Again, constitutional amendment, ratification of optional protocol top list of solutions to Nigeria’s malaise

For many Nigerians, the term corruption is not new and corrupt acts across all sectors have become a norm. Indeed, many acts of corruption are not considered to be wrong again among people. But experts have stated that except corruption is curbed, the country will continue on a downward spiral, this and many other reasons is responsible for months of research by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), for a solution to the challenges of corruption in Nigeria. YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE reports.

Corruption across various sectors in Nigeria especially in health, education, security and water is not strange; it has been documented by many civil society organisations including the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP). Indeed, corruption is a national problem in many African countries especially Nigeria and the effects have been identified to be disastrous.

Among other destructive consequences, corruption is linked to the occurrence and prevalence of poverty as it has been found to erode the economy and distort governance in a manner that creates room for corruption to fester while creating an enabling environment for poverty. It also leads to poverty as experts have argued that irrespective of the cause of poverty, corruption makes it more difficult to mitigate its effects.

And to curb the menace, there had been various researches and efforts by various groups to ensure corruption is reduced to the barest minimum in the Nigerian society. One of such recent efforts is a recent research report by the SERAP, which found the answer to the challenge of corruption after months of research.

SERAP in a 61-page report titled ‘The Ignored Pandemic: How corruption in the health, education and water sectors is plunging Nigerians further into poverty’ highlighted solutions to the challenge faced by Nigerians. The report which covered the six geopolitical zones of the country vividly shows the link between corruption and poverty generally and specifically pointed to the growing lack of access of poor Nigerians to public goods and services, including education, health and water.

 

Available data

Corruption as a word when associated with public life in Nigeria does not, on the surface, capture the full extent to which it has destabilised the three key sectors. But the gravity of the problem becomes clearer when the statistics is considered.

The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene National Outcome Routine Mapping (WASHNorm) 2018, indicates that about 55 million Nigerians do not have access to clean water supply services; they can’t use decent toilet facilities and millions have resorted to open defecation.

According to UNICEF, poor water supply and sanitation costs the Nigerian economy about 1.3 per cent of GDP annually, which is about NGN1.9 trillion. UNICEF’s statistics on education in the country is also bleak. It stated that one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria and about 10.5 million children aged 5-14 years are not in school while only 61 per cent of 6-11 year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 per cent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education.

In healthcare, the situation is equally pathetic and the sector does not fare better. Though the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige claimed in an interview on April 24, 2021, claimed that Nigeria has “more than enough” doctors, statistics show that there are only 3.8 doctors to 10,000 people or 0.38 doctors per 1,000 people in the country. Meanwhile the United Nations recommends a minimum of 1 doctor per 1,000 people.

This means that Nigeria needs at least 200,000 doctors to sufficiently cater for its 200 million people. One of the consequences of this shortage is that in 2019, Nigeria was responsible for 20 per cent of all maternal mortality globally and only has about 24,000 hospitals.

 

Victims of the ignored pandemic

SERAP, in its report, notes that although several factors are responsible for the situation, corruption is plunging Nigerians further into poverty. It calls the situation an ‘ignored pandemic.’

Researchers found that no fewer than 27.4 million Nigerians earn below N100, 000 per annum, with the figure representing 48.9 per cent of persons living in poverty in the country.

The poor are victims, not perpetrators of corruption. A critical finding of the report is that the poor are victims and not perpetrators of corruption in the health, education and water sectors.

The report stated that 27.9 per cent of Nigerians living in poverty (more than 15.6 million) earned between N100, 000 and N200, 000 per annum, while 56 million Nigerians live in poverty and 57.20 per cent of them are mostly self-employed.

It identified factors such as budget fraud, procurement fraud, embezzlement of funds, and other illegal activities in the water, education, and health sectors that have continued to deny quality service to Nigerians.

“Poor people are victims and not perpetrators of corruption in the health, education and water sectors. States did not have documented policies for helping people living in poverty or people earning low income to have access to healthcare, education and water. Even if these existed, they were not known to the public officers who serve the people living in poor neighbourhoods.

