When the Federal Government and several state governments imposed a lockdown on parts of the country, Nigerians were assured of the provision of some palliatives to cushion the effects of the stay-at-home directives. Weeks into the lockdown, however, many have only heard of the palliatives, only few seem to have received some.
The National Cash Transfer Office (NCTO), in a report, stated that 1,126,211 households were currently benefitting from the conditional cash transfer. The North-West zone got the lion’s share, with Katsina (133,227), Zamfara (130,764), Jigawa (99,004), Kano (84,148) and Plateau (78,431) being the major beneficiaries. Lagos, Borno and Delta States were excluded.
A public affairs analyst, journalist and former editor of The Punch, Bola Bolawole, described the sharing method as unequal relationship among states of the country, given the lopsidedness in the national transfer scheme.
He said: “While there is nothing national in it, it is actually a transfer of the wealth of one section of the country to another. It shows the nepotism and tribalism of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, whether in appointments or allocation of resources, projects and even the coronavirus pandemic.”
Solomon Adeogun, a former chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alimosho Local Government Area, Lagos, told the reporter that the palliatives shared in Alimosho by the Lagos State government were strictly for All Progressives Congress (APC) members.
His words: “They shared loaves of bread in Agege. People assembled in hundreds without observing social distancing. They shared one cup of rice, a loaf of bread and one portion (De Rica) of beans through the Lagos Neighbourhood Watch. They also shared through the council development areas, one kilo of rice, two small portions (kongo) of garri and four portions (De Rica) of beans for about 22 houses. These things were only given to APC members in the whole of Akowonjo/Egbeda, Igando, Ikotun and Egun. So, Lagos State government needs to go from house to house to ensure the food gets to the people.”
An 80-year-old man, Pa Bamidele Kuforji Sodunke, who lives in Akowonjo, Lagos, said he only heard that government shared palliatives but has not received any.
“The government should know that those of us who are old are also poor. We are no longer working. You can see that I have sight challenges. So, I only survive by the grace of God. We should not be left to die,” he pleaded.
Another senior citizen, 75-year-old Mrs. Elizabeth Aderemi said: “I am a caterer. But with the lockdown, there is no business. Before now, notwithstanding my age, I used to help myself and my grandchildren, who lost their father and have been living with me, with the little I get from my catering business. Not anymore. Now, things are really hard. We are hungry. I have not received any sort of palliative from the government.”
Professor Obi Okonkwo of Anambra State University expressed disappointment that in spite of several assurances by government, not much had been provided in terms of palliatives.
“Nigeria, at its current standing, is in a position to provide palliative measures to the average and the poor even before COVID-19 but can never do that even in the face of a disease 10 times more serious. The rottenness of the Nigerian polity is worse than COVID-19,” he said.
Former vice president of the Nigeria Bar Association, Onyekachi Monday Ubani, also lamented that government at all levels failed woefully in the provision of palliative measures.
“The social intervention scheme so far has failed,” he asserted. “The reason is simple. One is that Nigeria is full of corrupt leaders who are more interested in their personal gains. You shouldn’t be surprised that, at the end of the day, we will hear that billions have been expended in fighting the pandemic. By that time, all the money mapped out may have found its way into private bank accounts abroad and in their vaults at home. The purpose for which the money was earmarked will be defeated. Another thing that will make it fail is lack of proper data of Nigerians.
“In other climes, the government has statistics of citizens. There is need for accurate data in Nigeria. It helps to plan. Lockdown without corresponding palliatives for the people will make them revolt. Already, people are defying the stay-at-home order. They are hungry. There are lots of robbery reports. People are engaging in all forms of criminal activities. They are turning against the people. So, aside from palliatives, government must ensure adequate provision of security. It is easier for them to attack people in their homes.”
In his view, president of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Francis Faduyile, said there was an overriding need to balance the provision of palliatives. He posited that the complaints about inadequate or non-provision must not be ignored because they are real.
He said: “People talk of their pictures being taken without receiving the expected palliatives. It must not be given political colouring. These complaints must be properly addressed. If not, people may be forced to disobey the lockdown directive in search of what to eat. A hungry person may damn the consequences.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Richard Ayodele Akintunde, was also not satisfied with the provision of palliatives. He said: “The palliative measures provided by government do not seem to be reaching those who need it the most. Before the lockdown, we had a high rate of unemployment, and the lockdown has now further complicated the situation. Mobs are springing up; there is unrest in many parts of the cities and states under complete lockdown. Burglaries, robberies and crime generally are on the increase. People are hungry and desperate because they are not feeling the palliatives by government. Government must be responsive and devise new strategies for the palliatives to reach the hungry and desperate. I commend the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun, and their teams for listening and devising better strategies to let the palliatives reach those who need it. Time is of the essence. It is a ticking time bomb.
“Government cannot do it alone, the private sector, NGOs, associations, estates, neighbourhoods should implement their own initiatives to support government in feeding the poor. I must warn those who are in the habit of posting and reposting fake news on social media, they should be circumspect. This is not the time to be mischievous to attract traffic to your page.”
Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, Sadiya Farouq, in a chat with State House correspondents in Abuja, said Nigerians that have more than N5,000 in their bank accounts would not receive the Federal Government palliatives. She said: “We are going to focus more now on the urban poor. These are people who depend on the informal sector to earn their livelihood. They are daily wage earners and these are the people that we are really going to focus more on as well as people living with disabilities.”
She stated that the ministry has three options to select the beneficiaries. “One, we are going to use the national social register that we already have. Two, we are also going to focus on the urban poor, as I mentioned, by using their verified BVN accounts to get them – that is, people that have an account balance of N5,000 and below. Three, we are also using the mobile networks to know people that top up the credit units for their phones with maybe N100 or less.”
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said that the poverty alleviation programme was bereft of integrity and inclusiveness. Lawan said: “No one believes in the social register. It is not fair. We believe that we need to work together to ensure effectiveness and efficiency in its execution. We also want to ensure that those who are supposed to benefit benefit directly.”
Gbajabiamila, on his part, said the system required reforms. The Speaker advised the minister to approach the relevant committees in the parliament and the leadership to codify the scheme.