Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Washington DC

Former Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has recalled how the military linking Boko Haram’s capture of territories in Nigeria’s North East to lack of operational funds sent her and her team into panic mode.

Throughout 2014 there were public complaints by the military hierarchy to President Goodluck Jonathan about the inadequacy of funds to fight the anti-terror war in the North East, resulting in Boko Haram making gains and even taking territories. A lot of the criticism was directed at the Federal Ministry of Finance under Okonjo-Iweala, which was accused of not doing enough to fund counterterror operations.

Okonjo-Iweala made the disclosure in Washington DC at a signing event for the launch of her book ‘Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines’, held at The Politics and Prose.

The former minister was responding to a question on the role of the judiciary in fighting corruption.

According to her, with a strong, independent, and well-resourced judiciary, Nigeria will be on its way to winning the fight against corruption.

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Okonjo-Iweala said:

“We really need a strong judiciary, there is absolutely no doubt about it. With strong, independent, and well-resourced judiciary we are on our way. We have some independent institutions to safeguard the judiciary, but is it strong enough? The answer I’m sure the members of the judiciary themselves will tell you is ‘no’. So, that is one of the tasks that we have. And, like you said, there is some urgency in building institutions in our country if we are to successfully fight corruption.

“We need a whole new set of actions working together but, above all, we need people who are willing. If everybody runs away and stay in their nice, safe corner, what happens? That is what the people who are corrupt want you to do by the way. They want you to stay away, they want you to resign, they want you to run off and leave them to their devices, and that was what led to all the attacks. They believe that if they attack, intimidate, ruin the reputation, the person will run away. Every single day when we were in government we woke up to drama. And I want to really recognize not only the economic team but also the Ministry of Finance staff. I didn’t want to mention their names too much because I did not want to get anyone into difficulty. But there were people who were working in the Ministry and there were very tense moments.

“I remember a time when the Army said, and it is in the book, that the Ministry of Finance was withholding resources and therefore they were not able to fight Boko Haram, and it was in the papers. People in my ministry panicked and said you have to do something because that is a really serious charge. And I had to go out to the media and give all the figures of all we had disbursed. 

“So, other people not just me suffered a lot. So, we have to be willing. If you don’t have willing people who are ready to fight, then you can’t even have the strengthening of the institutions. If you strengthen the judiciary and you don’t have strong incorruptible judges, what is going to happen? If you don’t have people who will put their neck on the line to say we shan’t discuss this or we can’t do that, or we can’t allow the sources from the budget to be used for certain things, what will happen?

“So I’m just encouraging people, especially from developing countries, to have the will to fight, and those in the international community to have the will to put up instruments and back those people. Let them know that if they need to run out, they have somewhere to go. So, if you want to start up something that is a project for you, start a fund to support these people. Let’s find institutions, anyone that will house the fellowships that will support these people.”