creative buyback, the first the Paris Club has ever done with a developing country, for another 6 billion (dollars).
So part of our savings on the oil we call excess crude has gone into doing this. And this we can transparently account for. But it's a demonstration that what we are doing works.
Lastly, the other areas in which we have demonstrated results is that the private sector has been increasingly encouraged to invest in particular sectors of the economy. And many of them will tell you they are doing this because they see a set of reforms that are working.
In our telecom sector, just as an example, which was liberalized some years back, we are having a boom. I don't think there's any other way to describe it. We have the fastest growing telecom sector in the world now. We've overtaken China. From 450,000 land lines five years ago, we've gone to 16 million GSM, mobile and cellular lines today. We are getting $2 billion in investment in this sector a year. And there's enormous potential.
In the airlines we were able to develop a brand new airline in a short space of time when Virgin Atlantic — Richard Branson decided this was a place he was willing to take a bet on and invested with Nigerian institutional investors in Virgin Nigeria, which is our new flag carrier. And that's a mark or measure of confidence in the economy.
And I could go on and on with examples of what is happening. So that illustrates to you results on the ground.
Now, where do we need to do better? In the provision of basic services — power, water — for the population as well as for business, we still have a very tough challenge. Provision of infrastructure is now the biggest challenge the private sector sees in Nigeria. It's no longer corruption, which used to be number one. It's now infrastructure. And what we have done there is also tried to look for results. Half of our oil windfall, if you want to call it that, $2.3 billion of this, has been invested in the largest power project in the whole world today. Seven power stations are being built all at once, which will add 2,300 megawatts to the grid, where our aim is to get 10,000 megawatts by 2007. And so we are doing that. GE has won this contract, which was competitively bid. We are also encouraging independent power producers who are adding more to the grid. But we need to try to do as much as we can in providing cleaner water and access to more amenities for both households and for businesses. And this is an area we are working really hard on.
But I think I've said enough to illustrate to you that, you know, there are measurable results on the ground that have been achieved. And if we continue — not if, but as we continue on this path, you will see that increasingly more and more results will be produced.
Now, two things I want to say, and then I want to hand over to Nasir. Sustainability. People often talk about this. People also talk very often about the Niger Delta, you know, and about the issue of what is happening there, and violence and conflict. I want to touch on those two very quickly.
First, on the Niger Delta, there's absolutely no doubt that over time, the people in the Niger Delta have seen their lot not improve as much as should have been done. And the government over the years, and the oil companies, have not done as much as they should have. That realization is there. This government has taken it on. This president has taken it to heart. And we are working with the people of the area who have a legitimate grievance to try to see how we can better their lot. But this has to be done at two levels.
The first level is the federal government and what it's trying to do through the Niger Delta Development Commission, which is trying to do projects with the people. The second is the state level, where we must demand of the state governors, who are getting an additional 13 percent of oil revenues, which — (inaudible) — to enable them to address the problems. So that what we are saying to the people is you also must demand from your state governors, through this information you have, what they are doing. Because when we join hands together, we deliver more for the people. Now, that is different from the other type of noise you hear. I call it noise. You know, the people who have capitalized on the grievances of the people and say they are rebel armies, or whatever they are called, labeled rebels — we reject that. These are thugs who are just trying to build on the existing discontent in the area. And I think that the president has taken a very mature line with them, talking to them, negotiating with them, trying to dialogue with them. You know, this would not have been the case in the past, and I think it's yielding results.
But we are working at all levels to address the problems in that area, and I think you are beginning to see, one, in the theft of oil that has been going on there, this has been cut down by 50 percent, thanks to the work of Nuhu Ribadu, by tracing who was actually buying that oil. And in the violence that had been going on, you are also seeing a diminishment. So that's one thing I want to put on the table. And I think even the worst critics will agree that some efforts are being made to address that.
The second thing is on sustainability. People worry, now how will you maintain these reforms? What of 2007, you know, what is going to happen? And I say, well, I think I'd like people to look at it in two ways. The first is to think when an investor wants to make a decision about investing in the U.K. or the U.S. — you correct me if I'm wrong — but I don't think they say, “Now, should I invest because Tony Blair is there?” “Should I invest because George Bush is in power?” That's not what they say. They say, “I'll invest in England because there is rule of law, because I know that if I have a problem with my investment, I'll have recourse. I'll invest in the U.K. because there is legislation that protects me, because there are human resources that I can hire to run my business, because the rules work in terms of ownership of property.”
