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July 10, 2024

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Women Affairs minister, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye

By Gift ChapiOdekina, Abuja

The House of Representatives Committee on Women Affairs and Social Development has engaged in a face-off with the Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy over an alleged diversion of 1.5 billion naira meant for payment of contractors by officials of the ministry.

The face which occurred during an investigative hearing by the Committee started when the Minister was asked to give an account of how monies meant for contractors paid by the Accountant General office were expended by the ministry.

In her account, the Minister said that 30 per cent of the total sum meant for contractors where paid to her ministry but can not give an account of how it was spent because the first Lady, Oluremi Tinubu had advised her to mind her business.

In response to the Minister’s reply, the committee members questioned the rationale behind her claim of not being aware of money that was paid to her ministry.

The Minister however said that the total sum was not released which was part of why the contractors are been owed.

“If not that the money for this year has been delayed, I’m sure we wouldn’t be here today. Because we could have paid out some of these liabilities. But since this year, no project money has been released to any ministry. And that was a constraint.

A member of the Commitee, Marie Nenemete Ebikake, however, questioned the minister on the African First Lady Peace Mission project of about 500 million naira, asking the minster to tell the Commitee how the money was utilized, where the project was located and those involved.

“Honorable Minister and Permanent Secretary with Director Finance and Admin, last time when you came, that was on Thursday, we did raise an issue of African First Lady Peace Mission projects. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any concrete answer to the issue.

“It was carried over to today. So now that we are here, Honorable Minister, could you please educate the committee on the functions of African First Lady Peace Mission projects, taking into cognizance of funds allocated for the project in the past? Year 2020, 500 million,2021, 225 million.2022, 500 million. 2023, 150 million. Where is the office situated and the organogram?

In her response, the Minister however explained that the 150 million naira that was appropriated in 2023 was eventually given to the former first lady, Aisha Buhari who eventually told her it was meant for the purchase of a generator.

“About the 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 a 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 who 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’ve 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.

At this point, members of the committee were surprised that the Minister could not identify the contractors or addresses of the Contractors who executed the African First Lady Peace Mission project.

In her response, the Minister said ” Let me explain. This is the First Lady’s… My First Lady will tell you, to focus on your work. And she focuses on her work.

“She just advises me. And when they came there, I am not a First Lady and I can’t overstep my bounds. All I went to tell her was that there was some amount of money on the appropriation act. for her office and I went there to tell her. I have no business much to do with the First Lady’s buildings. Because I have to only take directives when given.

Reacting another member of the Committee told the Minister ” Well, you disburse public funds on First Lady’s issues. Is it not so? The office space was not paid for with public funds of the Nigerian people. Let the director who is in charge speak, ma’am. Please.

“I won’t answer what is not within my purview, the Minister responded.

The committee members at this point insisted on knowing if it was the first Lady Oluremi Tinubu that directed the Minister to hand over the money to the former first lady Aisha Buhari.

The Chairman of the Committee Kafilat Ogbara in her question said, “When you resumed, you met the money in the account of your ministry. Because you said this money is for the former First Lady, and are you saying it was the former First Lady that requested that the money is going to be used for the generator or is it the current First Lady?

Responding the Minister said “Like I said, I’m not the accountant. I don’t usually know what you have.

The Minister further insisted on explaining herself “No, but I’m trying to explain myself, 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 and the budget. And it was right there in the budget of last year. It was there.

My question is, was the money budgeted for the last First Lady? And I’ll ask you, is it the former First Lady who contacted you that the money is going to be used for the generator or not? The chairman asked the minister

In her response, the Minister said “No, it was budgeted by the ministry.

“I can’t answer that, because I don’t know who requested it was supposed to go to procurement.No First Lady called me. I called. I called. I never said a First Lady called, I called to say this is what I saw on the appropriation paper. That was what I said.

“Let me not be misquoted. Let me not be misquoted. I never said it was meant for the First Lady.

” I said when I saw for First Lady’s mission, that was the name of the corporation. I don’t know whether it has been used or not. We directed them, that anything that will be done is supposed to go through procurement, the normal process.

At this point, the Chairman of the Committee asked the procurement officer to explain to the committee how the money was spent.

According to him, “The project was awarded. But I don’t know anything about it, it is ongoing.

The chairman of the Committee asked the procurement officer if the Minister was aware of the project.

While he was about to respond, the Minister interjected by saying “I am not getting very comfortable anymore. Because I don’t even understand this question.

“The procurement do their job. I don’t get myself involved. If anything has been going through on that, it’s supposed to go through the normal process. I don’t get myself involved. Procurement officer.

The Commitee Chairman at this point said due to the confrontation between the Minister to the Commitee, the meeting was adjourned sine die.