A civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has made a demand that the Federal Government of Nigeria should publish details for the implementation of the school feeding programme at home amid coronavirus pandemic in the country.
SERAP, in a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, dated May 9, 2020, by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare to the Federal Government, demanded details of suppliers, contractors, the procurement rules, including bidding processes, the total budget, and all designated voucher distribution and collection sites for the implementation of the programme.
SERAP also sought: “information on the number of states to be covered during the COVID-19 crisis, the projected spending per state, details of the mechanisms and logistics that have been put in place to carry out the programme, as well as the role expected to be played by the World Food Programme.”
The request was a sequel to the announcement by Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disasters Management and Social Development, Ms Sadia Umar-Farouk last week Wednesday, on plans by Federal Government to start feeding school children in their homes during the coronavirus crisis, starting from Ogun and Lagos states, and Abuja.
In the FoI request sent to Umar-Farouk, SERAP asked the government to: “urgently invite the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to monitor the implementation of the programme.”
The letter read in part: “Publishing the details requested is in the public interest. This would help to address public scepticism regarding the ability of the government to satisfactorily implement the programme, promote openness, and allow Nigerians to track its implementation and to hold suppliers and contractors to account.
“SERAP notes that the United Nations, UN, Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party requires 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 to ensure that the programme benefits the children and families who need it the most.”
SERAP maintained that publishing the details and the procurement rules being implemented for executing the programme at home would also remove the risks of conflicts of interest and politicisation of the programme, as well as promote transparency and accountability.
The organisation, therefore, urged FG to also establish an online national database for all suppliers and contractors responsible for carrying out the programme to feed school children in their homes, which is expected to cover over three million households in Lagos and Ogun states, and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja.
SERAP continued; “We would be grateful if the requested information is provided to us within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions under the Freedom of Information Act to compel you to comply with our request.
“According to our information, the Federal Government through your Ministry is set to partners with states, FCT, and World Food Programme to implement the school feeding programme at home during the lockdown.
“This home feeding programme reportedly followed the directive in March 2020 by President Muhammadu Buhari to your Ministry to identify modalities and continuation of the school feeding programme during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“By Section 4 (a) of the Freedom of Information, FoI Act, when a person makes a request for information from a public official, institution or agency, the public official, institution or urgency to whom the application is directed is under a binding legal obligation to provide the applicant with the information requested for, except as otherwise provided by the Act, within 7 days after the application is received.”
“By Sections 2(3)(d)(V) & (4) of the FoI Act, there is a binding legal duty to ensure that documents containing information relating to including information on details of suppliers and contractors that have been hired to implement the school feeding programme at home are widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means.”
“The information being requested does not come within the purview of the types of information exempted from disclosure by the provisions of the FoI Act. The information requested for as indicated above, apart from not being exempted from disclosure under the FoI Act, bothers on an issue of national interest, public concern, the interest of human rights, social justice, good governance, transparency and accountability.”