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Published On: Wed, Feb 26th, 2014

Senate, Reps query communication, education ministers

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Omobola Johnson and Nyesom WikeBy Lawrence Olaoye, Ikechukwu Okaforadi & Umar Mohammed Puma

The Senate Committee on Communications yesterday queried the Minister of Communications Technology, Omobola Johnson, over the poor network services being provided for Nigerians by the telecommunications companies operating in the country.

Also yesterday, the House of Representatives Committee on Education queried the supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, over conflicting budget figures presented to it by agencies under the ministry.

Questioning the communications minister who was at the National Assembly for the 2013/2014 budget defence, the Senate committee said: “the fact that Nigeria has little access to broadband services, even with the number of undersea cables running across the country is worrisome”.

Chairman of the committee, Gilbert Nnaji, who made the position known to the minister, regretted that Nigeria still lagged behind in terms of broadband and internet penetration, adding that the CDMA segment is going through a systematic death despite its advantages.

While pointing out that the committee would not shy away from raising alarm in the face of unrelenting poor quality of telecom services, Nnaji said “particular mention should be made of the dismal quality of service during the last yuletide.

“The situation is perplexing. This is grave, coupled with the apparent quietness and reluctance on the part of the ministry to kick-start the national rural telephony project which is a way of relieving pressure on the GSM”, he added.

Meanwhile, the minister was asked by the lawmakers to explain to the committee how it intends to utilise the N14.6 billion proposed for 2014 to achieve its mandates, programmes and policies.

The ministry proposed to spend N14.6 billion in the 2014 fiscal year, which is against the N15.6 billion it spent in 2013, and N19.6 billion in 2012 respectively.

She was also asked to explain how the ministry’s 2013 internally generated revenue was spent, in addition to why she was comfortable with the envelop package being given to her ministry by the Ministry of Finance.

However, while fielding the questions, the minister said her ministry had already developed a national broadband plan for the country, adding that she was working to ensure that the objectives of the broadband plan were achieved.

She said within 2013, the ministry undertook a total of 39 different projects, pointing out that while 27 have been completed, 12 are still on-going, adding that the on-going ones would be rolled over into the current year.

She further said that out of the N14.6 billion which the ministry has proposed for 2014, N4 billion is for the main ministry, while N10.6 billion would go to its agencies.

In a related development, the House of Representatives yesterday queried Wike over disparities between the budget figures presented by the ministry and those by agencies under it.

A disparity in overheads submitted by the Federal Ministry of Education, polytechnics, colleges of education, as well as the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) totalling N5.3 billion was identified by the House Committee on Education.

The committee also identified shortfall in budgetary allocations, particularly those of polytechnics, which have employed new staff after migrating from their previous emolument status to a new one.

Chairman of the House Committee on Education, Rep. Aminu Suleiman (APC, Kano), told the minister to address all lapses, saying: “We will scrutinise the allocations and see where it is necessary to shift some from one area to another”.

He added that some provisions in sub-heads of the ministry’s allocation of N493.5 billion budget are for travels, conferences and others “which are not issues requiring attention”.

In view of these, the committee directed the ministry to work closely with the various institutions which have different proposals from its own to harmonise their positions.

It also indicated that it may review, in consultation with the ministry, certain provisions for trips that are not really in the overall interest of the development of education in the country.

In his defence, Wike said no amount was too much for training, even as he said what was available would be used.

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