Nigerian activists fear coronavirus money could be stolen by Buhari officials, ask for accountability

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Nigerian activists fear the billions of naira being allocated or pledged to combat COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, could be stolen by officials appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari, and are requesting full accountability.

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Nigeria now has 97 confirmed cases of coronavirus. One person has died and three have recovered.

There are now 59 confirmed cases in Lagos, 14 in the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja, 3 in Ogun, 1 in Ekiti, 7 in Oyo, 2 in Edo, 2 in Bauchi, 2 in Osun, 2 in Rivers and 2 in Enugu, 1 in Benue and 1 in Kaduna, the Nigerian center of disease control (NCDC) said in a tweet on Saturday.

Nigeria has taken some measures, with school closures, crowd control measures and sensitization campaigns on hygiene and respiratory etiquettes, including sneezing and coughing away from people.

Many people have also pledged billions of naira to the fight against COVID-19 while the government has said it will not spare any resources to combat the deadly bug.

Despite their public good intention, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) said in a statement to TODAY NEWS AFRICA in Washington D.C. on Sunday that it has asked the Federal Government to “publish weekly details of exact funds and other resources allocated by the authorities and received from the private sector, as well as details of use and planned use of any such funds and resources to combat the spread of coronavirus (or COVID-19) in Nigeria.”

SERAP is also asking the Federal Government to: “disclose information on the exact number of tests that have been carried out for high-ranking public officials and politicians, the number of any such high-ranking public officials and politicians now in self-isolation or quarantine, as well as the exact number of tests that have been carried out for the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”

In two Freedom of Information requests sent to Dr Osagie Ehanire, Minister of Health and Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), SERAP said: “We are concerned about the lack of transparency in the use of the funds and resources being mobilised to combat coronavirus, amid problems accessing the NCDC’s website, and reports that authorities are prioritising home testing of politicians, with some reportedly taking multiple tests.”

According to SERAP: “politicians engaging in multiple tests for coronavirus have in turn slowed the number of tests for the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”

In the FoI requests dated 27 March, 2020 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “We are concerned that lack of transparency in the use of the funds and resources to combat COVID-19 would lead to diversion or mismanagement of resources, unnecessarily cost lives, and result in serious damage to public health in the country.”

SERAP said: “We urge you to disclose the level of enforcement for home quarantine system for high-ranking public officials, politicians and the wealthy, and whether the Ministry of Health and NCDC are carrying out spot checks to ensure strict compliance by these people.”

The FoI requests read, in part: “Transparency and openness in the use of funds and operations of the Ministry of Health and NCDC would help to reduce the risk of corruption or opportunism, build trust and engage Nigerians in the fight against coronavirus as well as safe lives. Transparency and accountability are important to implementing an effective response to COVID-19 and slowing the spread of the virus in the country.”

“Given the importance of good hygiene like handwashing to any response to COVID-19, SERAP would like you to disclose details of measures being put in place by the Ministry of Health, the NCDC and any collaborative work with the Ministry of Water Resources to provide vulnerable Nigerians with safe water, sanitation, and hygienic conditions.”

“We are concerned that millions of Nigerians lack access to an improved water source and to proper sanitation, thereby making them vulnerable to COVID-19 and other illnesses.”

“Handwashing and social distancing will be very difficult to implement for the poorest and most vulnerable people in a country where water shortages are routine and millions continue to drink contaminated water.”

“Limited availability of water in several public hospitals across the country will also make it difficult for medical workers and health professionals to wash their hands and will therefore make it difficult for them to properly respond to COVID-19 and safe lives.”

“We would be grateful if the requested information is provided to us within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions under the Freedom of Information Act to compel you to comply with our request.”

“Any failure or refusal to provide the information requested will also be clearly inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.”

“According to our information, the Nigerian government has approved a N10 billion (Naira) grant (about $27 million) to fight the spread of coronavirus in the country. The government has also reportedly released N5 billion (Naira) (about $13 million) special intervention fund to the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC).”

“Also, banks, wealthy members of the private sector and foundations have also donated billions of Naira to help fund medical centers and provide essential materials necessary to curtail the spread of coronavirus in the country.”

“By Section 1 (1) of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act 2011, SERAP is entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information, including information on the exact amount of funds and resources meant to combat the spread of coronavirus in Nigeria.”

“By Sections 2(3)(d)(V) & (4) of the FoI Act, there is a binding legal duty to ensure that documents containing information relating to the spending and operations to combat the spread of coronavirus in Nigeria are widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means.”

“The information sought, apart from not being exempted from disclosure under the FoI Act, bothers on an issue of national interest, public concern, public health, interest of human rights, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability.”

The World Health Organization(WHO) on Friday sent a dire warning to Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, to stop the spread of COVID-19 now that cases are still few or it may be too late, too hard, or almost impossible to deal with a much bigger and wider crisis.

Speaking from the WHO headquarters in Geneva, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Nigeria should seize the opportunity now that it has few cases to stop the virus from spreading by conducting enough testing, identifying those who test positive, isolating them and following up with contacts’ tracing.

He said those early measures would prevent the disease from growing from sporadic cases to a community transmission that may become harder to contain.

“The problem comes when community transmission starts, when the number of cases builds,” Dr. Ghebreyesus said, adding that when that happens, it becomes difficult or almost impossible to “quarantine” many people.

Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Based in Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, Simon leads a brilliant team of reporters, freelance journalists, analysts, researchers and contributors from around the world to run TODAY NEWS AFRICA as editor-in-chief. Simon Ateba's journalistic experience spans over 10 years and covers many beats, including business and investment, information technology, politics, diplomacy, human rights, science reporting and much more. Write him: simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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