Senate probes Lai Mohammed over N109m travel expenses

NEWSMAN, Abuja – Senate Committee on Information and National Orientation is investigating the claim by Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, that he spent N19 million on foreign trips during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He was also queried on N90 million expenditure out of the N96 million appropriated for local trips during the period.

The minister appeared before the panel to defend the ministry’s 2021 budget and review performance of the previous year’s appropriation, and was asked to explain how N19 million of the N43 million vote for international travels was expended when the country was on lockdown for almost six months.

Representative of Imo East, Senator Ezenwa Onyewuchi, had brought the issue to the fore in his observation.

“I am sure you will remember you did a lot of enlightenment programme. I am sure you will remember that most of us were prevented from moving into other states. So, I don’t know how you also had the luxury of spending the entire amount that was appropriated on those travels. So, these are the information we need to get from you,” Onyewuchi said.

Responding, Mohammed submitted: “You will notice that N43 million was budgeted, but less than 40 per cent was spent precisely because of the COVID-19. And before then, remember that we had travelled to attend several international summits starting with the UNWTO conference and UNESCO in Spain and the United Kingdom.”

He said they had also carried out advocacies in UK during the period, adding that the expenditure covered January to March.

“Before the lockdown, I think our last trip was to Addis Ababa where we accompanied the President to an African Union meeting that held around March,” The minister further clarified.

The committee also tackled the minister over the “zero per cent performance” of a controversial constituency project that had been 100 per cent funded by the Ministry of Finance for the 2020 fiscal year, Guardian reported.

The controversy reportedly followed Mohammed’s claim that the initiative was sponsored by a lawmaker as a constituency project in the 2020 budget, but the senators, who disagreed, condemned the slow pace of work.

However the Committee chairman, Danladi Sankara, maintained that the minister had a lot of explanation to make.

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