OPINION

Zainab Ahmed: The Quintessential Finance Minister, By Imam Maiyaki

Like her predecessor, Ahmed’s professional accounting background is believed to have put her in a good stead to effectively oversee the finance ministry. I see her as a round peg in a round hole considering her wealth of experience.

Following the resignation former Minister of Finance Kemi Adeosun over allegations of a forged document exempting her from the compulsory National Youth Service Commission (NYSC), President Muhammadu Buhari named Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, the former state minister for Budget and National Planning to supervise the finance ministry. To me and many keen observers of Shamsuna Ahmed, the president made the perfect decision to name her the substantive minister of finance.

Like the best financial minister in the world according to world Government Summit; Sri Mulyani Indrawati of Indonesia, Hajiya Shamsuna shares some qualities and style of leadership with Indrawati. They are both fearless, decisive in taking decisions and all of them earned a reputation of toughness.

Upon resumption at the finance ministry, officials welcomed her with jubilation & solidarity songs and her message to them was simple and straight forward: her ministry, her rules. She was going to clean the house and if she had to, break some glassware in the process. Ahmed highlighted the acute problems facing the ministry and the need to ensure stability. Ahmed assumes office at a time when the economy is only just recovering from a crippling recession..

Like Kemi Adeosun before her, Ahmed studied Accounting. A first degree obtained from the Ahmadu Bello University. Ahmed’s work has largely been in the public sector.

Although there are concerns about her lack of private sector experience and about the quality of her engagement with the leading global financial institutions. But supporters who have welcomed her appointment point to her stint as Minister of State for Budget and National Planning as well as her five year tenure as the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative(NEITI). In both capacities, Ahmed gathered enough experience working with multilateral and development institutions.

Born 16, June 1960, to a prominent Kaduna state indigene Mallam Yahaya Hamza, a retired permanent secretary in the federal ministry of education and former Secretary to the Kaduna State government, Ahmed have stepped into her fathers shoes perfectly.

Ahmed attended Queen Amina College, Kaduna, graduating in 1977. She had her ‘A’ Level studies at the School of Basic Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1979 before obtaining a BSc Accounting degree in 1981 and  and also obtained an MBA from Ogun State University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State in August 2004.

She did her NYSC primary assignment at Egunjobi, Suleiman & Co. Kaduna, a Chartered Accountants firm in Kaduna and her working career started as a finance officer in the Kaduna state ministry of finance. After three years, Ahmed left the state ministry for the Nigeria External Telecommunications Limited which later transformed into NITEL. She spent eighteen years and held various positions in NITEL before reaching the rank of deputy general manager in charge of investments and treasury.

Speaking on the demise of NITEL at her Senate confirmation hearing, Ahmed observed solemnly, ‘’I am very sad at the state in which NITEL has become today. There was a lot of things that were not done by NITEL including several botched privatization processes, some management agreements that helped to bring the company down.’’

Ahmed moved her services to the Nigeria Mobile Telecommunications (MTEL) as General Manager Finance in September, 2005 and later became Chief Finance Officer of MTEL. From MTEL, Ahmed was appointed Managing Director of the Kaduna Investment Company in March, 2009 to help Kaduna State define, plan and implement an accelerated industrial development program.

She was active in this position when she was named to join the National Stakeholders Working Group on the Board of NEITI, the national wing of the global Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI),

Set up to institutionalize accountability mechanisms and processes in the extractive sector. Ahmed transitioned into the inaugural Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) and worked in this capacity up until she was appointed and posted to the Ministry of Budget and National Planning.

As a young student Zainab’s career ambition was to become Accountant General of her state. Fate led her in different directions. Armed with a Masters degree in Business Administration, Ahmed led NEITI’s expansion from the oil and gas sector to include solid minerals.

Taking charge of NEITI was not without its challenges. NEITI was at the time, staring at a threat of possible suspension from the global EITI for failure to meet basic validation requirements. Ahmed and her team were able to correct course, addressing outstanding requirements and setting Nigeria on the path to NEITI compliant status. This was eventually achieved in March, 2011. Ahmed’s NEITI was able to produce a comprehensive strategy to reposition the agency to perform its national responsibilities more effectively.

