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CSOs Task Govt To Respect Human Rights, Ensure Transparency COVID-19 Fight

A coalition of 407 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Nigeria have called on the government to ensure transparency and accountability in its disbursement and use of COVID-19-related funds.

The CSOs also urged the government to prevent further abuses of human rights by law enforcement agencies.

At an online press briefing on Friday, the group disclosed that it has developed a comprehensive memo to guide the government in its fight against the pandemic.

Bukky Shonibare, founder of Girl Child Africa, said, “To augment government efforts, some CSOs have implemented projects to support the poor and vulnerable while raising concerns about areas of improvement.

“To articulate these gaps, CSOs in Nigeria have produced a Joint Memo covering eight thematic issues and many recommendations aimed at ensuring more effective and efficient responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria,” she said.

The eight focus areas of the document include safeguarding frontline workers, strategy for lockdowns and curfews, access to essential services, composition of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, standardisation, human rights and security, gender equality, and transparency and accountability.

The CSO coalition noted that billions of naira have been donated to support the national COVID-19 response and alleviate economic hardship asides money that the government itself has set aside for the purpose.

The coalition said, “Recognising that these funds do not require legislative approvals before disbursement, the need for transparency and accountability cannot be overemphasised, not only in ensuring it is used for its primary purpose, but also to reduce possible corruption and profiteering.

They recommended that periodic updates are given to the public about donations and allocations, that the government releases the number and identities of beneficiaries, and that a toll-free line is dedicated to reports of corruption regarding the distribution of palliatives.

Regarding the composition of the PTF, the groups said concerns have been raised that it does not fully represent key groups “that can bring in perspectives and advance issues relating to their areas of expertise in shaping scope, components, and implementation of response actions”.

They urged the government to expand the PTF to include stakeholders from the private sector, and CSO officials representing women, youth, and persons living with disabilities.

Executive Director of Adopt A Goal Initiative, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said CSOs are also monitoring the legislative attempt to repeal the Quarantine Act and replace it with the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill.

He said, “We hope together we will be able to overcome this problem and give direction to our nation. And also, largely, this is not just a recommendation for the government, it is a recommendation for all Nigerians, including the CSOs and private sector players.

“We all have something to implement in this document. And I believe that we will definitely play our own roles as CSOs in Nigeria.

“We are going to engage the federal government on every step it is taking in addressing COVID-19. Four hundred and seven CSOs signed this; it is very significant. And it means that a lot of CSOs are on top of this because these things affect everybody.

“So it is not going to be left alone to the media or people in government. We are all involved and will continue to do more,” Atoye said.

The CSOs said they hope the observations and recommendations contained in the joint memo will be used as a guide “in designing and executing strategies that will ensure we save as many lives as possible during and post the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the end, we are optimistic that Nigeria will emerge stronger, with hard lessons learned and transformation towards a better nation for all,” the CSOs added.

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