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Nigerian presidential candidate falsely claims he led prestigious Economic Management Team

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Nigerian presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar has sparked online debate after claiming he had led the country’s influential Economic Management Team (EMT) while serving as vice president between 1999 and 2007. Established in 2003 under then-president Olusegun Obasanjo, the EMT is considered a driving force in implementing major economic reforms. But although Abubakar was Obansanjo’s deputy at the time, AFP Fact Check found he did not steer the EMT. Its chief at the start was Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who now heads the World Trade Organisation, followed in 2006 by then-finance minister Nenadi Usman. Abubakar, meanwhile, headed the National Economic Council (NEC) during his time in office.

“As head of the economic management team while I was Vice President, I was instrumental in designing a private sector revival strategy and advocated for the opening of the economy for private sector investments in several sectors. And we made tremendous progress (sic),” Abubakar said on his verified Twitter account on January 16, 2023.

The post has since been retweeted more than 300 times and drawn over 1,000 likes from his 4.7 million followers.

A screenshot showing the false tweet, taken on January 19, 2023

Abubakar’s media aide Paul Ibe echoed the claim on January 17, 2023.

“It is established history that @atiku as Chairman, National Economic Council headed the nation’s Economic Management Team between 1999-2007, during which Nigeria had some of her best economic growth,” Ibe said in a tweet.

It is not the first time Abubakar made this assertion. Back in November 2014, he also described himself as head of the “Economic Team”.

And in his 2023 presidential manifesto titled “A Covenant with Nigerians”, Abubakar again claimed that he ran the EMT as vice president.

“As head of the Economic Management Team, I was instrumental in the design of a private sector revival strategy and advocated for the opening of the economy for private sector investments in the Information Technology (IT) sector,” Atiku said in the document.

Nigerians head to the polls on February 25, 2023, to elect President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor, as well as governors for the majority of the 36 states along with federal and state lawmakers.

Abubakar, 76, was a two-time vice leader from 1999 to 2007. As part of recent efforts to draw voters, the presidential contender has been promoting his economic prowess during his previous time in government.

The EMT led negotiations for the debt relief granted to Nigeria by the so-called Paris club, made up of roughly 20 wealthy creditor nations.

The deal, sealed in 2005, is considered one of the biggest economic achievements since Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999.

But the claim that Abubakar headed the EMT during his government tenure is false.

EMT leaders

In a 2012 account of her career, WTO director-general Okonjo-Iweala recalls when Obasanjo invited her to set up the EMT in 2003.

“I flew to Nigeria in May 2003 to discuss the scope of my job and to get President Obasanjo’s agreement on the formation of a Presidential Economic Team. The president readily agreed to the team, noting that I would lead it and he would preside over it as chair,” Okonjo-Iweala wrote.

The team, tasked with implementing key economic reforms, consisted of 12 members with expertise in various fields including debt management, private-sector development and anti-corruption measures.

World Trade Organization chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala used to head Nigeria’s influential Economic Management Team ( Tobias Schwarz / AFP)

EMT founding member Oby Ezekwesili wrote a lengthy Twitter thread to clear up the confusion caused by Abubakar’s claim. She also confirmed that Okonjo-Iweala was the team’s chief at the time.

Public profiles on Okonjo-Iweala here, here and here also show that she and not Abubakar led the EMT.

The Centre for Africa-Europe Relations cites Okonjo-Iweala as leader of the EMT in a report on Nigeria’s debt relief agreement.

“When President Obasanjo was re-elected in 2003, he appointed a new economic management team headed by former World Bank director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,” it said in the 2013 report.

Okonjo-Iweala led the EMT until Nenadi Usman, who had been appointed finance minister, took over in August 2006.

Usman’s tenure covered the rest of Abubakar’s time as vice president.

Ezekwesili confirmed to AFP Fact Check that Usman headed the EMT until the end of Obasanjo’s administration in May 2007.

Administrations after Obasanjo continued with the tradition of the EMT, which still performs the same functions as when it was founded in 2003.

Role of the NEC

As required by Nigeria’s constitution, the vice president chairs the NEC, which advises the president on national economic affairs.

Other members include state governors and the head of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

The NEC is currently headed by Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

AFP Fact Check has debunked other claims about Abubakar, including here and here.

See here for our full digital investigation coverage of the 2023 Nigerian election.

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