The Nigerian government was able to secure a further 10 years of GAVI support after agreeing to refund $7.6 million funds misused by its officials to the organisation, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
Oyewale Tomori, a board member of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), told PREMIUM TIMES in an email Friday that the condition for the support extension also included that Nigeria must set in place an accountability framework and be ready for high-level annual reviews.
It also involved a comprehensive mid-term review in 2022-2023 on the progress of GAVI’s support.
“Knowing my country, I would have said the accountability framework should be in place before any fund is released,” said Mr Tomori, a professor of Virology, who is also the chairman, Board of Directors, Biovaccines Nigeria Limited, a joint venture local vaccine production company between the Nigerian government and May&Baker Nigeria Plc.
“That, in addition to the high-level annual reviews, there should be an additional mid-year review.
“Remembering that the National Assembly manages to approve the national budget six months into the year, we should find a method for fulfilling our financial obligations upfront, possibly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. After all, we bought fighter jets with funds from the CRF pre-National Assembly approval.
“Finally, those responsible for misusing the US$7.6 million GAVI fund, should be thoroughly investigated, and all who are found guilty should spend the rest of their life in jail – a small price to pay for all Nigerian children who died from vaccine preventable diseases.”
Last Monday, Nigeria’s health minister, Isaac Adewole, announced the approval of a funding envelope, by the GAVI Board, and the extension of the transitional period from 2021 to 2028.
The approval came after months of pleas by the Nigerian government for the extension of the funding, which is worth $2.7 billion with GAVI committing $1.03 billion.
Mr Adewole, a professor of gynaecology and obstetrics, said with GAVI’s approval, Nigeria stands to save the lives of additional 1.5 million under-1 children by 2028 by driving Immunisation rates up to 85 per cent in all the states.
The approval also came after years of accusations and counter-accusations between GAVI and Nigerian health officials over the latter’s spending of the Geneva-based organisation’s funds.
A rich dependant
In 2015, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, then finance minister, spearheaded a controversial decision to refund $2.2 million, allegedly mismanaged by Nigeria officials, to GAVI despite protests by health ministry officials that the grants had been judiciously used.
Ms Okonjo-Iweala is the current chair of the GAVI board.
The discussions that finally culminated in the extension of the GAVI grant to Nigeria by 10 years began during a GAVI board meeting on June 6.
“It may not have been the first occasion when being a Nigeria has brought debilitating pains,” Mr Oyewale said.
“One of the conditions given for discussing the issue was that Nigeria must pay back the GAVI money misused in previous years.
“GAVI had conducted a full-scale Cash Programme Audit (CPA) covering the period 1 January 2010 to 31 March 2015. The initial audit exposed irregular and/or ineligible use of funds totalling US$2.2 million, and the final one discovered an additional misuse of US$5.4 million, in total, for the period under review, Nigeria had misused a total of US$7.6 million.
“After a prolonged, contentious and intractable back and forth communication between GAVI and Nigeria, Nigeria agreed to pay back the misused fund to GAVI, in the face of overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence.
“The first amount of US$2.2 million was paid in 2015. The Minister who authorised and ensured that the misused money was paid, was declared a national traitor.”
Mr Oyewale said the Nigerian government agreed in 2017 to pay in two installments the second tranche of US$5.4 million misused funds.
“We paid the first instalment towards the end of 2017, and promised to pay the second instalment after the budget approval in 2018,” he said.
“Payment of the second tranche of a little over US$2 million was the condition upon which the discussion for our request for transition extension to 2028 anchored.
“GAVI insisted that the money must be credited to their account before the matter would be tabled. A day before the discussion on the matter, Nigeria had produced documentary evidence that instruction had been given for the money to be paid, but GAVI had not yet received an alert of the payment.
“We met during the tea break to discuss the issue. What happens if GAVI does not receive the evidence that the money had been deposited into their account?
“Will discussion of the Nigerian be shelved indefinitely or postponed till another GAVI Board meeting in November 2018? Will Nigeria’s failure to meet the payment timeline adversely affect the outcome of our request? These and many other questions agitated our minds.”
When discussions resumed after the tea break on June 6, PREMIUM TIMES learnt that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala introduced the matter followed by comments from the Gavi Board Chief Executive Officer, Seth Berkley, confirming that Nigeria was yet to fulfill her commitment to pay the final instalment of the misused funds, a pre-requisite for discussing the request.
“The discussion was then thrown open, for Board members to decide whether to suspend or go ahead with the discussion. A dozen or so nameplates stood on their legs, indicating the desire to contribute to the discussion. By this time, all Nigerians on the Board – (none of whom was actually representing Nigeria, but different constituencies) were recused from contributing to the discussion to avoid any appearance of bias.
“Speaker upon speaker pleaded, not for Nigeria, but for the over five million children of Nigeria that may not receive annually, necessary vaccines and who may end up maimed by polio, or dead from other preventable diseases- whooping cough, tetanus, diphtheria, measles, diarrhea, pneumonia, yellow fever, meningitis, to mention a few.
“Along with the pleadings, and in subtle and diplomatic language, Nigeria got some bashing. The gorgeous dress of a thief is not a garment of honour. Where I sat, mute as the famous Owerri Zuma statue, their words came as flying darts to my heart, my pride, my ego, my patriotism, and my being. Their nice words metamorphosed into questions in my mind, producing different interpretations.
“How come a nation so rich with enough resources to fully vaccinate every child and more, is asking for such a long extension? It is good that the Nigerian government accepted to refund the misused funds, but has any individual been held accountable? Or is the government endorsing misuse of money? Why does Nigeria have to wait until the last minute to fulfill her obligation?”
Although Nigeria succeeded in getting a ten-year extension for GAVI’s continued support, Mr Oyewale said it was a sad development for the country.
“Ordinarily, graduating from GAVI support, or to be free of dependency on donor funds to take care of the health of your children should be an occasion for celebration,” he said.
“It is a recognition that a country after years of depending on others to take care of her children, has now reached the level where through good governance, judicious use of resources in a transparent and accountable manner, can boldly proclaim her true independence.
“A country that asks for an extension of dependency after she is deemed ready for independence, should be ashamed of herself, no matter the reason for her seeking continued dependency. For Nigeria, we know our current predicament of begging for an extension of dependency has nothing to do with our lack of resources, in any ramification.
“We are beggars because of our flagrant and absolute misuse, misapplication and wastage of our resources.”