Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, is full of promise. But fulfilling that promise is often a struggle.
Plagued by corruption and mismanagement, the resource-rich country has a poverty rate of over 50%.
Maternal mortality is shockingly high and more than half of Nigerians don’t have access to electricity, according to the World Bank.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the country’s finance minister and the former World Bank official has been lauded as the reformer Nigeria needs.
But she too isn’t immune from Nigeria’s problems – her own mother was kidnapped for a terrifying five days before being released.
President Goodluck Jonathan promised to address corruption in the country. Nevertheless, a former governor – an ally of Jonathan – has been convicted of embezzling million in public funds and has since been pardoned.
“Nigeria does have a problem with corruption and so do many other countries,” Okonjo-Iweala told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Tuesday. “I don’t like the fact that when people mention the name Nigeria the next thing they mention is corruption.”
Technology could be the answer the problem, Okonjo-Iweala believes.
“We must build electronic platforms. We must distance people from the money. These things were recommended by the world bank and IMF,” she told Amanpour. “We are doing them.”
President Jonathan is calling for the judiciary, the legislative and the executive arm to meet together about this issue all together for the time first Okonjo-Iweala said.
“Because even if you catch somebody, if they go to courts and they are let off lightly the president can’t do anything about that. The judicial system also has to be strengthened,” she said.
“This is a country of 170 million people; 99.9 percent of them are honest, hard-working citizens who just want to get on with their lives,” Okonjo-Iweala said, proudly. “And they want a government that delivers for them.”
Oil should be Nigeria’s saving grace, but oil leakage causes a significant drain on the economy.
“We are still a poor country,” she admitted. “We can’t afford any leakage.”
On tap of that, there is immense oil theft, which Okonjo-Iweala puts at 150,000 barrels stolen a day. She compared the situation to Mexico, which sees tens of thousands of barrels stolen each day.
“We need them to treat this oil like stolen diamonds. The blood diamonds,” she said – calling on the international community for assistance. “Make it blood oil. Help us so those people don’t have a market to sell this stuff.”
Nigeria is also plagued by problems with its electrical grid.
When the country’s president last appeared on CNN, he told Amanpour, “That is one area that Nigerians are quite pleased with the government, that’s a commitment to improve power. It’s working. So if you are saying something different, I’m really surprised.”
That interview caused an uproar in Nigeria, with many of the county’s very active social media citizens taking to Twitter and Facebook to voice their frustrations with the power grid and President Jonathan’s comments.
Okonjo-Iweala said the power problems all come down to previous government’s lack of investment.
“If you’ve neglected a sector for that long, you’ve not invested, you’ve not even maintained your basic facilities, it’s not going to happen that fast. It takes time,” she said.
While Nigerians often complain of power outages – telling CNN they often have to use generators to watch the news channel – Okonjo-Iweala maintained there has been improvement.
“That month, when you interviewed the president,” she said, referring to Amanpour’s previous interview of Jonathan, “the polls showed, independently, scientifically that they are in technical partnership with dialogue. That 54 percent of Nigerians felt there was some improvement,” she told Amanpour.
“Nigeria is not the only country. Almost every developing country has a problem with power, as you know. India has it. South Africa has it. South Africa is far better off because they’ve invested much more.
But many developing countries, even China, they are struggling with keeping up with infrastructure,” she said.
Okonjo-Iweala said that the administration has accepted that the government is not the best place to run the power sector.
“If we want this country and this economy to do better, we just have to get out. And Nigeria is pursuing one of the most sweeping privatization programs in any country in the world,” she said. “We are selling off everything.”
That said, the lights even went out on President Jonathan during a speech he gave a speech in front of cameras just this past Easter day.
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