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SERAP asks Buhari to instruct EFCC, ICPC to track COVID19 spending

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari urging him to use his leadership position to “urgently instruct the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to jointly track and monitor spending by federal agencies and state governors to combat coronavirus or COVID19 pandemic in Nigeria.”

SERAP said this “would remove the risks of corruption and mismanagement in our healthcare systems that are already weakened by systemic corruption.”

In the letter dated 20 March, 2020 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “Coronavirus crisis requires quick responses but it also requires corruption safeguards to ensure public funds are well spent, and promote access to basic public health and other services to those most in need.”

SERAP said: “By prioritising transparency and accountability in the spending of funds to combat coronavirus, your government will be taking preventive measures to ensure that the efforts to reduce the spread of the pandemic and promote the health and safety of Nigerians are not compromised by corruption.”

SERAP expressed “concern that systemic corruption in the health sector across the country would hurt the federal and state authorities’ responses to the coronavirus crisis.”

The letter, read in part: “The challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic also show the urgent need for your government to improve Nigeria’s health systems and to encourage state governors to commit some parts of their security votes to provide additional resources towards strengthening the health systems within their states.”

“Your government ought to move swiftly to increase spending on efforts to combat coronavirus in the country and provide funding support to Nigerians that are most affected by the crisis, by presenting COVID-19 budget/spending plan to the National Assembly and setting up a COVID-19 trust fund to which wealthy individuals and others should be encouraged to contribute.”

“The proposed increase in spending of funds on COVID-19 means accountability for those funds should be top of your government’s list of priorities, if it is to remove opportunities for corruption that can undermine initiatives to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

“The EFCC and ICPC should ensure that anyone found to have mismanaged or stolen public funds meant for addressing the coronavirus pandemic are effectively prosecuted and punished.”

“We also urge you to take urgent measures to ensure that health sector services in federal institutions and agencies are strengthened and that the appropriate corruption risk assessments are implemented and monitored.”

“The lessons from the Ebola crisis is that even in times of public emergencies, there are those who aim to profit from others most affected by the crisis. Monitoring the spending on coronavirus would help to apply the lessons of the Ebola crisis and prevent corruption, which characterised the efforts to combat it in some countries including in Sierra Leone and Liberia, where patients reportedly paid bribes to access health services.”

“Corruption in the spending of funds to combat coronavirus will undermine public trust in any efforts by your government to bring the spread of the pandemic under control, and deny access to basic public health services to Nigerians who need the services most.”

“Monitoring the spending of public funds budgeted to combat coronavirus would also ensure respect for human rights and contribute to ensuring that Nigerians who cannot afford to pay bribes are not denied access to testing and treatment, and that high-ranking officials and wealthy individuals subject to quarantines are not abusing the systems.”

“We will continue to closely monitor the situation and where appropriate invoke the Freedom of Information Act and take legal action to ensure transparency and accountability, and full respect for Nigerians’ human rights.”

“The right to health provides that health facilities, goods, and services should be: available in sufficient quantity, accessible to everyone without discrimination, and affordable for all, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized groups.”

“These obligations mean that your government should ensure that accurate and up-to-date information about the number of identified cases and spread of coronavirus in the country, access to services, service disruptions, and other aspects of the response to the outbreak is widely available and accessible to all.”

“The right to health also imposes obligations on your government to minimize the risk of occupational accidents and diseases including by ensuring health workers and others involved in the coronavirus response have information and adequate protective clothing and equipment they need.”

“This request is consistent with Nigeria’s international anti-corruption and human rights obligations including under the UN Convention against Corruption, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Nigeria has ratified these treaties.”

“Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Your government is obligated to take effective steps for the prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases.”

“As the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which monitors state compliance with the covenant, has stated, the right to health is closely related to and dependent upon the realization of other human rights, including the rights to food, education, human dignity, life, non-discrimination, equality, and access to information.”

“We hope that the aspects highlighted will help guide your actions in acting to ensure the effectiveness of any efforts to combat the coronavirus crisis in Nigeria. We would be happy to discuss any of these issues in more detail with you.”

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Oyo declares emergency, closes schools

The new executive members were announced by the chairman of the PDP state congress committee, Gov. Seyi Makinde of Oyo State.

ALERT: Coronavirus pandemic emergency kit — facts, myths and how to protect yourself

Amid growing concerns over the Coronavirus pandemic, the Oyo State Government has declared an emergency by ordering the immediate closure of schools and the inauguration of emergency operation centres, among other measures.

Governor Seyi Makinde, who addressed newsmen late on Friday, after the inaugural meeting of the State’s COVID-19 Task Force, held at the Government House, Agodi, Ibadan, said schools in the state will remain closed till after Easter.

The governor also declared that the state remained fully committed to the prevention, curtailment and control of the disease.

A statement signed by the Chief Press Secretary to Makinde, Taiwo Adisa, indicated that the governor equally declared that the suspected case of the virus, which sample was sent from Ibadan to the National Reference Centre for South West at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Lagos, was negative.

The governor stated that there is still no confirmed case of Coronavirus in the state, adding that the government will do everything within its powers to see that no life is lost to the pandemic.

According to him, people in the state should not panic about the disease but constantly observe hygienic practices as prescribed by medical experts.

The governor said: “On the case of the individual that was tested, the result came back and turned out to be negative.

“So, as of this moment, we still do not have any confirmed case of Coronavirus in Oyo State.

“Let me also state that we are committed to the prevention, curtailment and control of the Coronavirus disease in Oyo State.

