Patience Oniha: Director General, Debt Management Office [DMO]

Ms. Patience Oniha has been director general, Debt Management Office [DMO] since July 2017. The office is the agency responsible for coordinating government strategy in the management of public debts.

Well before her appointment, she had been in the organisation since 2008 as director, market development after a fulfilling career in the banking industry spanning over 22 years. From banking, she acquired tremendous management skills in credit, marketing, treasury and investment banking.

Her combination of banking experience with debt management activities has paid off in various areas of DMO’s functioning.

She has built in professionalism needed to achieve a good balance between government revenue and borrowings. She wants all hands to be on deck in finding solutions to government’s low revenues and consequently curb the rising level of new public sector borrowings in the country.

She has shown the rich professional make-up of a technocrat in her boldness in pointing to the nation that fiscal imbalance is leading the nation to excessive borrowing levels. She has made it expressly known to the fiscal authorities that successive low revenues in annual budgets are mounting pressures for new borrowings.

The result, she said, is rapid growth rate of the Nigeria’s debt stock and a significant debt service burden. Oniha has duly pointed out that the draft 2022-2024 Medium-term Expenditure Framework is carrying this defect, which could worsen the nation’s debt profile.

Well before her assumption of office as DMO’s boss, she already has records of major achievements in her eight years of service in the organisation. These include the introduction of Benchmark Bonds designed for the development of the domestic bond market.

The bonds were created with a view to improving liquidity and creating a sovereign yield curve to avail opportunities for state governments, multilaterals and corporates to raise long term funds. The purpose is to create access to long term money for public and private sectors for financing Nigeria’s growth and development programmes.

She took steps to ensure that the initiative is sustainable in the debt market through active engagement with local and foreign investors, regulators and other stakeholders in the process of bond issuance. This enabled the development of a large and diversified investor base for FGN securities and bonds issued by other borrowers.

Oniha was behind the successful issuance of Nigeria’s debut $500 million Eurobond in January 2011. The debut Eurobond opened up a new channel of funding for the federal government and corporate organisations. In 2013, she also managed the issuance of the dual-tranche $1 billion Eurobond, which was oversubscribed to the tune of about 400 percent.

A number of Nigerian banks also took advantage of the new funding window by issuing Eurobonds. She was also the brain behind the inclusion of FGN Bonds in the J.P. Morgan Government Bond Index – Emerging Markets (GBI – EM) in October 2012. This made Nigeria the second country in Africa, after South Africa to have its local currency sovereign bond included in the Index.

The inclusion of FGN bonds in this Index attracted foreign investors to Nigeria’s entire domestic bond market. This was followed by the inclusion of FGN Bonds in the Barclays Capital Emerging Markets – Local Currency Government Bond Index (EM – LCBI) in March 2013.

While yet serving in DMO, Oniha was appointed to lead the Efficiency Unit of the federal ministry of finance, which was created by former minister of finance, Kemi Adeosun, to infuse efficiency into government finances. Her mandate was to cut cost of governance, moderate government’s overhead expenditure and generate savings from the procurement process.

Oniha brought in her experience, professional ethics and global best practices to introduce several cost limiting initiatives for ministries, departments and agencies.

These initiatives worked to drive the process of efficiency with stunning results to show for it. These include the issuance of seven circulars designed to control expenditure on specific overhead items and negotiation of discounts and rebates with airlines for government officials on official journeys.

The measures delivered savings estimated at N17 billion to the government in 2016. She was working on the introduction of new processes for payment and procurements when she was appointed DG of DMO.

Oniha is a 1983 first class honours graduate in economics from the University of Benin and holds an M.Sc. degree in finance from the University of Lagos [1985]. She is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and also an associate member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria.

She began her career in banking at Icon Limited [Merchant Bankers] in 1986, where she rose to the position of a manager. She joined First Securities Discount House Limited (now FSDH Merchant Bank Ltd) in 1992 where she rose to the post of general manager/director.

Oniha joined Ecobank Nigeria Limited in 2000 and moved over to Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria Ltd four years after. She worked in the bank between 2004 and 2008 as general manager before crossing over the DMO in 2008.