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How I handled Nigeria’s Debts and Subsidy Fraud — Okonjo-Iweala

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The Director-General (DG) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngonzi Okonjo-Iweala, has narrated how she was able to service Nigeria’s debt and drastically reduced subsidy-related fraud during her tenure as the finance minister of Nigeria.

Okonjo-Iweala, who was finance minister under two administrations in Nigeria spoke during an online interview organised by Atlantic Council, a United States think-tank on international affairs, monitored by Green White Green (GWG) on ARISE NEWS Channel.

According to her, “Nigeria was indebted by $30 billion to the Paris Club with a debt service of $2 billion a year, of which the country could only pay $1 billion. But with reforms of the economy, we were able to systematise the country’s debts”.

Also recounting her performance under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Okonjo-Iweala said, “just by having an integrated financial management system, we were able to cut down on the phenomenon of ghost workers, you know where people used to put additional people on the payroll in the ministries, ghost pensioners, because ghost workers will graduate to ghost pensioners, and so we got rid of that and saved $1.1 billion for the government.

“So that is, we were fighting other types of corruption. We had an oil subsidy system in which we used to pay marketers. Oil marketers who brought in refined oil, you know, we paid them the difference between the market price, and the subsidised price that the government was mandated for selling oil to people.

“And so, that was when I came the second time. This was a big problem. When I left government the first time in 2006, these subsidies were about $2 billion, when I came back, the first thing we noticed was that it had grown to $11 billion.”

She noted, there couldn’t have been any way so many people joined the middle class and bought cars and were able to afford to buy fuel which made the subsidy soar.

Elucidating how she handled the matter, Okonjo-Iweala said: “I asked President Jonathan that we could audit the oil accounts which he fully supported.

“When we audited, $8.5 billion of the accounts, we found $2.5 billion of fraudulent claims and with his backing, we refused to pay that to the marketers and that led to a series of problems, which I won’t bore you with, including threats to my life.

“My mother being kidnapped for five days was one of the worst periods of my life and it was a very tough period. But, that being said, I think the privilege of serving my country as finance minister for several years, to being able to work on some reforms is one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

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