Monday, 25 July 2011

Nigeria: New government convened; finance minister still unconfirmed

President Goodluck Jonathan's new government term met for the first time on 20th July 2011, following the completion of the screening and swearing-in of ministers and special advisers. One individual, however, was conspicuous by her absence from the meeting, namely former finance minister and World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

She is the only nominee not to have been sworn-in, some two weeks after being confirmed by the Senate, and after outgoing finance minister Olusegun Aganga, paved the way for her by leaving to head the newly-created Ministry of Trade and Investment.

The official explanation given by the presidency – that Okonjo-Iweala is clearing out her desk and handing over her duties at the World Bank – has raised eyebrows. Okonjo-Iweala famously stalled before finally accepting Jonathan's offer to join his “transformation team” (as the president likes to call his cabinet).

The formation of the cabinet was already long delayed. Despite Jonathan's promise to appoint his team within two weeks of his inauguration in May, it was not until two months later that the new cabinet could be convened.

Although yet to be confirmed, Okonjo-Iweala is expected to run the key Ministry of Finance. Her robustly negotiated terms of engagement are expected to give her a largely free hand in running the economy, which was recently described in glowingly hopeful terms by the visiting UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

The high expectations surrounding Okonjo-Iweala's appointment are understandable. One of the major highlights of her previous stint as minister, under former president Olusegun Obasanjo, was the negotiation of debt forgiveness for the country's seemingly insurmountable arrears. She will no doubt be disappointed that her good work in getting the country's debts pardoned and reduced is gradually being eroded. The country's debt is now put at well over US$40 billion.

Okonjo-Iweala is also widely credited as being the 'brightest spark' in what has been described as an “uninspiring” cabinet, lacking any major figures.

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

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