On The Need for a Closer Watch on COVID-19 Donations


Vanessa Obioha and Udora Orizu write that there is a compelling need to ensure judicious spending of monies donated to fight the COVID-19 pandemic

There’s been an impressive show of kindness by the private sector towards the Federal Government fight against COVID-19. Since the novel Coronavirus made its unwanted presence in the country last February, hardly a day passes without a report of benevolence from businesses, as well as, high-heeled individuals in the country. From the Dangotes to the Otedolas, from banks to media companies, everyday records a good number of donations, making it feel like a battle of riches.

Private Sector to the Rescue

United Bank for Africa (UBA) gave the country N2.5 billion which is spread across the 36 states with Lagos getting the lion share. The bank’s chairman Tony Elumelu also gave a magnanimous sum of N1 billion.

Guaranty Trust Bank generously built a 110-bed isolation centre in Onikan and like Elumelu, the chairman of the bank made a personal donation of N1 billion.

Aliko Dangote, the richest man in Africa apart from partnering with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to lead the Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19 along with Access Bank to provide training, treatment, testing and isolation centres across the country, gave N2 billion to support the fight against COVID-19.

MultiChoice Nigeria, the leading entertainment and media company announced recently its support fund to the government which not only targets the health centres but also professionals in the creative industry whose works have been halted by the pandemic. The company’s support relief plan totalled N1.2 billion.

One of the richest women in Africa, Folorunsho Alakija also pledged N1 billion.

So far, the total contribution from the private sector is N15.325 billion.

These fat sums are to be channelled to increasing the capacity and services in the health sector across the country and creating more channels to disseminate information on safe lifestyles during this period.

Show of Charity by Federal Lawmakers

Following suit in this act of patriotism are both chambers of the National Assembly. Last week, the Senate and House of Representatives announced that they will be contributing part of their salaries to the National Relief Fund Account for tackling Coronavirus.

The Senators resolved to donate half of their March salary to the Federal Government. The move by the Red Chamber was a follow up to the resolution by the 43 ministers in the Federal Executive Council that 50 percent of their March salary will be donated to the Federal Government to support its drive towards curbing the global virus.

On its part, members of the House of Representatives rescinded its earlier statement that they won’t be donating their salaries, and resolved to donate its March and April salaries to fight covid-19.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila in a video message said the 360 members of the House will donate their two months salary.

The Speaker, noted that the two-month salary donation will be independent of the contributions by individual lawmakers to alleviate the hardship that their constituents face at this time of national emergency.

He said the salary donation from the lawmakers will be transferred directly to the National Relief Fund account.

Gbajabiamila said, “We have in the House of Representatives jointly committed to contributing one hundred per cent (100%) of our salaries for the next two months to the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria. Our contribution will support provisions for the welfare of frontline medical professionals and health workers, and other interventions to provide for the wellbeing of all Nigerians through these trying times.”

“Accordingly, I have directed the Clerk to the National Assembly to see to it that all members’ salaries are transferred to the National Relief Fund for this month and the next. This is independent of ongoing individual efforts by members to alleviate the suffering brought on by this virus and to improve the living conditions of citizens in their various constituencies.

He assured that the House would exercise its oversight power to ensure faithful administration of all emergency funds and contributions made so far to ensure they serve the purpose for which they were intended.

“The House has already mandated the Committees on Health and Disaster Preparedness to diligently oversee the distribution of items donated by local and foreign donors to ensure proper management.”

Gbajabiamila also said the House has urged the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to make cash grants to the 774 local government areas in the country to alleviate the suffering of the masses.

Despite the donations from both chambers, some Nigerians are of the opinion that the salary donations from the federal lawmakers was too small compared to their allowances (running cost).

According to THISDAY findings, depending on the flow of funds, each member of the Senate earns between N10 and N13.5 million per month as allowance, while their monthly salary is N750,000. Each member of the House of Representatives, takes home N8 and N12 million as running cost per month, For salary, each member of the House earns N600,000t per month.

From calculations, the March and April salaries of the 360 members of the House of Representatives combined is N432 million. While donation from their 109 counterparts in the Upper Legislative chamber will amount to N78 million. This is excludes the monetary entitlement of three senators who have passed on and two vacant seats in the Senate.

It’s the Good and the Ugly in Lagos
Of all the states, Lagos State which is the epicenter of the pandemic in the country is the biggest beneficiary, partly because of the swift response by the state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu in tackling the virus. Though, there have been some potholes in the palliative measures taken by the state in recent times. For example, the government has been greatly pilloried for the stimulus package which it initiated for the poor and vulnerable during the lockdown order.

