changing the game

Olawale Edun, the minister tasked with revitalising Nigeria’s battered economy

By Ben Ezeamalu

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Posted on August 21, 2023 09:00

People gather at a market, ahead of Nigeria’s presidential election in Kano, Nigeria February 24, 2023.
People gather at a market, ahead of Nigeria’s presidential election in Kano, Nigeria February 24, 2023. REUTERS/Abraham Achirga

Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu installed the investment banker as minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy last week, leaving him with a mountain to climb.

After missing out on an opportunity to become Nigeria’s finance minister under former president Muhammadu Buhari, Wale Edun has returned to fill the same position under President Bola Tinubu.

In 2015, during Buhari’s first term in office, Edun had been tipped as the minister of finance, but intense politicking saw him lose out to a close friend, Kemi Adeosun.

Between 1999 and 2007, when Tinubu was the governor of Lagos, Edun served as the commissioner for finance – but he abruptly resigned in 2004 due to ill-health.

In addition to his role as the finance minister, Edun is now saddled with the role of coordinating minister of the economy. In June, President Tinubu had appointed him as his special adviser on monetary policies.

Edun is the second person to be assigned the expanded portfolio of the coordinating minister of the economy after Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (2011-2015), the Nigerian-American economist who is currently the director-general of the World Trade Organization.

When he spoke to The Africa Report just before the presidential election last February, Edun had hinted that the economic policies of the Tinubu administration would be private sector-driven.

“He [Tinubu] would use the private sector, doing what it takes to attract the private sector, attract domestic investment and our own share of international investment and totally change the game as far as economic growth and development in Nigeria is concerned,” he said.

Now that he has been confirmed as the minister of finance and the coordinating minister of the economy, analysts say he has an uphill task of revamping an economy that has seen a record level of inflation since 1999.

Nigerians have been facing severe economic hardship, with the government slashing petrol subsidies and implementing a flexible exchange regime, which saw the naira plummet nearly 40%.

Glittering career

A native of Ake, Abeokuta, Ogun State in Nigeria’s south-west region, Edun began his education at St Paul’s School in Lagos. He later moved to the United Kingdom where his parents were living, working, and studying.

He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the Queen Mary University of London and a Masters in Development Economics from the University of Sussex, England.

Edun began his professional life at Chase Merchant Bank in Lagos, where he was exposed to training at Wall Street, Lehman Brothers, and Chase Manhattan Bank.

Thereafter, Edun joined the World Bank Group in Washington DC, after passing through the highly competitive young professionals programme. At the Bank, he started as an investment officer at the IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank.

He then rose to the position of economist in which he worked on macroeconomic policies and sector policies on Indonesia and India.

“My career path has given me a strong background in investment banking, capital markets, economic policy formulation, and international development finance,” Edun told senators during his ministerial screening earlier this month.

“Meanwhile, back home, entrepreneurial opportunities started unfolding and I came back to Nigeria to take part in that process as a hands-on investor in a series of financial firms.”

Edun returned to Nigeria in the late 1980s and helped establish the Investment Banking & Trust Company Limited (now known as Stanbic IBTC).

In 1994, he founded Denham Management Limited, which later merged with Chapel Hill Advisory Partners to become Chapel Hill Denham Group, a leading independent investment banking firm. At the time of the merger in 2008, the company had shareholders funds in excess of N9bn ($12m).

While serving as the commissioner of finance in Lagos, Edun was credited as being instrumental to the growth of the state’s internally generated revenue from a monthly N1.2bn in 1999 to N2.8bn. He resigned five years later.

He said four things were instrumental in achieving this feat:

  • Commitment to technology helped to increase revenue generation and block loopholes,
  • Total computerisation of the operations of government,
  • Reliance on the private sector and private investment to drive the economy,
  • Efficient use of the financial markets.

“I played my own part in the design, implementation of innovative, home-grown technology-driven solutions that increased the resources available to the government, grew the revenue in large quantities, and thereby gave the government the wherewithal to spend on infrastructure, social services, and job creation,” he told the senators.

Edun also said he is not just an investment banker, but also a youth empowerment advocate as well as a boxing aficionado, having been a national amateur boxing champion during his student days.

“I have taken great interest in working with the state boxing associations in Ogun and Lagos states to channel the energies of young people in the right direction,” he said.

Man of few words

Edun’s associates describe him as a workaholic who prefers to operate behind the scenes, a deeply religious man who abhors special treatment.

“Edun doesn’t talk too much, he expects you to know what you need to know,” Shina Arawole, a businessman and politician who has worked for Edun for around a decade, tells The Africa Report.

“And he is somebody that reads people, that’s why he and Asiwaju [President Tinubu] can relate because he knows you’re strong and weak points.”

During his ministerial screening before the parliament, Edun noted that Nigeria’s GDP per capita was higher than that of China as of 1990. “Today the Chinese per capita income is [nearly] $13,000, Nigeria is just over $2,000, so you can see the gap that has just opened up,” he said.

“The reason? Production, growth was stalled by insecurity, inflation, and wasteful government expenditure to a large extent. Nigeria is too well blessed with resources, both human and natural, not to be successful. At the outset of this administration, I am hugely optimistic that that success will come.

“On a personal note, success for me will be to retain a record of competence and integrity during my service.”

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