Group Seeks Probe of COVID-19 Response Funds in Nigeria

By Akanimo Sampson

 A civic-tech organisation engaged in advocacy for transparency and accountability in Nigeria, BudgIT, is seeking a probe of the COVID-19 response in the country.

The group says it is committed to partnering with agencies like the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and others, to ensure a proper framework for probing COVID-19 response issues in Nigeria.

BudgIT is stressing that its call for an effective framework for COVID-19 transparency and accountability could not have happened at a better time, especially in an environment deeply rooted in a profiteering culture and aversion to openness in the use of public funds.

“Suffice it to say that the Federal Government has disbursed N288 billion from the N500billion set aside for COVID-19 intervention programmes through its Economic Sustainability Plan”, the group said.

It has however, expressed concern that as of the time of its report, comprehensive details of disbursed funds had not been published on the Open Treasury platform, which “further establishes our concerns about the lack of a proper framework for COVID19 fund accountability in Nigeria.

“It is discouraging to discover that not much has been done regarding COVID-19 fund accountability in Nigeria.’’

BudgIT has released a detailed research report on COVID-19 Fund Management in the country entitled COVID-19 Fund: Fiscal Support, Palliative Analysis & Institutional Response.

While unveiling the research work in Lagos on Tuesday, the group also reviewed Nigeria’s current fiscal support and institutional response to the pandemic. It equally analysed data on COVID-19 response in Nigeria, including donations, allocations, disbursements and palliative distribution processes at both the National and Subnational levels.

According to BudgIT, the COVID-19 response in Nigeria began with the establishment of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2020, headed by Mr. Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).

It said the task force is mandated, alongside other government agencies, to co-ordinate and oversee Nigeria’s multi-sectoral intergovernmental efforts to contain the virus’ spread in Nigeria.

The government also initiated a process to provide palliative measures, including funds disbursements and food items distribution to Nigerians, especially the marginalised and vulnerable.

In a statement signed by its Communications Associate and Senior Programme Officer, Iyanu Fatoba, BudgIT claims that it reviewed the activities of the agencies and other stakeholders involved in the administration of the palliative items.

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It revealed that comprehensive disbursement of the palliative funds had not been published, thus pruning the level of transparency expected of the handlers of the project.

Part of the statement reads: “Our report reviewed the activities of these agencies as well as the support received by the government from both private and international institutions, including the $5.6 billion received as donations, grants, and relief support by the Nigerian government.

“We also spotlighted concerns about intervention programmes from private coalitions.

“For example, as of April 7, 2020, CACOVID, a private coalition of donors and corporate founders, has received donations totalling N21.5billion.

“According to our findings, the continuous mismanagement of palliative items and funds earmarked for the COVID-19 response has created a wider gap between the rich and the poor where the vulnerable and marginalised are denied access to the palliative items that rightfully belong to them.”

Using six states – Niger, Lagos, Kano, Ogun, Enugu and Rivers – as case studies, the group said its research further revealed that many people vehemently disagreed with the government’s method of palliative distribution in their communities as they could not access any of the distributed palliative items, especially to the vulnerable.

BudgIT’s CEO, Gabriel Okeowo, says “health emergencies are inevitable, and a country must never be caught unawares. An effective response must begin with adequate preparation and resource allocation to the health sector, after which a proper process for monitoring, transparency and accountability should be established.”

The civic-tech organization has reiterated that the government must improve investment in the health sector while ensuring the timely release of audited statements on COVID-19 funds.

It is also urging the government to institutionalise access to information to reduce misinformation and, prioritise citizen inclusion in committees and decision making processes.