How do you assess the level of corruption in Nigeria?
I think I have seen a number of public opinion polls which were published on the eve of the first year anniversary of the President’ second term, and then, there is a report that UNODC also published as well. UNODC report suggests that increasingly, many Nigerians oppose corruption; they feel that corruption is bad for the country, they think that corruption has eroded the values and development of the country, and they feel that corruption has actually undermined Nigeria’s ability to provide services to its own citizens, which i think is a good news because it shows that the level of tolerance for corruption is reducing in the country. The public opinion polls, Daily trust and data produced by the Centre for Democracy and Development gave about sixty-six (66%) percent pass mark to the current administration in terms of its fight against corruption. But, of course, all of them raised a number of concerns in terms of what is happening. One of the major issue they raised was that whereas there is a commitment to fight corruption, at the same time looks like there are many people who are in the ruling party that have been shielded, and not prosecuted as they have should been prosecuted by the administration as well. I will say that based on those three analyses we have seen, we can say that the cup is half full and not half empty. There are serious problems and challenges I think we as citizens will continue to face and fight back as well, and we should never allow the issue of corruption to be about an individual or an administration, it has to be about the Nigerian people and what Nigerians consider as the most important thing we need to do for ourselves, for our children, and for development of our country. We have to do it because this is the common wealth that belongs to all of us; it is not a common wealth that belongs to tiny minority of citizens or people in this country. We should all worry about what are the implications of corruption for our people, for our country, and especially for the younger generation who are coming, I think we are stealing their future, we are depriving them their future, we are depriving them their livelihood. There is no good parent who would want to steal the future of their children and grandchildren, unless that parent is certainly not a correct parent.
How has the MacArthur Foundation been dealing with some of the covid_19 challenges?
As we all know, Covid_19 is a major challenge. First of all, I will like to talk about what we did for our staff, and I think we have tried as much as possible to ensure that our staff is well sorted. We closed our office much earlier than when the government announced the closure of offices, and up till now, we are still working from home to ensure that our staff is not exposed to any challenge and problem. Secondly with our grantees, we have communicated with them probably more than four to five times during this period; first of all to alert and assure them that we are here with them, to give them the flexibility of doing their work as they tend, and that they should never think about whether their deadline is now or tomorrow. The foundation will continue to assure its grantees that their health and safety come first and they should never worry whether the foundation is going to be upset or angry that they have not done their work, it is not important to us, what’s most important to us is their own health, safety and that of their staff and colleagues. We have assured them several times, when for example when they have problem with their reporting or anything, in fact the foundation has even now agreed to accept verbal reports, if people have challenges of either going to the office to send an email or they are located in a place where they are unable to send an email, but able to make a phone call. In terms of their annual report, the foundation has told them that if they cannot meet their deadline, they should never worry about their deadline, they can report to the foundation anytime they want. We have also shared with them number of information around mental health and their physical health within this period; what they should be thinking about; what they should be doing; why they should be taking all kinds of steps. We have shared with them a number a resources to ensure they don’t run into other problems in doing their work as well. I think that we have also challenged the grantees and I am very happy that they have tried to live up to that, I try to tell them that in this moment, what is more important and very critical is civic leadership, it’s about how we as citizens take charge of the situation and do what we can in order to respond to the pandemic. So, we should not just think about what the government can do, but actually what we should do in spite all or in complimenting what the government is trying to do, and I am very happy that many of them have come to us, and have said during the COVID, probably they want to do this program or the other program, they want to do some new things because of the COVID that is happening due to their sense of responsibility and willingness to exercise their civic leadership. Civil society organizations have the responsibility to do whatever they can in order to ensure that they also do that, and they do that in different ways; some of them will turn to public education; there are a number of people in radio stations, some of them in Nigerian languages, some in English language, some of them on televisions, some are even on newspapers and other programs they are doing in other to educate the public about this pandemic. Others are tracking the resources that are being spent on COVID, and a number of them have organized webinars and trainings on how to track resources during this period, because we know that funds are coming in locally and internationally for this COVID response, and we don’t want the COVID situation to be an opportunity for some people to enrich themselves, but to provide services to ordinary citizens that actually deserve the resources at this time. A number of them have been involved in trying to track the resources that is spent, including some of the palliatives that have been distributed, others are looking at the modified school feeding program; how it’s actually being done, some have made a Freedom of information request to find out from the government how much have been spent, some grantees have also been doing work around disinformation; doing fact checking and countering the number of rumors going on in the social media about this. I am very proud of the work the grantees are doing, trying to exercise their civic leadership, either to compliment whatever the government is doing and trying to cross check the government, because there are situation where the government has failed in actually taking leadership and providing services to our citizens.
