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Reps Panel Quizzes Minister of Women Affairs, Alleges N1.5bn Diversion

A near physical confrontation between the Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, and the House of Representatives Committee on Women Affairs and Social Development was averted on Wednesday at the National Assembly Complex, Abuja, where the minister appeared to clarify the controversy surrounding the alleged diversion of N1.5bn, meant for the payment of contractors by officials of the ministry.

Matters got to a worse start when the committee asked the minister to account for the huge sum released by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation for the payment of contractors.

While affirming that 30 per cent of the total contract payment was released to the ministry, Uju shocked the committee when she claimed that she couldn’t say much about the money because the President’s wife, Mrs Oluremi Tinubu, advised her to mind her business.

She however blamed the non-payment of the contractors on the fact that the total amount was not released to the Ministry of Women Affairs.

“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 is a constraint,” the minister said.

A member of the committee, representing Brass/Nembe Federal Constituency, Bayelsa State, Marie Ebikake asked the minister to speak up on the N500m African First Lady Peace Mission project.

 “Honorable Minister and Permanent Secretary, when we came here on Thursday, we did raise an issue of the African First Lady Peace Mission projects. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any concrete answer on the issue. It was carried over to today (Wednesday).

“Now that we are here, Honorable Minister, could you please educate the committee on the functions of the African First Lady Peace Mission projects, taking into cognizance the funds allocated for the project in the past. There was N500m in 2020, N225m in 2021, N500m in 2022 and N150m in 2023. Where is the office of this project situated and the organography?”

Responding, the minister noted that the sum of N150m was given in 2023, adding that the former First Lady, Aisha Buhari, collected the money which, she said, was meant for the purchase of a generator.

“About the First Lady’s funds and the N150m 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. We discussed. She said that particular money was not meant for her. She said it was meant for the former First Lady because it was during her tenure that the money was allocated. And the former First Lady later called me and said they wanted to use it and buy a generator. She then went out of the country.

“It took her a while but when she returned, she called me and she brought the person that was to get the generator. And I introduced that person to the procurement officer then, who is now retired. This was to enable them to work together according to the rules and regulations of procurement.

“They’ve been on it and once in a while, I call the First Lady to find out what is going on,” Kennedy-Ohanenye said.

In an attempt to explain her relationship with Mrs Tinubu, the minister said, “My First Lady will tell you, focus on your work and she focuses on her work. She advises me. 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. I have no business much to do with the First Lady’s buildings because I have to only take directives when given.”

At this point, the Chairman, Committee on Women Affairs and Social Development, Kafilat Ogbara, asked the minister: “Are you saying that it was the former First Lady that requested that the money be used for a generator or the current First Lady?”

In response, Kennedy-Ohanenye said, “I’m not the accountant. I don’t usually know what you have. I don’t know how much they have in their bank statement. But I saw it (N150m) in the Appropriation Act. It was there in the last year’s budget.

“I can’t answer that question because I don’t know who requested for it. It was supposed to go to procurement. No First Lady called me, 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. I never said it was meant for the First Lady.”

At this point, the Chairman of the Committee asked the procurement officer to explain to the committee how the money was spent but Kennedy-Ohanenye interjected, saying  “I am not getting very comfortable anymore because I don’t even understand this question. I am not a procurement officer.”

Mrs Ogbara, citing confrontation with the adjourned the hearing till further notice.

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