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Former Minister Of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu Reacts To GAVI Audit Report

The general public is urged to be wary of the politically motivated smear campaign orchestrated by sinister political desperadoes against the former Minister of Health Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu who is now a frontline aspirant to the governorship of his home Ebonyi State. Inadvertently, they are also playing into the hands of those who are not happy about the acclaimed success of a black country in the containment of the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease in record time and appear hellbent on pulling it down.

Minister of Health Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu

Whatever the case, the GAVI audit report is clear - it makes no allegation against the former Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, neither does it in any way indict him.

GAVI is the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (now known as GAVI Alliance). It is a body set up by the world to help fund vaccines and immunization in developing countries in order to make routine immunization completely free of charge to children. Nigeria is one of the beneficiary countries.

Basically, vaccines and immunization are handled by the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA). It is an entity with its own governing board, though a parastatal under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Health. Also, within the Federal Ministry of Health, the Minister of Health is the chief executive but in terms of schedule the NPHCDA is normally directly supervised by the Office of Minister of State for Health.

For the avoidance of doubt the GAVI audit report does not anywhere indict the former Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu.

Any issue in the audit report has more to do with the NPHCDA. Much of the questions should therefore be directed to the NPHCDA which will provide the necessary details.

It should be noted that ordinarily, procurement issues, except the ones that are above their threshold, are handled by the Procurement Committee of the NPHCDA. But those above their threshold are handled by the Ministerial Tenders Board. As is well known, no minister is a member of any Tenders Board according to the Procurement Act of 2007.

Actually, GAVI had already taken a decision based on their Cash Programmes Audit (CPA). When GAVI initially sent in their audit report the Minister of Health was not briefed by GAVI and therefore was not aware. However during the period when there was no Minister of State for Health (following the resignation of the then Minister of State), the minister then had the opportunity to directly relate with the board and management of the NPHCDA. It was during one such interaction that the management reported to the minister that the account of GAVI was frozen by GAVI. The minster then enquired why and was told that there was an audit and that until the audit was concluded the account would remain frozen. The minister was displeased with GAVI and expressed his displeasure to GAVI, whereupon GAVI offered an apology to the minister because the procedure was wrong.

The board and management of NPHCDA did inform the minister that there were many issues that were involved in the audit report and that some of  the allegations against the agency were false. Based on that the minster brought this to the attention of GAVI which then requested Nigeria to study the report and make its response as the country’s response. As the minister supervising the agency, the minister endorsed the response of Nigeria. It was clear that though there may have been one or two infractions but generally the NPHCDA was able to defend itself satisfactorily to the minister.

This is already evident, because from the 8 million dollars said to have been involved in the original audit report, GAVI is now talking about 2 million dollars. That in itself shows that there was real merit in the response of the NPHCDA that some of the allegations were not true.

The former Minister of Health had and still has zero tolerance for corruption and his integrity is intact. That was why he issued a joint statement with GAVI committing both sides to transparency and integrity in transactions. That was also why in principle he signed the joint statement that if at the end of the review of the audit including the responses of Nigeria and there are areas where funds may not have been spent in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding with GAVI, those funds would be refunded by Nigeria (that is, the NPHCDA ). But not without the culprits being made to face the law squarely.

However, work is still in progress. In fact at the time the joint statement was signed, GAVI never informed the former minster that they still had about 2 million dollars they were still querying. Meanwhile, the verification of the country’s response is still an ongoing work. This is the much as Minister of Health Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu knew about the issue.

To recap, the Prof. Chukwu as Minister of Health was the chief executive of the Federal Ministry of Health which is the supervising ministry of the NPHCDA. The agency has its own board and some of the details that may be needed are better channelled to the agency for appropriate answers. It should be emphasized that the original MoU with GAVI excluded the Minister of Health from involvement in procurements. The former Minister of Health was therefore not personally involved in the contract transactions. As minister, he was convinced that in re-drafting the MoU the Minister of Health should be aware of what is going on. Notwithstanding, it is better to allow the full verification of the audit including review of the country’s response before reaching any conclusions.

Dan Nwomeh
Special Assistant to Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, former Minister of Health