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 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 was then circulated to the rest of the team for review.
A final copy of the government’s response was sent to the information minister on Saturday night ahead of the press conference he addressed 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, Mr. Maku also requested the Special Assistant to the President on Social Media, Reno Omokri, to aggressively confront the former minister on Twitter and Facebook, our source said.
Mr. Omokri immediately picked up the gauntlet, using his Twitter handle to tear at Mrs. Ezekwesili and describing her conduct as resembling that of a wicked stepmother.