… tell Executive arm we have been serially accused of budget padding — Lawmakers
By Utitofon Idara
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, Wednesday, pleads with the House of Representatives to increase the budgetary allocation to his ministry and parastatals under it.
According to Vangard, he said much funding was needed to effectively disseminate information about the achievements and deliveries of the President Muhammadu Buhari APC-led administration, and tackle fake news, disinformation and hate speech.
The minister said that N345 million for capital expenditure was grossly inadequate for the enormous tasks ahead.
Mohammed made the plea while giving details of the 2022 budget performance and 2023 budget defence of the ministry and its agencies before the House of Representatives Committee on Information.
He said: “I want to express my gratitude to the House, this committee in particular. This is probably a farewell to budget defence, especially for me. I’m grateful to the Chairman for the last seven years for his understanding and support.
“I want to draw the House attention to the fact that the ministry of information has been dealt a very heavy card in this year’s budgetary allocation.
In 2022 the National Assembly approved N2.5 billion for this ministry, as the capital of which N1 billion belongs to information.
“This year the capital provision for the entire ministry of information and culture is N869 million, of which only N345 million is for information. I fully understand the current challenges the country is facing, but I don’t agree that the ministry of information and culture at this critical time should have less, it actually should have more.
“This is because it’s during challenges like this that you need your information ministry, not only to chronicle what you have achieved but to combat fake news, disinformation, hate speech which today has taken quite a height that’s threatening our very existence as a country. While I agree that our sources of revenue have dwindled, there’s no better time to have more money for the ministry.
“I did argue this even at the level of the Executive. I said that even if we stop any capital project if the ministry of information is given enough money. We can be chronicling and telling the world every day, what we have achieved in the last eight years.
“Please this House should do whatever they can, this N345 million capital expenditure I don’t know where to start. Because if you expect so much from us the least you can do for us is to provide the tools.
“Our contribution as a ministry to peace and stability is not quantifiable. So, when you start judging us on the same template with other ministries, I think we are forgetting the fact that our contribution in deepening understanding between the government and the governed, ensuring that disinformation is tackled every day cannot be quantified.
“Only last week, USA issued a security alert unverified, and we all know how we had to battle to save stability and the economy. At this time when we are facing these challenges, this ministry needs more money. I don’t know how we can survive with this N345 million.
“This also affected most of my parastatals. They are given just N5 million for capital project.
“This is a year we have the election and national census. So what other time do you need to empower your information ministry? We have been dealt a very heavy card. This ministry needs many more, ten times what it’s been given this year. In the area of revenue generation, we will do much better. Mr Chairman please jack up my budgetary provision so that we will perform better”.
Reacting, the Committee Chairman, Hon. Olusegun Odebunmi told the minister that the country was practising an envelope system, directing him to speak to the executive arm of government.
“You know we are practising envelope budgetary system. We are not the ones allocating the envelope, it’s the executive that allocates to each ministry. And this was what was given to you. I think before coming here, you were supposed to have taken the fight back to the executive. We share the same idea. The information ministry is supposed to be seen as one of the security agencies and funded the way they fund security agencies, because the information is power.
“On the terror alert, we need the ministry to prove to the nation that this is not true. On the budget, from this end, I don’t think we can do more than we have done”, he said.
In his response, Mohammed said that the N345 million had already been pocketed, stressing he was only asking for more.
“That N345 million I have pocketed it already, sir, I’m only asking for me. Please stand up for me, your voice is respected at the Executive”, he said.
In his intervention, a member of the Committee, Hon. Ahmed Jaha also told the minister it may be difficult to consider his appeal as they had been serially accused padding the budgets.
“It’s the same federal government that will come through the ministry of information and accuse the National Assembly of padding the budget. So, minister, I want you to understand that we are being placed between the devil and the deep blue sea.
“This ministry of information is being expected to benefit from the service-wide votes. So, if you look at your budget last year, till now only 15 per cent was released, it’s one thing to provide budgetary allocation, it’s another thing to have effective releases. It’s the same executive that advertises to Nigerians what they have done in the past eight years that’s allocating this to the ministry. In other words, you have performed but don’t want people to know about it.
“You should even pray that before 29th May 2023, let there be releases. In most cases, the transition budget is augmented by a supplementary budget before the end of the first year of the new government. The new government might not be willing to advertise and let Nigerians know of your achievements.
“So, the budget is done by the executive. We can go into an executive session and tell each other the truth on the way and manner to assist the ministry. We cannot be more Catholic than the Pope.”
Again, Mohammed insisted that it was their job to assist him.
“I don’t agree, sir, we are the Catholic, You’re the Pope. We are talking about oil theft, terrorism, etc. This is the more reason you need a government that will be speaking every moment. You are our last hope for us to try our best to fight disinformation. I have tried my best. No doubt we have challenges in revenue.
“I went with NNPC, flew in a helicopter over the oil producing area and I saw how in broad daylight pipelines were being vandalised and stolen. Our problem is not the economy but security, because if we are losing 700 barrels a day, do you know what that translates to in terms of money? So, there’s no better time for the ministry of information budget to be increased than now”, Mohammed said.
Other agencies under the ministry which presented their 2023 budget included Voice of Nigeria (VON), News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) and Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON).