There was mild drama on Thursday at the Senate Committee on Special Duties when the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar-Farouq, appeared at the National Assembly.
The drama began when barely a month after she denied knowledge of N206bn inserted into her Ministry’s budget, she made a U-turn on Thursday and claimed that the controversial whopping amount was for military equipment.
She insisted in response to a question by a member of the committee, Senator Lilian Ekwunife (PDP Anambra Central), that she was surprised when upon investigation at the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, she discovered that the money was meant for the purchase of military hardware.
Umar-Farouq had recently disowned the source of the whooping amount inserted in her ministry’s budget when she appeared before the Senate Committee on Special Duties, chaired by Senator Yusuf Abubakar Yusuf (APC Taraba Central).
She said, “On the N206bn when we saw it, we didn’t understand what it was meant for because the explanation wasn’t clear.
“If you put N206bn in the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry’s budget and the narration is about the purchase of military equipment, definitely something is wrong.
“That’s why I said I’m not going to say anything about it until we get clarification from the Ministry of Finance.
“If we had requested for N206bn for a different project and then in the appropriation bill, it is reading something else, we will not own it,” Umar-Farouq stressed.
The drama took a twist when she was further asked whether she requested N206bn for another project.
To this, she replied, “It is not exactly that way, and that’s why we need that clarity from the Finance ministry.”
The Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Sani Gwarzo, however, courted the wrath of the committee’s chairman when he described the padding as a minor mistake.
His utterance did not go down well with Senator Yusuf who shouted at him and asked him to sit down.
The minister was at the National Assembly last week to defend her ministry’s 2023 budget before the Senate Committee on Special Duties.
She explained that the ministry requested some projects for the North East Development Commission, NEDC and National Social Safety Net Project in the 2022 budget but that funds for the proposed projects were not released.
She, however, said the ministry was surprised that the money inserted was now ten times higher than the 2023 budget of the ministry.
One of the committee members, Senator Elisha Abbo (APC Adamawa North), had discovered the anomaly and asked the minister to explain the N206bn in her ministry’s budget.
The minister expressed surprise and said, “Yes we made mention of the projects for 2022 which were not released and part of it was for the NEDC.
“The money was not released and now we have seen it recurring by almost 10 fold and we are also going to clarify from the ministry of finance to know why this increased despite the fact that the previous year, the money was not even released for the project.
“So we will get the details then send to you on that.
“On upscaling of the National Social Safety Net Project. These projects are under the national social safety nets, the conditional cash transfer, the updating of the national social register and the rapid response register as well to cushion the effect of inflation.
“This is all I can say for this. I cannot really give full details of how this amount is going to be utilised because it is something that was negotiated between the ministry of finance and world bank.”
Senator Abbo had expressed shock at the Minister’s response and said that the country would not continue to borrow money and plunge the country into debt.
“This is serious. We cannot continue to borrow money and plunge this country into debt for our children to come and pay without investing in what they will see,” he said.
The Chairman of the committee, therefore, moved a motion to summon the Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed to come and give an explanation about the N206 billion inserted in the ministry budget.
Senator Yusuf said: ” I want to move a motion that the minister of finance should appear before this committee to furnish this committee with details of what they intend to do with N206 billion in the 2023 budget.
“Now that the Minister has said that she is not in charge of negotiation, of course, she is not, the Minister of Finance is responsible.”