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Okonjo Iweala’s Second Coming: A Return To The Dollar Salary System?


To most Nigerians, the name Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is not new in governmental circles. She became a household name when she served as Minister in the Obasanjo years. She is also known to be the first woman to head Nigeria’s Finance Ministry, same for the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Okonjo Iweala’s brilliance and capabilities have never been in doubt. Some of her feats in the Finance Ministry have remained unrivalled. Apart from introducing the practice of publishing the monthly financial allocation of each state from the federal government in the newspapers, she was instrumental in helping Nigeria obtain a debt pardon from its then creditors, the Paris Club.
To the average Nigerian however, all the good that might have might have been done by Okonjo-Iweala were overshadowed by the dollar salary scandal in which she and Chief Olu Adeniji were involved.
As Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, both of them not only earned their salaries in American dollars, it was much more than what their contemporaries took home. While all other ministers were on a salary that was equivalent to about $ 6,000, Okonjo Iweala was earning about $ 247,000 while Adeniji’s pay totalled $ 120,000.
The jumbo pay eventually became a cause for litigation and the Appeal Court declared the dollar payment as an illegality. Though it was argued that the United Nations Development Programme was involved and was augmenting the payment, it had no effect on the Appeal Court’s decision.
Street Journal had reported that Okonjo Iweala has been pencilled down by President Jonathan to replace the former Finance Minister, Olusegun Aganga and in the last week, it was reported that the President and the World Bank MD were involved in talks over the portfolio that would be given her as well as clarification on the mode of payment.
Street Journal has found out that cause of worry for most Nigerians is not whether Okonjo-Iweala would deliver or not but that her appointment may yet put Nigeria at the mercy of another dollar earning minister. It is also being said that the move might generate bad blood within the executive council.
Since the scandal broke out years ago, Nigerians have opposed the payment of Ministers in dollars on the ground that they were earning jumbo pays before their appointment. Those in this school of thought cited the example of Olusegun Aganga, who until his appointment as a Minister was working in England as the Managing Director of Goldman Sachs. Yet Aganga never demanded to be paid in foreign currency.
And in an earlier administration, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili too left a job in the United Kingdom, To many, accepting to serve as a Minister is more or less a sacrifice, moreover, the principle of fairness would not apply where a Minister earns more than thrice the salary of his or her colleague in another ministry.
Commenting on the issue recently, Dr. Baba Adam, the chairman of the defunct US-PRONACO, who is also a U.S.-based university administrator and public commentator urged the Nigerians in the Diaspora, who are willing to go back to serve in any position, to “accept the Nigerian salary remunerations prescribed by law – after all minister’s salary and allowance is thousand times the earning of an average Nigerian. After their service, Nigerians in the Diaspora, if they may wish, can return to their jobs and earn their Diaspora jumbo salary.”
He also “said, it is very bad for anyone in the Diaspora to knowingly request the President, who swore to defend the Nigerian Constitution, to violate the Nigerian Constitution and / or disrespect a court ruling by paying their salary in dollars or any other currency.”
It is however being speculated in some quarters that the former Minister might not settle for anything less than what she presently earns as the MD of the World Bank. Street Journal’s investigations revealed that there are arrangements with the UNDP to help augment the shortfalls of her current salary at the World Bank.

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