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« Ozodi Osuji Lectures #11: the Legislative Process in Nigeria | Main | Ozodi Osuji Lectures #12: the Executive in Nigeria's Politics »

October 16, 2005

Potomac Mansions: Finance Minister Explodes

by Jonathan Elendu --- On the afternoon of October 14, 2005, I got a call from one Chi-Chi Okonjo. I didn’t know anybody by that name but I took the call anyway. Chi-Chi told me he called to express his displeasure with our story entitled, “Bayelsa Governor’s Modest Mansion in Potomac.” He is upset particularly because we published the Potomac home address of his sister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Finance Minister.

He stated in very clear terms that we had no business publishing the home address of the Minister as that would put her family in danger. Chi-Chi Okonjo also questioned my humanity and sense of decency.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

After shouting at me for a while, I asked Chi-Chi Okonjo what he wanted from me. “I demand that you take my sister’s home address off your story. I am going to put her on the phone and I want you to apologize to her.” “Is that all?” I asked. “No,” he responded. “I sent you an email; read it,” he said. “Ok…I will read your email. If you are so aggrieved with our story why don’t you write a rejoinder and we’ll publish it,” I enjoined.

Chi-Chi whose anger had been simmering now exploded: “I am a writer like you. I have written articles. This is irresponsible of you. Why are you doing this? This woman has been threatened by a lot of people because of the work she is doing for Nigeria,” he yelled. The man was obviously angry and Sowore and I had been discussing a few details of an investigation we were doing. I wanted to get him off the phone as quickly as possible.

“Mr. Okonjo, I don’t know if screaming at me makes you feel good. If it does, I’m glad to be of service. As to your demands, taking down our story or deleting any part of it is not going to happen. Apologizing to your sister is also not going to happen. But we’ll publish any rejoinder you send,” I said to him. “I challenge you to publish my email. Let me see if you can take criticism,” he fumed. At this point I laughed. “Chi-Chi, I am criticized everyday. It goes with the territory. But let me say this, I did not mean to put your sister’s family in danger. Sowore and I would not do that. We did not know there are kids in that house…” He cut in, “You guys don’t know the seriousness of what you have done. Here, Dora Akunyuli is here. I can put her on the phone and you talk with her!” This was getting out of hand. “Chi-Chi, I don’t have need to talk with Ms. Akunyuli. If you feel good screaming at me, that’s fine but I still don’t know what you want. I can understand you being upset because you think your sister have been endangered. I probably would feel the same way but there’s nothing I can do,” I said. “I challenge you to publish my email and give it the same level of publicity like your article.”

Twenty minutes after my conversation with Chi-Chi Okonjo, we published his email to us. Not long after that somebody called and asked me to hold for the Minister of Finance. A female voice came on: “This is the Minister of Finance. Are you Mr. Elendu?” she asked. “Yes, Madam Minister, this is Elendu Reports,” I replied. That was the last thing I said for about fifteen minutes. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance, Federal Republic of Nigeria started a tirade. She accused our magazine of endangering the lives of her family, especially her children. “What kind of a human being are you?…How could you put my children’s lives in danger like this?…Are you not a father, and even if you are not, will you not have children someday?” she screamed at me. I tried to put in a word, but she would have none of it. “I am all alone here in Abuja. My husband and children are there. If anything happens to them you will see…I will hold you responsible,” she threatened.

“Madam Minister, are you threatening me?” I inquired. “Threatening with what?…Threatening you for what?…Who are you?” she screamed. The tirade continued: “I have been in Washington for twenty-one years. If I didn’t have a house people will wonder. Why didn’t you tell them that I didn’t steal money to buy the house? Don’t you have the records? My house was built eleven years ago?” she thundered.

“Madam, Minister, may I speak?” I asked. “Speak for what? I’m not here to talk with you. Is this a negotiation? You have done the damage, the least you can do is tell people when the house was acquired. I would understand if I acquired the house inappropriately. I can’t believe a Nigerian can be so cruel. Are you not a Nigerian? Are you not a human being? How can you have the heart to do this?” she screamed.