I think these are the things that investors look for. And I'm not saying that the second level, you know, of who is in power, is not important, it also is. But we don't want sustainability in Nigeria to be about Obasanjo, is he in power? Ezekwesili, is she there? Okonjo-Iweala, is she there? We want people to think about sustainability in Nigeria about whether there is rule of law, whether the right legislation in place, whether the institutions have been built to sustain this, because that's what separates us from the developed countries. So that's what we are aiming at, and we're changing all of this — the right legislation, the fiscal responsibility bill, the procurement law, the EITI law, all of that, the public-private partnership law that allows private sector to come in and invest infrastructure and other areas, regulatory framework. We are doing all of that.
And then, the president acknowledges that there's need to do political reform, and he's trying to sanitize and clean out the party, which is leading to those who are feeling disenfranchised, also making all kinds of noise, as you would expect. He's trying to — tried to get good people into the party. He's trying to get electoral system reform, so that we have a better system when the election comes, than we had before.
So all these things are the things that are going on to make sure that there's some stability in the future. And I think that if we push, as we are doing, in that direction, you will see in Nigeria there continues to be what it should be, the premier destination for investment in black Africa, because, as I say, if you are not in Nigeria, you're not in Africa. (Laughter.)
Now, I'd like to call on my colleague — (applause) — I'd really like to ask Nasir — you have not said much about some of these areas — if he could continue this story by talking about the public sector reforms and the new — and Oby would add — on anti-corruption.
Shall I lend you this?
LYMAN: Or you can use the —
MIN. NASIR EL-RUFAI (Minister for the Federal Capital Territory, Nigeria): Thank you, Madam Minister and Mr. Lyman, ladies and gentlemen.
Let me build on what the minister of Finance has said about building institutions and give you a brief background about the Federal Capital Territory, so that what I would say would be understood in context.
Nigeria operates a federal system. We have 36 states, and the states are fairly independent and autonomous. We have the president at the federal level and 36 state governors, and we have a small piece of real estate, 8,000 square kilometers, which is designated federal territory. That indeed is the only part of Nigeria that the president governs. The rest of Nigeria is governed by state governors that are directly elected. So the Federal Capital Territory is very much like Washington, D.C., except that in the case of D.C., you have a mayor; in the case of the Federal Capital Territory in Nigeria, the president appoints a minister. And that's my primary job.
In the economic scene, we took the position that we needed to use the Federal Capital Territory as the laboratory for the experiments of our reform, for two reasons. First, that's the only piece of real estate, as I said, that is controlled directly by the federal government, so the president could virtually do whatever he wants. Second, because everybody comes to Abuja; that's our nation's capital. And we felt that if we could experiment on some of these reform measures and show the results, we could set a standard and challenge the 36 states to try to do what we are doing. So that's one thing that we have tried to be in the FCT, and I'll just give you two examples of what we've done in that regard.
The second area that I focus on in the economy scene is public service reform. Again, the Federal Capital Territory is a good place to start because we have 25,000 employees in the FCT working for the federal government. And we feel that if we could find a way to use the FCT as the laboratory for public service reform, and we can get civil servants that actually report to the needs of business in Abuja, then again, it would serve as an example.
So I will first begin with public service reform which was done. As you know, trying to fix a broken down civil service is really difficult. No country has succeeded. Everyone is trying. You either have a good civil service or you don't. Singapore has a good one. It never broke down. Nigeria used to have a very good civil service, but prolonged military rule destroyed the ethos and the values of our civil service. But we have a civil service that feels that it is more of a target of corruption than facilitator of business activities.
So when a businessman walks into the office of a senior government official in Nigeria, the first thing going in the minds of the senior official is how do I make things as difficult as possible for this businessman, so that he can pay me to do my job. That is the mindset. That's the mindset that President Obasanjo has inherited, and we have to do something about it. And as I said, we felt the FCT, the Federal Capital Territory, was the best place to start.
We also selected four other government agencies at federal level to pilot the public service reform, and we took certain steps. We estimated there are over 1 million people working for the federal government in Nigeria. We estimate because nobody knows the exact number. When I came to the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory, I was informed that we had about 25(,000)-26,000 names on our payroll. By the time we counted them physically, paid them by check rather then cash and ended up with a biometric ID system, this number came down to less then 20,000. So for several years, we've been paying 5,000 people that never really existed, and somebody has been collecting the money. And my brother, the chairman of the Economic Financial TransCommission, is looking into where that money has gone.
So we needed to do that across the public service, but we started with FCT and two other places just to see what was possible. Right now, what we are doing beginning next month is working with technology partners to try to establish how many people do we have that work for the government, and we've started the process of getting some out. For instance, we had too many drivers. We have more — three times the number of drivers then the government had cabs, so some of them have gone. So far we've got rid of about 11,000 people that were cooks that were cooking nothing, drivers that were driving no cars, or gardeners that were attending to no gardens.
