Members of the House of Representatives and the Coordinating minister of the economy and Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Thursday in Abuja engaged each other in hot exchange over the state of the economy.
Okonjo-Iweala had appeared before the House Committee on Finance to address members on the state of the nation’s economy but the session chaired by Abdulmumini Jibrin, became stormy shortly after the minister complained that she was indisposed to speak, that was about three hours after the minister had laid the estimates of the 2014 budget before the whole House where she looked excited, smiling and waving at lawmakers in acknowledgement of their cheers.
In response to the minister’s complaint of not feeling well to speak, the committee offered to grant her two weeks of rest and to reappear to speak to members at the end of the rest period.
The minister however retorted, shouting “No, no, no,” and accused the committee members of being rude and hasty in dismissing her, adding that the tone of the committee chairman was disrespectful to a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
She observed that she had noticed a trend in Jibrin’s conduct, which she said was to harass her and members of her team. The minister consequently changed her mind and said she was ready to entertain questions from the members.
But Jibrin objected, saying, “We will not take you in present state that you say you are not feeling fine. That is why it is the view of the committee that we give you time to come back. We are concerned about your health.”
He argued that it was better to hear from the minister when she was fully fit than allow her to address issues relating to the economy “half-heartedly,” the statement which further infuriated Okonjo-Iweala, who replied that she was not a “slacker.”
The committee insisted on the earlier ruling and dismissed her, but, in doing so, Jibrin handed her a document containing 50 questions, which he said the minister must answer at her next appointment with the committee.
One of the questions sought to know how an economy that spent 80 per cent of its annual budget on recurrent spending could claim to be “one of the fastest growing economies?”
Another question required her to list the “major economic achievements of this government in 2013.”
She was also asked why Nigeria’s economy could not grow beyond “single digit GDP.”
On debts, the committee asked, “Why should our internal debts continue to represent more than two-thirds of Nigeria’s external debt profile, when the cost of servicing domestic debts is ridiculously far more expensive that servicing external debts?”