The National Human Rights Commission has “condemned senior lawyers and others in public service using human rights to shield corrupt people from prosecution and justice.”
Prof. Bem Angwe, Executive Secretary of the Commission said this at the launch of a report today at the Westown Hotels, Ikeja, Lagos. The report titled Health in decline: Human Rights Impacts of Corruption in Nigeria’s Health Sector was launched by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project in collaboration with the Ford Foundation.
Prof. Angwe who was represented by Mr Wahab Oyedokun said that “The National Human Rights Commission believes that corruption is the biggest impediment to respect for human rights in Nigeria. We recognize that we have to fight corruption to ensure human rights. There is a problem in the human rights community. That problem is that we have pretenders in the human rights and legal communities using the platform of human rights to advance corruption and to shield corrupt elements in our society.”
“It is our responsibility to expose and delegitimise these pretenders and to make sure that our citizens recognize that fight against corruption and impunity of perpetrators is really the cause to promote human rights. This is the right course to take as a human rights advocate,” Prof Angwe said.
According to him, “The constitutional guarantee of presumption of innocence is a shield and not a sword, and corrupt officials cannot claim not to be tried because they have human rights, especially given the massive stealing of our commonwealth. A shield to protect citizens from sponsored state power and doesn’t have to become a sword by which corrupt people will say because they have human rights they are entitled to steal our commonwealth with impunity and subject our people to suffering.”
“You can’t steal so much and subject people to suffering and claim him human rights. This is not the way to go. Human rights are for the advancement of the greatest majority of the greatest number. So, when we see our senior citizens at the Bar, or public service trying to delegitimize the work of SERAP, National Human Rights Commission and other human rights bodies we have to make sure that we shout them down,” Prof Angwe also said.
Others who attended the report launch included: “Mr M. H Bello for National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC); Morayo Adebayo of Amnesty International; Dr Ezeogun Joseph and Dr R.O. Ayorinde the representatives of the President Nigerian Medical Association and the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, respectively.
SERAP’s report is calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to “urgently instruct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to promptly refer to appropriate anticorruption agencies for prosecution several unresolved cases of corruption involving the Ministry of Health, including the $29 million Vaccine Grants Scam; N1.9 billion Special Intervention Fund Ebola Fund Scandal; and Nigeria Pharmaceutical Institute Ghost Workers and Illegal Recruitment Scam.”
The report is calling for “suspected perpetrators of corruption in the Ministry of Health to be brought to justice and for stolen public funds to be fully recovered to pursue the developmental agenda of the government and lift the country out of recession.”
The report also asks Buhari to “encourage anticorruption commissions and agencies to proactively launch and follow through investigations into credible allegations of corruption in the Ministry of Health including by investigating other pervasive allegations of corruption in the health sector in greater depth and promptly and satisfactorily concluding any pending investigations on corruption in the spending of budget allocations and international aids to the ministry.”
According to the report, “President Buhari should require the Ministry of Health to make public quarterly budget execution reports, and expenditure reports. It is also important for the government to fully implement the Freedom of Information Act, including by enforcing the judgment of the Federal High Court ordering the government to publish information on the spending of recovered stolen public funds since the return of democracy in 1999.”
SERAP is also calling on “the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN to refer other pervasive allegations of corruption in the health sector for investigation by the EFCC and the ICPC and instruct appropriate anticorruption commissions and agencies to promptly conclude any pending investigations on corruption in the spending of budget allocations and international aids to the ministry of health.”
“Mr Malami should proactively launch and follow through investigations into credible allegations of corruption in the Ministry of Health. He should investigate other pervasive allegations of corruption in the health sector in greater depth and promptly and satisfactorily conclude any pending investigations on corruption in the spending of budget allocations and international aids to the ministry.”
“The government should also move to recognize the right to health as legally enforceable human right and ratify the optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that would allow individual victims access to international accountability mechanism for effective remedies; and to incorporate the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the domestic legal order to enable court adjudicate cases of violations of the right to health.”
The report also calls for the “Comprehensive review and reform of the operation of the NHIS in practice to remove the risks of corruption and to allow it to achieve its intended purposes.”
