By Chuks Okocha
One of the front line civil society group on accountability, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has asked the federal government to publish weekly details of exact funds and other resources allocated by the authorities and received from the private sector as well as details of used and planned use of any of such funds and resources to combat the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Nigeria.The group also wants a disclosure of 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.
SERAP also wants the federal government to make Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) website functional and accessible, and publish on the website the weekly spending on initiatives such procurement, testing, early detection and isolation of confirmed cases and follow-ups.The civil society group also stated that it wanted the government to 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 as swell as measures to protect health workers, encourage the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people to come forward for testing and to enhance testing for this group.
In two Freedom of Information (FoI) requests sent to the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, and Director-General of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, made available to THISDAY, 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 to access the NCDC website and reports that authorities are prioritising home testing of politicians, with some reportedly taking multiple tests.”
According to SERAP, “Politicians engaging in multiple tests for COVID-19 have in turn slowed the number of tests for the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”
In the FoI requests dated March 27, 2020, and signed by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “We are concerned 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.”
The FoI requests further read in part: “Transparency 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 and any other response to COVID-19, SERAP would like you to disclose details of measures being put in place by the Ministry of Health and the NCDC and any collaborative work with the Ministry of Water Resources to provide vulnerable Nigerians with safe water, sanitation and good hygienic conditions.
“We are concerned that millions of Nigerians lack access to an good water source and proper sanitation, thereby making them vulnerable to COVID-19 and other illnesses.
“Hand washing and social distancing will be very difficult to implement for the poorest and most vulnerable people in a country where water shortages are routine and millions continue to drink 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 this 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 seven 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.
“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.”