The Chairman, House Committee on Finance, Abdulmumini Jubrin, has denied any wrongdoing against the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, when she appeared before his committee in December.
He accused the Minister of an attempt to adopt emotional blackmail to discourage members from discharging their lawful responsibilities.
Mr. Jubrin was speaking on Thursday in Abuja against the background of the controversy that has trailed the public altercation between him and Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala when the minister appeared before his Committee on December 19.
Some Nigerians who watched the abridged video footage of the ugly incident on some television channels had accused the Committee Chairman of high-handedness and unfair treatment of the minister for not allowing her to present answers to the 50 questions put to her on the state of the nation’s economy.
PREMIUM TIMES, on Monday, uploaded a more comprehensive video so Nigerians could see more of what transpired at the session, but the minister reacted by saying the longer video portrayed her in bad light.
But Mr. Jubrin, who was a guest on a Channels TV programme, Sunrise, on Thursday, said Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala tried to act clever by dramatising her purported illness to manipulate members and gain undue advantage during the presentation.
The Committee Chairman explained why he ended the meeting without allowing the Minister to go ahead with her presentation, saying after she initially pleaded illness, it was in her interest that she be stopped.
He said it was incumbent on him to protect both the lawmakers and the institution of the National Assembly, as it would have been insensitive and irresponsible to have asked the Minister to continue despite her delicate condition.
He said those accusing him of high-handedness were only doing so because something terrible did not happen that day.
“If we had allowed the Minister to go ahead, having explained how sick she felt, and if she collapsed in the process, the same people would have been asking today: Why did I allow her to continue even after she told me she was sick? And my response would have been: She insisted. And their response would have been: You should have stopped her,” Mr. Jubrin said.
Pressed by the presenter of the programme to explain why he refused to allow the minister to continue after she said she was fit enough to address the committee, Mr. Jubrin wondered what Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala’s initial motive was in pleading illness if she was sure she had enough energy to respond to the lawmakers’ questions.
“Some people say the Minister was trying to be clever, because the implication was that she would have compromised the session that members had waited for for eleven months, for her to gain advantage, since they would not be firm with someone who had already said she was sick,” the committee chairman said. “If the session had gone ahead and members tried to be firm with her, people would ask why the lawmakers were hard on her, and accuse them of not being gentlemanly.”
He dismissed attempts by his critics to politicise the incident, reminding them about his Committee’s defence of the Minister when the Rivers State Governor, Chubuike Amaechi, demanded her resignation last year over the country’s dwindling revenue.
He explained the rationale behind the 50 questions drawn up for the Minister, saying having previously beamed its searchlight on the petroleum industry that generates the nation’s oil revenue, it was only appropriate for the committee to extend a similar exercise to the finance ministry, the institution collecting, managing and distributing the nation’s resources.
Such an exercise, he said, would enable the country know how much revenue was being collected. He argued that if this had portrayed the Committee as bad people, members would reject vehemently any attempt to use “emotional blackmail” to stop them from exercising their constitutional responsibilities.
He insisted that the state of the economy presentation was necessary for his committee to understand the challenges facing the economy, especially because members have always disagreed with Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala’s claim on the state of the economy.
Efforts to get Minister Okonjo-Iweala’s reaction to Mr. Abdulmuminu’s claim were unsuccessful Friday night. Her telephone was switched off when our reporter called. And she is yet to respond to a text message sent to her.
Her Special Adviser on Media, Paul Nwabuikwu, did not answer or return calls. He is also yet to respond to a text message sent to him.