Ezekwesili laments squandering of $67bn national savings

2013-01-25
NATIONAL MIRROR Newspaper- Dennis Agbo


Former minister in the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, has condemned the squandering of $45bn in foreign reserves account and $22bn in Excess Crude Account by the two successive administrations.

The former minister regretted that the frittering away of resources underlined Nigeria’s failure to make right developmental choices.

Ezekwesili, a former Vice-President (Africa) at the World Bank, spoke at the 42nd convocation lecture of the University of Nigeria, UNN, Nsukka, yesterday

said that Nigerians had lost dignity because of ravaging poverty due to poor choices by the elite, corruption and lack of investment in education.

Noting that Nigeria had enjoyed five cycles of oil boom, she decried the failure to convert oil income to renewable assets through development of human capital and other sectors of the economy or by investment in foreign assets as other resource-rich countries did with their oil income.

Ezekwesili, a founding director of Transparency International, TI, stressed that the present cycle of boom of the 2010s was however much more vexing than the other four that happened in the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s.

She said: “This is because we are still caught up in it and it is more egregious than the other periods in revealing that we learned absolutely nothing from the previous massive failures.”

The former Minister of Solid Minerals and later Education lamented the squandering of the significant sum of $45bn in foreign reserve account and another $22bn in the Excess Crude Account, being direct savings from increased earnings from oil that the Obasanjo administration handed over to the successor government in 2007.

She added: “Six years after the administration I served handed over such humongous national wealth to another one, most Nigerians, especially the poor, continue to suffer the effects of failing public health and education systems as well as decrepit infrastructure and battered institutions.

“One cannot but ask what exactly does that symbolise with this level of brazen misappropriation of public resources? Where did all that money go? Where is the accountability for the use of these resources and the additional several hundreds of millions of dollars realised from oil sales by the two administrations that have governed our nation in the last five years? How were these resources applied or more appropriately misapplied?”

Ezekwesili asked graduating students of UNN and other educated young people to become the turning point generation of young and educated Nigerians willing to make the right choices by serving or having a say in political affairs of the country.

She stressed that sorting out the “Nigerian political mess is critical as there is a strong correlation between politics and economic development.”

The ex-minister explained that university graduates account for 4.3 per cent of Nigeria’s youthful population in 2013, a slight increase from the three per cent when she graduated in 1985.

“This compares unfavourably with opportunity for university education in other countries put at 37.5 per cent in Chile, 33.7 per cent for Singapore, 28.2 per cent for Malaysia and 16.5 per cent for Brazil,” she said.

Ezekwesili linked Nigeria’s poor capital formation to the low development of its people through education.

“Our lag in tertiary education enrolment is quite revealing and could be interpreted as the basis of the competitiveness gap between the same set of countries and Nigeria.

“The countries with the most highly educated citizens are also some of the wealthiest in the world in a study by the OECD published by the Wall Street Journal last year.

“The appropriate response to the revenue extracted from our oil over the period from 1959 to date would have been to use it in accumulating productive investment in the form of globally competitive human capital and physical assets of all types of infrastructure and institutions.

“Such translation from one form of non-renewable asset to renewable capital would have been the right replacement strategy for a wasting asset like oil.

“Unfortunately, unbridled profligacy has made us spend and continue to spend the free money from oil like a tragic Rentier state that we are called in development circles.

“Resource wealth has tragically reduced your nation, my nation, to a mere parable of prodigality,” Ezekwesili said.

She asserted that nothing undignifies nations and their citizens like self-inflicted failure. “Our abundance of oil, people and geography should have worked favourably and placed us on the top echelons of the global economic ladder by now.”

Ezekwesili noted that it was up to the younger generation to restore the dignity of Nigeria by making the right choices to lift the nation out of poverty.

The former World Bank executive described Nigeria as a paradox with the kind of wealth that breeds penury, stressing that the trend of Nigeria’s population in poverty since 1980 to 2010 suggests that the more she earned from oil the larger the population of poor citizens.

According to her, the figures of the poor in Nigeria grew from 17.1 million in 1980 to 34.5 million in 1985, 39.2 million in 1992, 67.1 million in 1996, to 68.7 million in 2004 and 112.47 million in 2010.

Ezekwesili, however, espoused a new vision for Nigeria under the theme: “We believe in dignity.”

She said the resurgence of entrepreneurial spirit based on hard work and sound education were critical factors to changing Nigeria.

According to her, “For Nigeria’s dignity to be restored, your generation must build a coalition of young entrepreneurial minds that are ready to ask and respond to the question: what does it take for nations to become rich?

“Throughout economic history, the factors that determine which nations became rich and improved the standard of living of their citizens read like a Dignity Treatise in that they all revolve around the choices that ordinary citizens made in defining the value constructs of their nation.”

The UNN convocation ceremonies commenced on Thursday with the convocation lecture and the prize and awards night for distinguished graduands.

The 18,150 first degree holders would receive their certificates on Friday while higher degrees and honorary awards would be celebrated on Saturday and conferred on 1,730 recipients.

There are 116 first class honours recipients and 195 doctorate degrees.

The Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Barth Okolo, had disclosed on Monday that the university was rebuilding its intellectual capital by offering employment to 300 first class honours graduates over the last three years.

 

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