By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja
Civil Society Organisations, CSO, including Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, WaterAid Nigeria, ActionAid Nigeria, Concerned Nigerians, Health For Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, CDNDC, Thursday, scored Federal and State governments on six months fight to contain the spread of the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.
They gave their score while speaking with Vanguard on the inclusion of CSOs in advocacy, public enlightenment, monitoring of monies spent, distribution of palliatives, transparency, accountability, research, level of testing, trust, and others.
It will be recalled that the Federal Ministry of Health confirmed a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) case in Lagos State, on February 27, 2020, being the first case to be reported in Nigeria, which was an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria and returned from Milan, Italy to Lagos, on February 25, 2020.
His COVID-19 infection was confirmed by the Virology Laboratory of Lagos University Teaching Hospital and was managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba, Lagos.
According to the recent report of the Nigeria Center for Disease Control, NCDC, Samples Tested 171,931; Confirmed Cases 30,249; Active Cases 17,192; Discharged Cases 12,373; Death 684.
The Executive Director, CISLAC, Awual Ibrahim Rafsanjani, said, “Civil Society Organisations have not been fully integrated or mainstreamed in the effort to fight COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria either at the state or federal level.
“This is because some of the government officials are running away from accountability who don’t want the media and CSOs to see and expose corruption and also give strategic advice to improve education and ensure that they track and monitor spending and expenditure on COVID-19.
“This is the real reason they have refused to mainstream or integrate media and CSOs to be able to provide the necessary support, especially to create necessary support and also monitoring the process.
“But CSOs on their own although not formally involved have been playing their role in terms of creating awareness, monitoring COVID-19 palliative distribution.
“Whether they like it or not CSOs and media are part and parcel of Nigeria, and they would continue to play their role. It would have been good and it will even help the government if they allowed non-state actors to be involved in this process.
“We are not asking for every other CSOs to go there but people who have the expertise in terms of advocacy, mobilization, and monitoring accountability in the process. So it is not every organization we are saying must be there but we just want these groups, especially the media, CSOs working on accountability, even possibly have Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, as part of non-state actors can compliment the effort of government on COVID-19.
“Obviously there is not much satisfaction on this; the palliative has not been properly administered, vulnerable groups that needed the palliative have not been given support, many who have lost their jobs who have not been able to come out make means especially during the lockdown period have not been given support, a lot of disabled people who needed support including the aged were not given support.
“I cannot be satisfied when vulnerable groups in the society were not actually supported, and also with all the allegations on corruption are involved at the state and national levels in terms of distributing the palliatives.
“We have not seen improvement in the health care system in the county that is a very sad story because we thought the government would have used this COVID-19 experience to improve the standard of the health care system in the country that has not happened.
“In fact, what we see at the state and federal levels threat by doctors to go on strike and that did not speak well of a country with COVID-19 pandemic. So there is a need for the government to do more in fighting this virus because it does not discriminate rich and ordinary Nigerians.
“It is important to reorganize and reactivate our health care system, and even more e more open and transparent. More importantly, the Nigerian government has collected loan from the International Monetary Fund, IMF, $3.4 billion to deal with the issue of COVID-19 and received donations from wealthy Nigerians including developed countries like America, Germany, European Union, United Kingdom, and others who donated both in terms cash and equipment to Nigeria, no accountability from the government on these monies.
“And so, there s no way I can be happy about this situation. Nigerians are still affected by the pandemic because there is no effort to show that this is what we are doing in terms of research to come up with drugs or vaccination locally made to solve the problem of COVID-19.
“We are calling on the government to see the need for openness, transparency for the inclusion of non-state actors to ensure transparency and accountability in the disbursement and spending on COVID-19, to support vulnerable groups that cannot feed themselves and who also cannot get the necessary treatment.
“We are calling on the government to use this money to upgrade our hospitals and health care centres, expand testing centres, effort to combat the infection to help minimize the infection rate. This is the way I can be happy in the management of the COVID-19 crisis.”
The Convener, CN, Deji Adeyanju, said, “For me, the government is not doing enough, they are just waiting for God to intervene because they have failed in their principal responsibility to protect lives and property as regards to COVID-19.
“I think the testing parameters and procedures are still very slow. Now that flight operations have resumed you can see the way planes are jam-packed and the airports may become one of the centres for the spread of COVID-19.
“Naturally you would have expected that the airports become testing centres, scale-up testing centres at shopping malls, and looking at the amazing testing capability of the Americans, British, Germans, and even Ghana here, and you have not scaled up testing and you want to open up everything.
“All these NGOs they claimed they are working with. I am not aware of any NGO they are working in. Well, there are these government-friendly NGOs who parade themselves as NGOs, but the emphasis should be on testing. The government is doing so poorly, as there is an upsurge of cases the government seems to be more powerless day by day and that is what we are witnessing and it is a very unfortunate and painful reality.
“The demand to scale up where they can decentralize testing centres in palaces, churches, mosques, markets, motor parks, malls, and others because there will be partnerships and it is so cheap to provide these testing centres compared to the Billions of Naira the country has gotten through donations, and the country has taken a loan and you don’t seem to find a trace of the money they have collected in regards to COVID.”
