ON Tuesday, the Senate questioned Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information, over a project funded by the Ministry of Finance for execution by the Ministry of Information in the 2020 fiscal year.
The project designated as ERPG 10145116 was listed as “completion of NTA Gashua sub-station,” but the project was classified as “ongoing” which was contradictory.
A sum of N250 million has been fully released to the ministry for the project and was expected to have been completed
The Minister led top officials of the ministry to the Senate to defend their 2021 budget estimates.
Abdullahi Sankara, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information, said that the minister has a lot of explanations to make over the project.
He said that it was a 100 percent release of funds without any work commensurate to the full releases done on-site.
In response, the minister explained that the project was a constituency project inserted in his ministry’s 2020 budget.
Ezennwa Onyewuchi, Senator representing Imo East Senatorial district, during the budget Defence by Mohammed said that N19 million was expended from the N43 million meant for international travels but the period coincided with the COVID-19 lockdown.
“Let me take you on this 2020 overhead. You have here on local travels and transport appropriated is N30 million you expended N23 million on local transport you received N96 million as appropriated as released and you expended N90million. On International travels and transport, you had N43million and you expended N19million.”
The Minister in his response said the international travels were undertaken before the COVID-19 lockdown.
“You will notice that N43 million was budgeted but less than 40 percent was spent precisely because of the COVID-19 and before then remember that we had travelled to attend several international summits starting UNWTO conference, UNESCO in Spain and in the UK.
“We also did advocacy in the UK at the same time. These were all before the lockdown,” he said.
There were 32 projects listed by the ministry as ongoing projects but it was not stated the exact amount released so far and the level of completion.
Among some of the approved projects includes a project titled “facilitation of ministerial media appearances for 36 ministers, influencers and analysts on radio, television, social and print media” which was to cost ₦107,280,468.
Other projects approved by the ministry are Federal Government wall calendars and diaries for 2020 costing ₦121,878,900, special enlightenment campaign on Government policies and programmes to cost ₦105,505,798 amongst others.
The lawmakers raised eyebrows at Mohammed’s explanation on the completion of the NTA Gashua sub-station and other suspicious items on its budget, as they took turns to query the minister over the project, insisting that it was not a constituency project.
Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.