So because we began to outsource some of these activities and before the end of the year another 5,000 people would go that had all kind of disciplinary and corruption problems. We are hoping that by 2007, we'd have got the right size structure and mandate for our civil service. We don't know what the numbers will be, but we know that they will be substantially reduced. And we're also injecting new blood, recruiting high-flying graduates from universities in the United States, in the U.K. and Nigeria to reintegrate our civil service, because the average age of our civil service is, believe it or not, 45. It's an aging civil service, old mind-set, old technologies. In my ministry, when I came, we had 25,000 staff name(s), we had only 400 computers. So there is a lot to be done, and that's what we've tried to do.
In the last two years, we've tried to use the FCT and the two other ministries to check and validate our assumptions. Now, we're ready to roll out and mainstream the reform throughout our 28 federal ministries, and we are asking questions like do we need 28 ministries? Do we need the Ministry of Communications, for instance? We have deregulated our telecom sector. We have a regulator that is doing a fairly decent job. Do you really need a Ministry of Communications? And we ask questions like why does the United States of America not have a department of communications? So we are going to ask questions like that. And at the end of the day, we are going to hopefully have a restructured, cleaned down, better paid, well-motivated civil service that actually sees its job as creating a conducive environment for business activities, nothing more, nothing less.
Now regarding FCT reform, some of the things we have done — because constantly what the economic team talks about is, what do we do to make life easier for business? What more can we do to redraw the boundaries between the public and the private sector? Because Nigeria had 580 state-owned enterprises, state-owned enterprises used to dominate every sector, and we needed to look at that, question our assumptions about the role of government, and redraw those boundaries. That why we have one of the most aggressive privatization programs in the world. And my previous job before I came onto this job was running the privatization program. And a lot has happened in that regard. We are deregulating, we are liberalizing, inviting new entrants, as well as selling off government-owned enterprises.
In the FCT, for instance, we realized that one of the key constraints to investment is titling of land. Abuja has the most valuable real estate in Nigeria, and land title is a big problem. It takes about three years for you to get title once you acquire land in Abuja. What we did was to move from manual records, moving files around and files disappearing — because that's what causes the delay, your file gets missing; it takes three years to reconstruct the file before you get your title. We've computerized the land registry, such that now we can do what used to take three years in three weeks.
And we are hoping that by the end of 2006, we should be able to do that within 48 hours, really, and would have all the land records on the Worldwide Web so that many transactions can be done online rather than having to come physically, because we realize that the moment people come physically and money changes hands, you create discretion and you encourage corruption. And we've looked at many such areas constantly to try to make life easier for business.
I will stop here and hand over to my brother, Nuhu Ribadu. I thank you, and may God bless you. (Applause.)
OKONJO-IWEALA: Maybe we can ask my colleague, the minister of mines, who leads the anti-corruption fight, to lead off with some words on what has been done on public procurement and EITI, and then Nuhu to round off with what he has been doing on the 419 and other types of economic crimes.
EZEKWESILI: Well, once again, let me start by apologizing for having come in late. I had to do a television interview with the Bloomberg people.
I do want to clearly thank the Council on Foreign Relations for this event. I do remember in those years, those really inglorious years of the Abacha rule in Nigeria, the role that this institution played in putting the issues of Nigeria the front-runner of public discourse. And I particularly want to thank the ambassador for his continuous interest in Nigeria. And as someone who had to suffer the brunt of the military dictatorship and frequently came here for those dialogues on how to democratize Nigeria, I do want to lay it on the table that this council is really a great council.
LYMAN: Thank you.
EZEKWESILI: The fight against corruption in Nigeria is driven by an acceptance by the president of Nigeria that we do have a systemic corruption challenge. And that acceptance is important because a lot of the times, countries are unable to have the impetus for change simply because, like individuals who may be suffering from cancer and enter into a state of denial, nation states also enter into states of denial. But in our own case, the president of our country — being someone who, together with a number of us, started Transparency International early in the '90s — knew that corruption is cancerous and that corruption is not simply a moral issue; it has a development component. And the adverse impact of corruption on development is really the story of Nigeria. And so for him, getting a good handle on the corruption challenge was critical.
His first action upon entering office was to propose an anti-corruption legislation. A lot of people raised all kinds of opinions, saying, oh, we have enough laws to sanction corrupt behavior. But they didn't realize was that in an environment of systemic corruption, you needed a clear signal, not a confused signal but a very sharp and clear signal coming from the highest level of political leadership that the climate of corruption needed to change. And the best instrument usually is to have first a piece of legislation. And so he forced through with the National Assembly and eventually got that piece of legislation.
