The House of Representatives has unveiled plans to investigate allegations concerning endemic financial misappropriation in the Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

Chairman, House Committee on Women Affairs, Hon. Kafilat Ogbara disclosed this during an investigative hearing into petitions initiated by some Contractors over the payment of the sum of N510 million into the accounts of contractors who did not participate in the bidding process, held at the instance of House Committee on Procurement chaired by Hon. Unyime Idem.

Speaking during the investigative hearing held last week Tuesday, Hon. Unyimen Idem confronted the Minister with the petitions initiated by some contractors over the payment of N510 million into the bank accounts of Contractors who did not participate in the bidding process.

He said: “The matter that brought all of us here this afternoon is about a petition that was brought to us last month. The petition is about some projects in your ministry to the tune of N510 million that were bidded and subsequently award letter was given to the bidders, that is the contractors.

“But surprisingly, while some of the contractors according to their claims said they have executed the projects and some said they were still waiting to get mobilisation from your Ministry to enable them execute the projects, they were shocked to know that some of those projects were already paid for by the Ministry of Finance.

“From their discoveries, when they visited the Ministry of Finance and they found out that while either the money they spent to execute the contracts were not paid or the request they made in your Ministry asking for mobilisation was not paid and the Ministry told them that all those projects we’re paid for.

“And unfortunately they paid into the wrong account. What I mean by wrong account is that the people they paid the money to or the contractor they paid the money to, did not take part in the bidding process they were not given award letters but were surprised too that the money were paid to the account that did not take part in the entire procurement process.

“So, the contractors numbered about 10 came to the National Assembly to protest of irregularity that is going on regarding the process. In fact, they described the process as procurement fraud, that it’s incumbent upon the Committee in charge of Procurement to come to their rescue by asking the Ministry to reverse the N510 million from the wrong accounts that the money were paid to, to their own accounts.

“Because they claimed that some of them have already done the job while some said that ‘wait they are waiting for mobilization’. So, that’s why we are here,” the lawmaker noted.

Idem further disclosed that the Committee has written the office of the Accountant General, to furnish this Committee with the position of this alleged malpractice or fraud that is rocking this particular contract. We wrote to that office and they have given us the details of the payment they have made in respect to the projects in question.

“So, we have those documents with us here, so we’d like to hear from you because I think the last time we met I gave the Ministry the assignment to contact the Ministry of Finance and Accountant General to confirm if the documents submitted to us are anything to rely on in terms of being the evidence before this committee.

“So, I don’t know whether you have been able to confirm what we sent to you or whether you have gotten independent information regarding these transactions?”

Hon. Udem also affirmed that there are some of the aggrieved contractors present during the investigative hearing.

In her intervention, Chairman, House Committee on Women Affairs, Hon. Ogbara who expressed displeasure over the inordinate attitude of the Minister to the Committee, argued that she has not been cooperative despite all efforts made to synergize with her.

She said: “I’ve got so many petitions already against her. Even the people working with the Ministry, have complained that she works alone.

“Apart from the excuse she has given that she wants to try and get her people to come with her, the Perm Sec and relevant personnel that need to appear before this Committee, I will just want to appeal to the chairman to give her time, not too long because we also inviting her from the Committee on Women Affairs very soon.

“The notice is already out, I don’t know whether they’ve sent it to her office. So, we also invited her, because I don’t understand, I have been trying to work cordially with her as a woman. As women supporting women, we should work together, but when you’re trying to work with somebody and the person is not even trying to learn or trying to work in the way you expect.

“Now, there are so many petitions, diversion of money, misappropriation of funds, people’s jobs in the Ministry. You just misappropriate paned the money, anyway, anyhow from all the complaints that we have got, so we are going to invite her from the Committee as well, and I want the Chairman to choose the nearest day possible.

