The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked the Federal Government to publish within seven days details of its proposed cash payment of N729 billion to 24.3 million poor Nigerians.
SERAP made the demand in a Freedom of Information (FoI) request dated 23 January, signed by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, and addressed to Sadiya Umar-Farouk, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disasters Management and Social Development.
Umar-Farouk had last week disclosed that the Federal Government would pay about 24.3 million poor Nigerians N5,000 each for a period of six months to “provide help to those impoverished by the COVID-19 pandemic”.
SERAP, however, insisted that the Federal Government should disclose the mechanisms and logistics for the payments, list of beneficiaries, and how they have been selected, projected payments per state and whether the payments will be made in cash or through Bank Verification Numbers (BVN) or other means.
According to the civil society organisation, publishing the details of beneficiaries and selection criteria, as well as the payment plan for six months would promote transparency and accountability, and remove the risks of mismanagement and diversion of public funds.
The FOI request partly read: “Providing support and assistance to socially and economically vulnerable Nigerians is a human rights obligation but the programme to spend five per cent of the 2021 budget, which is mostly based on deficit and borrowing, requires anti-corruption safeguards to ensure the payments go directly to the intended beneficiaries, and that public funds are not mismanaged or diverted.
“SERAP notes that the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], UN Convention against Corruption, and African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party require the government to set the highest standards of transparency, accountability and probity in programmes that it oversees.
“The government has a responsibility to ensure that these requirements and other anti-corruption controls are fully implemented and monitored and that the payments are justified in light of the huge budget deficit and borrowing, and whether there are better ways to spend N729bn to support poor Nigerians.
“Several questions remain as to the implementation and monitoring mechanisms for the payments, and whether this is the best and most effective way to spend N729bn to support socially and economically vulnerable Nigerians.”
SERAP called on the minister to “invite the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to jointly track and monitor the payments”.
The group said it would “take all appropriate legal actions under the Freedom of Information Act” should Umar-Farouk or the Federal Government fail to accede to its request after the stipulated seven days.