But then the fight against corruption is not simply about a piece of legislation; it's got to be comprehensive and integrated. And so we designed a program that's build around three pillars, the central pillar of the highest political leader, showing the greatest commitment to fighting corruption, but doing so from a moral pedestal because you cannot give what you don't have. Can you imagine an Abacha standing before Nigerians and saying we would like to fight corruption? (Laughter.) That would have been — I mean. But an Obasanjo had the moral credentials to stand up and say we would fight corruption. And he sent that signal and set the tone for the fight against corruption. And that (percolation/calculatoin ?) of interest in fighting corruption was important at different levels of leadership. That's the first step, because it builds the momentum for a real social change.
Then you've got to do the structural and institutional reforms that the minister of Finance was talking about. What all of this would do is that they would help you address the opportunities for corruption that people seize upon in order to engage in corrupt behavior. And so by clearing up the procurement system, which we identified to be the zone of greatest vulnerability for the governance of public resources, we were able to stem the tide of interest of people who really should be doing something else but who, having seen that a greater opportunity to be economically empowered without any productive work existed in the public sector, made the rational decision to avoid hard work and find their way into the public sector. And so getting clear rules of the game to be the basis upon which government contracts happen simply took care of that.
So you would have say to yourself, if it's that simple, it is really about political commitment to it because cleaning up the procurement system had a huge political cost because anyone who's studied issues on transparency and governance would know that there is an incredible incestuous linkage between the procurement system and politics in most countries. They use the procurement system in order to funnel resources into political assets, campaign financing and all of that, funding of elections. It's not only in developing economies; Germany, I think France. I don't know any examples yet in the U.S., but if I searched long enough, I might find one. (Laughter.)
MR. : (Off mike.)
EZEKWESILI: Oh, no, I remember that famous project in Boston that took several years building, you know.
So there is that linkage. We have to de-link it. And in doing that, we simply said let's go through the competitive bid arrangement, and clearly stand by the rules of the game. Noncompliance — (inaudible). And that was what we did. In doing that, we reduced the cost of government contracts by about one and a half billion dollars over a period of 30 months. Now, one and a half billion dollars is significant money for Nigeria because it represents 30 percent of our development budget in any given year.
Now, when people say Nigeria is a basket case, it wasted all their resources, they were right to say that in the past. But today, you cannot say that because we do know that we have been able to block that hole through which all of that resources, you know, went into private pockets. On the expenditure side, we did this procurement reform. So we decided that a budget is really about the expenditure side as well as the revenue side. So if we have been able to attain some levels of efficiency gain on the expenditure side, there must be some efficiency gain that will come also on the revenue side. And what we're going to do is a similar kind of thing on the revenue side. What we did on the procurement side was known as the due process in public procurement. That — (inaudible) — mere name, which I don't particularly know of, but, you know, the revenue side of it —
MIN. : It is known as due process. (Laughter.)
EZEKWESILI: Makes me sound like a ??? machine. (Laughter.) You know, so on the revenue side, we decided to do something too. While we were planning to do this, internationally the U.K. — I see our dear friend, the High Commissioner of Britain to Nigeria; good to see you — began the huge campaign on the issues of Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. There was a convergence — really — it converged with our own national interest at pushing the frontiers of openness in the operation of the revenue side of our budget. That's how we became the first country that subscribed. Nobody held a gun to our head. We simply knew this was good for us, and we subscribed. And today, a huge audit, independent audit of the oil and gas sector, as well as the mining sector, is going on in the country. It's going to unveil every piece of information that the people need in order to demand accountability of the highest dimension from government.
So all of these structural things — was ???— published in the revenue that she distributes to the different levels of government — information is power. You need to give accurate data to people. Let them use it as a pressure point for demanding accountability. That's what this is all about. Every secrecy about the management of the public finance is gone. It's so easy to pick up the information, because information is what really creates the transparent environment that you require in order for democracy to be built properly. So we're doing that.
I will now leave that third plank of the pillar to the man who has become the scourge of the corrupt in Nigeria. Thank you. (Laughter, applause.)
MALAM NUHU RIBADU (head, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission): Well, I don't know about that. We need to argue whether it's me or you! (Laughter.)
Well, once again, thank you for the opportunity to listen — (inaudible).
I'm just going to just end up by just giving like an opportunity to tell you such a story of what we've been doing in the last two years. And I'm happy to see Philip Thomas, the former high commissioner of U.K. to Nigeria. It all started with him, when in 2003 we started the whole project of really addressing the issue of corruption in Nigeria. Really just to share with you, really, just what are the factors, because fundamentally, all of you know really what corruption is and what damage it has done or is doing to countries, and particularly — (word inaudible) — countries or poor countries like those we have in Africa. It is our belief from the onset probably the main reason of our failure, or the main reason why we could not just solve our own problems, the main reason why we could not just manage our affairs properly, is just simply because of mismanagement from incompetence arising from corruption. Nothing more, nothing less. There's nothing wrong with the rest of us and the world other than possibly our inability to do things correctly and carefully. And that's why we have to care about the rule of law.
