IDEAS Radio 3 April 2020

Accountability and COVID19 Donations

Chukwudi Ezugwu: Twenty-two minutes past four pm.  I must first apologise for starting off the show really very late.  We are going to be having a conversation with Ayo Obe, on IDEAS with Ayo Obe.  And today we’re still staying on the biggest story in the world today.  We’re discussing COVID-19 and all of the important issues.  We’re going to be discussing the legal issues and the provisions of the Quarantine Act that was recently signed by President Mohammadu Buhari, and we would just like everybody to pay attention, because I am very confident that we’ll be having an engaging conversation.  I hope I already have Ayo Obe on the line.  Hello!

Ayo Obe: Hello, Hi Chukwudi, how are you?

CE: Good evening.  I must first apologise for reaching out to you late, but thank you very much for your patience, and I’m certain that we’re going to be having an engaging conversation.

AO: Yeah, as you know, IDEAS radio’s brief is to look at issues of Integrity, Democracy, Ethics, and Accountability.  And … so really it’s … our focus is on the prevention of corruption and the promotion of transparency.  

But I thought that it does help to mention the issue that you talked about, not that I’m a legal advice expert (even though I’m a Legal Practitioner) but just to, because some workers – and employers for that matter – are a little bit concerned about what they can look forward to because of the President’s declaration, and I think it’s important for us to understand that the …  most insurance policies will not cover the pandemic.  They actually, some of them specifically will exclude pandemics.  And … we have what we call in law, an implied term of a contract.  The declaration of lockdown and so on, is not going to be seen as an implied term of a contract, so people shouldn’t be expecting that they will be able to get out of their contract that way.  On the other hand, it’s also true that if a contract is frustrated and any party can show that they were ready, willing and able to perform the contract except for the frustrating event, which in this case would be the lockdown, then they may be able to avoid liability, but I think that that’s a far cry from being able to claim actual insurance liability.  The issue I should say Chukwudi has come up, because when the President did not promulgate any legal framework for the lockdown, stay at home orders and the other … quarantine issues, some legal practitioners had said that if what the President has done doesn’t have any legal backing, then there could be problems further down the line.  And the reality is that the Federal Government recognised that and they promulgated legislation.  In other countries, it had been even suggested that the refusal of governments to declare lockdown and things that could be cited as frustrating events for a contract, were because they were trying to protect their friends in various industries from having to answer to either their insured people, or to their employees and so on.  So I think we should … so that that had raised questions about what is the real motive behind the failure to look at these things.

CE: Alright there are people who look at the situation and say, if we go by what has happened in Italy, in Spain, in France, in Iran even in the United States of America, it is important that we act quickly.  And people have said in a matter of life and death   there is no point in looking at the legality of an action, it’s important to act because desperate times call for desperate measures.  What do you think of this opinion held by some people.

AO: Well I think that there’s no … there’s really no excuse that can happen.  Definitely desperate times require desperate measures, so that if it were in fact required that the President had to summon  the National Assembly in order to deal with an emergency, then yes.  But our Constitution anticipates such things.  And so, incidentally, does the Quarantine Act.  But you see, what you’ve had is a situation where people have been going out, or trying to go about their business, and on the other hand, when they are now challenged by law enforcement, the law enforcement doesn’t really know the limits of their authority and nor do the people, and so it becomes … the potential for violence or for other forms of failure to abide by the Rule of Law which, as we know is an … I mean we always say abuse of power is corruption in itself.

But Chukwudi I also wanted to address another issue which has come and that was really, the situation that we’ve seen where up a lot of … money is being collected in the name of Corona Virus donations.

CE: Hmmm!

AO: A lot of money is being asked for, again in the name of Corona Virus donations.  And I thought that it would be … it’s important for us to ask some questions about    transparency issues in this regard.  I was fortunate earlier in the day to be able to talk to Fola Adeola who is of the FATE Foundation, I should say the FATE Philanthropy Foundation, and to get an idea of some of the things that are being done by the private sector and private individuals, because as you know, there’s … amounts of money that are probably beyond the dreams of avarice for most of us, billions of naira, millions of dollars that are being raised.  And I should say that with regard to the money that is being raised by the Governor of the Central Bank, which is mainly from banks, that the … there’s a Coalition of Private Sector philanthropists.  So … and  people had expressed their concern that if the government is taking money from private individuals, should it be the government that is spending that money?  Because we always suspect that it could go to private sector, to party individuals or those who are connected.  But what I understood was that the Coalition of Private Sector Philanthropists, which itself is chaired by Aliko Dangote … with Herbert Wigwe of Access Bank, is that, yes the Central Bank is collecting the money and the fund is the … the chairman of that … the distribution of that fund, or the application of that fund, is the Secretary to the Government, but the deputy chair of the committee is Dangote, so it’s going to be supervised, the money – how it’s going to be spent – will be supervised by Dangote and Wigwe.  And of course it has a Board, mostly bank chiefs and chiefs of industry like Tony Elumelu, Jim Ovia, Segun Agbaje and so on.  So they are, that’s the largest fund that people have … people or their organisations  have contributed.

