A mild drama played out on Thursday between the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and members of the House of Representatives as they exchanged words over the minister’s inability to properly address members on the state of the nation’s economy.
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, who appeared before the House Committee on Finance chaired by Mr. Abdulmumini Jibrin, soon took a different dimension as the minister complained of feeling unwell and therefore, not in a good state to speak.
The excuse by Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala that she could not speak properly as a result of her poor state of well-being was strange as barely three hours earlier she had laid the estimates of the 2014 budget before the House.
At that historic moment where she had the privilege of representing President Goodluck Jonathan, the minister looked excited, smiling and waving at lawmakers as she acknowledged cheers from them.
But later when she appeared before the committee, she complained of feeling sick and unable to speak.
In its response, the committee offered to grant the minister two weeks to go and prepare, take a rest and reappear to address members.
However, the ruling did not go down well with her as she started protesting.
“No, no, no”, she countered and accused the committee of being rude and hasty in dismissing her.
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said the chairman’s tone was disrespectful to a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
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 further explained 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.”
This further angered Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, who replied that she was not a “slacker”.
Nonetheless, the committee insisted on the earlier ruling and dismissed her, but not before the chairman handed her a document containing 50 questions, which he said the minister must have answers to 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 directed her to list the “major economic achievements of this government in 2013”, just as another queried why Nigeria’s economy could not grow beyond “single digit GDP”.
On the country’s rising debt profile, 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?”