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Article by Amos Aluko 

The prosecution of a worker with the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) is ongoing for allegedly diverting COVID-19 palliatives meant to be distributed to Nigerians during the COVID-19 pandemic season. 

According to court documents obtained by Citizens’ Gavel, a civic tech organisation in Abuja, the NCDC worker is identified as Julie Obeta. She was arraigned by the Independent Corrupt Practices (ICPC) and other related offences Commission. 

The anti-graft agency filed a charge bordering on stealing and fraud against the Defendant after investigations revealed that she allegedly appropriated funds meant for palliative distribution during the height of the 2020 pandemic. 

The suit number, FCT/CV/2611/2021, is being heard at the Kwali High Court. 

There have been reports that some state governments hoarded COVID-19 palliatives and relief materials donated by the private sector for distribution during the lockdown. 

They had stored them in secret warehouses in connivance with government officials and NCDC staff. 

 On February 27, 2020, Nigeria recorded its COVID-19 case index; the cases grew geometrically within weeks, forcing the President, Muhammadu Buhari, to declare a lockdown in Lagos, Ogun, and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, beginning March 31, 2020. 

Apart from the N500 billion stimulus package set aside by the Federal Government to cushion the effects of the pandemic, the private sector, on March 26, 2020, established the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) to assist the government in combating the coronavirus disease in the country. 

To date, CACOVID, as it is called, has raised more than N26 billion, which was mostly used to purchase relief materials, mainly food items, and distribute them to states. 

Not many Nigerians can remember if the distributions of the relief materials got to them, as little was heard or said about the relief materials in most states. 

Later on, protesters during the EndSARS campaigns discovered secret warehouses of COVID-19 relief materials in Lagos, Osun, Kwara, Ekiti, and Cross River states, where such palliatives had been diverted. 

Other places were Plateau, Bauchi and Kaduna, Delta and Rivers states, while some government and NCDC officials were fingered as the masterminds of the diversions. However, little was heard about their prosecution. 

Citizens’ Gavel, a civic tech organisation in Abuja, researched several courts across the focal states to see how the prosecution progressed. 

A report by Citizens Gavel said, “Several courtrooms were visited in each of the focus states. Due to the poor data-recording nature of the courts, the search for relevant case(s) had to be done manually by our lawyers and respective court registrars. Visitations to the court were several and consistent. However, some of such visitations bore little fruit as cases found have either been completed or struck out due to the state’s lack of diligent prosecution.

“Listed below are the courts visited: Abuja; Kwali High Court, Maitama High Court, Nyanyan High Court and the Federal High Court Headquarters, Abuja. 

“In Oyo State: these courts were visited in Oyo State; Courts 1 – 12, High Court of Oyo State, Ring Road, Courts 14 – 23, High Court of Oyo State, Iyaganku. In Lagos State, Courts 1- 25, High Court of Lagos, Ikej; High Court of Lagos, Badagry; in Niger State: High Court of Justice, Suleja

“Anambra State; Chief Magistrate Court, Odili, Anambra State, Chief Magistrate Court, Onitsha, Anambra State; Bayelsa State: High court of Justice, Nembe Judicial Division, Yenagoa, Chief Magistrate Court, Yenagoa.” 

The report stated that at least five COVID-19-related court cases were identified and tracked, and the details were obtained. 

Gavel’s report added, “NAME OF CASE: Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Julie Obeta; SUIT NO: FCT/CV/2611/2021; COURT: Kwali High Court; DATE FILED: 27/10/2021.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE CASE: The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) filed the charge of Stealing and Fraud against the Defendant. The Defendant was a staff of the National Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and investigations revealed that she allegedly appropriated funds meant for palliative distribution during the height of the 2020 pandemic.

“STAGE OF CASE: Trial has begun, and the prosecution has opened their case.

RECORD OF PROCEEDING OF THE LAST DATE OF ADJOURNMENT: Prosecution and Defence Counsel present. The matter came up for cross-examination of Pw3. The Defendant’s Counsel cross-examined the witness. But they could only complete the cross-examination if the court had about three judgments on the cause list. The matter was adjourned to January 23, 2022, to continue the cross-examination of pw3.” 

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