The following is a transcript of my special address at a panel discussion on tracking the use of the COVID-19 funds in Nigeria on Thursday, April 22nd, 2021..
It really is a pleasure to be here with you to discuss issues relating to transparency and accountability in governance, especially concerning the expenditure of funds allocated to curbing the spread of COVID-19 and the attendant effects of the pandemic on the economy. Governments worldwide have had to combat the twin health and economic challenges posed by the spread of COVID-19. A vast amount of resources, running into trillions of dollars. worldwide, was mobilised and allocated to tackle the twin pandemic, as I call it.
Once the Nigerian Government recognised that the challenge of the pandemic was not just health but also economic, we set out to provide a buffer that would sustain the economy while health officials battled to stop the spread of the virus. President Buhari set up the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to manage the health response to the pandemic and palliatives for those affected by the lockdown. He also set up an Economic Sustainability Committee, which reviewed the resilience of the Nigerian economy, recommended a possible bailout for the economy and designed an Economic Sustainability Plan. The committee will ensure implementation of the plan and track the seamless and transparent disbursement of funds towards the Government’s response to COVIP-19.
The Economic Sustainability Plan is a one-year outlay with a total resource involvement of N2.3 trillion. It is a “Transit” Plan between the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) and its successor plan, the Medium-Term National Development Plan (MTNDP) 2021–2025, currently being developed. The total package includes a N500 billion stimulus from Special FGN Accounts in the budget and N1.8 trillion through financial institutions.
From the N500 Billion stimulus in the revised 2020 budget, provision of N126 Billion was made for “Building A Resilient Health System” in Nigeria to prevent the loss of life. The Government set out to improve health infrastructure by building Molecular Laboratories in 52 Federal Medical Centres and Teaching Hospitals across the country, providing isolation centres, paying hazard allowance to our health professionals, providing PPEs for security agencies and hospitals to continue their operations and supporting agencies like NCDC, NAFDAC, NIMR and NIPRD to play their roles in combating this pandemic. The Government provided a total of 520 ICU beds — 10 ICU beds in each of the 52 Federal Medical Centres and Teaching Hospitals across the country.
The Federal Government also took “Measures to support the States” to respond to the pandemic. Each state received One Billion Naira except for Lagos and Kano States that received higher amounts. The Government also put all loan repayment by the states on hold. This hold included repayment of both the principal loan and the accrued interest.
To stimulate the economy and prevent job loss, the plans included ‘Supporting Small Businesses/MSME Survival Fund”. This provision included:
A N15 Billion MSME Guaranteed off-take simulation scheme, i.e., sustain 300,000 jobs in 100,000 MSMEs by guaranteeing off-take of priority products, extending payroll support and establishing facilities in all 6 geopolitical zones.
Establishment of the MSME Survival Fund to sustain 700,000 jobs in 140,000 MSMEs and 1,500,000 self-employed individuals through grants in all six geopolitical zones worth N60 Billion.
The Government also provided over N12 Billion for mass rural electrification and solar power strategy; N60 Billion for road construction and rehabilitation under the Moving People and Goods programme across the country. The Public Works Programme recruited 1000 persons per LGA for the 36 State and FCT, resulting in 774,000 persons.
The President directed the disbursement of COVID-19 Cash transfer to additional 1 million households as part of the social intervention programme to protect the vulnerable. The register is still being updated with the new households ahead of disbursement. The plan also made provision for the aviation sector with support to local airlines as well as ground handlers and other aviation allied businesses. There is also provision for a post-COVID-19 job creation scheme for the youth and women.
There are provisions targeted at the agriculture sector to ensure food and job security. To achieve this, the Government’s plans included:
Mapping of farms and farmers registration,
Rural roads to create access to markets, consequently reducing post-harvest losses, which stood at 50–60% of Farmers’ total output. This took the form of building more than 300 roads across agro-corridors in 266 communities.
So far, we have released only N288 billion to the implementing agencies to support these programmes.
We have also ensured that there are several accountability mechanisms put in place to guarantee the proper utilisation of the funds. These mechanisms, some already ongoing and others expected to be implemented at the appropriate time, will ensure the public is kept abreast of the utilisation of the funds. These mechanisms include:
The publication of all COVID-19 related expenditure on the open treasury portal.
A post-COVID-19 audit of all related expenditure to be carried out by the Auditor General of the Federation at least six months after the implementation of the revised 2020 budget.
The publication of Beneficial Ownership Information of entities and companies involved in COVID-19 related procurement, which the Government already committed to her bilateral partners.
The Government is committed to accounting for the utilisation of all COVID-19 funds and all government expenditure. As you know, I have led by example by visiting project sites with the M&E team. We have visited rural road construction and rehabilitation sites, hospitals, labs and isolation centres to confirm that projects meet the proper standard. We have also recruited independent consultants to monitor implementation in all six geopolitical zones.
We have gone ahead to implement other activities aimed at institutionalising transparent and accountable public systems by deploying the National Monitoring and Evaluation (NM&E) System.
We have also begun the process of developing the ‘Eye-Mark’ — a web and mobile application that will utilise geospatial technology to monitor and evaluate the execution of capital projects undertaken by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) through citizen’s engagement. Eyemark will provide Nigerians with the opportunity to monitor, rate, review and evaluate Federal Government projects within their localities and report progress to the appropriate authorities. I am convinced beyond every reasonable doubt that the deployment of this app will empower citizens to participate in issues of governance that directly affect them and further bridge the gap between the Government and citizens.
I would also like to use this opportunity to clarify some misconceptions about Nigeria’s stimulus-response to COVID-19:
It is false that Nigeria received $5.6 Billion as donations towards COVID-19. As you know, the pandemic impacted the global oil market, which reduced Nigeria’s revenue by about 57% due to reduced oil prices and OPEC+ production cuts. Nigeria obtained these loans from the World Bank, IMF, IsDB and AFDB as budget financing to plug the revenue shortfall.
The N2.3 trillion stimulus package comprises the N500 billion stimulus from Special FGN Accounts in the revised 2020 budget and N1.8 trillion through CBN interventions to the private sector to stimulate the economy.
The donations received and funds raised went to the private sector-led CACOVID. They were primarily in-kind donations with their values announced to the public. These donations were strictly managed by the private sector. The other in-kind donation received by the Federal Government includes PPE, test kits and 200 ventilators as bilateral support.
The President approved the release of 70,000 tonnes of food from the Federal Strategic Food Reserve for distribution to citizens. The Federal Government distributed these foods/palliatives to the State Governments for their final distribution to citizens. Therefore, it cannot be said that the Federal Government was involved in the hoarding of palliatives as the Federal Government was not involved with the direct distribution to the citizens.
The rollout and implementation of the ESP have mainly been successful because of the Government’s commitment to ensuring that citizens can hold us accountable and, as such, have made efforts to ensure that all the activities under the ESP are transparent.
While we are yet to attain the desired and demanded level of transparency in governance, you will agree with me that we have come a long way from where we used to be, and this is an achievement that we owe to stakeholders in the OGP Space, particularly the members of the National Steering Committee and other civil society actors such as BudgIT and CODE, who remain committed to elevating Nigeria to greater heights where the dividends of democracy are enjoyed by every citizen of our dearly loved and great country Nigeria.