The hue and cry over Covid-19 palliatives

Anger is the word as Nigerians express dismay over the Covid-19 donations which they said ought to have reached everyone in the face of the lockdown; ELEOJO IDACHABA writes.

Many Nigerians are simply angry. The reason is simple: It is the fallout of the sit-at-home order placed by government as a precautionary measure against the continuous spread of the coronavirus. In response to the likely consequences of this order, also known as lockdown, the government had promised to assist the class of people they referred to as “poorest among the poor” in the form of palliatives in order to cushion the effect of the initiative on the hapless citizens. As a follow-up, public-spirited organisations and individuals announced various donations to the Covid-19 purse in order to assist the people. Many had, therefore, thought that a good part of the donations amounting to over N23 billion would be given as palliatives to the people, but as the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, disclosed, the bulk of the donations were not in cash. He, therefore, put the cash figure at less than N2 billion out of the N25 billion donation made by Nigerians and corporate organisations. Also, a few days after that, the European Union during a visit to President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa announced a donation of 50 million euro (equivalent of N21 billion) to Nigeria to assist the poor. The personal assistant to the president on new media, Bashir Ahmad, said, “The European Union has donated a grant of 50 million euro to the federal government as part of their contributions to Nigeria’s fight against Covid-19. The head of EU delegation, Amb. Ketil Karlsen, announced the donation at a meeting with President Buhari today in Abuja.”

While Nigerians waited for the palliative, days turned to weeks until the government said one million Nigerians were the ones that were qualified to benefit from the initial N5 billion grant it released. Nigerians are still wondering over the mode and manner of its disbursements.

Lawmakers’ take

From March 30, 2020, when the initial 14-day lockdown was announced till it was extended on April 13, the issue became a matter of discourse between the lawmakers at the National Assembly and some top members of the executive, especially the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farooq.

The lawmakers in particular criticised the approach adopted by the federal government to distribute the initial social grant to Nigerians who suffer the impact of the coronavirus lockdown. The meeting convened by the leadership of the National Assembly was against the backdrop of the government intervention initiatives aimed at reducing the impact of the pandemic on most vulnerable Nigerians.

It would be recalled that the ministry had announced the distribution of the first tranche of N5 billion initially released to reach the poor, but complaints arising from the manner of its distribution caused a big stir all over the country as many vulnerable Nigerians were not properly captured.

The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, said during the meeting that, “When, for example, some conditions are set that those who will benefit will have to go online, through the internet or BVN and the rest of it. I want to tell you that the majority of those who are supposed to benefit have no access to power. They have no access to the internet. They have no bank account, so no BVN.

“In fact, many of them don’t even have phones and these are the poorest of the poor. Yet, some of the conditions or guidelines which you set inadvertently leave them out.”

According to him, the poorest of the poor have not been sufficiently captured by the programme.

“Now, with coronavirus, they need our attention more than ever before. The time has come that we review the ways and manner we use to deliver the services under the SIP to Nigerians. So, we need to put on our thinking cap and work out some strategies on how to identify the poorest persons in Nigeria. I think we have not been able to reach far out there to get them properly captured.”

Where are the palliatives?

Following the inability of the palliatives to reach the majority of the beneficiaries, it attracted condemnations, especially with the alleged deception that greeted the exercise in many places where ministry officials claimed they went to deliver the palliatives. For instance, in Logo community located in Bwari area council, investigations by Blueprint Weekend showed that not only were the officials that came there displayed insincerity, they assembled more than three thousand of the villagers, recorded the crowd and left after an hour. Speaking with this reporter, an eyewitness, Amos Aruwa, said, “I have never witnessed that level of insincerity before. They had sent advance message asking everyone to gather in the school premises, but when they came after waiting for them for over two hours, a man who appeared to be their leader asked that everyone should be calm, not knowing that he just wanted the camera people to capture the crowd after which they left to the dismay of everyone.”

In Osun state, the state government had initially announced palliatives comprising bags of rice for residents, but investigation revealed that among those bags of rice were expired ones which the government, however, denied in a statement. The Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation, Mrs. Funke Egbemode, said government had commenced investigation into the allegation.

“The State of Osun under the leadership of Governor Adegboyega Oyetola is particularly pained by this development considering the fact that it has never compromised quality in its provision of economic stimulus for the people of Osun in spite of its limited resources.

“This government is a very responsible one that places premium on the well-being of its people and would not do anything to jeopardise its citizens’ health,” she said.

Reacting to this, the chairman, National Intervention Movement and secretary, Osun state IPAC, Lanre Fadahunsi, condemned the idea of sharing the palliatives. He wondered why a unit that got between N250, 000 to N500, 000 during the election was asked to share two bags of rice. “The mode of sharing the one item palliative (6,020 bags of rice) has negated the idea of collegiate action. Some APC local government chairmen were quoted to have insisted that the rice was meant for members of the party. We should have tarried for Asiwaju Tunde Badmus team to start the all-inclusive sharing of palliatives or better still take the rice directly to APC secretariat and not the government secretariat.

“To say the least, this amount to a betrayal of trust of IPAC executive who were very happy with the hand of fellowship earlier extended, but the current matter actually transcends IPAC or political patronage of any kind, it questions the humanity in us,” he said.

CSOs’ stance

The director, Centre for Sustained Dialogue (CSD), Comrade Waheed Saka, described the process as “a cosmetic approach” to poverty alleviation, saying, “It is unfortunate that our people have been reduced to less than humans in the era of Covid-19. Across the country, from a governor distributing eba and stew to a state distributing five tins of rice to the whole community development association of over 50 households and so many other denigrated give-aways that are over publicised.

“The question we should ask our leaders is whether this is payback time? The recent elections were riddled with open vote-buying and inducement of the electorates. Are we saying our people are like the proverbial pregnant woman who ate all the food with nothing to eat after childbirth?”

Akin Adeyi, a security expert, said, “The quantity and quality of rice government shared as palliative did not help matters. It happened to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back. It made people angry.”

In the meantime, two non-governmental organisations, Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA ) and Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARD-C), have deployed volunteers across the country to monitor the distribution of Covid-19 palliatives to vulnerable Nigerians.

According to the duo of Olanrewaju Suraju, chairman of HEDA and Abiola Akiode-Afolabi, “The volunteers will produce a comprehensive report covering strategic areas using jointly developed questionnaire tools designed to meet global best practices

They are expected to monitor and evaluate Covid-19 palliatives as well as utilisation of the various intervention funds received by state and federal governments to combat the pandemic.”

They said further that, “Nigerians have seen a string of intervention funds ranging from private donations, local and international funds estimated to be in billions of naira in cash and other materials, including food and medicare.

“Yet, reports from the field also indicate that despite the huge donations and support to government, many deserving and indigent Nigerians are yet to receive any real relief or support. It would then amount to great injustice to keep people in the dark or fail to publicly account for the spending, particularly in a country where corruption remains rife.”

They said further that despite the generous donations and on-going disbursements, there has been no transparency framework at the federal and state levels on fund utilisation such that many Nigerians have been in hardship since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly since government started to restrict movement and lockdown states. They said further that in cases where the funds are already diverted or mismanaged by corrupt elements in government, they would ensure that the looted public funds are recovered and perpetrators adequately prosecuted.

“This is why we are not just evaluating the impact; we are equally monitoring implementation through the tools that will be administered by the volunteers.”

Even as the lockdown continues, Nigerians are asking that government shares part of the donations to every Nigerian in line with equity as done in other climes so that the sit-at-home order can be carried out to the letter.

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