The report also “calls on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to thoroughly and transparently investigate the $29 million Vaccine Grants Scam; N1.9 billion Special Intervention Fund Ebola Fund Scandal; and Nigeria Pharmaceutical Institute Ghost Workers and Illegal Recruitment Scam, prosecute suspected perpetrators of corruption and recover stolen public funds.”
“SERAP is also calling for foreign governments and donor agencies to insist on transparency and accountability and prosecution of suspected perpetrators of corruption and recovery of stolen public funds as conditions for providing aids and support to the ministry of health. They should also insist upon the timely publication and wide dissemination of budgets, expenditure reports, and audits when providing aid and other forms of cooperation to the ministry.”
According to the report, “Pregnant women who are poor are disproportionately affected during both prenatal and postnatal periods. Large scale official corruption in the health sector exacerbates inequality in already unequal and unfair political, social, and economic environments, and it produces a ‘cash and carry’ health care system based on one’s ability to pay for care.”
The report reads in part: “The country is bedeviled with proliferation of private hospitals without any successful attempt to close down illegal and substandard ones. Most of those that were closed down by the government later re-opened while some resumed operations underground. This continuously exposes the Nigerian population to great danger and no concrete hope of quality healthcare is in sight.”
“Nigerians were elated with the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), which posed as an initiative to alleviate the burden of user fees (i.e. out-of-pocket payment for health) through the prepayment schemes. The corrupt practices on-going with the scheme however, has restricted current beneficiaries to only workers in the private sector and a little fraction of public servants.”
“The recent allegations of malpractices and fraud against the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), is one in many of foreign aids that got walloped by corruption.”
“In October 2014, GAVI audit report of $29 million USD in funding given to Nigeria between 2011-2013 found that the Ministry of Health (FMH) and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) were guilty of extreme procurement malpractices and financial fraud.”
According to the report, “Only an approximated 40 per cent of the total expenditure of N4.5bn (US$29m) in the period 2011-2013 was spent on procurement with the main categories being; printing N919m (US $5.8m); incinerators N184m (US $1.2m); drugs N243m (US $1.6m); rehabilitation and equipping of medical facilities N437m (US $2.8m); other procurement N90m (US $397k), motor vehicles N17.8 (US 113k).”
“The Vaccine Alliance’s allegations forced the Federal Government to agree to repay funds deemed to have been misused, quantified as US$ 2.2 million. Even though the Federal Government agreed to pay, there was no attempt by the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration to probe or institute any committee to investigate the matter and bring to justice suspected perpetrators, thereby exacerbating impunity for corruption and adding to the bad image of Nigeria at the international level.”
“The main corruption allegations associated with the Ebola fund have been gross diversion of funds for other purposes outside the intended. The Ebola fund became the reason behind recent arrest of top officials of the Ministry of Health (FMH). It was reported that the arrest was in relation to a 15-page document obtained by the police, which showed that top officials of the Ministry of Health (FMH) and National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) were involved in the mismanagement of the N1.9 billion funds.”
“Also the scandal continued as with the diversion of N63.6 million meant for pre-departure training of Nigerian volunteers who left the country on December 5, 2014, for Liberia and Sierra Leone to assist in the fight against Ebola. It was revealed that the said amount withdrawn by the Ministry’s official was actually bankrolled by the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa who paid for all the expenses relating to this activity. Further allegations arose of a whooping sum of N14.4 million was allegedly spent to organise a meeting for just 15 people!”
“Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) goals 4 (reducing child mortality), 5 (Improving maternal health), and 6 (Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases) of the MDGs are particular to the health sector. So various funding towards MDGs 4, 5 and 6 were directly and indirectly channeled through the Ministry of Health, its departments and agencies.”
“The investigation beamed a searchlight on a particular case of fraud involving the procurement of benzyl benzoate for the treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS. According to the investigation, “the Ministry claimed a total cost of N5.4 billion for all procurement of Benzly Benzoate used in treating scabies and other skin ailments. It was however found that the Ministry quoted an extremely outrageous amount that was 59,400 per cent higher than the amount same was sold in the retail market. The investigation recounted an instance where the Ministry claimed it paid N64.7 million to buy 544 cartons and further revealed that the same amount could only have cost a maximum N2.6 million.”