On Tuesday, 16th April, 2013, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was interviewed by Christiane Amanpour , CNN’s chief international correspondent and anchor of Amanpour, a nightly foreign affairs program on CNN International.
AMANPOUR – Introducing the interview segment
Welcome back to the program. Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, is full of promise. But fulfilling that promise is sometimes a struggle. Plagued by corruption and mismanagement, the resource-rich country has a poverty rate of over 50 percent. Maternal mortality is shockingly high. And more than half of Nigerians don’t have access to electricity.
Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, can’t even escape the power problem himself. Here he is on Easter Sunday, delivering a speech to his people only to have it disrupted by a blackout. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says that she and her president want more for the country. She’s Nigeria’s finance minister and she’s been lauded as just the kind of reformer that Nigeria needs. She was a runner-up to lead the World Bank and “Forbes” ranked her as one of the world’s most powerful women.
But even she isn’t immune from Nigeria’s problems. Her own mother was kidnapped for a terrifying five days before being released. I spoke to her and I asked her about her country’s uphill struggle to transform Nigeria’s resources into a better life for all the people. We talked when she was here in New York for the Women in the World Summit.
And as you watch, we look forward to your tweets using
AMANPOUR: Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, welcome to the program.
NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: Great to have you.
OKONJO-IWEALA: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Nigeria is a huge and important country. We have many, many viewers from Nigeria, always very active and very interested. So it’s great to have you here.
OKONJO-IWEALA: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: You have said and others have said, that 2013 is going to be a real game-changing year, a turning point year for Nigeria, particularly in your area of finance and economics.
OKONJO-IWEALA: Well, it’s going to be a game-changer and a turning point, because this is the year we are going to produce results. And we’re already producing results within the administration.
First, on the economic side, I just want to say that macroeconomic stability has been restored. Now, nobody should minimize that. Remember, there were two lost decades in Africa, in the ’80s and ’90s, where there was so much macro instability that people could not even focus on sectors that could create jobs.
Now things have gone right. We’ve got growth that is at 6.5 percent last year and we’re projecting for 2013, also, around the same number compared to average 5 percent on the African continent.
Now, I just want to say that when you mention GDP growth, people immediately say we can — in my country, they say we can’t eat growth; because we have unemployment challenges, we need to create more jobs. We have a challenge of inclusion. We have problems of inequality.
All those are challenges we face.
AMANPOUR: You are obviously a passionate defender of your country. You are a person who calls for transparency and honesty and best practices. There is a huge problem with corruption in your country. The president promised to address this stuff. And the latest is that an ally of his, a former governor who was convicted of stealing millions of dollars, has been pardoned, embezzling $55 million in public funds. Now, the U.S. calls that a setback for the fight against corruption. I mean how do you answer that?
OKONJO-IWEALA: How do I answer that question? OK, listen to what I have to say on corruption. And I think I have quite a bit to say. I wrote a book recently where I also had a whole chapter on that issue called, “Reforming the Unreformable.”
Nigeria does have a problem with corruption. And so do many other countries, including developed countries. I don’t like the fact that when people mention the name Nigeria, the next thing they say is corruption.
This is a country of 170 million people; 99.9 percent of them are honest, hard-working citizens who just want to get on with their lives and they want a government that delivers for them.
What we’ve said is that in order to help block any leakages and help to, you know, stop any attempts at corruption or taking monies, we must build electronic platforms. We must distance people from the money.
These things were recommended by the World Bank and the IMF. I used to work at the World Bank. We are doing them.
And I strongly believe that we lack institutions. We lack processes.
Now, what President Goodluck Jonathan has done now is to call the judiciary, the legislature and the executive arm for the first time to meet together on this issue and say, this is not just about government, this is about all of us coming together, because even if you catch somebody, they go to the courts and they are let off lightly.
The president can’t do anything about that. The judicial system also has to be strengthened.
Legislators also have to crack down. They themselves have to work at also being transparent and helping the executive.
But for me, also, in addition to doing that, we need to stop talking and identify the specifics, like you mentioned oil leakages. Let me mention two things quickly.
The first one is the oil theft that is 150,000 barrels a day –
AMANPOUR: Which is huge.
OKONJO-IWEALA: — a month — which is huge. Yes. I admit that. And we can’t afford — I’ll tell you; my thesis on corruption is we are still a poor country. We cannot afford any leakage.
We also need the international community to weigh in. We have — Mexico and Nigeria are suffering from this problem, you can check. Mexico has (inaudible) losing 25,000 barrels a day. And they found (inaudible).
In our case, we have international people who also buy that stolen oil. We need them to treat this stolen oil like stolen diamonds, the blood diamonds. Make it blood oil. Help us so that those people don’t have a market to sell this stuff.
That’s one. And we ourselves should commit to fighting — and we are fighting that.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about that, because you also have challenges with electricity. You mentioned you’re very rich in oil and people just simply don’t understand why there still seem to be so many problems with electricity.
And it might seem, you know, weird to pick on that one thing, but it is very prevalent. I asked your president about this during an interview I did by satellite when he was at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Let’s just see what he had to say to me.
GOODLUCK JONATHAN, PREISDENT OF NIGERIA: That is one area that Nigerians are quite pleased with the government, that’s a commitment to improve power. It’s working. So if you are saying something different, I’m really surprised. That is one area, one area that we will — civil society members agree that government has kept faith with its promise.
*end of video clip*
AMANPOUR: Now, that interview caused a bit of a hullabaloo, as I think you know, in Nigeria. And yet, the World Bank has said that half — more than half the Nigerian population doesn’t have any access to the power grid.
OKONJO-IWEALA: As you know, Nigeria became a democracy again when President Obasanjo came into power in 1999. Two decades prior to that, there was hardly any investment in electricity. If you’ve neglected a sector for that long, you’ve not invested, you’ve not even maintained your basic facilities, it’s not going to happen that fast. It takes time. That month, when you interviewed the president, the polls showed, independently, scientifically (inaudible) that they are in technical partnership with dialogue. That 54 percent of Nigerians felt there was some improvement. They do it monthly. Now this month, they’ve surveyed and they’ve showed this going down, because 800 megawatts has been taken off the grid, which is while they are maintaining the grid.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you, because businesses apparently say that this problem with electricity is causing them to, you know, be reluctant to invest.
AMANPOUR: They need this investment…
OKONJO-IWEALA: Nigeria is not the only country. Almost every developing country has a problem with power, as you know. India has it. South Africa has it. South Africa is far better off because they’ve invested much more.
But many developing countries, even China, they are struggling with keeping up with infrastructure.
Now, what we are doing in Nigeria? We have accepted that the government is not the best place to run the power sector, that if we want this country and this economy to do better, we just have to get out. And Nigeria is pursuing one of the most sweeping privatization programs in any country in the world. We are selling off everything. The generation capacity, the distribution capacity in the country, government is only retaining one thing — transmission.
AMANPOUR: Well, on that note, Madam Minister, thank you for joining me.
OKONJO-IWEALA: Thank you, Christiane, for having me.