Reps, Minister Trade Words Over Alleged N1.5bn Fraud

House of Representatives Committee on Women Affairs and Social Development and the minister of women affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohaneye, were engaged in open confrontation at the investigative hearing into the alleged diversion of N1.5 billion contract funds.

LEADERSHIP reports that the committee had summoned Kennedy-Ohaneye to appear before it on Tuesday and explain the whereabouts of the money already released.

But a drama ensued when the committee asked the minister to give account of how monies meant for contractors paid by the Accountant General office were expended by the ministry.

In her response, Kennedy-Ohaneye said though 30 percent of the total sum meant for contractors was paid to her ministry she cannot give account of how it was expended because the first lady, Oluremi Tinubu had advised her to mind her business.

“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 Committee, Hon. Marie Nenemete Ebikake (PDP, Bayelsa), questioned the Minister on the African First Lady Peace Mission project of about N500 million, asking her to tell lawmakers how the money was utilised, where the project was located, and who was involved.

“Honorable Minister and Permanent Secretary with DFA, last time when we 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, N500 million, 2021, N225 million, 2022, N500 million. 2023, N150 million. Where is the office situated and the organogram,“ she queried.

Responding, the minister said the N150 million 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 generator.

About the First Lady‘s funds. The N500 million you were talking about, I wasn‘t there when it happened. When I came in, I saw it in the Appropriation Act. And I went to my First Lady (Tinubu). 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.

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 organise how they would get the generator.

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.“

Members of the committee were astonished and wondered that the minister could not identify the contractors or address of the contractors who executed the African First Lady Peace Mission project.
But she responded that, „Let me explain. This is First Lady‘s… My First Lady will tell you, 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.

I went to tell her that there is some amount of money in the Appropriation Act for her office. I have no business with the First Lady‘s buildings because I have to only take directives when given.“
When asked whether her ministry disburses public funds on the First Lady‘s projects, Kennedy-Ohaneye said, „I won‘t answer what is not within my purview… 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 last year‘s budget. It was there.

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 corporation‘s name. I don‘t know whether it has been used or not. We directed them, anything that will be done is supposed to go through procurement, the normal process.“
The committee further asked the procurement officer in the ministry to explain to lawmakers how the money was spent but before he could provide a detailed response, the minister chipped in, 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.“

As the drama ensued, the chairman of the committee, Hon. Kafilat Ogbara, said that due to the minister‘s confrontation with the lawmakers, the hearing was adjourned indefinitely.
She described the attitude of the minister as rude to the parliament and said the committee would report to the House that the minister was uncooperative and had no regard for the legislature.

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