The Senate has resolved to commence an investigation into the alleged abuse of funds earmarked for the battle against polio in the country. The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Primary Health Care and Communicable Diseases, Chief Mao Ohuabunwa, said this recently at a press briefing to mark the World Polio Day in Abuja.
The planned probe is coming on the heels of the Senate’s resolve to also monitor the disbursement of the $1.5 million granted by the Federal Government to states to tackle the renewed threat posed by polio in the country. The $1.5 million grant is the first tranche of money under the Saving One Million Lives Programme for Results.
The Geneva-based Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) had, sometime ago, indicted Nigeria for alleged misuse of funds meant for the immunisation of millions of children against Wild Polio Virus. The Federal Ministry of Health and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) were implicated in a fraud audit conducted by GAVI, which alleged that over $400 million disbursed for the procurement of vaccines was grossly abused.
According to Ohuabunwa, the committee will ensure that its statutory oversight functions on key government agencies and parastatals are properly carried out in a bid to ensure probity and accountability in the administration of funds earmarked for Primary Health Care (PHC) services. The committee also reassured all donors and partners of its resolve to ensure that the funds are well spent on services that will reach the masses that need them. Ohuabunwa also promised that key funding agencies like GAVI will be engaged by the committee to ensure that the mistakes of the past are avoided and that funds from the donors are used judiciously.
We lament a situation where money meant for immunisation of children in Nigeria is serially misused by unscrupulous persons. It is, indeed, a shame that this type of thing happens in the country. Apart from eroding donor confidence in the country, it paints the country in bad light and causes donor-fatigue.
We commend the Senate for its decision to open an investigation into the alleged abuse of the $400 million GAVI fund. The Senate Committee on Primary Health Care and Communicable Disease should conduct a thorough investigation into the matter and determine those involved in the fraud.
The probe should be open and conclusive. Anyone found guilty of misusing the funds should be seriously punished. The only way Nigeria can regain donor confidence is to investigate the alleged fraud and punish all those found to have been involved in it. Nobody involved in this matter should be treated as a sacred cow. And, on no account should this matter be swept under the carpet. The Senate committee must get to the bottom of the matter.
We also call for systemic reforms to make it impossible for donor funds to be misused as is alleged to have happened with the GAVI funds. The system should be overhauled for more effectiveness. Let due process prevail in disbursements of all donor funds. All avenues of leakages should be plugged. Donor funds must always be used for the purpose they were provided. The mechanism for monitoring the execution of the programmes should also be strengthened. Besides, Nigeria should expedite action on the plan to locally manufacture polio vaccines. This will significantly reduce our dependence on donor funding.
Nigeria has done a lot to eradicate polio. The recent reverses occasioned by the recurrence of the disease in Borno State call for concerted efforts to stem the infection. We must work hard to ensure that the country is certified polio-free. The abuse of donor funds is not one of the ways to sustain our polio eradication efforts. Let all our polio eradication partners and stakeholders work in concert to kick polio out of Nigeria.