Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation is investigating the claim by Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, that he spent N19 million on foreign trips during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Appearing yesterday before the panel to defend the ministry’s 2021 budget and review performance of the previous year’s appropriation, the minister was asked to explain how N19 million of the N43 million vote for international travels was expended when the country was on lockdown for almost six months.
He was also quizzed on N90 million expenditure out of the N96 million appropriated for local trips during the period.
Representative of Imo East, Senator Ezenwa Onyewuchi, had brought the issue to the fore in his observation.
He told the minister: “I am sure you will remember you did a lot of enlightenment programme. I am sure you will remember that most of us were prevented from moving into other states. So, I don’t know how you also had the luxury of spending the entire amount that was appropriated on those travels. So, these are the information we need to get from you.”
Responding, Mohammed submitted: “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 with the UNWTO conference and UNESCO in Spain and the United Kingdom.”
He said they had also carried out advocacies in UK during the period, adding that the expenditure covered January to March.
The minister further clarified: “Before the lockdown, I think our last trip was to Addis Ababa where we accompanied the President to an African Union meeting that held around March.
“So whatever we spent was before the lockdown.”
The committee also tackled the minister over the “zero percent performance” of a controversial constituency project that had been 100 percent funded by the Ministry of Finance for the 2020 fiscal year.
Tagged ERPG 10145116, and listed as “completion of NTA Gashua sub-station ongoing”, the project allegedly had its N250 million allocation fully released to the ministry.
Committee chairman, Danladi Sankara, maintained that the minister had a lot of explanation to make.
The controversy reportedly followed Mohammed’s claim that the initiative was sponsored by a lawmaker as a constituency project in the 2020 budget.
But the senators, who disagreed, condemned the slow pace of work.