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Senate queries Lai Mohammed for spending N109 million on travels in 3 three months



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The lid has been blown open at the ongoing budget defence as budget documents presented to the Senate Committee on Information showed that Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed spent a whopping sum of N109 million as travelling expenses.

Senate panel upon discovery were at a loss, particularly that there was global lockdown with restricted national and international travels.

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Upon interrogation, the Minister told the panel that he spent N90m out of N96m budgeted for local travels in 2020 between January and March before the lockdown.

A member of the panel, Senator Francis Onyewuchi Ezenwa asked how he spent the sum of N19 million on international travels amid COVID-19 lockdown, he said: “You will notice that N43m was budgeted, but less than 40% 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, in the UK.

Onyewuchi further said:
“Let me take you on this your 2020 overhead. You have here on Local travels and transport appropriated is N30m you expended N23m on local transport you recieved N96m as appropriated and released you expended N90m.

“On International travels and transport you had N43m you expended N19m.

“So I am wondering during this period of lockdown where nobody was able to go to any country during the 2020 appropriation how were you able to embark on international travels and you expended N19m?

“So we need to look at that critically and you also tell us here in parliament how you were able to do that?

Continuing senator Ezenwa indicated that most part of the year there were travel restrictions, “I am sure you will remember you did a lot of enlightenment programme on this and I am sure you will remember that most of us were prevented from moving into other states, so I dont know how you also had the luxury of spending the entire amount that was appropriated on those travels so those are the information we need to get from your expenditure.”

He said they had also done advocacy in the UK at the same time.”

He said all the expenditure were between January and March. “All before the lockdown, I think our last trip was actually in Addis Ababa when we accompanied the President to the African Union that was about March before the lockdown, the lockdown came at the end of March.

“So whatever we spent here was before the lockdown.”

Onyebuchi asked the minister in charge to avail the committee of details of his local and international travels between the 2020 budget.
The committee also tackled the Minister over zero per cent performance of a controversial project that had 100 per cent funding release from the Ministry of Finance for its execution in the 2020 fiscal year.

Chairman, Senate Committee on information, Senator Danladi Sankara maintained that the Minister of information has a lot of explaination to do over the project that has 100 per cent funding without any work being done.
The controversy over the project started when the Minister explained that the project was sponsored by a lawmaker as constituency project and insert into its 2020 budget.

Senators present at the Senate panel took exception to this and took turns to query the minister over the project, condemning the slow pace of work on a project that should have received accelerated delivery with the requisite fund being made available and insisted that it is not a constituency project.

Senator representing Sokoto South Ibrahim Danbaba had disagreed with the minister saying zonal intervention project were not meant for the session.

“From the document that you have given us, the N250m is an integral portion of your allocation.

Senator onyewuchi said every project is in a constituency so “if you have your mandate project being executed in a constituency, it does not qualify that project to be a zonal intervention project. Zonal intervention project is entirely different.”

The argument continued and the minister said they need clarification from the sponsor of the project.

He said it was not ongoing project neither was it a project that they started.
“It is a project that was introduced into our budget in 2020 and we are following up to ensure the execution of it.”

The minister said the money was released on 24th of september hence the time frame was a problem.

“We will give you more details as to the sponsor of the project, the owner and the constituency but I know that this is a constituency project.

He said the project was a procurement of an equipment in a television station in Gasua but it was included only in the 2020 budget.
Onyewuchi told him to check his details well saying they have been too long in parliament not to know which is constituency project.

The chairman of the committee also asked him to talk to the sponsors of the project.

Senator Danbaba said he is still having some reservation on the expenditure saying that going by the document he presented, the first item was completion of NTA Gasua Station, if it were to be a constituency project it could have not been included there. Secondly if it is also a constituency project there wouldn’t have been any additional explanation.

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