“We will be giving you daily updates on what we are doing.

“As the Head of the Oyo State Task Force on COVID-19 and Head of the Oyo State Government, I give you my word that we are going to do everything within our power to see that no life is lost in this pandemic.”

Governor Makinde, who stated that the schools will remain closed till after the Easter break, said the government would use the period of the forced break to evaluate the situation and put protective system in place in the schools.

He also said the government would ensure a proper evaluation of the situation before resumption.

He said: “Schools will only resume after we have done a proper evaluation of the situation.

“If it is for schools to remain closed until even after Easter, we will come back and let people know, but, as for this moment, schools are going to be closed.”

Makinde declared that as part of immediate efforts to curtail and/or control the Coronavirus pandemic in the state, the government will activate Emergency Operation Centres and a Diagnostic Centre in the next two days, adding that the Maternal and Paediatrics Centre, Olodo, Ibadan has been re-designated as the State Infectious Disease Hospital.

According to the governor, two ambulances would be on standby to attend to cases of Coronavirus suspects, even as he noted that Disease Surveillance and Notification Officers, located in all the 33 Local Government Areas and Local Council Development Areas, have continued their surveillance activities.

The governor maintained that the state will heighten the ongoing enlightenment on the COVID-19, activate wash centres in the markets and public places and also procure personal protective gears for the state’s health workers as quickly as possible.

Makinde said: “As I promised in my statement on Thursday, I just finished holding the first meeting of the Oyo State COVID-19 Task Force.

“Before I share the outcome of that meeting with you, let me quickly clarify some issues regarding the circumstances that led to the setting up of this Task Force.

“One question a lot of people may have on their mind is why we are just setting up a Task Force.

“This became necessary because of the heightened threat that has come to light in the past two days.

“This development includes an increase in the confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Nigeria since March 18, 2020, and this necessitated something more regarding the response of the state.

“Before now, the Ministry of Health had already put measures in place to prevent an outbreak of Coronavirus in the state.

“Our Commissioner for Health held his first briefing on February 28, 2020, where he outlined the steps being taken by the government.

“On March 10, 2020, he held another press briefing after the Oyo State Executive Council meeting and talked about isolation centres, helplines, creation of rapid response and monitoring department and the Disease Surveillance and Notification Officers in the 33 local government areas and 35 LCDAs.

“The Ministry of Health also started running enlightenment campaigns about Coronavirus in markets, schools, and hospitality industry that people should maintain the handwashing culture and give a safe distance if anyone is sneezing or coughing around them.

“But with the identified case that reportedly transited through Ibadan to Ekiti, we are stepping up those measures.

“Let me tell you about the decisions that we have taken at this first meeting.

“One, Emergency Operation Centres should be activated within 72 hours.

“Also, a Diagnostic Centre should be step up within 72 hours.

“Schools would be closed immediately until after Easter.

“The Maternal and Paediatrics Hospital at Olodo has now be re-designated as the State Infectious Disease Hospital.

“Two, dedicated ambulances would be provided.

“Disease Surveillance and Notification Officers in the 33 local government areas and 35 LCDAs have been activated and continue their surveillance activities.

“The Free Health Mission is hereby suspended.

“Also, the ongoing employee verification is suspended.

“We will heighten our enlightenment campaigns; wash centres will be activated in the market and public places and personal protective gears will be provided for our health workers through emergency purchases.”

Governor Makinde, who warned politicians to quit playing politics with the Coronavirus situation by trying to unnecessarily milk the Unification Rally held by the Peoples Democratic Party, noted that it is now a serious challenge that would take the concerted efforts of everyone to overcome.

He added: “Some people may still be upset about the rally we held here some days ago, but I want to state again that, if the information we have at our disposal now had come a few hours prior, the rally would not have held.

“This is a serious issue and a big challenge, which I don’t expect people to play politics with.

“We have been at the Task Force meeting and we have tasked ourselves to immediately close the gaps wherever they have been identified.

“I will be receiving briefing almost on an hourly basis until some of these tasks that we have just listed are achieved.

“The Commissioner for Health has been asked to immediately provide a check-list of whatever we need and we have also put the Accountant-General of the state on alert, because we will make emergency purchases, where necessary, even during the weekend.

“We know this is a challenging period as far as the economy is concerned and it is not just about Nigeria or Oyo State.

“The world economy is going into, if not already, a tailspin at the moment.

“However, this concerns human life.

“We will reprioritise.

“If we had budgeted money for infrastructure, some of that money would be taken back and put into fighting this pandemic.

“So, we will do everything and spend any amount to keep our people alive.”

Responding to questions from newsmen, Governor Makinde maintained that the state would make the closure of worship centres and religious gatherings voluntary, noting, however, that churches, mosques and other religious centres will be strongly advised not to have more than 50 people gathered in the same place at once.

He said: “For the worship centres, we will make it voluntary for them.

“We will advice them strongly that they can face their worship, but we don’t want more than 50 people in a particular place at the same time.

“We know that religious leaders are with us on this and they will also do everything possible to ensure that our people are kept safe.

“But whether they will close the centres or not will be voluntary for them.”

The governor stated that with the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic already threatening federal allocation, the aim of the state to develop its local economy such that it would not have to depend on federal allocations remained on course, saying: “We are not there yet, as we are still on that trajectory.

“Whatever we get right now, we will find means to engage everybody.

“But in the medium to the long term, we have to diversify our economy so that we stop being dependent.”

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