Country Director, WaterAid Nigeria, Evelyn Mere, said, “CSO participation in the COVID-19 Response at the level of the Federal and States is a mixed bag. In some places great collaboration is happening, while in other places, it is not at the level it should be. In places like Plateau, Enugu, and Bauchi states where WaterAid is working, CSOs are working well with the government in the response.
“These include helping craft Hygiene Behaviour Change messages, advocating for prioritization of WASH in the response, and providing support to Ministries of Health and Water Resources in promoting Hygiene practices.
“There are definitely needs to be more inclusion and participation of Civil Society Organisations in fighting the pandemic. This will enable stakeholders key into the strengths of Civil Society. These include their mobilising clout, ability to ensure citizen awareness and buy-in to government policies, ensuring usually excluded voices are heard and promoting government transparency and accountability for use of resources in the response and also abiding by laid down rules and guidelines.
“They exert huge influence at various levels and can bridge the gap in governance and ensure help gets to the grassroots where this is most needed to enable the most vulnerable to protect themselves from the pandemic.
“For Civil Society to be effective in this COVID-19 situation, they need to organize effectively to showcase the value add that they bring. They should demand a place at the table of the various Committees set up at the national and sub-national levels.
“They will also need support from the private sector and international development actors to do this through funding and technical guidance.
We are asking for the following: The government should engage all stakeholders through a coordinated approach and increase the effectiveness of existing platforms. This should include involving CSOs in Committees and Taskforces to enable sustainable access by citizens to resources to protect themselves in the Pandemic, especially WASH services.
“Government should set up a multi-sectoral Situation Room that includes key Civil Society Organizations to accommodate and ensure multiple voices feed onto agenda setting towards an efficient and effective COVID-19 response. The one-sided media briefing that is the present practice is not very effective.
“The key MDAs should ensure CSOs are part of fora that are set up. This will enable them to feed into planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of the Response to increase meaningful outcomes. This is most needed at Local Government and Community levels where help is most needed.
“CSOs work closely with the government to ensure platforms are set up at Community levels to ensure the most marginalised are heard in decision making. And also ensure that facilities being delivered are inclusive and can be accessed by people living with disabilities; that gender inequalities and discrimination that worsen during situations of crises such as the Pandemic are effectively addressed and mitigated.”
The Country Director, ActionAid Nigeria, Ene Obi, said, “There is very limited involvement of CSOs at the Federal level, Joint Task Force is only government. CSOs/INGOs have been very active especially in getting to the communities with COVID-19 key messages and getting information to more Nigeria.
“They also contributed to reaching many communities with food and other essential items. We need the Government to recognise the contributions and to know that we do know that we are only aiding them as the responsibility and obligation are theirs.
“The media that continues to cover COVID-19 require their needs addressed. Retrenchment is silently going on as many houses cannot afford to pay their staff. We need the Government stimulus to address this as without the media, JTF will be talking to no one. The media has been key to information dissemination in Nigeria and different parts of the world.
“ActionAid Nigeria is conducting research on the effect of COVID-19 on the media and will be glad to share that report once it ready. For us, ActionAid Nigeria will continue to engage all government organs.”
“We urge the government to publish receipt of funds for transparency and accountability.”
The Executive Director, ANEEJ, Rev David Ugolor, said, “Participation of Civil society in the implementation of COVID-19 programme is still evolving and some of the gaps can be traced to poor communication and understanding of how Government can tap into the civil society resources.
“Interestingly, some of the States are engaging Civil society groups and they have invited CSO representatives to be part of the COVID-19 pandemic response committee which is very good and it should be scaled up to the Federal Government level.
“Civil society and government partnerships can help drive the process and provide an enabling environment for Sustainable solutions. Many Civil society groups are involved in generating data that the government can use to build an evidence-based response.”
The Convener, CDNDC, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said, “Nigeria’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is largely foreign driven – based on the dictate of WHO, and with little or no homegrown ingenuity.
“There is an apparent lack of inclusion of CSOs which further explains why it is foreign driven in the first place because those managing it have little or no trust in the country. It is also difficult to discountenance the allegation of conspiracy in the global management of COVID-19, in which Nigeria is a victim, because, how do you explain a situation where the dominant drugs for the treatment of patients are chloroquine related, and yet it cannot be said to be or recorded as official treatments?
“My demand is that we should not embark on another lockdown since the disease has assumed a community spread which can only be defeated with herd immunity until a vaccine is available, and since chloroquine is an official taboo.
“Nigeria should open schools and adopt a class rotation system: divide big classes into three and ensure that they are all taught the same thing and equally, within a month in whatever number that can work. Keeping students at home with the knowledge now available to us is no longer scientific and sensible.”
The Director, HOMEF, Rev Nnimmo Bassey, said, “What demand? Restoration and increase of health budget, full rehabilitation of healthcare facilities, halt to avoidable disagreements with doctors and other health workers, provision of sufficient protective equipment for health workers.
“Secondly, healthcare delivery, especially in the context of the pandemic, must be pursued holistically. This means that environmental health must be a crucial factor, especially with regard to our water standards.
“Water is one of the most vital parts of the fight. Without clean water, in sufficient quantities, it is hard to see how citizens can maintain the level of hygiene necessary to overcome the coronavirus. I don’t have info on the involvement of NGOs.”