#ThursdayTalksLagos: Accountability on COVID-19 funds dominate conversations at June edition

“How is the government spending COVID-19 funds?” a troubling question that plagues the minds of many Nigerians.

June edition of Thursday Talks; a monthly conversation with thought leaders, change agents and active citizens aimed at driving conversations around the demand for good governance driven by active citizenship, attempted answering this question and establishing the importance of holding the government accountable as it relates to funds allocated to the fight against COVID-19.

The conversation which held on 25th of June 2020, was moderated by the Manager of Civic Hive, Iyanuoluwa Bolarinwa, and had Busayo Morakinyo, Community Engagement Manager for Follow The Money as well as Saied Tafida, Lead of Follow Taxes on the panel.

The current Coronavirus pandemic has led to the outpour of resources into the health sector in a bid to curb the spread of the disease and possible death. Donations have been raised, budgets have been drawn up to cater to the establishment of COVID-19 isolation centres, provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other necessary facilities. This concerns that the Nigerian Government is actually using the raised funds for the aforementioned purposes.

Oyo leads the pack

Right off the bat, the information released by the Oyo State Government declaring a total of 2billion, 779million naira spent on COVID-19 related expenses was tabled. Busayo highlighted that while it’s important to question how this money was spent, it is important to note that Oyo State is part of the select few that have released their figures. He stressed that states are refusing to be transparent with their figures, which makes accountability difficult.

Corruption in state governance

In dissecting the reasons for this troubling issue, the speakers highlighted that COVID-19 hasn’t changed the normal trend of questionable practices in the government. Corruption was in existence before COVID-19, and still is. They also declared that the states can’t show us what they don’t have, and many didn’t have detailed records of their expenditure.

It was emphasised that not only do the State Government have a moral obligation to make these records public, it is also important to make accountability possible. The government was directed to put its citizens first.

Civil society campaign for accountability

The conversation harped on the activities of the civil society organisations to which the panelists belong, as they stressed on what they have been doing to ensure accountability is made possible.

Saied, declared that they’ve been tracking the figures since March, even though it’s considerably difficult due to movement restrictions. It was expressed that social listening was being utilised and a considerable amount of data mining was done to ensure the collation of COVID-19 expenditure data. Busayo also declared that “Follow The Money” radio hadbeen launched in several states to disseminate and also obtain information on COVID -19 resources.

The way forward

Whilst it was clear that they were putting in a surmountable amount of effort, the speakers also stressed the need for audience members to play their part. They emphasised that Nigerians need to ensure they are pushing states to be responsible and to do this, citizens are expected to create a push and apply pressure.

Nigerians are admonished to ask those in government questions; bringing up the Freedom of Information Act enacted during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. The speakers pinpointed that this empowers citizens, the right to ask government organisations for the COVID-19 fund allocation details, helping to hold them accountable.

A noteworthy point that viewers were left with is that Nigeria was still afar off from where it should be, but conversations like this were a start.

Thursday Talks Lagos holds on the last Thursday of every month is an initiative of Enough is Enough (EiE Nigeria), The Future Project (TFP); and BudgIT. The initiative is proudly supported by YNaija, the internet newspaper for young Nigerians, focused on the issues and ideas that matter for an evolving generation.

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