SERAP asks Nigerian federal government and central bank to provide spending details on COVID-19 relief funds, school feeding

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the Federal Government and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to “provide spending details of public funds and private sector donations to provide socio-economic benefits to the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people, including details of beneficiaries of any cash payments, cash transfers, food distribution and other benefits during the lockdown in Abuja; Lagos and Ogun states because of COVID-19.”

SERAP is also asking the Federal Government and CBN to: “disclose information on the details of implementation of the school feeding programme during the lockdown and closure of schools in several states where the programme is being implemented, including the number of children that have so far benefited from the programme and the names of the communities, since the lockdown and closure of schools, as well as the number of cooks engaged.”

In two Freedom of Information (FoI) requests sent to Ms Sadia Umar-Farouk, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disasters Management and Social Development, and Mr Godwin Emefiele, CBN governor, SERAP said: “We are seriously concerned that millions of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people have not benefited from the announced palliatives, donations, reported cash payments, cash transfers and other benefits.”

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SERAP said: “Providing socio-economic benefits to the country’s poorest especially at this time of COVID-19 crisis is a matter of human rights, not charity. It is also implicit in Nigerians’ right to freely use their natural wealth and resources, which ought to be spent for the public good. Ensuring that relief funds and donations are used to provide much-needed benefits to beneficiaries is critical to keeping people alive, and addressing vulnerabilities and inequalities in the country.”

In the FoI requests dated 4 April, 2020 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “Providing the information would help to address the concerns by many Nigerians regarding allegations of corruption and politicization in the distribution of benefits, improve public trust, and enhance the integrity of the entire processes and modes of distribution of reliefs/benefits to these Nigerians.”

The FoI requests read, in part: “Rather than making physical cash payments to the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people, we urge you to begin electronic cash transfers to all beneficiaries through individuals’ Bank Verification Numbers (BVNs), already available through the banks. This would be cost-effective at this time of crisis, provide immediate and significant benefits, as well as give individuals and families the freedom to spend the money on goods and services that best meet their particular needs.”

“If we have not heard from you within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of the FoI requests, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions under the Freedom of Information Act to compel you to comply with our requests.”

“Nigerian authorities are locking down states without adequately making provisions for the access of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people to basic necessities of life like food, healthcare, and other basic needs during the duration of the lockdown, and to address the corrosive impacts of COVID-19 on these Nigerians.”

“Rather than sending relief materials to the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people, which may be diverted and in any case, may not be what certain individuals and families may need, we urge you to focus more on urgently making electronic cash transfers to these Nigerians to determine by themselves how they wish to spend the money to meet their peculiar individuals’ and families’ needs.”

“Providing direct, regular, and unconditional electronic cash transfers to the country’s poorest and the most vulnerable people, including workers and pensioners that have not been paid for months is the best to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the country, and to save millions of Nigerians’ lives. The power to spend cash helps preserve a person’s basic human dignity.”

“We urge you to refer to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for prompt, thorough and transparent investigations of allegations of corruption in the distribution of relief funds and donations for COVID-19 and the politicization of the process for the distribution funds, as well as to urge the anti-corruption bodies to effectively prosecute any credible cases of corruption.”

“We are concerned that some 80 million of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people would be negatively affected by the lockdown and stay-at-home order without effective, transparent and direct socio-economic intervention funds, food, standard health care services, clean water, and other reliefs by the authorities.”

“We request you to provide us with copies of the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) and the social national registers and the lists of beneficiaries under these registers that have so far benefited from any palliatives, donations, cash payments/transfers and other benefits during the lockdown.”

“According to our information, following the announcement by President Muhammadu Buhari of lockdown in Lagos and Ogun states and Abuja to reduce the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in the country, the Federal Government reportedly started disbursing N20,000 Conditional Cash Transfer to each of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people at the Kwali Area Council of Abuja.”

“According to reports, over 11 million of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people have been identified in 35 states to benefit from the Federal Government cash transfers and other palliatives and reliefs.”

“We urge you to publish weekly spending details on COVID-19 relief funds and donations and the list of all beneficiaries.”

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