When Madame Okonjo-Iweala said that the difference between, for example, Nigeria and the rest of the success stories we have in the world is simply because of rule of law, and we don't have that. If you talk about sustainability, we are talking about — today maybe people are referring to individuals. But it is not so, like she said — (inaudible) — is the way you run your own affair. Those in third world countries, individuals matter because rules, regulations can be put aside anytime, and then a person will come and change them. Abacha did what he liked with Nigeria. Babangida did what he liked with Nigeria. Obasanjo is trying to do what is right for our own people. You can see the difference. It's one country.
So we — from the onset we knew we had to move forward for us to really get out of this problem we found ourselves in. We must, first of all, establish rule of law, order, transparency, discipline, accountability. And above all, a center of — (inaudible) — to fight corruption — primitive, crude — (inaudible) — exhibited by some of our own, unfortunately leadership. Nigeria is just a reflection of what happens in the rest of the poor countries of the world. And it's a tragedy. We do not desire this.
We think that what we have, in terms of both human and natural resources — we ought to get better than what we have, no doubt about it.
But two, three years ago, we started doing what we believed was the right thing. We took the right direction. We left the wrong way. We adopted what we consider policy of reforms, and we said that — (inaudible) — at a time, clean, start afresh. And through that, I think, we solve our problems.
If we fight corruption, and if we succeed, it will be better than anything that is happening, including, for example, making poverty history. I think if we make corruption history, it would be a better way for addressing African problems, poor countries all over the world.
So how do — when we started EFCC, or the organization I'm heading, happened to be one of the government agencies in the forefront of it, part of the reform team, the vanguard, the physical guide, those people who do the physical work, because talk will not make a difference. We have all been talking all our years. Every corner of the world you go, people talk, talk, talk. Come and do the physical work? No.
And if — unless you do it, you will not really move anywhere, not an inch forward.
We think we'll do it. We'll do it in the way that, you know, we have no — any other way, but we must just — with courage, with guts, with — believing that, of course, this is how we are going to get out of our troubles. We'll move forward. And we went.
What do you do when you are going to do the — fight corruption? Look back and see those who are responsible for the problem itself, bring them to justice.
How do you send a message that there is rule of law, that there is order; send a message that the law must be obeyed, and if you go foul, and if you cross the line, you'll be brought to justice, you'll be taught (sic)? And that is the difference. History really clearly indicates, I am sure, that that is — I mean, U.S. here, with — by (reading ?) history of what really happened here in those days of the “Wild West,” and so on, to the point where we have today rule of law, order; that nobody's above the law. And that is what really transforms and changes society.
This is what we are doing in Nigeria. We said that enough is enough. Enough is enough, and nobody's going to be above the law. And we have — it is just opened for us; we just catch and make an example of — because literally all, one way or the other, will be a sort of target, for example. We went after the very powerful, the big ones, and also those who are responsible for the destruction of our image, our credibility and our trust before the world.
Simple things — for example, this scam letter that goes out of Nigeria — it went on for a very long time. Somehow nobody did anything about it. In 2003, when we started working, we said it can be done. And it didn't take us too long to bring all of them who manipulated — (inaudible). Today we have well over a thousand of them in our prisons. We seized their money and properties, well over $500 million, and we returned it to the victims.
We are showing to the world and indeed Nigeria that, look, we are good people; we are not bad; we are okay; we are like the rest of the world; and that the few among us who are not really that good will not have a place of comfort. There will be no safe haven for them. We will bring them out, and we'll shame them, and we'll show them to the world, that they are not part of us.
And we have done it. We have taken the money from them, the (movies ?) from them, and indeed (we're ?) returning to the owners. We went round, all over the world, including the U.S. In Brazil alone, we returned well over a million — $100 million to date to victims of 419. We have returned — even two weeks — a month ago, I personally went to Hong Kong to return some money to an old lady, 80-year-old lady, who was duped. I returned $4.6 million dollars to her and told her we are sorry, that we are not that bad, and that there is law and order in our country.
And I think that is the only way. That is the only way you can show physically, by example, not just talk. And that is the only way people will believe you.
We have done that with our political officeholders. Those people who are in charge of the resources of the state, those are the powerful individuals. Those are the examples of people who destroyed their own societies and communities all over the African continent. You see an example of (failures ?) in Africa today. Look at what happening is the Great Lakes region. Look at what's happening in West Africa. It's a result of the leadership of people like Mobutu, Charles Taylor — (inaudible) — and the rest of them. And somehow, unless you address the leadership, chances are you will never be able to really move forward, only if you are honest about what you are doing.
And we went after them in Nigeria. We said that we will have the courage to bring, even if our own — (inaudible) — and then bring them to justice, as a result of which today there is a governor who is facing criminal trial in London, political officeholder in Nigeria.
