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COVID-19 FG’s spending: SERAP demands weekly rendition of accounts, statuses of public officials, citizens

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…accused government officials of violating FOI ActWorried by the reticence of Federal Government top officials on COVID-19, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has demanded disclosure of information on the exact number of tests done by high-ranking public officials and politicians, the number of any such officials in self-isolation or quarantine.

SERAP also wants the exact number of tests that have been carried out for the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people published.

The body accused government officials of violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) on such disclosures and for not been transparent in the spending of public funds and resources mobilized for coronavirus pandemic.

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.

In two FOI requests sent to Dr Osagie Ehanire, the Minister of Health and Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, the 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.

A copy of the requests was emailed to Persecondnews on Sunday.

It, therefore, demanded a weekly rendition of details of funds and other resources allocated and received from the private sector as well as details of spending use and planned use of any such funds and resources to combat the virus.

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.

The requests dated March 27, 2020 and signed by SERAP’s Deputy Director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare, it expressed the fear 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.

“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.

“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 hand-washing 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.”

SERAP noted that hand-washing and social distancing would be  difficult to implement for the poorest and most vulnerable people in a country where there is water shortage with millions of people drinking 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,’’ SERAP said.

It insisted that 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.

“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,” it said.

SERAP, therefore, urged the Minister and the NCDC director to among others “urgently disclose details of exact funds and resources from federal government, state governments and the private sector, as well as details of use and planned use of any such funds and resources to combat the spread of coronavirus in Nigeria.

“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

“Make Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC)’s website functional and accessible and publish on your website and widely weekly spending on initiatives such procurement, testing, early detection and isolation of confirmed cases, follow-up

“Disclose processes and procedures put in place to ensure that the funds and resources allocated to combat COVID-19 are not diverted, stolen or mismanaged

“Disclose measures to protect health workers and to encourage the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people to come forward for testing and to escalate testing for this group.’’

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