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I was locked out of Presidential Villa-Okonjo Iweala

The former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala recently
narrated how she was embarrassed, and kicked out of the
Presidential Villa, Abuja.

She also narrated that she was further embarrassed when she
fixed a meeting between then President Goodluck Jonathan, and
the head of the International Moneyary Fund (IMF), Christine
Lagarde at the Villa.

The former finance minister who made this known during an event
preceding the signing of the book, ‘Fighting Corruption is
Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines’ in Washington DC,
lamented that all these happened because of her stance against a
policy that was being used to siphon government funds.

She said, ”About six weeks into the implementation in early
December 2011, I received a message that a top ranking
presidential aide wanted me to stop by his office any time I was in
the Villa. The Villa is the equivalent of the White House. This
official was one of the important aides in the Villa. So, I went to his
office the next day.

“The presidential aide told me that he wanted to convey a message
to me that there were people not happy with the port reforms
especially the abolishment of the Cargo Tracking Note. And he
asked me, indeed advised me to reinstate it. I was dismayed
because the fact that the matter has been brought to his attention
meant that whoever the unhappy people were, they were
influential. I explained the genesis of the port reforms, the situation
of the presidential task force and the approvals for action given by
the president.
“By implementing the reforms measures we were just carrying out
the presidential approvals. He said he understood but that I should
nevertheless find a way to reinstate the Cargo Tracking Note.
“I left his office very troubled. Being on the wrong side of people
who had this kind of top levels influence made me uneasy. I knew
they could be consequences but I also knew that there was no
going back on these important reforms. Clearly the $6 million from
the Nigerian Ports Authority from the Cargo Tracking Note not
being remitted to the treasury must be going into some influential
pockets.
“The morning after meeting with the presidential aide, the
consequences began to become clear. I was privileged that part of
my daily routine was to join the president and his family and his
few close friends in Christian fellowship and morning prayers in
the residential complex of the Villa. It was a way to gain strength
for each difficult day. The prayer normally began at 6am so by
5:45am every day, I arrived at the Villa gate I was routinely waved
in.

“That morning the gates remained firmly shot as I drove up and I
was told I could not go in. Taken back I asked why, all I could get
as a response was that the gate keepers had received instructions
not to let me in for morning prayers. I began to argue but realizing
that it was fruitless, I returned home. At that point I felt a mistake
had occurred and thought no more about it.

“But for the next three days I was blocked from entering for the
early morning prayers at the Villa. By the third day, the security
officers at the gate all of whom knew me well told me, ‘Honourable
Minister Ma, I think you need to talk to the presidential aide, ‘they
gave me the name of the aide and it was the same person who had
asked me to restore the Cargo Tracking Note. Then I understood.
When I called one of my prayer fellowship friends on phone, Mr.
John Kenny Opara and told him about the situation, he said he
would discuss this with the villa pastor and they will intercede on
my behalf.
“After going to the gate and not allowed in for the fourth time, I
pushed the situation to the back of my mind and turned to the
preparations for the upcoming visit to Nigeria of the Managing
Director of the International Monetary Fund, Madame Christian
Lagarde, on December 18-20, 2011. My biggest preoccupation
was to ensure that in the raging national debate about the phase
out of oil subsidies, Madame Lagarde’s visit was not miscast by
the media or anti-government forces as the IMF telling the
government what to do on energy subsidies. Madame Lagarde,
was equally concerned that her objectives be clearly understood as
reviewing our macroeconomic and growth reform and offering
encouragement and support.

“The visit proceeded smoothly as Madame Lagarde met with
members of the Economic Management Team, the Central Bank
and other important bank officials. She was scheduled to meet
with the president on the final day of her visit December 20. There
are usually many protocols and conventions to observe on high
level visits especially when the visitor is accorded head of state’s
status as Christine Lagarde was. One of these is for such
dignitaries to enter the Villa for a meeting with the president
through a gate designated for Heads of State only.
Because Madame Lagarde was to use this gate, I had asked my
staff to double check and ensure all was in order and I was
reassured that this was the case.

“But when the motorcade reached this gate it was denied entry.
Embarrassed, I tried to find out from the security guards what was
going on; they said they had no instructions for her to use that
gate. And we should proceed to the entrance reserved for state
governors, certain designated ministers I was one of them and
other dignitaries. We were already running late.
“So I apologised to Madame Lagarde and told her there must be a
mix up and asked the drivers to proceed to the other gate. When
we got there we were again denied entry. By this time it was clear
to me that there was no misunderstanding but that this was
deliberate. We were told to go back to the regular entrance used by
everybody, park our car there and we will have to walk, five
minutes down the villa corridors which were long and leading to
the president’s meeting room.

“Such treatment of such dignitary at the level of head of state was
unheard of.
Christine, clever as she is had figured out something was wrong
but she didn’t know what. She handled it all with gaits and
elegance telling me she didn’t really care which gate she went
through or how far she had to walk as long as we met with the
president. By this time we were about 10 minutes late. We
eventually made it to the meeting. When the president enquired if
everything was alright, she replied wittily, Mr. President there was
a bit of a mix up about gates and we had to walk here. But it gives
me the chance to see your beautiful Villa and its lovely gardens.
“The President looked puzzled but smiled and started the meeting.
I never shared with him or with Christine Lagarde what I thought
had happened that day”.

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2 Comments

  1. Too bad,I am not her fan,but she is one of the economy intellectuals God blessed this country with

  2. Ok

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