INVESTIGATION:  Civil Defence corps couldn’t account for received COVID-19 Funds  

By Amadin Uyi

When the International Monetary Fund approved a $3.4 billion emergency funding for Nigeria in April 2020, it was the single biggest disbursement for any country to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic and bring relief to millions of Nigerians, many thought Nigeria was on the right path to addressing the challenges brought about by the pandemic and helping ease the burden brought upon citizens, however ten months down the line, there are fears future generations will pay for the debt which did not achieve its purpose and should never have been taken.

The IMF in a statement by its Deputy Managing Director Mitsuhiro Furusawa had said that the funds would provide much-needed liquidity to respond to Nigeria’s urgent balance of payments needs which had become severe, taking its toll on the Nation’s revenues, following the plunge in oil prices caused by the pandemic

KPMG had also warned in the same month of April 2020 during its COVID-19 Business Impact Series which had appraised the business implications of COVID-19, that there will be an increase in fraud related to the pandemic

It said in one of its publications “Due to the restricted movements, employees and third- parties in remote locations may take advantage of this (pandemic) to falsify records”

This warning however was never taken to heart by Nigeria’s Federal government

Auwal Rafsanjani, the Executive director of the Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre CISLAC, also Nigeria’s representative for Transparency International in describing the activities of Government’s agencies, had also raised an alarm at the massive fraud being perpetrated by government officials and MDA’s under the guise of COVID-19 emergency procurement saying much needed to be done to track COVID-19 emergency relief funds disbursement

Rafsanjani stated in clear terms “3.4 billion loan from IMF was collected by Nigerian government, up till today no explanation of how the money has been spent, no audited report which goes against even the agreement signed by Nigerian government and IMF”

Budeshi, a web platform that links budget and procurement data to different public services using the Open Contracting Data Standards, had last year published how several MDA’s had accessed the COVID-19 relief funds for emergency procurement loaned from the IMF

One of such agencies, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps NSCDC had also accessed millions in funds for several key projects

One of such projects was for the production and airing of Jingles at the cost of about 16.9 million naira as part of its efforts to enlighten the public on the benefits and importance to adhering to COVID-19 prevention protocols in a bid to stem the growing number of cases of Nigerians being infected with the virus

This prompted an investigation into whether the funds were judiciously used for the purpose for which they were released as the NSCDC had claimed it had awarded the contract to Goodwise Global Services

The Investigation was supported by the Public and Private Development Centre and Dataphyte

After combing several private Television and Radio stations where the supposed finished jingles was supposed to be aired, a freedom of information request was sent to the NSCDC to provide details of

Contract letter awarding the contract to the above named company

Receipt of payment to Goodwise Global Services

Proof of the completed job/Online link to the finished jingle/jingles

Receipt from Media organizations as proof of payment for airing Jingles

Date and time schedules the Jingles were aired

List of Media organizations that aired the produced jingles

This request was sent on the 17th of December 2020 to the Commandant General of the NSCDC Abdullahi Gana Muhammadu and was acknowledged on the same day

A copy of the FOI request was also forwarded to the office of the attorney general on the 8th of January 2021

The NSCDC refused to respond to the request

The team lead of Community engagement with pro-transparency group Connected Development also known as CODE; Busayo Morakinyo revealed that it’s follow COVID-19 project funds witnessed the same challenge with other MDA’s

Morakinyo says between July 2020 to January 2021, the follow COVID-19 funds had written about 30 FOI requests to MDA’s which were ignored, as many of the agencies could not account for the funds

“when you refuse to respond to a freedom of information request which is a legal document, it shows that there is something behind the curtains”

Rafsanjani also added that this smirks of a clear case of funds diversion

“they will not give you any information because they know that the money was actually diverted or some of the money was diverted and therefore they will not give you any credible information that would satisfy your inquiry”

Further digging was done to ascertain the details of the company which benefitted from the transaction; Goodwise Global Services

Information obtained revealed that it is not a limited liability company but a registered business name which was registered on the 28th of May 2013

The company has no office within the city centre but uses a residential flat at the King’s court estate at the Jabi district of Abuja as its official contact

A visit to the estate revealed that it is a residential estate with no business office within the facility, this clearly revealed that the company Goodwise Global Services does not have a registered business address with the corporate affairs commission in Abuja and probably operates fro the suitcase of the owners

METHOD OF CONTRACT AWARD

A view of Part 4:2c-g of the Public procurement Act which looks at the fundamental principles of procurement in government agencies highlights details for contract awards

It stipulates that every procurement must be by;

(c)  by open competitive bidding ;

(d)  in a manner which is transparent, timely, equitable for ensuring accountability and conformity with this Act and regulations deriving therefrom ;

(e)  with the aim of achieving value for money and fitness for purpose ;

(f )  in a manner which promotes competition, economy and efficiency ; and

(g)  in accordance with the procedures and timeline laid down in this Act and as may be specified by the Bureau from time to time.

