PRESIDENT BUHARI IN AUDIENCE WITH APC GOVERNOR'S FORUM 12; President Muhammadu Buhari (M) flanked by the Ogun State governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, Edo State Governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki, Ekiti State governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, Niger State Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sanio Bello and Oyo State Governor, Gboyega Oyetola during an audience with the APC Governors held at the Council Chambers, State House in Abuja. PHOTO; SUNDAY AGHAEZE. JUNE 18 2019.
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COVID-19: SERAP invokes FoI, wants governors to rechannel security votes, life pensions into healthcare

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…demands details of coronavirus spendings, palliatives, beneficiaries

Worried by the steepy rise in the COVID-19 fatalities and community spread of the pandemic, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to the 36 governors, demanding information on COVID-19 spendings and urgently redirect their security votes and life pensions into public healthcare facilities and quality education.

SERAP wants the governors to show leadership, transparency and accountability to “effectively and satisfactorily ‘’respond to the COVID-19 crisis in their states.

“They should urgently provide information on spending details on COVID-19 in your state, and to immediately redirect public funds budgeted for security votes and life pensions for former governors from the state to invest in and improve public healthcare facilities and access to quality education.

“Given the rising number of deaths in Kano state reportedly linked to COVID-19, your state and other state governors now have to show leadership, transparency and accountability, if you are to effectively and satisfactorily respond to the COVID-19 crisis, curb the spread of the disease and save lives of Nigerians within your state,” it said in a letter dated April 25 and signed by the Deputy Director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare and emailed to Persecondnews.

According to SERAP, redirecting security votes and life pension funds to invest in public healthcare facilities and access to quality education in your state will improve the governors’ ability to respond to COVID-19, provide palliatives and socio-economic reliefs to residents and meet the expectations of Nigerians.

“It would be a betrayal of your constitutional oath of office to continue to receive security votes, pay life pensions and other needless allowances at a time of public health crisis in your state. Taking these steps will not only help save lives but also help ensure that the necessary institutional reforms in the health and education sectors occur within your state.’’

On its FoI requests to the governors, SERAP said: “The situation in Kano State is reportedly linked to lack of effective leadership, transparency and accountability in the state, which would lead to grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity if not urgently addressed.

“We ask you to provide the requested information within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal action under the Freedom of Information Act to compel you to comply with our request.

“According to our information, some states such as Kano are waiting for handouts from the Federal Government and are refusing to take any meaningful action to respond to COVID-19, stop the spread of the disease and save lives.

“We are concerned that many state governors are spending scarce state resources to pay themselves security votes and their predecessors life pensions rather than using public funds to invest in public healthcare infrastructure and improve access to quality education in their states.”

On accountability, SERAP stated: “We are concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds by several states to respond to COVID-19. With a few exceptions, there is lack of information on what exactly many state governors are doing to respond to the COVID-19.

“There are also increasing reports and allegations of corruption and mismanagement of resources linked to COVID-19.

“By the combined reading of the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2011 and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which has become part of Nigerian laws, there are transparency obligations imposed on all public officials including to disclose information to the public on spending details on COVID-19.

“We urge you to provide information on details of funds so far received from the Federal Government, private donations and other sources, details of how such funds have been spent including to improve testing for COVID-19, provide resources for isolation centres in your state, provide safe protective equipment for health workers, and to provide any palliatives and other socio-economic benefits to the most vulnerable people, as well as details of beneficiaries of any palliatives and reliefs.

“We are seriously concerned that years of allegations of corruption and mismanagement of public resources by several state governors have compromised the ability of many states to effectively and satisfactorily respond to COVID-19, curb the spread of the disease, save lives and provide palliatives and reliefs that meet basic human dignity to Nigerians in their states.”

The group also wants the governors to use their security votes and life pensions to improve access of the poor and most vulnerable people to basic necessities such as running water which is critical to keep people alive,  improving COVID-19 testing facilities and ventilators in their states.

“The funds should also be used to ensure that health workers have the protective equipment they need to do their jobs safely and that isolation facilities in your state have the resources they need to adequately treat and support patients under quarantine.”

Among others, SERAP is demanding the states to disclose the exact amounts so far received from the Federal Government, private donations and other sources and details of spending, details of palliatives and other socio-economic reliefs provided to the “poorest and most vulnerable people’’ including the list of beneficiaries of any such palliatives and reliefs.

Details of what their states are doing to improve testing for COVID-19, provide resources for isolation centres, and provide safe protective equipment for health workers,  full respect for human rights of everyone and access to justice for victims of human rights violations and abuses during the lockdown, and linked to COVID-19.

Others are details of the coordination, and support, if any, that the states are providing to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to improve its capacity to respond to COVID-19; transparency and accountability mechanisms to ensure the funds to respond to COVID-19 are properly spen as well as details of the roles being played by State Houses of Assembly in response to COVID-19 pandemic.

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