By Ori Martins
The 2023 general elections ripples have continued to play up in various fronts. The leading presidential candidates are continuously up against one another.
In one of such engagements, the People’s Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, had claimed to have chaired the Economic Management Team, which he said assisted in great measures in reviving as well as building the country’s economy between 1999 and 2007.
However, erstwhile minister of education and a co-founder of Bring Back Our Girls movement, Mrs. Oby Ezekwezili, vehemently disagreed with Atiku, insisting the former vice president was neither head the Economic Management Team nor even a member.
In buttressing his point, Atiku had stated through his Twitter handle that “As the head of the Economic Management Team while I was the vice president, I was instrumental in designing a private sector revival strategy and advocated for the opening of the economy for private sector investments in several sectors, and we made tremendous progress”.
Ezekwezili was harsh and hard on Atiku in her reply. She was frontal even as she debunked the PDP’s presidential candidate’s boast.
She wrote: “Dear former Vice President Atiku, please, ask the handlers of your Twitter account to stop misleading the public. You were never the head of the Economic Management Team”.
Labeling Atiku’s claims as an absurd lie that would never do the former vice president any good, Ezekwezili, who served in the Economic Management Team, revealed that what the PDP presidential candidate headed was the National Economic Council, not EMT.
She clarified the differences between the two thus, “There is a difference between the Economic Management Team of 2003 and the National Economic Council established by the 1999 constitution as amended.
“The Economic Management Team was a technical team of 12 persons from a range of expertise to drive Nigeria Economic Reform Agenda between 2003 and 2007.
“It was designed at two levels of leadership – political leadership headed by the then president, Obasanjo., and the technical leadership, headed by the then finance minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo – Iweala”.
Ezekwezili differentiated the functions of the two levels of leadership. “As the chairman of the political leadership level of the Economic Team, the president decided which sectoral ministers or heads of agencies, parastatals or departments joined the weekly Wednesday meeting held before the Federal Executive Council meeting.
“The then minister of finance, Iweala, as the chairman of Technical Level Leadership, was the head of the technocratic team of 12 persons, which met in her office at the ministry statutorily weekly and as often as necessary daily as the team designed and began implementing the economic reforms”.
She made it clear that there was a huge difference between the Economic Management Team and the National Economic Council.
“There is no sincere basis for confusing the work of the Presidential Economic Management Team with the National Economic Council provided for in the constitution and chaired by the vice president. The functions are not the same at all, the former minister enthused.
She explained that the National Economic Council consists of the vice president as the chairman, governor of each of the 36 states and the CBN governor as established in the Central Bank of Nigeria Decree of 1991. She maintained it was purely advisory.
Expectedly, Atiku’s camp did not allow Ezekwezili’s attack on its principal to go unchallenged. The spokesperson of the former president, Mr. Paul Ibe came out smoking with a reply.
“I know it is political season and some people resort to all sorts of antics in support of thier preferred candidates. But somethings should be considered too low.
“It is an established history that as the chairman of the National Economic Council, the former vice president headed the Economic Management Team between 1999 and 2007, during which Nigeria had some of her best economic growth, Ibe noted”.
He added, “In trying – and failing – to weaken Atiku’s standing in public, let us not resort to this sort of “aporoko” pettiness. This matter is a constitutional provision and you will do well either to bury or advertise your apparent mischief”.
The dust raised by the Atiku, Ezekwezili angst has not yet settled. Supporters and followers of both eminent personalities have respectively been rallying around them. In that instance, most PDP members have inclined to Atiku, while majority of opposition to PDP, particularly Labour Party, LP, followed are in support of Ezekwezili.
According to a banker who does not want his name in print, I think Atiku was right by saying he headed the Economic Management Team. This is so because the 1999 constitution as amended made it clear that the vice president is the head of the economy and the name given to that agency is National Economic Council. It is a constitutional matter.
The Economic Management Team Ezekwezili mentioned is not captured in the constitution and so at the end of the day, its deliberations as headed by Iweala would still be sent to the VP’s table”.
In his contribution, Chima Ikenna, a public affairs analyst, berated Atiku for allegedly claiming what he was not. He argued that from the explanations of Ezekwezili, it was very clear that Atiku was not even a member of the Economic Management Team, not to talk of heading it. He submitted that Nigerians shouldn’t take the PDP presidential candidate seriously as everything about him is all about controversies.
The publicity secretary of APC in Imo State, Comrade Cajetan Duke enthused that the Atiku, Ezekwezili spat had further given Nigerians insights into the kind of person the PDP presidential candidate is made of – lies telling – and should, therefore, not look towards his side for the February 25, 2023 presidential election.
A notable politician in Abia State, and a leader in the Atiku/Okowa Presidential Campaign Council, PCC, Chief Charles Ogbonnaya, submitted that everyone knew that Atiku as the vice president of Nigeria headed the economic team, which brought about the commendable reform that made the country’s economy vibrant and robust.
“The issue here is the name – National Economic Council or Economic Management Team. The latter was created to support the former. It is a constitutional matter and there should be controversy about it”, the erstwhile deputy chief of staff concluded.