Even the Bureau of Public Procurement which had come up with guidelines on the conduct of public procurement activities by ministries, departments and agencies as a result of the covid-19 pandemic/ lockdown came up with fresh regulations which would help MDA’s function effectively taking into light the uniqueness of the pandemic

The BPP stated in clear terms that following provisions of Sections 5(a) and (o) of the Public Procurement Act (PPA) 2007, and mindful of its oversight responsibilities as the Regulator of Public Procurement in Nigeria, the guidelines would facilitate the conduct of public procurement activities in an emergency situation but would still maintain the strictest standards of transparency and accountability “there is need for all procuring entities that will participate in procurements that respond to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure transparency, accountability, probity and value for money in their procurement proceedings”

This reiterated the BPP’s call to ensure activities relating to contract awards are done right irrespective of the situation the world found itself in at the height of the COVID-19 storm

On the competence of the benefiting company, the BPP stated that MDA’s would not be allowed to discard technical competence and favour mediocrity “Notwithstanding the above, procuring Entities have the responsibility to ensure that the Contactor to be engaged to carry out any emergency work possesses the requisite technical and financial capacities to undertake the project and is eligible to do business with Government”

The BPP’s Head of Media Segun Omohiosen further explained the BPP’s position of eligibility during a visit to his office in Abuja, he stated that all contracting companies must have six major requirements to be eligible to bid or participate in a contract awards process  “if you don’t have one and you have other ones, you are out of it, that disqualifies you automatically, for instance if your company is even duly registered with CAC which is number one, you must be certified with PENCOM, certified with NSITF, ITF and FIRS, these five major organizations work seamlessly with the bureau of public procurement”

The sixth requirement he however added is the BPP IRR

He also added that for emergency procurements like the COVID-19 emergency disbursements, one or two can be discarded but that there are some requirements which are mandatory “you can be exempted from one or two things but the NSITF is compulsory, FIRS is compulsory and you must be duly registered with the CAC”

As of the time of filing this report, only a CAC registration has been confirmed for the company Goodwise Global Services

On the 8th of January, another FOI request was sent again to the NSCDC after the 7 days given to it had elapsed, this request was also ignored

With the NSCDC’s proven penchant for dishonoring legitimate requests as mandated by the FOI act, two FOI requests were sent to the Nigerian Television Authority NTA on the 7th of January and on the 3rd of February to provide records of jingles placement by the NSCDC or by Goodwise Global services bordering on COVID-19 enlightenment which had been placed by the NSCDC or by Goodwise global service on the National Broadcasting station

The first request was ignored but when a second request was sent, a reply by the Director General of the NTA was sent claiming it could not accede to the request based on section 15 of the freedom of information act which exempts agencies from 3rd party information. The section of the FOI act quoted by the NTA discloses

“15. (1) A public institution shall deny an application for information that contains- (a) trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person or business where such trade secrets or information are proprietary, privileged or confidential, or where disclosure of such trade secrets or information may cause harm to the interests of the third party provided that nothing contained in this subsection shall be construed as preventing a person or business from consenting to disclosure; (b) information the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to interfere with the contractual or other negotiations of a third party; and (c) proposal and bids for any contract, grants, or agreement, including information which if it were disclosed would frustrate procurement or give an advantage to any person”

The NTA however did not disclose how the advert placement using public funds could harm the interest of the NSCDC or Goodwise Global Services despite the fact that it owed the public information of how public funds were expended, this is despite the Director General of the NTA telling the Senate Finance committee last year that it was being owed almost 1.7billion naira by government agencies which had placed adverts during the COVID-1p pandemic but had refused to pay the due monies

Rafsanjani described the whole scenario as a corruption bazaar with MDA’s aiding and abeting each other in their quest to fleece the Nigerian public “covid-19 unfortunately brought more corruption than even the health challenge in Nigeria because public officials at local, state and national level used covid-19 as a safe haven to divert, siphon and completely steal resources that is meant to deal with issues that concerns covid-19”

He added that generations of Nigerians will be made to pay for the bazaar witnessed especially with the way the COVID-19 emergency procurement relief funds were managed.

“Nigerians are the ones bearing the consequences of it, if money is borrowed in the name of Nigerians and some few individuals siphon this money definitely Nigerians are the ones to suffer if money is budgeted to provide healthcare system and some wicked people cornered the money, it is Nigerians who are going to lack health care facilities and health care system”

A legal practitioner in Abuja Barrister Che Onyenatumba thinks the Federal Government should he held liable for the conduct of many of these MDA’s because government was not clear with guidelines on the criteria for administering the disbursed funds “having given the funds to these institutions, one also needs to know how the funds or government needs to tell us who are the beneficiaries or what are the criterias to be a beneficiary, you just can’t give an institution money without them them telling tax payers how the money will be disbursed”

Onyenatumba thinks the agencies are a reflection of the current Nigerian government “these persons are a reflection of the body language of this administration because they believe that nothing can be done to them in terms of sanctions”

Another attempt was made to reach the NSCDC through its Public relations Officer DCC Okeh Emmanuel but he disclosed that he had not received any communication regarding the FOI request, Okeh said that he was not aware of whatever letter that was submitted and that it had not gotten to his table

He however assured that if there is need for anything, the NSCDC will reach the reporter

A second call was placed to him if a copy of the request could be sent to him electronically, this he also refused saying the request letter was sent officially and would only be handled in an official manner

With the NSCDC stalling on releasing public details of funds it accessed from the COVID-19 emergency funding, many will expect the Federal Government to wield the big stick and clear its name and reputation before Nigerians and the international community by going after these MDA’s

This report is supported by the Public and Private Development Centre and Dataphyte

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