We have nothing to hide. We are showing to the world we are honest in what we are doing. And we are grateful to those who are helping us, who are standing by us, who are getting the message, who also — who have something — have taken — (inaudible) — who are tired of somehow the terrible image of what Africa is, who do not think that you continue to be recipients of your pity. And you know, we're saying that given the right atmosphere, we can completely take care of ourselves.
This actual story in Nigeria today, which is what we are talking — is that we have turned round, we are taking the new road, and things are changing. Madame Minister explained the good thing, physical, verifiable, that is happening in the country for the first time in the history of our country.
And I am going to add, on the physical work itself, for example, in 45 years of our own history, we've never had a simple thing like get a conviction for corruption in Nigeria until this reform was established, until when we started going after the fraudulent people. For example, we never had one 419 fraudster having jail time in Nigeria. This 419 — I'm sure a lot of you know what 419 is all about, this scam, this fraudulent letter that goes out from Nigeria. We never had one.
Today we have 325 criminal cases going on right now. We've got 21 convictions against them. We have recovered many huge — billions, billions, billions, and it is happening. And I think, for the first time, really, public officials in Nigeria, are aware that there is law and order, that there is rule of law.
We have also worked in the private sector. We participated and we are part of the reform team that is now reorganizing the banking system.
We have worked in the oil sector in Nigeria. We've brought powerful individuals — today I have about — we have about five chief executives of banks, powerful, big — one of the biggest — in our prisons. That never happened. It has never — for example, in Nigeria you'd see a public or a big man in handcuffs — it sent shocks (when they first have seen ?) it, but it is now being gradually understood. And people are appreciating it, and I think it's a very big — good development in our country.
It is the reason why, I think — if we have good policies today, if you have good people who are in charge, you will see the fruit of their own work — you must sanitize, you must clean, you must raise the standard, you must do what is right. You must have law and order. You must have — transparency, accountability in any society for you to move forward. Without it, there is no hope.
And we are very grateful that we are getting very good support, very grateful to the government of the United States, grateful to U.K. (Ambassador ?), you are part of the beginning — I mean, when we started this work, you gave money — (inaudible). You sponsored my first visit to go U.K. and talk to the authorities there. You participated, you facilitated with our effort to build a global policy against corruption. (Applause.) And it is showing — (inaudible) — is about to be, I mean, reached.
Thank you very much for the — thank you very much. (Applause.)
LYMAN: Now, thank you very much — (inaudible) — who is, by the way, a very courageous man in the work he does.
We've run well over the time. It's 6:15, and I know you have another engagement. Would you entertain one or two questions, and then — just take one or two, because I know the minister has to go on further. The lady here, and then I'll take Mora. We'll take two or three questions, and then — and if you identify yourself, please —
QUESTIONER: Hello. My name is Leanna Byerlee. I'm in the country risk management group at JP Morgan. Clearly, the progress that your government has made is extremely impressive and is, you know, both quantifiable and measurable. And I wonder if you could share your thoughts about how important international benchmarks are, such as international public ratings, for Nigeria in trying to send the message to a broader set of foreign investors on how much progress Nigeria has made, and in really starting to change their perceptions of foreign investors.
LYMAN: And let's take the other two questions, and we'll go on. Mora and then Mahesh.
QUESTIONER: Mora McLean —
(Cell phone rings.)
LYMAN: Would you turn off the cell phone?
QUESTIONER: First of all, I want to apologize for my cell phone. I thought I had turned it off. I pressed the button but apparently had not succeeded.
In any case, Mora McLean is the name. I'm with the Africa-America Institute. I want to thank the minister of Finance of the delegation. I have a personal as well as professional interest in Africa and in Nigeria in particular. I'm married to one. I lived in Nigeria and worked in Nigeria for many years, and I have to say I'm very, very impressed and pleased and proud.
Two things, again, related to this personal and professional interest: My organization for more than 50 years has been investing in human capital in Africa — education. And you talked about tackling corruption, dealing with infrastructure and banking. Nigeria's education system — its higher education system at one point threatened to be world-class. And I have a niece living with me now so that she can go to school — extraordinary young woman; I'm hoping to bring others — and that's because there is an opportunity at home, as there should be. So I wondered what some of your reflections are about some of the saved funding, how it can go more in the education direction.
And I'd also like to know, since my organization is launching an African financial fellows program, which is an idea that emerged from a commission headed by Jim Harmon (sp), who's here, on increasing capital flow to Africa, who we should talk to within your ministry to see whether or not there's any possibility of collaboration. This would be high-level training for people in the financial sector.
LYMAN: Okay. One more question from Mahesh, and then go —
QUESTIONER: Okay, Mahesh Kotecha, Structured Credit International. Madame Minister, nice to see you again.
