The country’s new finance minister said she can save as much as $5 billion annually by cracking down on waste in more than 450 government agencies, a strategy that will determine how well Africa’s largest economy weathers its slowest growth spell since 1999. Kemi Adeosun, 49, who took office in November, offered an early glimpse of how Africa’s top crude exporter plans to navigate a crash in oil prices that has beset petro states globally.
Nigeria’s government revenue has fallen by about 60% from the height of the oil boom more than a year ago, she said. To compensate for those lost funds, the London-born former accountant and investment banker said she would scrutinize the prices government agencies pay for plane tickets, office supplies and other items. 2016 budget will also include caps on increases to government workers’ salaries, she said.
Until she took office, Ms. Adeosun was the little-known finance commissioner for Ogun State in southwest Nigeria. Now she is the top economist for a nation of 182 million. Some analysts have questioned whether Ms. Adeosun has the same clout as Ms. Okonjo-Iweala to help the government attract foreign capital amid economic crisis. The International Monetary Fund expects Nigeria’s economy to grow 4% this year, the slowest rate since the military relinquished power in 1999. Some economists put the forecast closer to 3%.
Sitting barefoot in her office, whose furniture she recently rearranged to put her own touch on her surroundings, Ms. Adeosun said she welcomed the chance to leave her own stamp on the position. She declined to comment on how long the central bank can maintain its peg of 199 naira to the U.S. dollar.
Investors have pulled back from Nigeria, selling bonds, stocks and the naira currency on expectations that the central bank will be forced to devalue the naira further as oil prices remain in the doldrums. She said the fight against corruption could change the mood in the country. Economic growth might take a back seat to cleaning up the oil giant’s troubled finances, she said.
Ms. Adeosun said that despite rising debt levels across Africa and the more skeptical stance that foreign investors for emerging-market bonds, Nigeria would issue fresh international bonds in 2016 to fund new infrastructure projects.
“People don’t know much about me—that’s good,” said Ms. Adeosun. “It gives me the opportunity to get on and do the job. Because, I’m a doer. We’ve got to put the house (Nigeria) in order, and then people will see the growth,” she said. “People must look at the Nigerian opportunity as a long-term opportunity…a bit like a marriage. You stick with it; find a way to make it work. That’s the spirit.”
The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, raised in London, Mrs. Adeosun moved to Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, in the early 2000s. Her father told her it was a mistake, she said.
In 2011, she became finance commissioner for Ogun State, a Lagos suburb that at the time couldn’t service its debt or pay salaries on time. Within her first year, she had quadrupled state tax revenue.
She persuaded Unilever, Nestle SA, and Guinness PLC to build offices or warehouses in the state, said Bismarck Rewane, managing director of Lagos research firm Financial Derivatives Co.
“She was like a miracle worker,” said Mr. Rewane, who has known her for more than a decade. “That’s what she was appointed to do: To make sure the house is in order.”