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

President Goodluck Jonathan
President Goodluck Jonathan's office disregards FOI requests

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.

  • Naijaa

    The best that could redeem this corrupt govt is to go for a public debate

    • mato

      This is a deceitful government headed by ROBBERS who are fully armed with sophisticated form of corruption. A full page paragraph of criticism can not change these stinking corrupt ones, they are so deep in it!

  • Bhr

    99 days for the thief one day for d owner

    • Fred Bem

      There is no thief or otherwise here. What people should be talking about should be facts and figures that Ezekwesil did not have to give so far as this matter is concerned.
      She was just acting a script handed her by the political party he is romancing with. Nothing more or less.

      • FreeKick

        Julius Ceasar or Lubem or Fred Bem, you accuse Ezekwesili who was part of the previous administration’s economic team of lacking facts while Okupe, a mere media propagandist is better informed? Isn’t that ludicrous?

        I personally think Ezekwesili’s interest may not align with sincere public service since she failed to come this clean when she was in. But her data? It’s what this government will continue to struggle to disprove..

      • http://muhdlawal.wordpress.com/ Muhammad Lawal

        it’s like, you’re a ‘Jonathanian’. How can Okupe know more than Ezekwesili on the Economy?

  • Yakubu Shu’aibu

    it is not media campaign we need, as she invited them to a debate let them obliged.. just a simple arithmetic.

  • JI

    The woman stated the obvious.

    Sanusi is a very bad CBN Governor. Meanwhile the various state governors always blackmailed UMYA and GEJ to share the money – PDP’s hallmark. That was the major drain for the reserve.

    The nation needs quick intervention on tackling the state Governors if not this country will fall like Zimbabwe that currently has less than $1,000.00 in its account.

    If the so-called on-going constitutional amendment cannot be completed in record time, let the National Assembly present a bill for amending Immunity clause to remove that of criminal charges and Local Government autonomy only.

    I am sure the state assemblies will support, if not we do a referendum on those two issues only to bye-pass the assemblies

  • Innocent

    This government should opt into the public debate and present fact for public comparison rather than using propaganda media to blur the issues. If their hands are clean and their cupboards free of skeletons, debate!

    • Es3

      Debate for what?

      Those asking the government to debate with Mrs. Ezekwesili should tell us if governments world over are run with debate with individuals or even groups that believe they have contrary facts and figures? If it starts now, which debate will be the end and when? If it is made a debate, what will be the thrust – you spent, I did not spend, your wrong and I’m right (drabs)?
      The proper way is what has been done by Okupe: respond with your own figures and let both figures be independently verified by Nigerians to establish who is lying between the two, and never a debate issue!
      My position on this is clear, I cannot speak for excess crude account though I have my facts and figures on both (excess crude savings and foreign reserves) already from one that was in that government in the same Obasanjo’s government with Mrs. Ezekwesili directly with Obasanjo on narrow and broad financial positioning on the Nigerian economy.
      Rather, I will insist (having earlier stated so) that Mrs. Ezekwesili does not sound quite knowledgable on the constituents and operations of foreign reserves going by her accussations?!!! I am personnally disappointed on this count!!!

      • Ngozika

        Figures and accusations aside, Ezekwesili’s speech points out what is wrong with our society and government. She is right on that account. I agree with you though that a debate will make no sense.
        Still, her speech is what young people in Nigeria need today, to refuse to toe the line of the older ones who have ruined our country. To think critically and not become unduly attached to politicians simply because of ethnicity or sentiments.
        The way I see it, Nigeria needs more leaders like Ezekwesili who refuse to be defined by what people expect from them. This country is in a mess and anyone who is going to try to clean it up must be willing to speak the truth (as they understand it) and risk the criticism of the people, that is how leaders are formed. If she wants to run for a public office, I would happily vote for her. Better to have her type than the crooks who steal us blind and say nothing.

        • Es3

          Ngozika,

          I think we are largely in agreement here except for minor points. I know and I completely agree with you that Nigeria is in a mess and I know so much of this mess that I tell people who are just getting to that realisation that they are better off not knowing much for the good of their mental and physical health!

          Yes, it that serious and I mostly disagree with those that want to make it ‘a Jonathan’s brought about’ issue because it was really from IBB days that I started my investigations (while still in school) and realised then that the real rot had started and was growing in geometrical dimensions!!! Suceesive governments watered the mess and one like that of Obasanjo added ‘dodging the solution to the mess’ to his watering of the mess?!

