Leadership (Abuja)

Nigeria: 2014 Budget - Presidency to Spend N33.4 Billion As Reps Pose 50 Questions for Okonjo-Iweala

Photo: Vanguard
Budget 2013

There was a war of words between members of the House of Representatives committee on finance and the coordinating minister for the economy and minister of finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Thursday, which ended with an order by the lawmakers for her to walk out.

The House Committee on Finance had 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.

The disagreement between the two parties started when the minister, who had laid the 2014 budget estimates earlier in the day before both chambers of the National Assembly, informed the committee 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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