Teddy Oscar, Abuja
Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy, some hours after laying down the 2014 Budget on the floor of the House of Representatives on Thursday, was walked out of a hearing room of the House Committee on Finance by angry lawmakers.
The event was a meeting that was organised by the committee for the minister and Jonah Ogunniyi Otunla, accountant general of the federation (AGF), to brief the Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin-led committee on the state of the economy from January to date.
But upon her appearance before the committee, Okonjo-Iweala told the lawmakers that she had to honour the lawmakers’ invitation out of respect, ddespite feeling sick.
“I must tell you that I’m feeling sick. For the past one week I’ve not heard 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.
After her explanation, Jibrin, after consulting with members of his committee, ruled that they could not take on her.
He, however, said that they would give her “the 50 questions” they had for her to respond in writing.
“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.
Drama started when Okonjo-Iweala insisted that she should be allowed to respond to the questions, saying that “since I’m here now, I want to respond to the questions in person.”
However, Jibrin told her that he had ruled, and there was no going back on the matter.
“You should 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,” he added.
In her response, she said “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 good working relationship with your committee; I thought we’ll be treated with courtesy, but the way you’re starting is a bit disturbing.”
This situation forced the committee chairman to walk Okonjo-Iweala out of the meeting room.
“You know (that) 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,” he said.
Demanding that the committee should hear her out, she said that “I will 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.”
This apparently did no go down well with Jibrin, who responded that “I’m sorry honourbale minister. You can only decide what happens in the finance ministry and not in the House.”
Okonjo-Iweala who was not happy with the situation further said that “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.”