          I agree that Mrs. Ezekwesili and others should speak out, but I do not subscribe to anyone presenting facts upside down for self gain, no I don’t!!! Note that I did not contend with her on the excess crude account balances despite knowing that parts were used for budgetary, currency and other interventions during the global meltdown that Soludo claimed we are immuned to when we were not?!

          Mrs. Ezekwesili’s claims on foreign reserves (which actually went down) was a false flag because I know a little about foreign reserves, their constituents, operations, management (by CBN as in the case of Nigeria), the possibilities and impossibilities! I believe she holds a doctorate degree, let her do her home work properly always before coming to the public so that she can stand firm?!
          Otherwise? She will be guilty of grandstanding, as in this case!!!

          • francis

            You’re obviously a moron and dunderheaded tribalist. Lemme guess, if GEJ contests again he’s assured of your vote, right.

          • Es3

            Francis,
            Reading through my post that you retorted to, I wonder which aspect on that post sounded or smelled “ethnicity” or “tribalism” that you decided to dwell on instead of the facts of the case ot the issue at hand?! I would appreciate if you can draw my attention to it?
            It’s obvious from your post that there is virtually nothing Jonathan can do to qualify or pass for having done something for all the days of his Presidency or that of his whole life?! Then, you you must be GOD?????
            However while waiting, I would love to advise that a ‘one track mind’ is a very dangerous thing to have in one’s possession!!!

  • Akinola

    Goodluck has lost it all, this is not 2015 he should know that he is not facing some opposition. Despite the fact that I show him some respect, all this media propaganda is uncalled for. I think they need to rethink every area she actually pointed at are obviously true. We have just 4.3% of our youths in the tertiary institutions compared to what is the obtainable standard. Moreover our educational system is in shambles as most of the politicians either own schools or are on the board of many private schools. It’s not about facts or figures it is something we can see and I also dare the government to face us that they always mi mick as leaders of tomorrow to a debate. They should tell us if we don’t deserve more or until we begin to take guns to the streets. Just Saying!

    • Fred Bem

      You have failed to look at the areas that the administration has made significant progress. Take a look at agriculture, aviation, education, transport, road infrastructure and power. If you do that, you will definitely discover that, much grounds have already been covered by this administration.
      If i may add, Ezekwesili’s allegations were simply laughable. She failed to tell Nigerians where she got her figures from.
      Happily Dr. Okupe has now made the detail of the Foregin reserve from 2007 -2012….The records are clear and shows no sign that, such amounts of money was ever misused at any point in time since 2007…

      • Datti

        Good for you. I saw the farmlands in your village with massive irrigation networks. I turned the taps and sparkling clean portable water flowed in every household. The airport in your regional headquarters is the envy of Heathrow airport. I envy your people as you good citizens enjoy 24hrs electricity supply;Was I not equally amazed at the superb quality of the roads in your village and region? What a blessed people – enjoy the dividends of Jona!

  • Jagun

    Let Nigeria be pls

  • Lubem

    The fact that Dr. Okupe addressed a press conference yesterday, in my opinion does not make him a member of the so called committee.
    He was merely speaking as someone who has the facts and figures and felt it is part of his selfless service to his fatherland to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.
    It may also interest the public to note that, Dr. Okupe did not cook the figures he used in the conference. They were authoritative figures obtained from the CBN, the govt agency responsible for managing foreign reserves.

  • JULIUS CEASAR

    IT IS A VERY RARE AND UNUSUAL TO SEE A FORMER WORLD BANK VP PEDDLING RUMOURS AND UNSUBSTANTIATED DATA AS FACTS .MORESO WHEN SUCH A PERSON IS AWARE OF THE DAMAGE HER STATEMENTS CAN MAKE BY INFLAMING PUBLIC OPINION AGAINST THE GOVT AND INCREASING SOCIAL TENSION.

    THE WHOLE STORY SEEMS SKEWED TOWARDS A HIDDEN AGENDA THAT ONLY TIME WILL REVEAL.THE FACT THAT HER DATA SOURCE REMAINS HIDDEN CALLS TO QUESTION HER SO CALLED ALTRUISTIC MOTIVES FOR MAKING SUCH STATEMENTS .

    • Emeka

      @ julius,shot the fuck up if u dont hav any meaningful contribution to make.Presidency agreed tht it was $42bn.the fact remains tht our commonwealth has being looted.debate or no debate is just 2yrs for ths rogues n criminals to go.u gives a fuck.

