ALLEGED FRAUD: Women affairs minister fights dirty with Reps

Elizabeth AtimeJuly 10, 20246 min

The representatives insisted that the women affairs minister must explain how N1.375bn was expended on  projects linked to the first lady

Nigeria’s minister of women affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, came close to exchanging punches with members of the House of Representatives committee on women affairs led by Rep Khalifat Ogbara on Tuesday.

Trouble started when the committee chair questioned the minister about unrelated expenditures, including N45 million for a new year party, N20 million for sanitary pads, and N1.5 million for fuel. The committee also sought clarification on funds appropriated for the African first ladies’ mission and the whereabouts of the N1.5 billion meant for contractor payments. 

The committee is investigating alleged N1.5bn diversion of funds meant for contractor payments, following a petition from contractors who did jobs for the ministry.

The committee chair noted in her opening remarks that “this interactive session is not to witch-hunt or malign anyone but to exercise our constitutional power as enshrined in the principle of checks and balance of government expenditure.” Afterwards the lawmakers took turns to express their displeasure on the delay and non-payment of the contractors despite successful execution of the contracts. 

Rep. Marie Ebikake (PDP, Bayelsa) questioned the minister on the expenditure made on behalf of the first lady’s office, seeking to be educated on the functions of African first lady peace mission projects, esspecially in view of funds allocated in the past. She fired a series of questions thus: “Where is the office situated and the organogram? 150 million naira was appropriated in 2023. Throw more light on how the money was expended and on what projects. The committee is aware that equipment has been purchased and supplied to the above name office, but payment is yet to be made. Then let me go further, furnish the committee with the following information. Award letter, bill of quantity, details of contractor, evidence of payment, and project completion certificate.

Reactions and further revelation 

But in a swift reaction, the minister interrupted saying: “I take exception. I don’t like this allegation. I am no slave to anybody,” and protested sharply against the line of questioning:  She should withdraw that statement she said about me. It is not fairness here. It is a trap but I am not going to jump into it. I fear nothing… nothing!!”

She continued: “Okay, you mentioned about First Lady’s funds. The 500 million you were talking about, I wasn’t there when it happened. When I came in, I saw it on the appropriation act. And I went to my first lady. We discussed. She said that particular money was not meant for her. That it was meant for the former first lady because that was when that money was allocated. And the former first lady later called me and said they wanted to use it and buy generator. And in the process, she was out of the country.

“It took her a while. She came back, called me, and she brought the person that was going to come and organize how they would get the generator. And I introduced that person to the procurement officer then, who is now retired. So that they could work it out according to the rules and regulations of procurement. And they have been on it. Once in a while, I talk with the first lady to find out what’s going on. And that’s the last I heard of that. And if not that the money of this year has been delayed, I’m sure we would not be here today. Because we could have paid out some of these liabilities.”

However, the minister kept interrupting even as members of the committee attempted to interrogate further. Sooner, the meeting went out of order as the minister began shouting that she be allowed to explain herself. “I was thinking I could be given the opportunity to explain myself, like the honorable chairman said before. Because there are so many other questions that came up before this. And they mentioned what we have been doing. But since this year, no project money has been released to any ministry. And that was a constraint. I think that matter is 2023. I would not know that. No, no, no. My first lady will tell you, focus on your work. And she focuses on her work.”

Shouting over first lady role…

The minister and committee continued their rancorous exchange over the role and influence of the first lady in the ministry:“You said you take directives from the first lady,” the committee chair asked, to which the minister responded: “When it comes to first lady’s issues, yes.”

Rep. Ogbara asked once again, “Well, you diverted public funds on first lady’s issues. Is it not so? The office space, was it not paid with public funds of the Nigerian people? The minister angrily responded, “Let the director that is in charge speak, ma’am. Please. Because I won’t answer what is not within my purview.”

As another lawmaker attempts to get the minister to explain she then cuts in, “No, but I’m trying to explain myself, sir. Okay. Please give me the opportunity. Okay like I said, I’m not an accountant to know how much cash they have in their bank statements. All I can see is the appropriation paper, the budget. And it was right there in the budget of last year. It was there.

At that point all attempts to calm the tensed situation proved abortive, forcing Rep. Ogbara to call for adjournment of the hearing.

Elizabeth Atime

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