By Ifeanyi Omokwe
By the time Dr Abraham Nwankwo stepped down as the Director General of the Debt Management Office (DMO) last week, the office had become one of the most critical institutions of the Federal Government driving the economic reform agenda of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Not only has it initiated a new debt management template which has seen a slight increase in external borrowing to keep the domestic market liquid, but it also rolled out some innovative debt instruments to help government finance its rising budget deficits. The DMO under him successfully reviewed the ratio of domestic and external borrowings from 84:16 to 60:40.
It rolled out the first ever Federal Government Savings Bond, which allowed all revenue earners in the country become players in Nigeria’s Capital Market. This has further deepened the market and is on the verge of establishing a new culture of institutional savings among Nigerians. The DMO also rolled out the Diaspora Bond and the first-ever registration of Nigeria to access the Unites States of America (USA) financial market under her stringent Securities and Exchange Commission rules and regulations
Dr Nwankwo has been replaced by Mrs Patience Oniha, and she will now be the Chief Executive of the DMO. Her appointment was announced by Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, after approval by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo. She had since assumed duty.
There is doubt that Nwankwo would have wished for a better successor after 10 years of steering the ship. Oniha is coming on to a familiar terrain; she is already firmly grounded. She retired as a director in the DMO only recently and served as Head of the Efficiency Unit of the Ministry of Finance established in November 2015.
The Unit is charged with reviewing the Expenditure profile and pattern of the Federal Government and working with Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to introduce more efficient processes and procedures that will ensure that Government’s revenues are deployed in an efficient manner that translates to Value for Money and Savings to Government. This initiative will complement on-going efforts by the Government to diversify its revenue sources.
The Efficiency Unit executes its mandate, among others, by reviewing Government’s spending pattern using data from the Budget Implementation Report and other sources. It then works closely with the MDAs to review work and procurement processes for specific Expenditure lines and agree to changes to reduce wastages. Oniha has been the one heading the unit in the ministry of finance that is saddled with promoting a change in the culture of public spending by MDAs to one of prudence and savings.
Thus it is doubtless that the new Director General will hit the ground running. And the reasons are obvious. She was part of the success story of the DMO in the past 10 years. During that period, DMO scored a number of firsts in its operational efforts to manage the country’s debt profile.
These include the establishment of 37 sub-national Debt Management Departments for the 36 states and the FCT, culminating in the construction of the first-ever comprehensive and reliable Domestic Debt Database for all the states and the FCT in 2012; putting in place Primary Dealing-Market Making (PDMM) system for the FGN Bonds, enabling two-way quotes in the trading of FGN Bonds and, therefore, the introduction of a vibrant and liquid Secondary Market for FGN Bonds and listing of FGN Bonds on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
During this period, Nigeria’s Sovereign Bond was also included in Global Market Indices, the JP Morgan Index and the Barclays Capital Index. The achievements also include issuing of Nigeria’s Eurobond in the International Capital Market and its listing and trading on the London Stock Exchange; issuing of Nigeria’s Sovereign Retail Bonds, the FGN Savings Bond and its listing on the Nigerian Stock Exchange and on the FMDQ OTC Exchange.
Others are issuing of Nigeria’s Diaspora Bond and the first-ever registration of Nigeria to access the Unites States financial market under the stringent U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules and regulations; designing and implementing Nigeria’s National Debt Management Framework; Introducing the soon to be launched first-ever Nigeria’s Sovereign Non-Interest Bearing Bond: the Sukuk as well as exporting of Public Debt Management services through capacity-building support to other African countries, including the Sudan, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda.
While Oniha was part of the successes under Dr Nwankwo, she is expected to consolidate on these achievements and even extend the frontiers. The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udoma, said the government seeks to borrow about N2.32 trillion to finance the N7.29 trillion 2017 budget, which has now been raised to N7.44 trillion by the National Assembly.
With every change of chief executive, it is expected that style and momentum will change. For Oniha, there is excitement among stakeholders, including staff of the DMO that she is coming with a lot of energy, intellectual capacity and a team spirit that is usually required for success in debt management.
But in addition to what she’s bringing to the table, Oniha must ensure public buy-in to the activities of her office and maintain public image of the DMO as an engine room of economic reform and growth.
The Buhari administration needs to be seen as working extremely hard to completely pull the country out of recession and put it on a path of sustainable economic growth. The administration is doing many innovative things and tackling challenges in a holistic manner. But very few of these achievements are in the public glare.
There is economic tension in the land and this is the time that all agencies of government cannot afford to take their eyes away from the public. It is what is in the public space that can inspire and motivate the people, not what is hidden in government confidential memoranda. Oniha knows this, and this is also why she is the right person for the job.
– Omokwe wrote from www.channelkoos.com
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