Despite an economy in recession, the federal government plans to spend over one billion Naira on public relations and media lobby in 2017, a review of proposed allocations to the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture has revealed.
According to the proposals submitted last month to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari, the ministry wants to spend one billion, three hundred and fifty two million, one hundred thousand and twenty three thousand, nine hundred and eight Naira (N1,352,123,908) on schemes to influence citizens’ opinion, lobby local and foreign media and other public relations targets.
The ministry is headed by Lai Mohammed, a former spokesperson of the ruling All Progressives Congress. The ministry’s total budget proposal of N49,464,302,080 for 2017 is higher than the N45,162,776,886 it got last year.
It appears the funds budgeted for PR and other media targets, as well as some expenditures like “governance and institutional reforms” proposed to gulp N1.9 billion, are principally responsible for the increase.
In the 2017 budget proposal, Mr. Mohammed’s ministry proposes to spend N100 million on “foreign media PR/ lobby consultancy” and another N100 million to “interact with stakeholders” which, according to the ministry, include the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Nigerian Union of Journalists, bloggers, online publishers and Newspapers Publishers Association of Nigeria.
While the government wants to use N100 million to organize “quarterly opinion polls”, it also budgets N270 million for town hall meetings.
The government also proposes to commit a sum N409, 240,600 on “grassroots public enlightenment campaign on government policies and programmes (including cost of production of materials and IEC on government achievements).”
Also, in 2017, Nigerians could see a lot of Mr. Mohammed or his paid nominees moving from one newspaper house to another and appearing on radio as well as television programmes hosted by “influencers and analysts.”
For this plan, the government wants N180 million to be spent by the Ministry of Information and Culture on “ministerial media appearances with influencers and analysts on TV, radio, social and print media.”
And there is another N192,883,308 budgeted for “publicity and advertisements”.
It is not clear what the government plans to do with hundreds of millions budgeted to “lobby” foreign media, interact with journalists or facilitate the minister’s media appearances with analysts and influencers.
Pressed to comment on the proposals, Mr. Mohammed’s special assistant, Segun Adeyemi, declined, asking our correspondent to contact the minister instead. But Mr. Mohammed could not be reached on phone.
An official in the ministry, however, pledged that the funds would not to be diverted. The official said the government had a responsibility to ensure citizens understand the policies of the government and appreciate its achievement so that the government would not be cast in bad light by the opposition.
The official insisted “it is barely possible for any official to corruptly enrich himself or herself in the present government.”
The Muhammadu Buhari administration came to power on the back of promises to tackle corruption and wastes that constitute barriers to utilisation of funds for developmental objectives.
A further review of the ministry’s breakdown however revealed there are at least two instances of budgeting for one item twice.
The ministry proposes N44,181,840 for “purchase of office furniture and fittings” in line 23010112; and in another place, line FMOI&32443591, the ministry plans to spend another N83,500,000 on ‘purchase of office furniture and equipment.”
Then, in line 23010105, the ministry makes provision for “purchase of motor vehicles” with the sum of N97,200,000. But the same item – “purchase of motor vehicles” – also comes in line FM01&04520205 and gets N97,100,000 vote.
These repetitions and other curious budgetary proposals are some of the issues Nigerians would expect the National Assembly to review in the proposed budget.