From: Fred Itua, Okwe Obi, Abuja, Chineyere Anyanwu, Chinelo Obogo,
and Lukman Olabiyi
ANGER and disbelief have trailed the Federal Government’s disclosure that it spent N36.3 billion on COVID-19 in four months between April 1 and July 31.
The amount represented 84 per cent of the total do nations it received, leaving the balance of N5.9 billion.
Accountant-General of the Federation, Mr. Ahmed Idris, stated this in response to the Freedom of Information request dated August 10 and sent to him by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and Connected Development (CODE).
In the reply to Mr Idris dated September 4, and signed by SERAP’s deputy director, Kolawole Olu- wadare and CODE Chief Executive, Hamzat Lawal, the organisations said: “We note among others that the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 spent N22 billion and 36 states spent N7 billion to support their COVID-19 initiatives.
“We also note that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) spent N877 million for deployment of assets in support of COVID-19 operations, while the Nigeria
Police spent N500 million on personal protective equipment. N17,865.09 was paid as bank charges.” The reply by the groups, read in part: “However, we also note that the documents sent to us do not contain other significant details as indicated in our FoI request dated 10 August, 2020, including details and breakdown of the number of Nigerians who directly or indirectly have benefited from the spending, and details on plans to spend the balance of N5.9 billion in the COVID-19 Eradication Support Accounts.
“It is refreshing to note that 115 ordinary Nigerians donated between N1 and N100 to support the authorities’ efforts to fight COVID-19, despite the fact that it is the country’s poorest and most disadvantaged sectors of the population that continue to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a huge lesson for public officials and politicians about the idea of public service to one’s country. It also sends a powerful message about the need for politicians to see public office as an opportunity to serve and give something back to the country and not a place to mismanage, steal or divert the people’s commonwealth into private pockets for personal benefits.”
Reacting to the disclosure, second republic politician, Junaid Mohammed, former ICAN president, Emmanuel Ijewere, elder statesman, Tanko Yakassai, Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Adamawa State, Most Revd (Dr) Stephen Mamza, Chief Gani Adams and others challenged gov- ernment to provide details of the expenditure.
Kano-based politician, Mohammed, in a phone interview with Daily Sun, said grants and other financial donations made to Nigeria by foreign countries and organisations, must be properly accounted for.
He said: “We can’t trust this government when it comes to telling the truth. From the promises they made before they came to power in 2015, it’s obvious they can’t be trusted.
There’s no single promise they made that was kept. As far as I’m concerned, President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokespersons have been economical with the truth.
If they have lied in the past, we can’t trust them now. N30 billion is a lot of money. I don’t believe that they spent such money. If they did, they need to give us a break down of how it was spent. Their claim is a lie.
“Nigerians must insist that the amount of money spent must be accounted for. Nigeria and other developing countries were assisted and given grants by foreign countries and organisations. Other protection equipments were given to Nigeria. The money paid into our treasury must be accounted for.”
Vice President of Nigeria Agribusiness Group (NABG), Mr. Ijewere said: “After the NDDC experience, if anybody today pretends not to have an idea of the level of corruption in the country, then nothing more can be said.
If they said they spent N31billion,we can’t believe it until they have analysed it. When we were told about the money that was spent in NDDC, everybody believed it was spent until it was analysed, then we saw the level of rot that exists in government. As far I am concerned, N31 billion is another money lost.”
Similarly, elder states- man, Yakassai, agreed that if government wants Nige- rians to believe its claim, it has to present irrefutable evidence to back up the figure. He argued that anyone can cook up figures, but unless the statistics are clearly laid out for people to investigate, only few would believe it.
“If you say you spent N100 billion for instance, you are just making a statement. You would need tobreak it down, line by line and back up your claims with irrefutable evidence.
Even if you want to tell a lie, people would have to know how much was spent and what it was spent on.
When you present statistics, people can then investigate to know if you are speaking the truth or not,” Yakassai said.
For former chairman, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Ikorodu Branch, Mr. Bayo Akinlade, said the FG’s claim beggars belief. “It is very disconcerting to note that our doctors went on strike during this period and complained bitterly of lack of funds to provide medical care for citizens, including the lack of adequate compensation for health service providers.
Reading the reply from the Federal Government one wonders if our government really spent that much and as SERAP had mentioned, we are yet to assertain the number of Nigerians that benefited or if our healthcare system improved during this period.”
He commended SERAP for its effort in making government accountable. Chairman, Centre for Environmental Sustainability and Development Awareness (CESDA), Oluwaseyi Ogunko, in his reaction said in a nation where more than 89 million citizens live below poverty line (according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics) no significant number benefitted from the N31bn allegedly spent on COVID-19 in form of palliative/relief funds.
“The poorest citizens of the country bear the economic effect of COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19relief funds has been obviously mismanaged and diverted for personal gains. Kudos to SERAP and CODE for monitoring and holding the government accountable for such funds and demanding transparency on the part of the leaders,” he said.
Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, Iba Gani Adams, said it was difficult to believe government’s claim. “There is need for trans- parency in the management of funds meant for such sensitive project. Thefunds are meant to combat COVID-19, but as far as I am concerned the government has done little in terms of research and cure.
The FG can only regain the trust reposed in it if it can be more transparent in handling such sensitive issues,” he said.
Rights activist and lawyer, Mr. Kabiru Akingbolu, said the report lacked credibility since it did not contain details, breakdown and benefiticiaries.
“For crying out loud, we are in a democracy and the activities of government should not be shrouded in secrecy, otherwise, we will be running a corrupt government. These monies are individual’s money and strict accountability is expected. To now prepare a bunkum in the name of report shows how corrupt or how funny this government is,” he said.
National Chairman of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), Yabaji Sani, accused the Federal Government of lack of transparency.
“COVID-19 is prone to a lot of abuses. In Nigeria, we do not have any way to call for accountability; that is the issue. How do you hold them accountable? There are things that are not easily verifiable.
They can say N50 billion or N30billion. We do not have data to cross check. This is not a government that is accountable for anything. Who is going to give account? Is it the National Assembly or the EFCC?”
Meanwhile, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has warned of expected increase in trafficking and irregular migration post COVID- 19 pandemic as a result of socio-economic pressure in some countries.
This, it said, would make desperate migrants more susceptible to criminals. Mr. Franz Celestin, IOM Head of Mission in Nigeria, said the socio-economic pressure post COVID-19 would be so hard it would push a lot of people to migrate to countries with better economy as they always do.
He explained that once the fear of the virus no longer existed and a vaccine was out and distributed, a lot of people would be on the move again.
Celestine said that following the official closure of borders by countries, there had been a significant drop in the numbers of people crossing the borders unofficially at the humanitarian points, which also managed the unofficial borders.
“The official borders have been closed and what keep the people from moving is the fear. The official borders that have been closed will reduce the numbers of people travelling officially because smugglers do not use official borders. “Although, it is actually a different process with trafficking because 80 per cent of trafficked victims travel through official borders with official documents.”