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COVID-19: Place of external aid in deployment of recovery plans

By Armsfree Ajanaku
21 July 2022   |   4:11 am
Although those heady and uncertain days in 2020 when the dreaded outbreak of the Corona Virus convulsed the globe appear to be receding, the devastation imposed continue to stare governments and citizens in the face.

Director, Mairo Women Foundation, Maryamu Barnabas (left); Director, Africa Office, MacArthur Foundation, Dr. Kole Shettima; Executive Director, CHRICED, Comrade Ibrahim Zikirullahi; President, MacArthur Foundation, Mr. John Palfrey; Minister of State for FCT, Hajiya Ramatu Tijani Aliyu; Managing Director of the Foundation, Cecilia Conrad, and Coordinator, Association of FCT Traditional Wives, Gimbiya Hannatu, during the Foundation’s visit to Nigeria recently.

Although those heady and uncertain days in 2020 when the dreaded outbreak of the Corona Virus convulsed the globe appear to be receding, the devastation imposed continue to stare governments and citizens in the face. For many Nigerians who found themselves in a state of hysteria and uncertainty, the feeling today appears to be that the worst of what was considered a nightmare virus, is all but over. Many of the restrictions, which were brutally enforced as necessary steps to fight off the pandemic have now been largely relaxed. Gone too are the voices of pro-nationalist demagogues, who used their powerful political standing to assail global cooperation and multilateral action as a sure strategy to contain the pandemic and its implications.

However, notwithstanding the current moments of relief being enjoyed, the stark inequalities and injustices accentuated and precipitated by the pandemic have yet to go. Even though the spate of travel bans, lockdowns and mandatory measures to beat back the pandemic may now be ebbing away, same cannot be said of the political, economic, cultural and human rights realities imposed by the pandemic. Even so, the haphazard, incoherent and uncoordinated responses of governments in jurisdictions like Nigeria have left many scars, which would definitely take some time and the right antidote to heal.

A pertinent point for Nigeria’s civic sector is the need to look back and reflect on how the leading lights of the development sector reacted in those heady days of the pandemic. While some quickly assessed the volatility of the situation and pulled the plug on assistance, there were those who rightly concluded that what was required was not an exit strategy, but further investments to respond to the devastation caused by the pandemic. The Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation certainly takes full honors for recognizing that what was needed was more resources to address the deep-seated inequalities in the country, which had been accentuated by the pandemic.

It was clear that in declining to backtrack on its commitments, the Foundation was thinking more about the plight of the poor, marginalized and highly vulnerable communities, whose realities had been made worse off by the impacts of COVID. Unlike many other foundations and development agencies, which quickly pulled the plug on funding for development assistance, as soon as COVID began to do its damage, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation was perceptive enough to see the fact that it was a case of friends in need being friends indeed.
True to its credo, which is driven by a strong commitment to building a just and verdant world, the Foundation provided technical and financial support to civic organizations in Nigeria to implement projects, which would respond to the impacts of COVID in marginalized communities. This raft of interventions was described in terms of an “equitable recovery,” from the impact of COVID or its accentuation of previous inequities. Equitable recovery also referenced the dire need for disempowered and historically marginalised groups to get the help they so direly need to recover from the challenges precipitated by the pandemic. The intervention logic was therefore to come to terms with the fact that while the challenge of the pandemic affected everyone generally, there are citizens who fall within the bracket of the most vulnerable whose livelihoods, civic voice and fundamental rights, have been eviscerated to the point of no return.

Providing the justification for its bold move to engage rather than retreat in the face of the devastation caused by the pandemic, the Foundation noted that creating more resilient, inclusive communities to combat structural racism, inequality, and the health crisis itself was central in its calculations. As such, it noted that “the global COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deep racial and socioeconomic disparities and inequalities that take a disproportionate toll on Black, Indigenous, Latin, and Asian people.

“In this context, we identified an opportunity to improve the critical systems that individuals and communities need to thrive. We issued $125 million in social bonds to fund a one-time set of grants that support an equitable recovery by addressing the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and structural racism.” Also noticeable is the fact that the Foundation’s keen interest in empowering marginalized citizens informed the design and intrinsic character of the projects it approved for implementation.

One of the cardinal aspects of the work is to support the Original Inhabitants in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). This aspect of the intervention is aimed at addressing the decades-long injustices and marginalization faced by the peaceful and hospitable indigenes of Abuja, whose lands were taken over by decree to make way for the Nigerian capital. Anchored by the Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED), the project has been focused on building the organizational capacity and amplifying voice of these neglected Nigerians.

To ensure the needs of the most marginalized Original Inhabitants including the youth, women and the unemployed are not overlooked, a number of the ten sub-grants awarded by CHRICED is focused on ensuring the participation of FCT Original Inhabitants in diverse economic sectors. As it stands, a total of 10 Original Inhabitants organizations are being supported with grants, as well as organizational capacity development assistance to enable them carry on effective advocacies to draw attention to the most pressing issues, including governance and service delivery challenges they face. The organizations are; Abuja Original Inhabitants Youth Empowerment Organization (AOIYEO), Abiodun Essiet Initiative for Girls (AEIG), Association of Wives of FCT Traditional Rulers (AWTR), Centre for Environmental Sustainability and Development Awareness (CESDA), Centre for Transparency Advocacy (CTA), Helpline Foundation for the Needy, Socio Economic Research and Development Centre (SERDEC), the HipCity Innovation, Mairo Women Foundation, and the FCT Original Inhabitants with Disabilities Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society.