Accusations have been rife that the packages contain food items that families can consume in one day. Politicians too who have provided little support to families in their constituency have not been spared of the vitriols. Their effort is laughed at and sometimes kicked in their faces for underestimating the rights of their constituents. A good example is Hon. Desmond Elliot who represents Surulere Constituency in the Lagos House of Assembly . His provision of makeshift hands washing facilities on the streets was seriously condemned.

Politicians Covet COVID-19 Funds
However, these monetary contributions to the state have in a way shown the ugly side of politicians. Other states that are yet to record a high number of confirmed cases of the virus like Lagos are beginning to lament that they are left behind.

A notable case is governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State who reportedly made a broadcast accusing the Federal Government of politicising the fight against COVID-19. The governor alleged that the N10 billion grant given to Lagos state was unfair if states like Rivers are not given a dime to fight against the pandemic. He said that the state which is home to the nation’s oil and gas exports deserves to be considered in the distribution of grants. While questioning the criteria by which the FG gave the South-west.state the generous sum.

He also disclosed that the state was inundated with letters from FG, to allow oil companies to fly expatriates to drill oil in the state. Wike was therefore concerned that the expatriates may be carriers of the virus and will pose a threat to the state. In a nutshell, the governor was asking the FG to consider Rivers in its relief plans for states if they want him to continue scratching their back. It was a subtle threat, not surprising from governor who is frequently on a warpath with the government at the centre, apparently due to opposing political loyalty.

Federal Government’s Stabilisation Fund

However, Wike and other governors who have expressed reservations that Lagos may have been favoured by the Federal Government need not worry. Yesterday, the Federal Government announced the approval of $150million stabilisation fund to meet shortfalls in monthly allocations to the states.

Revealing this in Abuja, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, said it was part of the measures to tackle the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the economy.

She explained that owing to the decline in the monthly allocations from N716 billion in January to N645 billion in February and N581 billion in March, the Federal Government has approved a stabilisation fund of $150million to meet the short fall in monthly allocation.

The Minister also announced the establishment of a N500 billion COVID-19 crisis intervention fund.

According to her the intervention fund will target states and local governments and is expected to create 1000 jobs in each.of the 774 local government areas in the country.

Ahmed, as well, listed other measures by the Federal Government to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. These include include accessing loans from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the African Development Bank (ADB) and the Islamic Development Bank.

The breakdown of expected loans from international organisations are as follows $3.4 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF); $2.5 billion from the World Bank; and $1billion from the African Development Bank (ADB).

As part of measures to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Government also plans to restructure the Treasury Single Account (TSA), in order to accommodate flexibility of donations.

Collapse of Nigeria’s Healthcare System

The healthcare system in Nigeria is one that has largely been neglected by governments. According to a 2015 BMI report, there were an estimated 3,534 hospitals in Nigeria in 2014, of which 950 were in the public sector. These include 54 federal tertiary hospitals comprising 20 teaching hospitals, 22 Federal Medical Centres, three National Orthopedic Hospitals, the National Eye Centre, the National ENT Centre and seven Psychiatric Hospitals, which are overseen by the Hospital Services Department of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH). The private sector is the dominant provider of care in many areas, accounting for the greater part of secondary care facilities.

The challenges in the health sector are further compounded by frequent disagreement between the different strata of government and healthcare professionals, leading to avoidable work stoppages. While the bone of contention is sometimes linked improvement of working conditions and monetary compensation, many of the face-off between the various state governments /federal government and healthcare professionals is often owing to poor work environment and paucity or complete lack of equipment. There is no gain saying, the healthcare system is in dire need of a necessary facelift. Therefore, many are hoping that the global emergency ocassioned by the COVID-19 pandemic may provide the window a window of opportunity for a critical appraisal of the Nigerian healthcare system.

Need for Transparency

While these pecuniary efforts are laudable, Nigerians doubt that the monies will be used accordingly. With a history of corruption by leaders, they question the motives behind the donations. Recently, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disasters Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouk came under fire for the perceived fraudulent activities surrounding the cash disbursement of the palliative sum of N20,000 to some Nigerians.

Not a few have voiced their skepticism, including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which advised members of the House of Representatives to scrutinize the FG’s plan. The party argued that the Federal Government must provide accurate details on how the fund will be spent. From the amount spent on interventions on individuals and families as well as a template that guarantees that the fund gets to the targeted vulnerable Nigerians, to the parameters for allocations, the monitoring system as well as foolproof measures to plug all loopholes and check fraud.

Also, attention should be drawn to medical equipment donations given to states and how they are distributed. Nigeria so far has over 200 confirmed cases, but more than 1000 testing kits and other palliative materials have been donated to the country. What would happen to the leftover after the pandemic? Will it be stored for future use or pilfered by fraudulent people to sell to companies or individuals?

Sounding a clear note of warning, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had earlier counseled President Muhammadu Buhari to instruct the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to jointly monitor federal and states’ spendings on Coronavirus.