As COVID-19 Death Toll In Nigeria Hits 565, SERAP Sues Minister, CBN Governor Over Palliatives

595 views | Akanimo Sampson | June 29, 2020

The death toll of COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria has shot up from 558 to 565, with a tally of 24,567 confirmed positive cases.

After a record 779 cases on Saturday, the country on Sunday recorded 490 new cases.

While the rampaging virus is not showing any sign of slowing down in the country, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has dragged the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to a Federal High Court in Abuja.

SERAP is praying the court to order the defendants to “publicly identify and name Nigerians who have so far benefited from any cash payments, cash transfers, food distribution and other reliefs and palliatives during the lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states because of COVID-19.”

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/657/2020 filed last week, the group is also seeking: “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus to compel Humanitarian Affairs, Disasters Management and Social Development Minister, Ms Sadia Umar-Farouk, and CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, to publish spending details of public funds and private sector donations to provide socio-economic benefits to the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”

It is equally seeking “an order to direct and compel Umar-Farouk and Emefiele to publish an up-to-date list of donations and names of those who have made payments as per their publicly announced donations; spending details of the N500 billion COVID-19 intervention fund, and the names of beneficiaries, and whether such beneficiaries include People living with disabilities (PWDs).”

The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information (FoI) requests dated April 4, 2020, expressing concern that: “millions of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people have not benefited from the announced palliatives, donations, reported cash payments, cash transfers and other reliefs.”

It is praying the court for “a declaration that the failure of the minister, and the CBN governor to provide SERAP with the requested information on spending details of public money and private donations and to publish names of beneficiaries amount to a fundamental violation of the FoI Act and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its counsel, Kolawole Oluwadare and Joke Fekumo, read in part: “By a combined reading of the FoI Act and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Ms Umar-Farouk and Mr Emefiele ought to be directed and compelled to make public details of those that have benefited from COVID-19 funds and donations.”

“Any perception that the reliefs, funds and donations are not reaching intended beneficiaries would undermine public trust and the integrity of the entire processes and modes of distribution of reliefs/benefits to these Nigerians.”

“Both the minister, and the CBN governor have a legal duty to ensure that information on the details of those who have so far benefited from COVID-19 funds and donations is released to SERAP upon requests, and that the information is widely published. Yet, both have completely ignored SERAP’s requests.”

“SERAP and indeed the general public have a legitimate interest in ascertaining and scrutinizing the veracity of the claims of how the COVID-19 funds and donations have been spent, and to know that the intended beneficiaries actually received any benefits.”

“Umar-Farouk and Emefiele also ought to be directed and compelled to make public details of any plan to provide social and economic reliefs to the over 80 million of the country’s poorest and the most vulnerable people, beyond the 11 million targeted by the Federal Government across 35 states.”

“Democracy cannot flourish in the absence of citizens’ access to information, no matter how much open discussion and debate is allowed. This suit would ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of COVID-19 money and donations.”

“SERAP submits that the principle of disclosure of information in the overriding public interest has been internationally reaffirmed, including in the Joint Declaration adopted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression.”

“The Joint Declaration states that the right of access to information should be subject to a narrow, carefully tailored system of exceptions. Exceptions should apply only where there is a risk of substantial harm to the protected interest and where that harm is greater than the overriding public interest in having access to the information.”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

In the meantime, a breakdown of the COVID-19 new cases in the country by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) shows that Lagos recorded 118 cases, to have a cumulative total of 10,144 cases.

While Delta, a big oil and gas state in the Niger Delta came second with 84 cases, and Ebonyi State in Eastern Nigeria reported 68 cases, the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja registered 56 cases. It now has 1,792 cases, with 486 more than what third-placed Oyo State in Western Nigeria has.

NCDC also announced that 9,007 patients have been successfully treated of the virus discharged.

The showing of the states is as follows: Lagos-118, Delta-84, Ebonyi-68, Abuja-56, Plateau-39, Edo-29, Katsina-21, Imo-13, Ondo-12, Adamawa-11, Osun-eight, Ogun-eight, Rivers-six, Kano-five, Enugu-three, Bauchi-three, Akwa Ibom-three, Kogi, Oyo, and Bayelsa recorded one case each.

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