Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Nigeria: That Finance Minister and House Committee Meeting



The video showing the beginning of the proceedings before the committee. 

Courtesy of Premium Times. The news story.
The video that sensationalised the proceedings and attracted much commentary. 

Courtesy of Channels TV.

Update
These are two additional video Courtesy of Channels TV where the Chairman of the House Committee on Finance was interviewed.
   
Part 1

Part 2
For the time he was allowed to talk beyond the biased obstreperous interviewing technique of Harriet Agbenyi, a better picture of the reasonableness of the committee to the unreasonableness of the Finance Minister playing to the gallery exploiting the subjectiveness of Nigerians is evident.
Videos unlimited
When the second video was released in December, many jumped on it and excoriated the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Finance, Dr. Abdulmumin Jibrin for disrespecting the honourable Federal Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Whoever stitched together the second video was no doubt up for mischief and enough mischief was wrought by it. However, from the get-go, I was of the opinion that the Minister was haughty, wrong and troublesome, whilst the committee gave all due consideration before they came to the ruling that she should leave to return on another day.
This new video [The topmost one on this blog] corroborates my views, and I hope that viewers of both videos [The first showing the beginning of the engagement and the second showing how it ended.] which offers a more complete view of that engagement would review and reflect dispassionately and without sentiment.
Once we extricate ourselves from the gender and age politics, yes, the Minister is female and 22 years older than the Chairman, which could mean a lot in the Nigerian setting, and concentrate on institutions, process and procedure, we would be better informed of the fundamental issues.
The synopsis
The Minister was invited to appear before the House Committee, she was given the floor and with excuse seeking pity and whatever else, she said she was very ill, implied her colleagues might be fatigued, for they had not slept for days and offered to tackle the questions from the Committee almost half-heartedly because of her condition.
The committee sympathetically considered her condition, gave her the questions they were to ask her and advised her with all due courtesy to return at another time, two weeks hence.
The Minister took umbrage at this and questioned process and decorum of the Committee as the Chairman containing his exasperation and possible anger, told her she cannot face a gruelling grilling by the committee in her condition.
This after earlier letting her know that the Committee was as flexible as to make the maximum allowances for understanding that the Minister’s health was paramount, and they would have postponed in consideration of that.
The exchanges degenerated, the Committee ruled, the gavel came down, the session should have ended there and then but the camera kept rolling and that was theatre for Nigerians.
Separation of Powers
Broadly, we have a system of government in Nigeria that practices Baron de Montesquieu's theory of the separation of powers. An Executive presidency with a cabinet of ministers, a National Assembly – the Legislature comprised of the Senate and the House of Representative and the Judiciary.
Again, somewhere between the theory and the practice, the Legislature has oversight of the government and has powers into invite or summons the Executive about issues relating to governance, budgets and much else. The graphic below captures the general idea of what we should expect of the arms of government.
Source Wikipedia.
Now the event
That lays the groundwork into the how and the why of the Minister appearing before a committee of the House of Representatives.
As far as the video is concerned, the Minister was late in appearing before the committee, that is the first slight and show of disrespect to the House Committee that the Chairman overlooked without comment, and the Minister did not apologise for.
Then when the Minister was given the floor to speak, rather than address the serious matters of the days head-on, she had a more important human limitation, she was unwell and her colleagues were seriously fatigued, she would do her best, but implicitly, the Committee should have consideration and not grill her, or words to that effect.
Open book test
The Chairman, by observation decided that the gruelling activity of appearing before the committee should not be taken lightly, they had prepared 50 questions already, but seeing the condition of the Minister, the committee was willing to let her attend to getting well.
Meanwhile, here was an open-book test, take the 50 questions away, answer them and the Committee would invite you at a later date to discuss.
At which point the Minister for whatever reason contemned and impugned the Committee about orderly and respect, as she perked up, she was suddenly well, ready and able to face the Committee.
After the gavel
The Committee Chairman, overruled her, made a ruling and the gavel came down. The Minister should have packed her sheaves of paper and left because the session was at that time over, the Chairman said as much to her but she laid into the committee, suggested she had been disrespected and much else.
In my view, if we are to have strong institutions in Nigeria, it is important that all arms of government appreciate where they stand in the scheme of things. The Minister of the head of her ministry but answers to the legislature on matters concerning her ministry.
In that setting, the committee orders the proceedings and whoever appears before the committee should clearly respect and submit to the primacy of the committee in their deliberations, decisions and rulings.
Once the gavel came down, there was nothing else to discuss, the manner in which the gavel came down of no consequence, the reason why the gavel exists in the committee room is to maintain order, in process, proceedings and rulings. End of story – the rest is idle banter.
This uppity minister
That the minister decided to escalate the matter into a histrionic fit as depicted in that video is unfortunate and the chairman did well to make her understand that she cannot countermand the ruling of the committee.
In the process, it appeared the Minister was badly treated, but when we watch both videos, it is clear that the Minister simply pushed the matter to the point where it degenerated to – that sadly defines the unfortunate mess of a jumble of separation of powers we operating in Nigeria.
I stand by my original premise, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in that setting was unprepared, uncouth, rude, wrong, ill-disciplined, ill-tempered, melodramatic and disrespectful, and all that as someone unwell.
That the executive when appearing before the legislature had to be handled in that way is order that has grown into a storm in a teacup – the committee prevailed, just as it should, anywhere that system of government exists in the world.

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