The results began to show. NEITI was declared the best implementing country at the 6th Global Conference of EITI held in Sydney, Australia in 2013.

Audit reports once sporadic and irregular became more current and comprehensive as the agency deepened relationships with stakeholders. At her Senate confirmation hearing, Ahmed played up her experiences and achievements as NEITI boss and was able to successfully parry the admittedly softball questions that were put to her.

The Budget and National Planning ministry was dogged by scandal as allegations of padding trailed the budgeting process leading to acrimony between both executive and legislative branches. Ahmed and her principal stayed largely above the fray.

As Budget and National Planning minister, Shamsuna worked on the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), a medium-term plan designed to move the economy from recession while facilitating growth.

Nigeria was able to move up by 24 points from 169th position in the 2017 ranking to 145th in the World Bank’s 2018 report, recording appreciable improvements areas like payment of taxes and registering property.

As Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Ahmed’s responsibilities included budget implementation, monitoring and evaluation, donor coordination as well as managing the National Social Investment Program (NSIP). The NSIP which consists of the Conditional Cash Transfer, National Home Grown School Feeding, Job Creation (N-power); and Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programs has been the four-pronged cornerstone of the Buhari administration’s social welfare intervention for the less privileged. NSIP hasn’t been quite the success the government envisaged and the beneficiaries have spoken of the usefulness of these programs.

As the government lead on donor coordination, Ahmed is also Chair of the inter-ministerial task team, leading coordination of the humanitarian response of the North East Crises in Nigeria. The objective of this team is to provide assistance to Internally Displaced Person (IDPs).

In an interview with Daily Trust shortly before her redeployment, Ahmed gave an account of her work in this capacity. Hear her, ‘’this ministry started coordinating the Northeast Intervention Humanitarian Response Plan in 2016. In 2016 we did a humanitarian response plan, we did one in 2017 and we did another in 2018. So in 2017 humanitarian response plan was $1.05 billion and we were able to realize 70 per cent of that. In 2018 it was also $1 billion, the current one that is being implemented. So far as at June what has been realised is about $500 million, about 50 per cent.’’

As we are moving out of recession, she is expected not to reinvent the wheel, but to provide calm steady guidance in the interim. Ahmed has been quick to make the right choices in matters such as boosting national income sources, “We have very serious revenue challenges and it is up to us to make sure we shore up the revenue base of the country,’’ and protecting depositor confidence in the banking sector.

Just like Maria Fekter-the current Austrian Minister of Finance,Zainab Shamsuna has been aggressively working to accelerate economic recovery along with promoting new and young entrepreneurs. This is clearly visible with the recent flag up of Disbursement of the Kaduna State Women Empowerment Funds (KADSWEF LOANS) for women in the Kaduna state and other states to follow soon. Finance Minister, Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed  has also led the local organizing committee of the conference of the National Council on Finance and Economic Development on a courtesy visit to The Governor of Kaduna State Nasir El-Rufai at the Sir Kashim Ibrahim House, Kaduna.For the next three days, Accountants General and Finance Commissioners from the 36 states of the federation will be discussing national finance matters in Kaduna.

The choice of Kaduna as host city is because the State has become a stellar example of fiscal discipline. Shamsuna recognizes the importance of investment in friendly climate and building confidence of the country’s financial experts. Her finance ministry received approval from the Federal Government and has approved and paid the sum of N22.68bn for the payment of retirement benefits to former staff of the liquidated Nigerian Airways Ltd. This account for about 50% of the entitlements due to the pensioners about fifteen years after the airline collapsed. She is touted as a new age finance minister working according to the changing economic trends. She had achieved plenty and is still doing her best in the ministry which I cannot highlight all.

Hajiya Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed is quick-witted, a managerial guru, courageous and a woman of integrity. She has done more than enough to justify each of those adjectives. She has a simple and straight forward mantra; no task is too difficult to be accomplished. Her  rise to success simply teaches the world about the virtues of hard work and dedication. From the pace she`s moving, she will soon replace Sri Mulyani Indrawati of Indonesia as the best finance minister in the world.

 

By Engr. Imam Maiyaki

@MaiyakiImam

imammaiyaki@gmail.com

 

 

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