Pursuant to the commendable gesture of the Nigerian government in the fight against the spread of the COVID-19, where President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) approved a starter grant of 10 billion naira, concerns are, however, coming on the prudent management of the funds.
Apart from the initial N10b, PMB also approved N5b for use by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to re-equip its facilities.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) also set up the Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID), which was quick to raise money that runs into billions of naira. As at the close of business on Friday, April 3, the money raised by CACOVID was approaching N20 billion.
According to the initial statement from the government, the N10b was released to Lagos State, Nigeria’s commercial center, which has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country.
The President said: “This grant will enable Lagos increase its capacity to control and contain the outbreak, while also supporting other states with capacity-building.”
Since the launch of that initiative, wealthy Nigerians, banks, private and religious organizations have been donating billions of naira both in cash and in kind to help fund medical centers and provide essential materials that are necessary to control the spread of the Coronavirus in the country.
However, as Nigerians continue to count the contributions, there are concerns by some, that the cost of curtailing the coronavirus may be compromised by corruption.
With so much money coming in, the fear is that, government’s sense of prudence may be sliding or slipping to sleaze. This further means that some officials who are in charge of managing the funds may be smiling to the bank at the detriment of the health of many Nigerians.
Contracts for the purchase of essentials are suspected to be inflated or dubiously included without execution. While the President had clearly outlined the purpose of giving out the money, the CBN was unambiguous in spelling the objective of CACOVID, which it said, is to mobilize the private sector, to increase general public awareness, education, buy-in; and provide direct support to private and public healthcare ability to respond to the crisis, as well as support the federal government’s efforts.
In some states, from the inception of the fight, there are suspicions of lack of seriousness on the side of the governors who refused to bring in qualified and experienced personnel on board the committees set up to face the problem.
In one of the states for instance, despite the availability of tested and trusted professionals, the governor brought in mediocres to dominate the committee and gave them free hand to decide on issues that are beyond their understanding.
People with no experience in infectious disease control or in public health practice were placed in committees and charged with responsibilities of curtailing an epidemic. The objective is not far-fetched. It’s nothing but corruption. Such non professionals, no doubt, will put money first and public life and safety last. In the end, the reverse of what the President and the CBN highlighted would be achieved.
Reports from reliable sources quoted the child of a governor with medical training seeking the support of some doctors to compromise medical ethics through underhand deals in which data obtained for different purpose would be used for Coronavirus pandemic in the state.
Of course the conscience of such doctors would not permit them to oblige the corrupt colleague.
Either intentionally or unintentionally, while commenting in a TV interview on the coming of the Coronavirus, the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, kept referring to the virus as “Corruptionvirus”.
In fact, he went ahead to allege that, the virus is simply a product of corruption.
According to him, nothing can be more corrupt than some people engineering the creation of a disease with the intent of exploiting the world. Coronavirus is corruption incorporated, he implied.
Whether true or false, with the increase in the spread of the disease in Nigeria, alongside the mediocre approach to the fight by some states where crazy bills are being churned out for laughable fumigations or comical disinfections, corruption cannot be detached from the fight against Coronavirus in some states.
The UN Chief, António Guterres, has applauded the measures put in place by Nigeria in controlling the pandemic, but was quick to warn that, prudence should be the watchword, and not panic.
PMB is known to have zero tolerance for corruption. He should bring the biggest weight of that virtue to bear in the management of the funds for the fight against the Coronavirus in Nigeria.
Because already some are beginning to smell the sleaze, in the sneeze.
(Ibrahim, a public affairs commentator, writes from Abuja)