The project on Promoting the Rights of the Original Inhabitants in the Federal Capital Territory has also ensured that the interests of the most vulnerable citizens, including, people living with disabilities form an integral part of the intervention. In terms of promoting the cultural rights of the Original Inhabitants in the FCT, the project has placed a lot of emphasis on the cultural treasures and repositories of the people. Nine months into the implementation of the project, there is an ongoing cultural revival in the FCT, with growing interest in pottery. Pot making is an area of tremendous comparative advantage for the Original Inhabitants in the FCT because it is a craft, which they have a natural flair for.

Incidentally, one of the most famous cultural figures in the FCT, is Ladi Kwali. Her fame came from the massive contributions, which she made in terms of putting her community on the world map through her excellent pot making skills. Little wonder, hundreds of young FCT Original inhabitants through the ongoing project have embraced pottery as a way to overcome the challenge of unemployment and contribute to the revival of their culture. Similarly, the Usafa Pottery Centre located in Bwari in the outskirts of the FCT is rediscovering its place as a hub for pot making and other culture-inclined activities. Particularly for the women and youth, the space has supported their economic empowerment and cultural awareness.

Other cultural treasures, which have received a boost as a result of the project include the Asumbo clothe making craft, which is equally being used as a basis for livelihood opportunities for youth and women in the FCT. On the other hand, the Project of Promoting the Rights of Original Inhabitants in the FCT has been big on some of the urgent human rights concerns, which are at the heart of the welfare and well-being of the poor and vulnerable in the FCT. One of such emergencies is the question of sexual and gender based violence. According to UN Women, at the height of the disruptions imposed by COVID, Gender-based violence, which was already a global crisis before the pandemic intensified.

UN Women at the height of the pandemic ominously noted that: “Lockdowns and other mobility restrictions have left many women trapped with their abusers, isolated from social contact and support networks. Increased economic precocity has further limited many women’s ability to leave abusive situations.

It said: “COVID-driven economic and social instability will also heighten the risk of child marriage, female genital mutilation and human trafficking. At the same time, the pandemic has exposed women leaders to backlash, leading to threats, abuse and harassment both online and offline. Violence against women leaders can prevent them from carrying out their duties regardless of the position they hold.” These realities informed the design of the project of Promoting the Rights of Original Inhabitants in the FCT, which is one of the major projects in the slew of interventions making up the MacArthur Equitable Recovery Cohort.

As a direct response to the observed spike in sexual and gender based violence cases at the height of the pandemic, five women-led organizations awarded with sub-grants are currently implementing projects, which have various components of addressing sexual and gender based violence. Some of these organizations are tackling gender inequities from the purview of strengthening traditional justice systems, sensitizing women and girls, supporting government shelters, and by providing livelihood opportunities for women.

Apart from the aforementioned projects being implemented to respond to the decades-long marginalization of Original Inhabitants in the FCT, the MacArthur Equitable Recovery portfolio includes interventions targeted at sectors such as police reform, youth participation and vaccine confidence. Nearly two years after the #ENDSARS protests, which convulsed the country in October 2020, the fundamental issue of how to reform and birth a citizen-friendly policing system has been the central focus of the police reform initiative of the Equitable Recovery.

This aspect of the work is being implemented by CLEEN Foundation with the goal of entrenching a rights-respecting policing atmosphere in line with democratic values. According to the project team, some of the major changes, which have happened as a result of the intervention include; the establishment of a civil society led observatory on police reform for holding police officers accountable for their actions and inactions, enhanced institutional posture for accountability through the Complaints Response Unit (CRU), which published its 2021 annual report and disciplinary actions taken. The project has similarly documented what it described as conscious efforts by the executive arm of government to implement the ENDSARS 5 for 5 demands, which were made in the wake of the protests.

Also connected to the aftermath of the #ENDSARS protests and an important part of the equitable recovery portfolio is the Nigeria Youth Futures Fund project, which has the goal of strengthening, supporting young people in for youth leadership, active citizenship and social change. Spear-headed by LEAP Africa, alongside partners like the Centre of Journalism Innovation and Development (CIJD), the Nigeria Youth Futures Fund (NYFF) and Organizing for a New Nigeria (OON) project is also focused on engaging the youth through outcome-driven policy engagement and inclusive resourcing that will enable young people shape national development. In terms of the outcomes from its implementation so far, the projected has facilitated voter registration of thousands of young people, just as it has funded 50 youth-focused leadership projects across the country. Data from the project also shows that its campaign messages and outreaches have reached 341 tertiary institutions across Nigeria.

The last of the equitable recovery projects is the one focusing on Vaccine Confidence; anchored by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), the goal is to increase public confidence in the COVID 19 Vaccine and combat misinformation with accurate scientific data. So far the project has facilitated the development of accountability scorecards for the COVID-19 administration process. It has also promoted mass campus vaccinations drives in tertiary institutions. Part of the challenge encountered in implementation of this project is the level of complacency among the Nigerian populace due to the relaxed disposition to the protocols and lax attitude to the dangers posed by COVID.

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