SERAP Seeks Spending Details on COVID-19 Relief Funds

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the federal government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to provide spending details of public funds and private sector donations to provide socio-economic benefits to the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people, including details of beneficiaries of any cash payments, cash transfers, food distribution and other benefits during the lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states because of COVID-19.

SERAP also asked the federal government and CBN to disclose information on the details of the implementation of the school feeding programme during the lockdown and closure of schools in several states where the programme is being implemented, including the number of children that have so far benefited from the programme and the names of the communities, since the lockdown and closure of schools, as well as the number of cooks, engaged.

In two Freedom of Information (FoI) requests sent to Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disasters Management and Social Development, Ms Sadia Umar-Farouk,and the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, SERAP said: “We are seriously concerned that millions of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people have not benefited from the announced palliatives, donations, reported cash payments, cash transfers and other benefits.”

It noted that providing socio-economic benefits to the country’s poorest especially at this time of COVID-19 crisis is a matter of human rights, not charity.

The organisation added that it is implicit in Nigerians’ right to freely use their natural wealth and resources, which ought to be spent for the public good and ensuring that relief funds and donations are used to provide much-needed benefits to beneficiaries is critical to keeping people alive, and addressing vulnerabilities and inequalities in the country.

In the FoI requests dated April 4, 2020 and signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “Providing the information would help to address the concerns by many Nigerians regarding allegations of corruption and politicisation in the distribution of benefits, improve public trust, and enhance the integrity of the entire processes and modes of distribution of reliefs/benefits to these Nigerians.”
The FoI requests read, in part: “Rather than making physical cash payments to the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people, we urge you to begin electronic cash transfers to all beneficiaries through individuals’ Bank Verification Numbers (BVNs), already available through the banks. This would be cost-effective at this time of crisis, provide immediate and significant benefits, as well as give individuals and families the freedom to spend the money on goods and services that best meet their particular needs.

“If we have not heard from you within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of the FoI requests, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions under the Freedom of Information Act to compel you to comply with our requests.

“Nigerian authorities are locking down states without adequately making provisions for the access of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people to basic necessities of life like food, healthcare, and other basic needs during the duration of the lockdown, and to address the corrosive impacts of COVID-19 on these Nigerians.

“Rather than sending relief materials to the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people, which may be diverted and in any case, may not be what certain individuals and families may need, we urge you to focus more on urgently making electronic cash transfers to these Nigerians to determine by themselves how they wish to spend the money to meet their peculiar individuals’ and families’ needs.

“Providing direct, regular, and unconditional electronic cash transfers to the country’s poorest and the most vulnerable people, including workers and pensioners that have not been paid for months is the best to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the country, and to save millions of Nigerians’ lives. The power to spend cash helps preserve a person’s basic human dignity.”

“We urge you to refer to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for prompt, thorough and transparent investigations of allegations of corruption in the distribution of relief funds and donations for COVID-19 and the politicisation of the process for the distribution funds, as well as to urge the anti-corruption bodies to effectively prosecute any credible cases of corruption.”