Leaders of civil society groups have attributed the current mistrust and disbelief in the reality of the coronavirus pandemic to an inadequate response from the Nigerian government.

They expressed their opinions during a webinar on "COVID-19 and Accountability" organised by the Shehu Musa Yar'Adua Foundation.

Busayo Morakinyo, who represented the Chief Executive of Connected Development, said that Nigerians no longer trust the government both at the federal and state levels.

Morakinyo added that the pandemic had further worsened conditions in the country, especially the health care sector which was already in comatose before the pandemic.

"Citizens do not believe there is anything like COVID-19 due to the way the government poorly handled the virus, especially the mismanagement of funds," Morakinyo said.

He condemned the secrecy by the government in handling COVID-19, adding that some state governments inflated the number of cases to receive more funds from the federal government and individual donors.

However, Awele Okigbo, CEO of Credo Advisory and communication consultant to Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, said the government through the PTF on COVID-19, had done much in carrying the people along in responding to the virus.

"We have engaged with the media. We have done about 91 press briefings. We answered questions, and we tried to be as collaborative as possible," Okigbo said.

Florence Kayemba of Stakeholders Democracy Network blamed the mistrust between the people and government on the poor handling of the virus in the Niger Delta region, pointing out that the pandemic had provided an opportunity for the government to learn some lessons.

Kayemba called on the Niger Delta Development Commission to be more accountable to the people on how funds were disbursed for COVID-19 response.

"When we talk about the release, I will like to believe that is what is given to extremely vulnerable people or people who are in the place where they need assistance. However, if the money were shared among them for whatever reason, I think the public has a right to know."

Describing the intervention of the NDDC as disturbing and disheartening, she said the government has to strengthen transparency and accountability, adding that the people must hold the government and institutions accountable to avert continuous misuse of public funds.

Also speaking, Kathleen FitzGibbon, United States Deputy Chief of Mission in Nigeria, called for more social engagement and risk assessment to be carried out to enlighten the people on how to deal with the virus.

"As people start seeing how deadly the disease was, it helped us on the social engagement side to convince people on what they can do to prevent themselves," FitzGibbon said.

She said that many Nigerians do not believe the virus is real, which makes it hard to convince people to take personal responsibilities in staying safe.

She urged the Nigerian government to have a core group that monitors the spread of the virus and ensure that the country keeps fighting the pandemic.

FitzGibbon advised the Nigerian government to invest in risk communication to deliver the right message to the people.

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