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July 11, 2024

Reps, women affairs minister trade words over N1.5bn diverted funds

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By Gift ChapiOdekina

The House of Representatives Commitee on Women Affairs and Social Development and the Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy, were yesterday locked in war of words over alleged diversion of N1.5 billion meant for payment of contractors by official of the ministry.

The face-off which occurred during an investigative hearing by the commitee started when the minister was asked to give account of how monies meant for contractors paid by the accountant-general’s office was expended by the ministry.

In her account, the minister said though 30 per cent of the total sum meant for contractors was paid to her ministry, she could not give 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 paid to her ministry.

The minister, however, said the because the total sum was not released to her ministry.

“If not that the money of 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,” she said.

However, a member of the commitee, Marie Nenemete Ebikake, questioned the minister on the African First Lady Peace Mission project of about N500 million, asking the minster to tell the commitee how the money was utilized, where the project was located and those involved.

“Minister and Permanent Secretary, with Director of Finance and Admin, when you come last Thursday, we did raise an issue on 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, minister, could you please educate the committee on the functions of African First Lady Peace Mission projects, taking into cognizance the funds allocated for the project in the past. In 2020, N500m; 2021, N225m; 2022, N500m; and 2023, N150m.  Where is the office situated and the organogram? The lawmaker queried.

Responding, the minister explained that the N150 million appropriated in 2023 was eventually given to the former first lady, Aisha Buhari, who eventually told her it was meant for the purchase of generator .

She said:  “About the First Lady’s funds, on the N500 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.

“She said 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 to buy generator. And in the process, she was out of the country.

“It took her a while. She came back, called me, and brought the person that was going to organize how they would get the generator. And I introduced that person to the procurement officer then, who is now retired, so they could work it out according to the rules and regulations of procurement.

”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 expressed surprise that the minister could not identify the contractors or address of the contractors who executed the African First Lady Peace Mission project.

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