– Alarming Poverty, Unprecedented Job Loses Prove of Diversion of Funds says
– NASS Should Call for Public Hearings
As the World came under the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 with mass lockdown of the economy of most countries, various actions were taken to cushion the impact of the pandemic on the livelihoods of citizens.
Nigeria was not spared by the pandemic, bringing the economy and Nigerians to a deplorable shape.
Government, its development partners and the private sector rose to the occasion making available intervention funds to support families; Micro, Small and Medium-Scale Enterprises (MSMEs); strengthen the health sector among other issues.
According to COVID-19 Transparency and Accountability Project (CTAP), contributions by development partners, corporate organisations and individuals rose to the tone of five billion, nine hundred and thirty-five million, eight hundred and eighty-five thousand, five hundred and eighty-seven dollars (US$5,935,88,587) equivalent to about 2.2 trillion naira in cash and material donations.
On its part, the Federal Government has committed N500 billion stimulus from a special account in the budget.
Meanwhile, the World Bank in 2020 approved a US$14.26 for Nigeria, coined COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Programme to be implemented through to 2023.
Another US$400 million has just been approved for Nigeria by the World bank, that is aside the US$114.28 million mentioned above.
The Fate of COVID-19 Intervention Funds in Nigeria:
Most of COVID-19 intervention funds have ended up in the Real Estate Sector, the Executive Director of Connected Development (CODE) and Founder of Follow the Money, Hamzat Lawal has insisted.
Lawal stated this while speaking with our correspondent in Abuja on the reported diversion of COVID-19 intervention funds.
The Founder of Follow the Money, said his claims are evident in the boom experienced in the sector even at the time when banks were not operational, and the rising unemployment and hunger levels in the country despite huge amounts of money made available by government, partners and individuals to cushion the impact of COVID-19 on Nigerians.
According to Lawal, CODE in partnership with SERAP wrote the Accountant General of the Federation relying on the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act requesting to know how much funds government has mobilised for COVID-19 and they got a response saying that government had at the time mobilised 35 billion and disbursed 30 billion, with no information given on what the balance of 5 billion was being used for.
“We wrote the Accountant General of the Federation requesting for a breakdown of the various funds how they were distributed to the MDAs and what will happen to the balance of 5 billion but he didn’t respond. But interestingly, Connected Development in conjunction with BudgIT had a citizens’ town-hall meeting where we brought the Minister of state for Budget and National Planning and this was the meeting where we had the sense of how these monies was disbursed.
“So he was giving us data on government MDAs that enjoyed interventions from government. So he called the ministry of agriculture, he called the aviation sector, he called a lot of them and gave how much each and every one of them got. He also talked about every state getting one billion except Lagos that got about five billion, and Kogi state that didn’t get any money because they said the state didn’t have COVID-19.
“So it was a lot of figures flying up and down you know CA-COVID, Federal Government, and CBN but when you look at all of this money …..See, if two trillion naira passes through our economy, each and everybody will feel the impact.
“There was a conversation about stimulus package for employers or people in the employment sector. Did you get any stimulus package? Yes, I know CBN gave some employers some packages, paid salaries for some others, we got feedback on that. But when you look at how much and how many people came forward, side by side the money that was put forward, it leaves so many questions unanswered.
“We experienced a lockdown that shutdown goods and services, buying and selling, the informal sector was practically crawling. When you look at the National Bureau of Statistics Report, close to 50% of our workforce lost their jobs, we are just trying to recover now. When you look at the unemployment rate it’s about 30% currently and you ask me how true is my claim?
“We had this lockdown during COVID but there was a sector that was blossoming/booming. Of course when we came out of the lockdown we saw a lot of duplexes, we saw a lot of estates just springing up overnight they were completed. And you wonder, there was lockdown, banks were not even open but how is it possible that constructions happened and some of them got completed and some of them are still ongoing. Who is paying for these estates? Where is the money coming from and who are the people buying these estates?”
Can These Monies Be Recovered?
Lawal is optimistic that the monies can be investigated and recovered, in a similar way the 9.2 billion that was approved in 2014 by the then administration for the procurement of electric stoves for rural women was investigated and about 5 billion was recovered with some public office holders prosecuted and imprisoned.
He stressed however that Nigerians must not wait until 2023 before demanding investigations into the implementation of various COVID-19 intervention funds.
“Many persons got angry and agitated about that particular funds, and this is one campaign where we worked closely with the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), and Daily Trust. So we did an undercover investigative story and over 5 billion was recovered, I know a couple of government officials were prosecuted and sent to jail, a lot of properties were recovered.
“You know, I believe these COVID-19 funds can be recovered but my only fear and worry now is I don’t want us to wait until may be 2023 or after 2023 and that’s when figures will start flying up and down. People will be prosecuted using media trial.”
“I wrote the National Assembly and I said, can we even have a public hearing where we will bring the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, we bring the Minister of Finance, the Accountant General and bring the Secretary to the Government of the Federation?”
Lawal emphasised that the National Assembly also has avital role to play in fast-tracking the process of accountability for COVID-19 funds by organising public hearings where key stakeholders can be questioned.