“Madam Minister, it appears you called me for a one-sided conversation…” She cut me off. The tongue lashing continued, “What am I going to hear from you? No Nigerian supports what you did. Look at the names of the other people you mentioned there. How can you lump me with those people?” she queried.

That’s it. I had enough! “Madam Minister, I resent you calling my office to scream at me! The truth is that we would not intentionally endanger your family. We did not know there were young children in that house…after all the same address is listed as the office of one of your organizations!” I said. “Eh…it is public information. Everybody knows that. Anybody with access to a computer can find that out. I am a public official. You can criticize me. My skin is thick enough,” she fumed.

“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, the story in question is not about you. We were not trying to impugn your integrity. It wasn’t a criticism of you. We reported facts as we saw them. I can boldly say that I am neither pro, nor anti-government. I am just a reporter. I take no sides. If we wanted to impugn your integrity we could have done so. This magazine has a reputation of not knowing any sacred cows,” I said.

“I don’t care!” the Minister returned. “Criticize me if you want. What are you telling me here…who are you? Anyone can drive up to my house and get into my house…instead of you to say, “honorable Minister, I am sorry…I did not know you have children in the house”…you are here arguing with me!” She hung up the phone.

This was the second time the line had cut or she hung up on me. Twice in one day, I thought, the Okonjos have screamed at me. What a day! I turned to my computer and typed: “Ngozi Okonjo Iweala” into one of the browsers we use for investigations.


Posted by Administrator at October 16, 2005 04:56 AM


The job of a reporter is to report any news no matter how critical it could be. I do not think that Mr Elendu and his co-writer should be blamed. They reported what they wanted to report and did not know that the Finance Minister's husband and kids live there. What's the yelling all about! A lot of the government officials and the governors sap and embezzle the country's money and bank them abroad. Many have been caught and millions are yet to be disgraced like the so-called Bayelsa state governor.

My point is there should be no mercy to any one caught in money lundry mission. These reports are for us to know what's going on in our so-called country. Bribery and corruption has become the order of the day. Workers salaries are not paid regularly still those of them in power steal and do not care about the masses. Millions of retirees have for long been on the look out for their gratuities and pension. But our leaders remain especially nasty. When will this end? If our country, Nigeria is not corrupt, we probably wouldn't be here suffering. Do you think it is going to be well in this our generation? I don't think so.

Engr. C. Jude Ezedike
Orange Park, FL

Posted by: Engr. C. Jude Ezedike at October 19, 2005 06:36 AM

Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears the Crown” Shakespeare.................
Ms. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and other public figures should know that. The entire saga of this story seems the Minister must have forgotten she is a public official; therefore, she wears a crown. On a serious note, Madam Minister, you and your family owes Mr Jonathan Elendu an apology, for your unprofessional conduct, emanating from your verbal abuses. Mr. Elendu was simply doing his job, just like you are doing yours. Besides, the information he published is something anyone with computer and Internet access can retrieve. Dear Minister if you cannot take the heat, then you must get out of the kitchen.
Personally, I appreciate what the magazine/journalists are doing, exposing all those bad eggs and if you, Ms. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala think yelling and attempting to intimidate a journalist is going to make all go away, then you have something else coming. And I must feel sorry for you, because you just opened a can of worms by attempting to intimidate Mr. Elendu....
By the way, most Nigerians in Washington area will like to know how you got the money to buy a house in Potomac. I know many professional Nigerians (Medical Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers etc)who work here in Washington DC/Maryland and earn honestly, most of us cannot afford Potomac real estate. Maybe you can provide us a clue on how a World Bank salary bought Potomac Manson, since you claim to be innocent from embezzling Nigerian fund. I make a lot more than what you made at World Bank, I still can’t afford Potomac real estate, maybe I am doing something wrong. Madam Minister, would you be kind enough to provide us, with a scheme of what you did differently? Specifically, how you came up with such fund. I look forward to reading your response.
Thank you

Posted by: Emmanuel Ukpe at October 24, 2005 06:12 PM

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