Nigerian authorities are signing off a N300 million war chest to contest what an official called "negative publicity" on Nigeria in foreign media, as the government faces increasing criticism over its handling of a rampaging terror crisis in three northeast states.
The amount will be spent on "External publicity /media insertions in foreign media: print media, electronic media, media forum in selected cities abroad, engagement with foreign news agencies, production of specialized publicity materials for external audience", according to the 2014 national budget.
The N300million vote is the ministry's single most expensive subhead in an array of media campaign lined up by the federal ministry of information. The closest will be the vote for "organizing ministerial platforms and press briefings of national events and post event documentary series". That will cost N130 million.
The Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, told lawmakers who scrutinized the budget Tuesday that the high allocation for external publicity was to allow the ministry "respond to some negative publicity about the country in foreign media".
Nigeria is facing one of its most damaging international news coverage currently with a harsh media spotlight on the massacre by the extremist Boko Haram sect.
The group has killed hundreds of Nigerians almost daily since February in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States, putting the government's tactics at combating it on the spot.
Mr. Maku lamented his ministry's inability to secure sufficient funding from government in 2013, but said he had worked hard regardless to successfully implement three programmes, namely, Ministerial Platform, Good Governance Tour and educating Nigerians on the insurgency by Boko Haram.
He said the total budget proposal of the ministry and its various parastatal agencies in 2014 is N26.57 billion. He said while N5.2 billion was proposed in 2013, only N2.9 billion was actually released for expenditure.
The chairman of the House committee on Information and National Orientation, Buba Jubril, decried the low budgetary allocation to the ministry and its agencies.
"The view of this committee is that you are clearly underfunded, information is the key to whatever you are doing," Mr. Jubril, (APC-Lokoja), said.
He said that the committee would approach the House's Appropriation Committee to intervene.
Earlier, Mr. Maku had attributed the inability of the ministry to complete the Government Printing Press to its lean resources.
Mr. Maku said that fund was earmarked for its completion in the 2012 budget, but not in the 2013 budget. He explained that a provision has been made for its completion in the 2014 budget.
"We are trying to persuade SURE-P to take over the completion of the printing press," he said.
The minister said he was optimistic that the printing press would be completed by the end of 2014. "In spite of our very lean budget provision in the last three years, we have performed above monetary provisions.
"We have been able to achieve the little by selling the activities of government to the people," he said.
According to him, the programmes include the Ministerial Platform, Good Governance tour and educating Nigerians on the insurgency in the country.
He described the Good Governance tour as the most significant aspect of the work done by President Goodluck Jonathan's administration.
"It has brought out what government was doing at the federal, states and local government levels," he said.
Mr. Maku said that Jonathan administration was the most documented in the history of Nigeria.
The News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, was not well funded too
The Managing Director of the agency, Ima Niboro, appealed to the committee to assist the organisation with adequate funding to pull the agency out of its present dire state.
He described NAN as the flagship news gathering organisation that caters largely for all news media in Nigeria and abroad.
Mr. Niboro said that the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the agency was declining through the years because of lack of basic tools and capacity occasioned by lack of funding.
He said that the agency generated N86 million in 2013, an amount lower than what was generated in 2011. The projection for 2014 is N233 million, he said.
Mr. Niboro said that due to lack of funding, the agency's 11 foreign offices had been reduced to five which were also at the brink of closure.
The leaderships of the FRCN, NTA, Voice of Nigeria, Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board, Nigerian Film Corporation, and the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) were present at the budget defence. (NAN)