“All the personnel she’s talking about, they are right there, they are indoors in the Ministry, if you want them to come tomorrow morning, they should be here. Even when the Committee went to the Ministry on oversight, they didn’t have records to show and they were just mixing up different things, with different terminology, misappropriated a lot of funds for different projects, they used the same name just turn it to another name, you know, duplication of contracts and all that. I can go on and on,” Ogbara lamented.

In response to the inquiry, Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs. Uju Kennedy-Ohaneye said: “after we came here the last time, the information given by the Accountant General’s office was wrong, they gave you totally wrong information.

“Some people that they said we are owing 50 million, they came out with almost eighth something million or 90 million that were a lot of discrepancies in what they sent, which we noticed that we took it to go and check.

“But I want you people to know one thing, I can’t succeed without you people, I have no reason for your money to be in the office and will allow it to be misappropriated. I can’t even allow any misappropriation.

“But unfortunately is the Ministry of Women Affairs has been like blacklisted, even UN blacklisted us before I came. UNICEF today can’t pay any money they raised for women and children, $1 billion without the Ministry getting anything.

“That’s why I refused to sign any paper for them this year, they said they blacklisted them because of the way and manner they were behaving before and they said too, based on that they kept on reducing their budget to the very minimum.

“This is the first time we are getting 3.6 billion, usually it’s 1.9, 2 billion. And when I came in, I brought in a lot of experience, I took my time to look in and understand what this whole thing is about, and they told me something like a ceiling and they said the Ministry’s ceiling was like for example, 2 billion, anything extra like this year our ceiling is 3.6 but they gave us 4.7. The other remaining money does not belong to the Ministry, it’s only 3.6 that the Ministry can spend.

“So, that last year’s own, they gave 2 billion, about 2.4 billion and the money for the Constituency project was the one extra.

“But that same last year, they didn’t release any money extra apart from that money within the the budget. And that budget usually if not that they used to help them from partners they don’t have money to run that Ministry.

“Most of the things some of your colleagues are seeing in the office, I bought them and I don’t hide it anymore, they’ll tell you don’t say you spent your money. If I don’t spend my money, how do I work? I was given deliverables where do I get it from if I don’t spend my money?

“Sometimes I come to the office, no diesel, there’s no fuel, no generator. I will have to work in the security house downstairs, where I will be fanning myself to do my work because I can’t go up that fifth floor to work…

“I have to fuel my car for almost three months because there was no money. What do I do is that I lend the money to that particular department and they fuel my car, when money comes they will pay me. Till date, I have not gotten. Some of the cases I’m doing, the office does not have money. They give us N47 million last year it was twenty-something million every month expenses. This year they made it 47 million every month, as I speak to you they are owing 112 million for diesel and everything they are buying. What they do, they pay slightly.

“Last year we are talking about, the only contract that was given out, as we speak, 70 per cent of that contract has not been paid. So out of the money we felt we could use for me to start doing something which they promised me in the office, they could allow me to use 400 million at least to show what I could do.

“It was only 30 per cent of that money, about three hundred and eighty something million that was paid, only 30 per cent that was paid, that is hundred and something million. The rest of the 70 per cent are not paid. And the money is not there as we speak. Because of the way and manner, they have more responsibilities that the money coming to them, so it’s a pity it happened like this, I wouldn’t have wanted it this way, but it’s something we could come together.

“What happened to that extra money, why was it not paid? You people I need your help to survive if not how long can your sister continue putting in money to work for the government, who pays me back and if I don’t work, you people will not be happy with and the President will sack me, and my deliverables I won’t be able to score a card.

“But today as we speak, certain things they asked me to file, I was able to get 283,000 but I was told to get five. But I was shocked I was now sent that what they asked me to get before was that the same 283,000 which I’ve told them I will bring petition here,” the Minister explained.

She therefore solicited the committee’s intervention by directing the issue to the appropriate quarters – Federal Ministry of Finance, to enable the direct payment of the contract sums into the contractor’s accounts.

While ruling, Hon. Idem who presided over the session mandated the Minister to appear before the Committee along with the Permanent Secretary, and other Directors on the 30th May, 2024.