What are your perspectives in the way government is dealing, particularly in Kano of the Northern Nigeria, following the head minister’s reaffirmation that many debts in Kano were related to COVID 19? Are there things we should be doing differently?
Kano is a very pathetic and dangerous situation, unfortunately because of the nature of the environment and I think that government initially really understood the most vulnerable places in the country. They looked at the most urbanized and vulnerable places like Kano, Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Abuja and I think they also looked at the challenge of our major airport centres. We made a number of mistakes in the response, I don’t think those were deliberate mistakes, they were rational mistakes, in the sense that we tried to follow the first index case, and because the first index case was in Lagos, we tried to concentrate in Lagos and tried to put the infrastructure and resources to ensure that we contain the situation, which I think is a rational thing to do. By the way, I always say that somewhat we are lucky that this problem started in Lagos, I can imagine if it had started in another part of the country, the disaster would have been worse because despite all our problems and all the problems of Lagos, Lagos has a better infrastructure and better governance structure to deal with this problem than if it had happened in another part of the country. So, government, partly because of the Ebola experience, they had something on ground that helped in guiding them. As the virus tried to move off into the hinterland, we tried to build the infrastructure gradually, next was Ogun, eventually it was Oyo and Abuja. Unfortunately, we never realized that by the time we identified the first index in Kano, there was already a problem in Kano, but we always look at first index case, unfortunately so many people were dying at that time, that we never knew it was because of COVID, so all of our reference were always in the first index case, and now, it’s being discovered in many parts of the world. The first index case that we report is just a report that actually has been officially reported, but in many places people have died much earlier. It was only later people went back to see the record, and in some places, they were able to do autopsy to find out that actually, those people who died earlier was also as a result of COVID19, although the first index case might have been discovered a month or two even in some places, after the situation. Even now, there is claim in china that probably the problem started as early as august 2019, based on imagery of hospital attendants in the record of computers and other things, whereas, as we all know, the first case that was reported was in January, so there was like a five months gap in that one. In Kano, that was the same situation we have found ourselves, whereby a lot of people died. Unfortunately, the first set of people who died is supposed to be prominent people, we know that people attend the funeral of prominent people, and now I think we know that probably a lot of the people who attended those deaths of prominent people also got infected in those places. Most of the infections happened as a result of few events; anything that brings people together in large numbers, whether it is a soccer match, naming ceremony, funeral, or school, these are indication of super spread at events. I think that what we saw initially in Kano, not only in Kano, reports from Bauchi, Yobe and others, probably, those were the suggestions around as a result of super spread at events. Most of them, big people died, many people went for the funeral and many people got infected through that process as well. In the northern part of the country, the reality there even before COVID; the rate of endemic diseases are much higher, which is a reflection of inequality in access to challenges which are very prominent in the northern part of the country. When you have that underlining condition; like malaria, tuberculosis, child mortality, underside mortality, high level of malnutrition, you compare these indices in the northern part of the country with the other parts of the country, you will find out that there are much higher levels of those problems. When added up with the sum of COVID, what happens then is that the underlining condition then exacerbates the situation, therefore making it much worse than other parts of the country.
The MacArthur Foundation just reported on its periodic review, how will this review affect your work in Nigeria?
Well, it will not be a major change. I don’t think there is going to be a major change in terms of the work that we are doing. I think that, certainly, one of the changes that is happening given the situation we have found ourselves with COVID, we are trying to see if we can get more resources in terms of the COVID response, we are trying to see if we can support the UNDP, and provide support to get some materials for the country, especially in terms of the personal protection equipment (PPE). We want it to be available nationwide, so that our frontline workers are protected as we all know they have been the victims in many of our hospitals and clinics, and many of them have been infected. Being our own frontline workers, we really don’t want them to continue to be infected. I think that is certainly one big change that is going to happen. Looking at situations that are so appalling and difficult, the foundation in the spirit of being a good neighbour, whereby you don’t want to be in a situation where you allow other people close to you to be suffering, when you are protected, that is one of the major things we are trying to do in terms of change.
Over the years that you have been working here, what measure would you put as satisfaction back home in Chicago that these funds are achieving its objectives?
I would say that the difference is in the Nigerian people. We all know that there are serious problems in our governance structure and our leadership, but definitely the Nigerian spirit drives our passion and interest about the country. Despite all the limitations and challenges our people are facing, they are always willing to do whatever they can to make their lives better and improve the quality of their children. Without sounding derogatory, People who hardly make a living in this country, you will find out that they are striving and struggling every morning and evening; I am not in any way glorifying that kind of life, but I am trying to say that there is a spirit among Nigerians that despite all the challenges and limitations they have, they will try to make it. So that spirit is what gladdens the foundation and gives us hope, that with this collective spirit of “we can do”, hopefully, we can lift this country in a much better situation for our children and for our grandchildren as well.
SOURCE: PRIMORG TV