“Corruption contributes to poverty and consequential suffering of people living in poor neighbourhood; budget fraud, procurement fraud, embezzlement of funds among other illegal actions, lead to failure in the delivery of services including education, water and health,” the report said.

 

Federal Government’s effort

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, in a keynote address during the unveiling of the report in Lagos, said the Federal Government would take the recommendations in the report seriously and continue working to improve on them and address new recommendations that needed further work.

He said, “Furthermore, it is necessary that I also point out that some of the recommendations contained in this report are already being addressed by the government but would require consistent and focused engagement by Nigerians especially the civil society groups. Worthy of immediate mention is the recommendation that our 1999 constitution (As Amended) be amended to recognise Nigerians’ socio-economic rights, including the rights to an adequate standard of living, education, quality healthcare, and clean water as legally enforceable human rights.”

 

SERAP’s position on implementation of recommendations

The Deputy Director of SERAP, Oluwadare Kolawole, while speaking to Nigerian Tribune on the steps SERAP taken towards enforcement and implementation of some of the recommendations to ensure they don’t go the way of past efforts, said his organisation has scaled up sensitisation and mobilisation of Nigerian citizens on the strategic action points in the recommendations in order to build their capacity to become a community of accountability practitioners in the health, education and water sectors across the six geo-political zones.

He added that “SERAP is also utilising the recently set up SERAP’s Accountability Club [SAC] to engage youth groups in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions to strengthen their advocacy for good governance across the pre-identified sectors. The essence is to empower citizen groups to become accountability practitioners by demanding and holding service providers and responsible public officials to account.

“We are also educating and sensitizing the public through its media advocacies including the use of storytelling (vignettes and short drama videos) on both digital and traditional media platforms such as social media live chats, engagements and syndicated show appearances. Further, we are collaborating with other civil society organisations to enlarge the scope of the advocacy on the findings and recommendation of the Report. This entails leveraging on the strengths of these partners to further the reach of advocacy for improved public service delivery in the health, education and water sectors,” he said.

 

Solutions

SERAP’s report made several recommendations for solving the problems. But the major solution it proffered is prompt amendment of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended), to recognise Nigerians’ socio-economic rights, including the rights to an adequate standard of living, education, quality healthcare and clean water as legally enforceable human rights

Also it asked for the ratification of Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which allows individuals and groups whose socio-economic rights are violated to access international accountability mechanism in the form of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

It further asked that allegations of corruption in social assistance measures such as cash transfers and ensure prosecution of those suspected to be responsible if there is admissible evidence and the recovery of any missing funds should be referred to appropriate anti-corruption agencies.

Addressing the risks of corruption in social assistance measures was also highlighted as a means of ensuring that the programme reaches those most in need and that public money is not mismanaged or diverted

The report also advised that the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are immediately directed to jointly investigate allegations of systemic and widespread corruption in MDAs

Ensure prosecution of those suspected to be responsible for corruption in the management of public funds meant to provide access of poor Nigerians to education, healthcare, and water if there is admissible evidence, and the recovery of any missing funds

“End the practice of collecting local government allocations by complying with constitutional provisions and developing mechanisms to ensure that local government allocations directly go to local government councils. Honour Freedom of Information requests including on the spending of public funds on education, healthcare and water in your states, and actively implement freedom of information mechanisms within your states and widely publish all reports issued by the Auditor-General of the Federation and Auditors General of the states in the course of carrying out their oversight responsibilities,” the report advised.

The report emphasised that “many of the 36 states in Nigeria have no documented policies for helping people living in poverty or people earning low income to have access to health, education and water. Even if these policies existed, they were not known to the public officers who serve the people living in poor neighbourhoods.”

It urged President Muhammadu Buhari to “promptly propose an executive bill to amend the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) to recognise Nigerians’ socio-economic rights, including the rights to an adequate standard of living, education, quality healthcare, and clean water as legally enforceable human rights.”

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