  • Benaig

    It is quite easy for anyone these days to talk as much as desirable due to the new found freedom of expression. Have the various state governors (including those of opposition parties) denied sharing the funds?
    It is meaningless embarking on a public debate with anyone throwing the challenge, hence such invitations for debates – whether backed with facts or not, would be endless.
    Fact remains that we are spending huge resources to finance fuel and other imports/recurrent expenditure on salaries….WAKE UP TO REALITY!!

  • Rommel

    Funny how govt. reacts to facts,opinions are subjective but facts remain facts and what Mrs.Ezekwesili released are facts that could be checked any day and if such a high profile person does not know the state of government finances,who then has it? is it Labaran Maku and Doyin Okupe? GEJ try to distinguish yourself from the touts that have been governing Nigeria,you are simply not in control of your government machinery,we just saw the ruling given justice Taliban of Abuja high court,a most callous judgement and a slap on the face of common sense.What Mr president that is lacking in your government and majority of the states of Nigeria is common sense approach to governance,many of our governors and your appointees have no clue to what governance in 21st century is all about,a case in study are people like Orubebe,Theordore orji etc,these are rotating disappointments

  • http://twitter.com/cryptex2 Chukwudi Ezekwesili

    Little minds. If they spent an infinitesimal fraction of the resources (Time & Money) being spent on “Bandage” media outbursts, on answering questions raised by a concerned citizen, we wouldn’t have to listen to half-baked chatters. Why make a big deal out of it, if your “facts” are not ridiculously massaged? Someone out of the lot, is bold enough to ask a question that is on the minds of teeming Nigerians, and they resort to childish, unintellectual outrage

  • Mr.Myle

    I Think a debate would not solve this. What i just believe is that Apart from Ngozi who is just doing it for doing sake. Is it Labaran Maku you want to compare with Oby or Okupe, Not even the Ogas up there can stand the magnitude, the speed, force and intellectuality of Oby. She knows what she is doing and she said it right and challenging them there. I Guess if properly checked, it should be up to 20trillion. No be small money this Guyz dey chop ooo.

  • 100%Naija

    Debate or No debate, the facts on the ground point South in terms of the collective effect of the oil savings on the generality of Nigerians. Task Force or No Task Force, the case of the fuel subsidy that pillaged the reserves still remains an unsolved financial murder case! Sadly, the challenge thrown by Oby will be seized by this corruption-ridden liars to create another diversion that will end nowhere and Nigerians further confused and in economic darkness. Rather than run around to make a messy situation look good, they should work harder to provide Nigerians with enough dividends of democracy that they win the daily survival debates between their pockets and their empty stomachs!

  • Bunmi

    It is clear that Oby is just playing to the gallery! She is prepping for 2015. That is all! Nothing in her allegation! Even on Twitter, she commended the Finance Minister in the way she has been handling the national reserve. Nigeria must wake up and smell the coffee! This people have an hidden agenda!

    • Enemona

      Not true, the problem is the administration. They should give us fact and figures to counter her but no they won’t do that, they’d rather attack her.

    • Es3

      Bunmi,
      Very obviously so!
      2015 is making her (Mrs. Ezekwesili) loose credibility in the eyes of many financial experts (going the calls received and circle discussions), especially on foreign reserves that she claims to know what she is apparently (obviously so now) very hollow about?!

  • Joh

    I think we need to pause and ask why OBJ’s people who have no portion in this present government are crawling out of their hiding just to speak. Are they now emergency activist? We must try and scrutinize this people very well. They mean no good for our nation. They are just after what they would gain at the end of the day.

  • doctor007

    These are the reasons why I have joined Nigeria’s youth in the new SNP party- Sovereign National Party. It is time we take this bull by the horns and set an end to lawlessness, corruption and government criminality.

  • Jihard

    Oby only talked about the balance. What about the total receipt of the Excess Account b4 the balance?

  • Enemona

    Do these guys ever do anything apart from attacking those that point out problems?

  • bonifacejoe

    This is no time for propagander. Not time for fallacy. Is it true that such amount was saved yet we dont have functional infrastruture.It is not a question of bringing down any government,but a question of disservice to the Nigerian Nation.

  • TAIWO

    WOE UNTO U OH LAND WHEN YOUR KING (RULERS) IS A CHILD, AND EAT IN THE MORNING….IS THERE ANY OTHER SCRIPTURE THAT BEFITS DS GOVERNMENT THAN THIS…ALL ABOUT EATING ANYTHING..AH!!

  • Blessed Nigeria

    Paying this committee I presume has a cost which will take a toll on my already depleted resources?