Since the first case of coronavirus was recorded in Lagos on February 27, 2020, the federal and state governments, as well as corporate organisations have forged an uncommon cooperation among themselves to mitigate the impact of measures being taken to curtail the spread of Covid-19. Significantly, the lockdown imposed by government has brought the nation to a standstill, making life difficult for about 100 million Nigerians who live below poverty line, and forcing investors to count their losses in billions of Naira. A cross spectrum of Nigerians are making unprecedented and enormous sacrifices, but the pains have to be endured in order to avert mass deaths.
Government has introduced palliative measures to cushion the effects of Covid-19 on the people. Private organisations and foundations are also contributing mind-blowing sums of money into government coffers for distribution to the poor and for supporting the activities of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19. Funds have come in from different sources, and the total sum is not yet made known to Nigerians. In addition, the federal government has asked the National Assembly to approve a loan request to the tune of N500 billion in order to fight Covid-19.
The demonstration of benevolence by government and Nigerians and the united approach to the fight against the pandemic are highly commendable. It is, however, very important for government to prioritise its activities and, by implication, how to deploy the funds that have rolled in. For instance, it is important to procure coronavirus test kits in large numbers to facilitate efforts to know how many Nigerians are infected with this deadly virus. For almost two weeks now, Nigerians in many states have been subjected to a debilitating lockdown, but they are not being tested for the virus. With a large quantity of test kits, it would have been possible to go to neighbourhoods in all parts of the country that have been locked down to do random tests to track down those who are already infected, have them isolated and prevented from spreading it. Without mass testing of the people, the objective of the lockdown may not be realised in full.
Since the palliatives were unpacked, one of the issues that have been raised is the lack of national spread in their administration. There are poor Nigerians in all parts of the country; any data to the contrary cannot be reliable. Therefore, we call on Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, to be transparent in the distribution of the palliative funds and goods. Also, the distribution of the intervention funds should not be seen to follow political lines. Covid-19 does not discriminate the All Progressives Congress (APC) from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). All Nigerians are in this together. Any lopsided administration of the support funds will defeat the purpose of government, and create disaffection among the people.
Furthermore, we call for accountability and transparency in the disbursement of the funds. Though the funds are being applied at a period of national emergency, the money belongs to Nigerians. If loans have been taken in order to deal with the situation, ultimately, it is current or future Nigerians who would repay such loans. Therefore, government must come clean on how the palliative measures are being applied. It should not be shrouded in secrecy in such a manner that Nigerians and civil society organisations would mount a campaign for its probe by anti-corruption agencies. The essence of the huge contributions government has received and is still receiving is to prevent unnecessary casualties and deaths from Covid-19. Corruption and waste in the system would defeat this objective.
We call on all those involved in the administration of the palliatives to be open about their activities, engage in proper sensitisation of the people on how to access the support in order to reduce unfounded rumours, suspicions and ultimately fake news.