Wednesday, April 23, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Presidency sets up “high-level” task force on Ezekwesili’s “damaging” remarks

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caption: Some of President Goodluck Jonathan’s aides are paid higher than the police Inspector General

An obviously rattled Nigerian presidency has cobbled together an informal committee made up of top administration officials to provide a blistering response to a former Vice President of the World Bank, Obiageli Ezekwesili, who has accused President Goodluck Jonathan and his predecessor of squandering over N10 trillion of Nigeria’s oil savings left behind by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

A presidential source familiar with the matter said President Jonathan administration was especially rattled by the former minister’s remark, and that he immediately ordered his top aides to provide a comprehensive response to the former minister’s claim, considered damaging enough to incite Nigerians against the regime.

Our source said Mr. Jonathan specifically instructed his Chief of Staff, Mike Oghiadomhe, to coordinate the damage control needed to check the fallout of Mrs. Ezekwesili’s remark.

It was Mr. Oghiadomhe  who then constituted a committee comprising Anyim Pius Anyim, Secretary to the Government of the Federation; Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance; Labaran Maku, Minister of Information; Sylvester Monye, Special Adviser to the President on Monitoring and Evaluation; Bright Okogu, Director General, Budget Office of the Federation and Nwanze Okidegbe, Chief Economic Adviser to the President.

Also drafted into the team were Olasupo Olusi, Technical Assistant to the Minister of Finance and coordinator of the YouWin! Project; and Doyin Okupe, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs.

Our source said the team met and mapped out the framework for an aggressive response to Mrs. Ezekwesili’s remark. For a start, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala’s office was mandated to provide detailed response to all the issues raised by the former minister at the convocation lecture she gave at the University of Nigeria.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala then instructed her aide, Mr. Olusi, to urgently study Mr. Ezekwesili’s speech, and then provide an ideal response to her.

By Saturday afternoon, the finance minister’s aide, Mr. Olusi, had completed a draft which he submitted to his boss who in turn circulated it to the rest of the team for review.

The information minister then addressed a press conference on Sunday afternoon.

After the press conference where he described Mrs Ezekwesili’s claims as “fallacious”, and betraying a “surprisingly limited” understanding of government finances, the Special Assistant to the President on Social Media, Reno Omokri, entered the fray, aggressively confronting the former minister on Twitter and Facebook.

Using his Twitter handle, Mr. Omokri tore at Mrs. Ezekwesili, describing her conduct as resembling that of a wicked stepmother.

Another member of the task force, Mr. Okupe, began his own part of the assignment on Tuesday. In a statement, Mr. Okupe accused Mrs. Ezekwesili of grandstanding and deliberately misleading Nigerians.

“It is obviously preposterous for Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili to be asking for a National debate on the outlandish and reckless disinformation she made to incite the Nigerian people against the government,” Mr. Okupe said. “This was a deliberately calculated, albeit unsuccessful effort to bring the Jonathan Administration into disrepute unjustifiably.”

Our sources said Mr. Okupe would continue on the campaign against Mrs Ezekwesili in the days ahead, appearing on TV and commissioning opinion articles critical of the former minister in select newspapers and websites.

Mrs. Ezekwesili, who served as minister during the Obasanjo administration, made the allegation of financial mismanagement against the administration while delivering a keynote address at the 42nd convocation ceremony of the University of Nigeria.

According to the former World Bank executive, the country had about $45 billion in its foreign reserve account and $22 billion in the Excess Crude revenue Account saved by the Obasanjo administration, which handed over in 2007 to Mr. Yar’adua.

“Six years after the administration I served handed over such humongous national wealth to another one, most Nigerians, but especially the poor, continue to suffer the effects of failing public health and education systems as well as decrepit infrastructure and battered institutions,” Mrs. Ezekwesili, who served as Education Minister in President Obasanjo’s government, said.

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