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FACT CHECK: Was Atiku head of Obasanjo’s economic management team?

FACT CHECK: Was Atiku head of Obasanjo’s economic management team?
January 18
14:55 2023

Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s former vice-president, has claimed that he led the economic management team during the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) made the claim on Monday, at the presidential dialogue on the economy, organised by the National Economic Summit Group (NESG) in Lagos.

“As head of the economic management team, while I was Vice President, I was instrumental in designing a private sector revival strategy and advocated for the opening of the economy for private sector investments in several sectors. And we made tremendous progress,” Atiku said.

“I’m sure you still remember the good old days of rapid economic growth with stable interest and exchange rates, low inflation, low unemployment rates, and low poverty headcount.

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“We paid off nearly all of our foreign debt which was crippling the country.”

Obasanjo served as Nigeria’s president from 1999 to 2007.

But how true is the claim that Atiku led the economic management team?

VERIFICATION

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Checks by TheCable revealed that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former minister of finance and now director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), actually led Obasanjo’s economic management team.

The economic management team was established by Obasanjo in 2003 at the beginning of his second term as president.

A publication on Nigeria’s debt reform, published by the Centre for Africa-Europe relations said: “When President Obasanjo was re-elected in 2003, he appointed a new economic management team headed by former World Bank director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. This team implemented many policy reforms.”

In a report where Okonjo-Iweala recounted her journey through economic reforms, she admitted that in 2003, after she got permission of Obasanjo to set up a presidential economic team, the former president decided to preside over the team as the chair, while she takes the lead.

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The team, which consisted of 12 members with expertise in macroeconomics, microeconomics, debt management, privatisation, private-sector development, governance, anti-corruption measures, civil-service reform, and budget management, were responsible for designing and implementing economic reforms under the Obasanjo administration.

Members of the 12-person team included Chukwuma Soludo, the then Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor; Nuhu Ribadu, chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); Nasir el-Rufai, minister of the federal capital territory (FCT); Oby Ezekwesili, minister of education; Bode Agusto, director-general, Budget Office; Ifueko Omoigui, chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), among others.

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As head of the economic management team and finance minister, Okonjo-Iweala led the negotiations for Nigeria’s debt relief.

After the negotiations, Nigeria and the Paris Club announced a final agreement for debt relief worth $18 billion, after Nigeria paid $12 billion.

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IS ECONOMIC MANAGEMENT TEAM SAME AS NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL?

No. The two entities are not the same and do not perform the same functions.

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During his stint as VP, Atiku headed the National Economic Council (NEC).

His biography on the Yar’adua Foundation’s website reads: “As Vice President, he (Atiku) chaired the National Economic Council which was responsible for assembling the outstanding talent that transformed the Nigerian economy, more than quadrupling GDP between 2000 – 2007.”

NEC was established by the provisions of the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria, as amended, specifically section 153(1) and paragraphs 18 & 19 of part I of the third schedule.

According to the constitution, NEC has the mandate to “advise the president concerning the economic affairs of the federation, and in particular on measures necessary for the coordination of the economic planning efforts or economic programmes of the various governments of the federation.”

Membership of the NEC comprises the VP as chairperson, 36 state governors, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other co-opted government officials.

Nigeria’s current national economic council is chaired by vice-president Yemi Osinbajo

The council holds meetings once every month.

VERDICT

Atiku’s claim that he was the head of the economic management team is false. The team was set up in 2003 during Obasanjo’s administration, the former president was the chair while Okonjo-Iweala led the team.

The PDP presidential candidate must have confused NEC with the economic management team.



This story is published in partnership with Report for the World, a global service program that supports local public interest journalism.

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