I'd like to underline or take off from the question from JP Morgan on perception of risk, which you are trying to change. I think you are doing an excellent job of getting our attention in small groups. But a louder speaker, magnifying — a megaphone would be a rating. And my question is actually related to another perception-changing instrument, which is your diaspora. What is the extent of capital reflows? And can you publicize this, because this — there's no vote of confidence that speaks louder than your own diaspora voting with their feet and their money. So if you could address that issue —
LYMAN: Okay, Frank, you get the last question.
QUESTIONER: Frank Ferrari. In today's Financial Times — (off mike) — has an article commenting on the 10 years from the — (off mike). And he talks about change and progress. Would his comments be more reflective of the community than the warlords that have been — (off mike) — the violence?
LYMAN: Okay. We'll let you do that, and we'll let you be free for your next meeting. (Chuckles.)
OKONJO-IWEALA: Yeah, I'll call on my colleagues to help with one or two of these.
On the issue of the rating — very right. That's my next objective. (Off mike) — has already visited, and the reason is that — (off mike) — Standard & Poor's — (off mike). So they're sending a sharp signal. You see, we have to take things — (off mike). So that's already on. And the — (off mike) — as I said, has conducted their mission already.
So if we have — (off mike) — Standard & Poor's rating by the beginning of next year, the country would have, you know, shown that it's willing to be measured by an international barometer. So that's fully under way.
And we wanted to wait — and I wanted to focus our attention first on getting through the Paris Club negotiations and dealing with our debt issue. And we did that. And I think that's — (off mike) — in fact, in terms of whatever ratings we get. So we'll do that, and I hope you'll see something in a couple of months, if not earlier. And I think, when I say this, that the level of the rating is less important than the signal that it sends that Nigeria is transparent, open and willing to be measured. So we should not focus so much on what the actual rating is as this. I think that's what you are trying to tell — (off mike).
In terms of the — well, let me take the issue of the perception of risk with that, since they are related, and then come back to — (off mike). In terms of the risk issue and the (risk load ?), in terms of (every country ?), official — (off mike) — country show that we're getting about $2 billion a year in (many countries ?). I think that is underestimated. My back of the envelope calculation, I think we are easily getting about $3 billion (from other countries ?). And that is quite significant. That's coming from the diaspora everywhere. The United States — (off mike) — Nigeria significant diaspora, and in fact in the U.S., we, I think the census showed, that the highest-educated diaspora in the U.S. is Nigerian. So that is something, they are very high professionals who — occupations here.
Now, what we want to do — what I started to talk to you about and engage you on before was that I wanted us to do a systematic approach to tapping the resources. So rather than just look at — (off mike) — countries, to try and do a diaspora (bond ?) — (off mike). And this is something that we are working on. The feeling is that we are doing so many things on so many broad fronts that sometimes you're exhausted and you just want to finish — (off mike). But we are very much looking at that because I think there is great room to emulate what India has done very successfully in tackling this mountain. So my agenda next year includes getting the ratings, on getting the diaspora (bond ?) — (off mike).
Now, on the issue of higher education, I'd like to ask perhaps Oby to, you know — (off mike) — answer that question, and then I can comment on the (scholars ?) program specifically. But the issue was the higher education system, what's happening with it and how can funding for this from the African American — (off mike).
EZEKWESILI: Yes. You know, the whole governance issue, with the — (inaudible word) — institutions and the fact that public funding was basically all they depended upon, and so that also led to a lot of inefficient use of resources, and so university autonomy is something that is being discussed at the moment, and I think that we're going to finally find ourselves in a terrain where universities really know that they have to compete for the best students, compete for the resources, compete for the best teachers.
And I think that even as the other sectors of the economy are — (inaudible word) — related, so also are we looking at the educational sector as really a sector that a lot of private-sector activity is going on. The private universities are really coming on strong, and that in itself is playing up well because it is saying to the publicly funded universities that they just have to race to the top if they stood a chance to survive.
But even with the public education — because we need to be careful not to abdicate responsibility completely, because otherwise we would lose many of the poor, who would suffer unjustly. The kind of investment in education that we're doing is now program related rather than simply pouring money into the educational sector. I remember that when I first got back home in the end of 2000 and I did a budget analysis of our investment in education and health, it turned out that the programs were spending only about 4 percent of the budget on programs. The rest was being spent on silly projects like construction of (tents/tests ?), building of — (inaudible word) — and, you know, all kinds of manners of transaction-related. And that's the same procurement thing again. So it was purely driven by a desire to direct some resources out of the state.
Now that has changed because of the kind of cost-benefit analysis, the return on investment procedure that the Ministry of Finance has put in place. And I think that also, the new curriculum that the Ministry of Education's been working on is helping to target the specific (measure/nature ?) of skills that we want to give to the next generation.
