Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome and the Executive Director of Media Right Agenda, Edetaen Ojo have described the memo emanating from the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) for a loan request to embark on a foreign trip as illegal and unlawful.
Citing the minister’s action as a violation of the provisions of the law of budgetary appropriation and that of the Treasury Single Account (TSA), they maintained that since NBC ought not to have any fund to lend to anybody, it is not a financial institution.
The Federal Ministry of Information and Culture has however defended the request for N13m loan, saying the loan was to enable a five-member delegation led by the Minister to embark on a trip to Beijing, China on national assignment.
However, as the minister and his ministry continue attempts to unravel the officer within the ministry or National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) who leaked the memo, MRA has threatened to lodge complaint against the minister with relevant international agencies.
MRA said its resolve is backed by the realisation that the whistle-blower is protected under section 27 of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, especially if the minister tries to punish the public officer who leaked the information, whether now or in the near future.
It would be recalled that an online medium had during the week published a memo sent on behalf of the minister to the NBC requesting for N13m loan to finance a foreign trip that is not directly linked to the parastatal.
Although the online platform quoted the minister as saying that he owes nobody any explanation about the loan request, Nigerians are demanding explanation as the NBC is not a money lending organisation or a bank and, especially in the light of the anti-corruption crusade.
Apparently embarrassed by the development, it was gathered that attempts are being made to make scapegoats of those who leaked the letter, with some personnel of the ministry and that of the National Broadcasting Commission already quizzed.
Ojo noted that the minister appears overly concerned that the information was made public and takes the view that the public has no right to know about the expenditure and transaction, regardless of the existence of the Freedom of Information Act, particularly Section 2(3)(V) that requires every public institution to proactively publish ‘information relating to the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds of the institution’.
Ojo said the development raises serious concerns about governance under an Administration that has come to power on the mantra of change, as the practice does not suggest that there has been any departure from the profligacy of the past or the lack of transparency and accountability in governance.
“The other apparent fact is that no budgetary allocation has been made for the trip, either for the Ministry itself or the NBC. The expenditure, therefore, constitutes a violation of the Law as it is expenditure not budgeted for
…MEANWHILE, the minister has offered the following explanation through the ministry’s Director of Public Relations and Protocol.
My attention has been drawn to a letter I endorsed to the Ag. Director-General, National Broadcasting Commission requesting for a loan of N13,120,470.00 to cover tickets and travel expenses of a five-member delegation being led by the Honourable Minister of Information and Culture to Beijing, China, which was mischievously leaked to the social media by staff of National Broadcasting Commission.
•The loan being requested for is for the Ministry to meet up its obligations to enable the Minister and members of his delegation attend an all important Conference on Tourism for Development in China, that is meant to benefit this country.
•The loan is not meant for the Honourable Minister alone as personal expenses, but for the expenses of all members of the delegation.
•The Conference, which is being organised by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation in conjunction with the Government of the People’s Republic of China, under the overall theme “Tourism for Peace and Development,” will feature amongst others discussions on major issues for sustainable development including the contribution of Tourism to poverty reduction and peace.
•The Conference will also feature discussion on major issues that have direct bearing on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), poverty alleviation through Tourism and the linkage between Tourism peace at the National and International levels.
•China on this occasion as chair of G20 will also host the 7th T20 Ministers meeting under the theme “Sustainable Tourism, An Effective Tool for Inclusive Development.’’
•The Conference is a veritable platform to develop synergy and partnership with players in the global Tourism Industry, which will go a long way in boosting our drive to diversify the Nigerian economy.