Nigeria: How Covid-19 Palliatives Were Hijacked, Distributed Among Party Loyalists - Report

Budgit says it found evidence of wrongdoing in Kano, Lagos and other states.

COVID-19 palliatives were hijacked and distributed among politicians in the thick of the coronavirus pandemic, a report by the civic advocacy group, BudgIT, has said.

In a report on COVID-19 Fund Management titled "COVID-19 Fund: Fiscal Support, Palliative Analysis & Institutional Response," the group expressed worry over the poor accountability mechanism in the management of the Covid-19 fund and distribution of palliatives.

The organisation revealed in its report that in most monitored local government areas in Lagos, including Agege, Mushin, Ikorodu, Sururlere and Epe, palliatives were hijacked and diverted by politicians and shared among party members.

"Some residents who are not members of the party lamented the hijack and their exclusion from the whole distribution process," the report said.

"Ward chairman is in charge of the distribution of the food in the Agege area in Lagos State. One "DeRica" of rice, one "DeRica" of beans and one sachet of tomato paste were given to a street with more than 30 houses.

"During the #EndSARS protest, hoodlums attacked a government-owned warehouse where the food meant to be distributed during the coronavirus lockdowns in the Maza-Maza area Ojo LGA, Lagos State, were stored."

BudgIT said the same was the situation in other parts of the country as politicians took ownership of the distribution exercise.

The organisation said that in Kano, residents of Minjibir revealed that the selection process of the beneficiaries was strictly for political party loyalists, and the vulnerable groups in the community could not benefit from the palliative distribution.

"Party leaders were tasked to share to only party members upon presentation of party card or identification of being a member of the ruling party," the report said.

Similar findings were reported in Ogun, Rivers, Niger, among others.

BudgIT said as of April 7, 2020, CACOVID, a private coalition of donors and corporate founders, received donations totalling N21.5bn.

"Suffice it to say that the federal government has disbursed N288bn from the N500bn set aside for Covid-19 intervention programmes through its Economic Sustainability Plan," it said.

"As of the time of our report, comprehensive details of disbursed funds have not been published on the Open Treasury platform. This further establishes our concerns about the lack of a proper framework for COVID19 fund accountability in Nigeria."

BudgIT said that it reviewed Nigeria's current fiscal support and institutional response to the pandemic, analysed data on COVID-19 response in Nigeria, including donations, allocations, disbursements and palliative distribution processes at both the National and Subnational levels.

In 2020, the COVID-19 response in Nigeria began with the establishment of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 by President Muhammadu Buhari. Headed by Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the task force was mandated, alongside other government agencies, to coordinate and oversee Nigeria's multi-sectoral intergovernmental efforts to contain the virus' spread.

The Nigerian government also initiated a process to provide palliative measures, including funds disbursements and food items distribution to Nigerians, especially the marginalised and vulnerable.

BudgIT said its report reviewed the activities of these agencies as well as the support received by the government from both private and international institutions, including the $5.6 billion received as donations, grants, and relief support by the Nigerian government.

It also spotlighted concerns about intervention programmes from private coalitions.

"It is discouraging to discover that not much has been done regarding COVID-19 fund accountability in Nigeria," says Iyanuoluwa Bolarinwa, Senior Program Officer at BudgIT.

"To this end, we are committed to partnering with agencies like the ICPC and others, to ensure a proper framework for probing COVID-19 response issues."

BudgIT said the call for an effective framework for COVID-19 transparency and accountability could not have happened at a better time, especially in an environment deeply rooted in a profiteering culture and aversion to openness in the use of public funds.

"Per our findings, the continuous mismanagement of palliative items and funds earmarked for the COVID-19 response has created a wider gap between the rich and the poor where the vulnerable and marginalised are denied access to the palliative items that rightfully belong to them," the civic organization said.

Using six states - Niger, Lagos, Kano, Ogun, Enugu and Rivers - as case studies, the research further revealed that many people vehemently disagreed with the government's method of palliative distribution in their communities as they could not access any of the distributed palliative items, especially to the vulnerable.

Gabriel Okeowo, BudgIT's Chief Executive Officer said: "Health emergencies are inevitable, and a country must never be caught unawares. An effective response must begin with adequate preparation and resource allocation to the health sector, after which a proper process for monitoring, transparency and accountability should be established."

The organization said while it awaits responses from the government on the concerns raised, the government must improve investment in the health sector, ensure the timely release of audited statements on COVID-19 funds, institutionalise access to information to reduce misinformation, and prioritise citizen inclusion in committees and decision making process.

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