And a lot of post-university training is also going on in the country. As a matter of fact, a lot of the companies in the extractive industries end up retraining graduates of Nigerian universities today, but the way to bridge that gap is through getting them to take even more interest in supporting these universities. And there is a lot of partnership going on in that regard.
Mora, it's good to see you.
OKONJO-IWEALA: Just to add one quick thing, some benchmarkings of the university, you know, some attempts to say which ones are doing well in what areas has been going on. And it's quite instructive, because some of the older universities have not done as well as they thought they would. And it's put universities a little bit on their toes. So you might want to think about the resources flowing, as Obi was saying, to those universities that are shown to be doing relatively better in this particular program and look it that way. And we can help to provide further information on which are those and where would you like to direct your resources, so that an element of incentive is built into funding. We are trying to use the budget and the grants as an instrument to provide incentives. And we're even benchmarking the states, you know, against certain criteria again, so we can use matching grants like is done here in the U.S., and other mechanisms to spur better performance.
On the fellows, I'd like to talk to you, because this is an important program, perhaps have a chance to pursue it, to see how we can develop this African financial — (word inaudible) — and how might we get people to compete for that. Very interesting.
EL-RUFAI: In addition, Madame Minister, permit me to mention that from the expected savings of our settlement of the Paris Club debt, we hope from next year to be saving about a billion dollars from this transaction. A large percentage of that money is actually going to education, health, MDG-related goals. Also we are looking, with the help of the EU, the World Bank and the Nelson Mandela Institution, of establishing a university of science and technology — this in the mold of MIT and India's IIT. We are working on that. That university will be established in Abuja So that you — you're not just looking at fixing universities that are broken. Fixing something that is broken is always difficult, but it has to be done. So that is being done, as the minister pointed out. But we are looking at, you know, creating a new university of science and technology that will address the science and technological needs of the African continent in the mold of MIT and IIT and so on. And that is going on. So we — our eyes on not off the ball on education.
LYMAN: Did you want to answer this —
OKONJO-IWEALA: Well — sorry. I'm sorry. Frank asked about the article on — (inaudible). Thankfully — luckily, I had a chance to look at that. And I think that you made a comment about whether this is more reflective of what the community is thinking then what the thugs are doing. And in that direction, I would say yes. I think — that's the point I was trying to convey, that one must make a distinction in this area between the genuine concerns of the community. And I think in that article, he remarked that President Obasanjo and this present administration is making an effort to address the concerns of the population.
That's the difference between what was going on during the military era and now; that there's a recognition and acceptance and a will, and that we've deployed instruments beyond acceptance, because people don't eat acceptance, as we say in Nigeria. What they want is action, and that's what I want people to know when you hear all these stories is that the federal government is not sitting back, that we've deployed the resources in the Niger Delta Development Commission, at the top of the budget, very substantial, in order to do programs in education and health in these communities. And then we are trying to work with the states and urging the states. We think they can do more because they get significant resources.
And then Ken Saro — Ken Wiwa, had also pointed out that the oil companies — I seemed to detect from the article that he felt the federal government has not been hard enough on the oil companies in terms of their participation. I think we've been very outspoken. It's interesting that — (inaudible) — the CEO of Shell is not here, because he will tell you that I wasn't that popular with them when I first started. And members of the economic team, myself and others, we have been pointing out to them that the issue of corporate social responsibility in Nigeria has to take a dimension that is scaled up much beyond what it is now.
When you see the action that corporations take in this country and elsewhere, compare them to what is done, you know, yes, they will tell you that — (inaudible) — has a $65 million a year program. But I told them it's really — yes, it's nice to see — (inaudible) — but too little maybe too late; 50 years of a history of not doing enough. So they have to scale up, and I think they are listening. I do sense an openness beyond where they used to be. The Chevrons and ExxonMobils were also trying to step up. But I think we still have a job to do to get there. But we are trying to dialogue and use that instrument of cooperation and partnership to get things done, rather than using — (inaudible) — or other instruments.
So I think that that's where we need to go, and that he has a good point there. But I'm very happy to see what he wrote, that this government is stepping up to the plate and we accept we need to do more.
As for the — (inaudible) — I've had my say; I call it — (word inaudible). I don't call them rebel armies, anyone who wants to — (inaudible) — it's up to them, but that's not what they are. Let's call a spade a spade. I think we are trying to deal with them maturely, like I said. President Obasanjo has in fact been especially doing that and has suffered internal criticism by people who think that, look, why are you spending your time on these people who are doing gangster type of action. But I think he's pursued it maturely, and that's the way we are going to go.
Thank you. (Applause.)
LYMAN: Okay. Thank you all. We've violated one of the sacred rules of the council by going over, but it was worthwhile. Thank you.
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