News Column

Marking Okonjo-Iweala's Answer Script - in for Re-Sit or Revenge?

February 6, 2014

Emmanuel Aziken

Given the globally acknowledged intellectual fecundity of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, it was a shock that the House of Representatives Committee on Finance scored her a miserly 20% when it marked her answer script on the 50 questions on the state of the Nigerian economy.

Does the minister deserve a re-sit or is it political retribution?

A former managing director of the World Bank, an alumnus of two institutions with global reckoning, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala's cerebral prowess has never been in doubt, not even to her detractors.

It was on account of her brainy quotient that President Goodluck Jonathan took the unprecedented step of adding the responsibility of coordinating the economy to her duty as finance minister.

Many have on that account dubbed her Nigeria's Prime Minister. It was perhaps in that respect that she got the unique honour of representing the president in laying the 2014 budget proposal of the Federal Government before the National Assembly on December 19, 2013.

Hours after that unique honour, members who had been peeved with the failure of the president to physically lay down the budget as has been the practice with all healthy Nigerian rulers under democratic rule, got their retribution on his hapless senior minister.

The minister had been invited days earlier to a hearing on the state of the economy being conducted by the House Committee on Finance.

After all the stress of presenting the budget, the minister when she appeared before the House committee, informed the legislators that she was a little unwell, but was prepared for the hearing.

Her assertion, however, did not please the committee which asked her to go and take care of her health and respond to the 50 questions raised on the economy by the committee.

The arrowhead of the attack on the minister was the chairman of the House Committee on Finance, Rep. Abdulmumin Jibrin, himself an equally brainy man who has laced his cerebral endeavours with entrepreneurial success.

Jibrin who according to sources, had some good working relationship with the minister was sympathetic but insisted on the minister returning to look after her health. But she was to go with 50 questions which he insisted should be answered in written form.

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, however, insisted on giving verbal answers to the 50 questions dwelling on facts and figures of the circumstances of the economy, job growth and leakages in the economy right there.

Her insistence on answering immediately created a scene at the committee hearing leading to a verbal spat between Jibrin and the minister.

"I must tell you that I'm feeling sick. For the past one week I've not had sleep, so I'm not feeling fine. But I had to come because I respect the parliament and the committee. I'll try my best to respond to your questions as much as possible, and my other colleagues who are also here with me will contribute," she said.

Responding, Jibrin said: "We're not insensitive to your situation as human beings, and if you had told us this before now, we would have given you some time. We have 50 questions for you, and we can give you time to respond in writing," he said.

The insistence of the minister to be heard was overruled by Jibrin turning the hearing into a scene as the committee, as if working on a script, refused to hear her and insisted that the minister should leave.

As she reluctantly exited, the minister told journalists:

Tone of the conversation

"I don't understand. We came to give a testimony and I said I wasn't feeling well and I was treated with the courtesy by the chair of the committee that I deserve. And you were all witnesses to it. That's all to it. I have utmost respect to the committee members who have been very kind. But the tone of the conversation for someone who is not feeling well was not very good."

Faced with the seeming hostility of the House, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala proceeded to answer the questions and eventually submitted them on January 15.

Her 102 page response gave a point by point answer to the 50 questions noting number of jobs created, the impact of some key government programmes such as the SURE-P, You Win among others.The clerk of the House committee on finance, Mr. Farouq Yakubu Dawaki confirmed the receipt of her answer scripts and even commended her for answering the challenging questions in reasonable time in a statement titled: "The Search for Truth Begins".

"The House Committee on Finance acknowledges receipt of the 102-page response from the Honourable Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to the 50 questions on the state of the economy given to her to answer by the Committee on December 19, 2013.

"The Committee commends the Honourable Minister for responding to the questions within reasonable time.

"The Committee will commence work immediately on the response. However, if in the process the need arises for further explanation, information or additional document the Minister will be promptly informed. "The Committee will also call for memorandum on the state of the economy and 50 questions from professionals, academics, civil society and all well meaning Nigerians. This will be followed by a public hearing.

"Finally, the process will be concluded with the presentation of a report on the true state of our economy to the House.

Given the tone of the acknowledgment it was not surprising that the committee would subsequently raise issues with Okonjo-Iweala's answers. However, few expected the committee to score the minister a miserly 20%.

In a statement detailing the committee's observations on her answers, Jibrin demanded for additional information on 40 of the 50 questions.

"Having gone through your responses, the Committee noted that some questions were either not answered, partially answered, out rightly ignored or completely misunderstood".

"The Committee further noted glaring missing gaps in the responses, absence of supporting proofs to assertions and lack of relevant documents to back up the presentation as is the practice in any legislative oversight or investigation".

"Also noted were the wide ranging comparison you made with other advanced and developing countries while responding to some questions but failed to apply the same in some cases that obviously require such approach".

"In some instances, you abruptly referred the Committee to relevant agencies for clarification".

"The Committee is surprised at that because of its conviction that if all the questions raised are beyond the competence of the Minister of Finance, it is certainly not beyond the competence of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy to the extent of information you must have in your possession unless you say otherwise".

"In view of the above and ahead of the investigative hearing on the State of the economy, the Committee is obliged to forward to you additional observations and requests to be submitted to the Committee not later than 20th February, 2014".

Whether the minister is preparing for the re-sit or makeup exam could not be ascertained as at press time. But what is clear to almost all is that the issue has navigated to the political terrain and two of the sharpest minds in Nigerian government, Okonjo-Iweala on the executive side and Jibrin on the legislative side have been taken in by the atmospherics of the charged political ambience. Many regret that the legislature has picked one of the few seemingly clean and altruistic ministers in the proxy political war as a target. But in war, nothing really is fair.


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Source: AllAfrica


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