The extension of the lockdown for another two weeks by President Muhammadu Buhari is not a bad idea on account that other counties affected by the dreadful coronavirus contagion, codenamed COVID-19, are still under lockdown. Even countries that are more advanced in science and technology than Nigeria are all adopting the same preventive measures as specified by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The second phase, which began on April 14, will elapse on April 28, 2020.
However, the bad idea is to announce the lockdown extension and appeal to citizens to endure further or expect relief materials, which will never get to them. Nobody will claim ignorance of the magnitude of corruption in the country, which is still thriving albeit unpronounced as it used to be during the previous administrations. At this critical time, the country cannot make a mistake of parting fishes carelessly in an environment with rats only to prepare for their deaths after tampering with the fishes.
Commendably, President Muhammadu Buhari noted in his speech that there will be those who live day-to-day, eating as they earn, and who face real and present suffering. Obviously, people in the two-week lockdown are drying up from hunger. And crime rate has risen acrss the nation beyond the ordinary. Possibly, responsible citizens are being pushed into crime for survival as a result of the quagmire.
“No elected government could ask more of the citizens of the country that elected them than what we ask of you today. But we must ask you – once more – to observe restrictions on movement where they are in place, and follow the instructions of our scientists and medical advisers: stay home, wash your hands, save lives,” President Buhari stated.
However, President Buhari added that, for those who suffer most egregiously, government has announced multiple measures to assist: 70,000 tonnes of grain is being released from the National Strategic Grain Reserves for distribution to those in most need; distribution of small cash payments are also being made, and will continue to be made by the Federal Government in the states and local government areas.
This is where there is a flaw. No doubt, Buhari by his antecedents, may share the money to the targets without hijacking or diverting some huge amounts to his pockets, if given the opportunity to do so. Similarly, a few other government officials, particularly the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, may follow suit. Unfortunately, as humans, they cannot cover even one local government area within a short period, taking into account the urgency the matter requires. The golden truth is that people are facing critical times without having anything for feeding, and, therefore, this is not time for unnecessary long protocols and processes.
Interestingly, the Bank Verification Number (BVN) can actively be used to provide relief funds to low-income earners at this critical moment. No doubt, a lot of people in the village do not have BVN, however, using it to credit relief funds to those that have will motivate those yet to go for it to make effort toward acquiring BVN for future issues. Of course, that may not stop government from still sending relief materials to villages and specific places to complement the funds for those that do not have BVN.
The idea of sharing cash and relief materials is not only primitive but will take corruption to another level. This is not a good time to hear that someone embezzled funds earmarked for the public. Let the truth be told; the funds will be tampered with, irrespective of whoever is responsible to share the money. Besides, it makes the country look so uncivilized for the government to be sharing cash to the vulnerable citizens, which certainly cannot be accounted for.
Let policymakers and leaders begin to emulate advanced countries in their policies. We can borrow ‘Operation-Everyone is a Suspect’ from Neil Strauss, an American author who titled one of his books, “Everyone is a Suspect.” Let’s operate robust systems that prevent or eliminate corruption, instead of assuming that members of one political party are corrupt while those in another party are saints. From what we have witnessed in the country, corruption cuts across all tribes, religions, political parties, genders and professions.
By using bank accounts and strictly accounts with BVN to credit relief funds to low-income earners with a proviso that such credit can only go into bank accounts with less than N50,000, arguably, the fund will appropriately be directed to the suffering masses, accounted for, and not disappear into the pockets of those that are comfortable. Essentially, that will also pave the way for transparency and accountability of the funds. Let the masses be rescued from the pains and trauma they are going through on account of the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic. The Nigerian masses have suffered enough and should not be allowed to suffer more.
Equally, religious organisations, churches and mosques should show concern and love directly to the poor among them. That is the summary of the sermons of the two religions. The poor should not be left to die from hunger, as charity, which includes feeding the poor, is provided for in both the Bible and Qur’an. Let the situation not compel some responsible citizens to indulge in crime. Thus, it calls for collective responsibility. Let brotherly love manifest by actions in this trying period.
•Umegboro is a public affairs analyst and associate, Chartered institute of Arbitrators (United