Basic Rights Watch (BRW) and Jeunesse Youth Empowerment Initiative (JYEI) have called on State Governments across Nigeria to be upfront and ensure transparency, accountability and value for money in the deployment of funds meant for the fight against COVID 19. They urged Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to take the lead by disclosing as frequently as possible through COVID-19 briefing, the details of all resources including financial and material support that Lagos receives and or spends in respect of the Coronavirus socio-economic and health-oriented consequences.
In a statement jointly issued in Lagos by Mr Austin Ekwujuru, Chief Executive of BRW and Mr Ridwan Sulaimon, Team Lead of JYEI, the organisations commended the Lagos State Governor Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu for setting the pace and demonstrating leadership in managing the COVID-19 pandemic since the index case. They also commended the efforts of other State Governors who have demonstrated leadership in the preparedness for possible COVID-19 outbreak in their states.
“However, there is a lot more that needs to be done to win the battle against the COVID-19. In this light, state governments must be transparent and accountable with the funds and materials donated by good spirited Nigerians, corporate organizations, NGOs, faith based organizations and public funds spent in the fight against COVID 19,” said the two organizations. They added that Lagos state receives and has spent more than any other state due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. “We therefore urge the Lagos state government to take leadership in disclosing the details of donations and expenditure with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic. This will demonstrate transparency and accountability to Lagosians who are bearing the brunt and facing hardships due to the lockdown,” the statement said.
According to Mr Sulaimon, “The State governors need to be upfront about the donations and expenditures with respect to COVID 19; Nigerians should not have to rely on speculations, hearsay or unofficial sources to have access to vital information on COVID-19 expenditure at this time, particularly in states where there are lockdowns, it would be difficult to maintain the stay at home order unless the people trust that the government is acting in their best interest. The only way to gain that trust is by being transparent all through.”
He added: “Lagos in particular need to be more forthcoming at this point. We have read and seen various reports of anomaly in the distribution of relief materials in the State, where a material that is hardly sufficient for a household is given to a whole community. It is on record the situation in Igando, Lagos state, where four pieces of 250 Naira worth of bread, rice and bean worth less than 3,000 Naira and about five sachet tomatoes altogether worth less than 4,500 Naira (15 USD equivalence) was given to a community of hundreds of households and over a thousand people to share, when the items can barely serve a family of five, let alone a whole community. This is not to mention the breach of the social distancing order and principle as people would have to crowd up in a place to share the materials that should have been delivered to individual houses the way the Lagos Land Use Charge or PHCN bills are delivered. Therefore, the Lagos State government must be open so that citizens can provide oversight in the distribution of materials.”
According to Mr Ekwujuru, “It is unhelpful to the health of the country at this critical time if Nigerians feel that the spending on COVID 19 are treated like business as usual where money meant for interventions is unaccounted for. Despite the widespread poverty in the country, Nigerians are making sacrifices by shutting down their businesses, it will be unfair if some individuals profit from this situation, thus embezzling the resources meant to address the current national challenge. Government must pay attention to the activities of those tasked with various responsibilities at this difficult time.”
He added that this is an opportunity for the Nigerian State governors to demonstrate their commitments to transparency, accountability to citizens and anticorruption by publishing the details of financial and material donations received or expended in the fight against COVID 19.
The organisations tasked Governor Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State in particular and all other state governors generally to include in their COVID-19 briefings and also publish on their websites and social media platforms the details of resources received and spent in respect of the Coronavirus, including sources and specific expenditures. They advised that such proactive disclosure will help in building the needed trust and support from the citizens and civil society towards defeating COVID 19.