Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to the 36 state governors in the country, urging them to urgently provide information on spending details on COVID-19 in their states. It also directed them to immediately redirect public funds budgeted for security votes and life pensions for former governors from the state to invest in and improve public healthcare facilities and access to quality education.
SERAP said that given the rising number of deaths in Kano State reportedly linked to COVID-19, state governors now have to show leadership, transparency and accountability, if they are to effectively and satisfactorily respond to the crisis and save lives of Nigerians under their watch.
In the letter dated 25 April, 2020 and signed by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “Redirecting security votes and life pension funds to invest in public healthcare facilities and access to quality education in your state would improve your ability to respond to COVID-19, provide palliatives and socio-economic reliefs to residents, and meet the expectations of Nigerians.
“It would be a betrayal of your constitutional oath of office to continue to receive security votes, pay life pensions and other needless allowances at a time of public health crisis in your state. Taking these steps will not only help save lives but also help ensure that the necessary institutional reforms in the health and education sectors occur within your state.
“The situation in Kano State is reportedly linked to lack of effective leadership, transparency and accountability in the state, which would lead to grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity if not urgently addressed.
“The Kano situation shows the urgent need for all state governors to demonstrate leadership at a time of public health crisis by immediately stopping payment of security votes and life pensions and redirecting the funds to respond to COVID-19, invest in healthcare facilities and access to quality education in your state.
“We ask you to provide the requested information within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal action under the Freedom of Information Act to compel you to comply with our request.
“According to our information, some states such as Kano are waiting for handouts from the Federal Government and are refusing to take any meaningful action to respond to COVID-19, stop the spread of the disease and save lives.
“We are concerned that many state governors are spending scarce state resources to pay themselves security votes and their predecessors’ life pensions rather than using public funds to invest in public healthcare infrastructure and improve access to quality education in their states.
“We are concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds by several states to respond to COVID-19. With a few exceptions, there is lack of information on what exactly many state governors are doing to respond to the COVID-19. There are also increasing reports and allegations of corruption and mismanagement of resources linked to COVID-19.
“By the combined reading of the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2011 and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which has become part of Nigerian laws, there are transparency obligations imposed on all public officials including to disclose information to the public on spending details on COVID-19.
“We urge you to provide information on details of funds so far received from the Federal Government, private donations and other sources, details of how such funds have been spent including to improve testing for COVID-19, provide resources for isolation centres in your state, provide safe protective equipment for health workers, and to provide any palliatives and other socio-economic benefits to the most vulnerable people, as well as details of beneficiaries of any palliatives and reliefs.
“We are seriously concerned that years of allegations of corruption and mismanagement of public resources by several state governors have compromised the ability of many states to effectively and satisfactorily respond to COVID-19, curb the spread of the disease, save lives and provide palliatives and reliefs that meet basic human dignity to Nigerians in their states.
“We urge you to redirect the funds for security votes and life pensions for former governors to improve access of the poor and most vulnerable people to necessities such as running water, which is critical to keep people alive. We also urge you to spend public funds on improving COVID-19 testing facilities within your state, and ensuring availability of ventilators.
“The funds should also be used to ensure that health workers have the protective equipment they need to do their jobs safely and that isolation facilities in your state have the resources they need to adequately treat and support patients under quarantine.”
SERAP, therefore, urged the states to disclose:
“The exact amounts that have so far been received from the Federal Government, private donations and other sources and details of spending of any such funds.
“Details of palliatives and other socio-economic reliefs that your state has so far provided to the poorest and most vulnerable people, including the list of beneficiaries of any such palliatives and reliefs.
“Details of what your state is doing to improve testing for COVID-19, provide resources for isolation centres, and provide safe protective equipment for health workers.
“Details of what your state is doing to ensure full respect for human rights of everyone and access to justice for victims of human rights violations and abuses during the lockdown, and linked to COVID-19.
“Details of the coordination, and support, if any, that your state is providing to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to improve its capacity to respond to COVID-19.
“Details of transparency and accountability mechanisms that have been put in place to ensure the funds to respond to COVID-19 are properly spent.
“Details of the roles your State House of Assembly is playing in any response to COVID-19.”