CE: Hmm.

AO: I’m also aware that the oil companies have a fund which is being coordinated by the Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, but what they are doing is that they are identifying what needs to be done with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, and then they are putting the money directly into that. 

What Mr. Adeola also told me, was about what the FATE foundation is doing and again, it’s a matter of trying to see – not just sort of saying: Here’s money.  But to say what do we need now, and one of the things that they identified at the FATE Foundation is that there are many people who are being asked to go into isolation who cannot do that in their own homes and so what they had done was to set up isolation centres.  Not treatment centres.  There are places where you can go and stay in isolation, when you have to be … where you are going to be tested, and between the test and the result, you stay in these centres that have been set up: the one that they’ve set up in Abeokuta, currently accommodating 30 but soon will be able to accommodate 60 … 60 people.  What happens is that you go there, you isolate, you are tested, if your test is positive you get transferred to hospital.  If your test is negative you are sent home with some drugs that you will take.  But … essentially you are no longer … you don’t have to stay in the centre.  

It’s just some of these things you see that the private sector are doing.  They are also putting in extra beds at the National Orthopaedic Hospital in Igbobi … trying to do things like using solar power in case the electricity goes down.

And again, … the reason why I mentioned this, is because, I don’t know if you remember how, when Tracka was formed, it was in response to the fact that people had been affected by floods … several years ago, and money had been raised to … for the help of the flood victims  it was BudgIT at the time they had to set up Tracka to trace these kind of things, what they found was that the money was going to people who were on lists, who were party members.

CE: Wow.

AO:  So there’s always been that concern.  But by doing things that are actually, are directly targeted at the problem, I think that Nigerians should be able to interrogate what is done.  Of course organisations like the FATE Foundation will ordinarily have the system set up whereby they will do their accounts.  But what I understood in this case was that they won’t even be waiting for their normal annual accounting cycle to show how they spent the money, but rather, what is expected is that when they have done the … I mean of course, they have to account to their donors on a regular basis anyway, but they’re also going to put up an account of the specific Corona Virus funds and their expenditure when they … when they are done.  I think we also have groups like the Young Presidents Association headed by  Fola Elegbete, they are setting up  another 150 bed treatment centre like GT … like the Guaranty Trust Bank one at Onikan, they are doing one at Landmark which has given them the space, and they are working on that.  You know, all of these things have to be supervised by the government because otherwise, you run the risk of duplication of effort and so on, but I think that what we are looking for when we’re talking about Integrity, and as I’ve always said, trying to build up the … the trust that we citizens need to have in our government and which at the moment is still lacking, is that the … these individuals are probably going to be able to ensure that they are utilised in a meaningful manner, and not in a man-know-man type of way as we see it.

I mentioned man-know-man of course, we don’t see quite so many women involved   in these things and we know that the needs of women are actually going … if not more, they’re certainly high on the list.  I think that what you find is that the philanthropy being done by women is very much person to person.  It’s  obviously not on the scale of the billion dollars that banks … or the N250 million that banks are contributing towards the Central Bank fund or the …  the millions of dollars that oil companies are contributing but nonetheless, it’s important that they don’t get overlooked in the general rush to assist.  Chukwudi, I think I’ve talked the hind legs off a donkey, I should stop.  

CE: Alright, thank you very much for sharing all of the information with us,  I’m very certain that  a lot of Nigerians are concerned about these funds that have been generated and how they would be put to judicious use and it’s important that we … gather every information that we can and try as much as we can and keep asking the right questions.  But thank you very much Ayo Obe for sharing with us.

AO: Yeah, I want to thank everybody for joining me on the IDEAS segment.  And as I said, I think it’s important that we keep our eyes open, but between cynicism and the things that we’re doing so far, I think we’re ahead of the game in Nigeria, and that’s something that we should … we should be celebrating.

CE: Yeah, and I’m certain that it is really cheering news for so many Nigerians.  Thank you very much Ayo Obe.   

AO: You’re welcome.