COVID-19: CSOs laud CBN, demand transparency, accountability on intervention

By Chimezie Godfrey

A Coalition of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), has commended the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), for the $136 million intervention fund, which it set aside to support and mitigate the impact of the global pandemic of COVID-19 on the citizens.

In a statement signed by the Co-Covener, Say No Campaign, Ezenwa Nwagwu, the coalition consider the initiative by the CBN a proactive step in curtailing a severe economic melt down as a result of a global shutdown caused by the  COVID-19 pandemic.

Recall that the Central Bank of Nigeria announced  recently that it has set aside various intervention funds for start-ups, small and medium size enterprise, to support and mitigate the impact of the global pandemic, COVID-19, in order to boost the activities and survival of these enterprises. 

According to the statement from the apex bank, the sum of $136 million, that is N50 billion, is to be released to help small companies stay afloat, pharmaceutical companies to produce patent drugs and medical supplies, and to assist households most hit by the scourge.

Other beneficiaries mentioned were hoteliers and airline service providers. 

Nwagwu stressed the need for transparency and accountability in the disbursement of the fund so that it can be used for the purposes for which it was set aside.

“We, the under listed Say No Campaign coalition, therefore, considers this a proactive step at curtailing a severe economic meltdown as a result of the global shutdown currently being experienced due to the ongoing corona virus pandemic. 

“While this move is highly commendable, we will like to emphasize the need to put in place some transparency and accountability measures that will provide all affected companies a level playing ground of benefiting from this intervention and ensuring that these funds are judiciously used for the purpose for which it was set aside,” he said.

He noted that over the years, billions of Naira has been released in different initiatives by the CBN as supportive measures targeted at boosting the nation’s economy, adding that the accountability of these funds in improving the nation’s economy remains a matter of debate and institutional claims. 

He however, said that the recent effort by the apex bank to improve household economies and the health sector by making available credit facilities to support small and medium-scale enterprise and household businesses, as well as, the expansion of health benefits for citizens by encouraging drug manufacturing and production outfits, may be frustrated if the process of accessing or securing the funds is compromised. 

Nwagwu pointed out that there is a need to deliberately track and monitor the disbursement and effective utilizations of these funds to ensure prudency, thereby preventing diversion by unscrupulous opportunists. 

“We will like to also emphasize the need for the apex bank to clearly state the criteria for determining the ‘household most hit by the scourge’, this is to forestall the eventuality of making the process of selection susceptible to manipulation that may lead to some individuals having undue advantage because of their positions or affiliations.

“The process must be designed to ensure that no vested interest is accorded any advantage at the expense of those who are deserving of this crucial intervention.

“We therefore call on the leadership of the National Assembly to proactively deploy its oversight function to monitor these funds as released by the central bank of Nigeria to ensure benefiting companies/businesses, especially the pharmaceuticals utilize the funds for the purpose for which they were disbursed.

“It is on this note that we further request that a CBN intervention fund tracking committee comprising the apex bank, relevant trade unions, civil society bodies and other relevant stakeholders be immediately set-up for the sole purpose of ensuring that all relevant and agreed protocols are complied with, in the spirit of fairness and equity,” he said.

He added that this will ensure transparency and further heighten general confidence level in the process, thereby checkmating the nefarious activities of possible vested interest that will be out to ensure that efforts of the government and particularly the apex bank are truncated. 

Nwagwu urged other civil society groups and citizen movements to remain active in monitoring these developments in the overall interest of our dear country and the prosperity of it’s people. 

He pointed out that these timely interventions or credit facilities made available by the CBN will help cushion the negative effect and untold hardships, as well as economic damages inherent in the corona virus pandemic, which is no doubt gravitating small and medium scale businesses into panic mode, which is in itself hampering the containment measures by the government. 

He stressed that these interventions must also genuinely put into consideration businesses, households and states that recorded the most debilitating impact of the corona pandemic. 

According to him, the criteria should be consciously and consistently reviewed at every given time to reflect new realities that may occur in the event of any eventuality. 

“Consequently, we will be making a freedom of information request (as adequately guaranteed by the FOI Act 2011) to the CBN, as soon as it becomes necessary to do so, on the details of the disbursement of intervention funds including the beneficiaries, so as to ascertain that the process adhered to the principles of fairness, equity and accountability. 

“This will also help the coalition in verifying that all established and agreed protocols were adhered to in the overall interest of our dear country Nigeria,” he stressed.

The statement was signed by Say No Campaign, and other Co-coveners which include YIAGA Africa, and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC).

Others are Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa and Center for Transparency Advocacy.