Editor's note: Public affairs commentator, Funke Oladayo writes on the controversy brewing in Oyo over the N118million COVID-19 funds reportedly released by the state government which have been refuted.
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In the heels of the presentation of financial reports on COVID-19 by the Oyo state government on June 23rd, 2020, the management of the University College Hospital, Ibadan and the University of Ibadan’s College of Medicine have issued statements and counterstatements about the supposed N118million cash support to them. Both parties claimed they had not received any money from the Oyo state government.
In what I would term the N118million riddle, both institutions claiming that they did not receive N118million from the Oyo state government, leaves everyone wondering: who then did the authorities give the money. Worse still, was any money given at all or was this a move by the government to pull the wool over the eyes of the citizens while they played hanky-panky with taxpayers’ money?
Logic suggests that we work the story backwards. First, is there any evidence of money spent, no matter how small in any of these institutions? We would recall the much-celebrated diagnostic centre at the virology department of the College of Medicine which is situated at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had certified that centre, and there was no disputing over whether it existed or not. In fact, the NCDC director-general, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, physically visited the virology laboratory, UCH as part of his working visit to Oyo state. A fact that was well publicised in the press.
So, the next question is, did Oyo state pay for the upgrade of these facilities? Going by the comments from the NCDC DG during his working visit and comments attributed to the head of the virology department, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan (UI), Prof Georgina Odaibo, they did. In a press release by the Oyo state government, Professor Odaibo is quoted as saying the Oyo state government has provided extensive support that has kept the centre going.
Therefore, we are left with a final question: is the issue that the Oyo state government has not supported UCH, or the virology department, or is it the amount that is in dispute. A look at both press releases, the one put out by UCH and the other by College of Medicine, UI, seems to indicate that the issue in contention is whether N118 Million was released to the management of either UCH or College of Medicine, UI.
And this is where how the matter was communicated raises issues. The Oyo state government’s presentation was vague to the extent that the virology department under Professor Odaibo appears to be neither directly under UCH, nor directly under College of Medicine, UI. Also, the Oyo state government said they spent N118million on UCH, technically they did not give N118million to either UCH or College of Medicine, UI. So, both managements are right in saying they did not get that money.
However, the actual words of the commissioner for finance, Mr Akinola Ojo, were that they had spent N118million in supporting UCH which has served as partners in COVID-19 testing. In clarifying the matter, the chief press secretary to the Oyo state government, Mr Taiwo Adisa, broke down the expenditure as follows:
“Five hundred each of goggles, protective gowns, and face shields; 250 each of full protective headcovers & shoe covers; 200 hand gloves to UCH amounting to N2million.”
“…[R]evolving fund to the tune of N5million to UCH for treatment of residents of Oyo state who tested positive to COVID-19.”
“…shopping list specifically prepared and presented to the government by the Chief Medical Director of the UCH, Prof Jesse Otegbayo, the state government has procured medical supplies to the tune of N25 million for delivery to the Hospital. That the supplier is just about to deliver the said items is evidence of the protocols related to movement schedules of all items within the environment of a global pandemic.”
“…purchase of PPEs, SARSCoV-2 testing kits, extraction kits for Covid-19, wet lease of the testing machine for Covid-19, medical supplies and consumables as well as payment of allowances for the staff of the virology department” - N86.9million
So, while neither UCH nor the College of Medicine, UI received N118million in cash from the Oyo state government, in presenting their statement of accounts, the Oyo state government was well within their rights to attribute the expenditure of N118million to UCH.
Professor Odaibo has said that the status of the department of virology is that it belonged to both the College of Medicine and the UCH. It is like they belong to everybody and belong to nobody. We can, therefore, deduce that as in some agencies and departments of the federal government, they can also run individual accounts. But her comments as quoted in an Oyo state press statement are not enough.
In resolving this issue, it is imperative that the head of the virology department UCH/College of Medicine, UI issues a statement stating that they did indeed receive support from the Oyo state government. This is not just to put the issue of N118million at rest but also to show good faith on the part of this department. If they do not speak out now, they may, in fact, be jeopardising further collaborations with other national and international donors.
Yet, the reason the management of UCH and the College of Medicine, UI would create press releases over an issue that they could have easily resolved in their premises remains the puzzle whose resolution is beyond the scope of this article.
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