House of Reps, Okonjo-Iweala in War of Words, Minister Ordered to Walk Out
The long raging difference between the House of Representatives and the Presidency reared its ugly head on Thursday as the coordinating minister for the economy and minister of finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo–Iweala who represented the president in the presentation of the 2014 budget at the National Assembly engaged each other in war of words.
The war of words which ended with an order by the lawmakers for her to walk out started after the House Committee on Finance invited Okonjo-Iweala along with the accountant-general of the federation, Jonah Ogunniyi Otunla, to a parley where they were to speak on the state of the nation’s economy, the budget performance and other related issues.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala while appearing before the committee told the members that she could not present much to the lawmakers, because she was not feeling very well and had only shown up for the meeting out of respect for them.
“I must tell you that I’m feeling sick. For the past one week I’ve not had any 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,” the minister said.
Chairman of the committee, Hon Abdulmumin Jibrin, while responding, told the minister that the committee had intended to engage her with 50 questions and due to her state of health, she would not be able to respond as elaborately as they would want.
He therefore gave her the option to leave, respond to the questions in writing and report back at a later date.
“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.
Apparently not satisfied with the response of the committee, the minister said she was going to stay and answer the questions with the assistance of her aides, adding that, “Since I’m here now, I want to respond to the questions in person.”
But the chairman insisted that she leave, saying, “Provide written answers within two weeks and we’ll invite you in January to appear before us. The 50 questions capture all at stake on the state of the economy.”
The minister responded, “I know you have ruled, but you have to hear me out. You haven’t allowed me to say something and everybody is here seeing what is happening. With all due respect, I will not tell your committee that I’m feeling fine when I’m not. We have had a good working relationship with your committee.
I thought we’d be treated with courtesy, but the way you’re starting is a bit disturbing,” she said.
Jibrin insisted, “You know I have ruled and if you don’t mind, please excuse us. Members should stay behind for executive meeting. We don’t want any haphazard answers, so you can go Honourable Minister.”
The exchange continued as Okonjo-Iweala maintained that she could “manage to answer the questions”.
“I won’t answer you haphazardly. I know my health and I assure you that I can answer you well, along with my other colleagues here,” she persisted.
Now visibly angry, Jibrin said, “I’m sorry Honourable Minister. You can only decide what happens in the finance ministry and not in the House.”
Before leaving, Okonjo-Iweala said, “I have uttermost respect for the committee and expect same from you.
I’m a minister of the Federal Republic. When you invite ministers, you should treat them with respect. We can’t be invited and be abused.”
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