Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and the Nigerian Air Force Officers Wives Association (NAFOWA) recently joined the battle against the novel coronavirus infection (COVID-19) in Bayelsa in a unique way.
Their contributions were not with warplanes and fighter jets. They were palliatives in the form of foodstuffs and other condiments.
The sight of the beneficiaries of the gesture was enough testimony that the distribution of the palliatives was actually for the most vulnerable people in Yenezue-Gene and Igbogene communities in Yenagoa Local Government Area of the state.
The Air Officer Commanding (AOC), Mobility Command, Air Vice Marshal Ibukun Omotayo Ojeyemi, stated that the distribution of palliative support to members of the Nigerian Air Force host communities in Yenagoa, Bayelsa, was designed to commemorate NAF’s 56th anniversary on a low scale in order to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The senior officer said although there was a clear departure from previous experiences as the anniversary was not with the usual pomp and pageantry, it nonetheless provided another unique opportunity for NAF in her usual way of showing appreciation to the citizenry “to render social responsibility in a new dimension to Nigerians for their continued support and goodwill.”
Undoubtedly, the lockdown imposed by the Bayelsa State overnment to curtail the spread of the infection after the index case was confirmed in the state had taken a toll on the people, especially the old and the vulnerable. These categories of people were the target of the palliatives.
Ojeyemi said: “As we all know, the lockdown has been biting hard on many Nigerians who survive on meagre daily earnings from petty trading and other micro businesses but, unfortunately, have not been able to undertake any serious economic transactions in the past four weeks. As a result, several households have become susceptible to hunger and deprivations, Being in tune with this reality, the NAF, under the leadership of Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Baba Abubakar, mooted and sponsored this initiative to complement the efforts of the federal and state governments to alleviate the hardship caused by COVID-19 lockdown on the people, especially the vulnerable and the less privileged.”
In Yenezue-Gene community, 120 low-income and vulnerable households were given bags of rice, tubers of yam, vegetable oil and other condiments. And Ojeyemi, who seized the opportunity to plead with the people to adhere strictly to safety precautions, said he was delighted with the selection process of the beneficiaries.
“I wish to thank community leaders for working with us to identify the beneficiaries for this occasion. Looking at the cross-section of audience before me, I am confident that the right people who truly deserve to benefit from this humanitarian gesture by the NAF are here, I wish to express my deep appreciation to community leaders for your sincerity and commitment to the people.”
In Igbogene, the chairperson of NAFOWA, Mobility Command, Mrs. Asabe Ojeyemi, told the beneficiaries that the distribution of the palliatives was the brainchild of the national president of NAFOWA, Hajia Hasfat Sadique Abubakar. According to her, 70 low-income households in Igbogene community are beneficiaries of the distribution of the palliatives to cushion the adverse effects of the lockdown.
She said, “This outreach programme was organised by NAFOWA to put smiles on the faces of the elderly, widows and other vulnerable and less privileged people in our midst. Many low-income households in the past weeks have faced increasing challenges to meet their daily survival due to the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Added to this category of vulnerable individuals are the elderly who are also too old and frail to engage in serious economic activity. This occasion, therefore, has been put together to complement the efforts of the federal and state governments to alleviate the hardship caused by COVID-19 lockdown.”
She also had kind words for the paramount ruler of Igbogene, King Dike, for his sincerity in picking those who actually deserved to be helped: “I must thank the community leader for working with us to draw the list of beneficiaries for this outreach programme, His commitment and sincerity was instrumental to our ability to assess the right people who truly deserve the palliative package.”
In an interview, the paramount ruler of Yenezue-Gene community, Benin Okereke Maxwell, was profuse in his commendation of NAF. The monarch singled out the selection process as a true reflection of how palliatives should be given to the vulnerable. “We are very grateful to the AOC for this good gesture. God is going to bless the Chief of Air Staff. We thank him for the gifts he has given to our people, old men and women of Yenezue-Epie community, through the AOC. The beneficiaries were carefully selected. They are old men and women of Yenezue-Gene. I identified them. The exercise was done in my palace. The Air Force people selected them. This is a correct way to identify vulnerable people. The women were widows. Many of them can no longer go to the bush to look for food.”
The chairman of the community development committee, Kpenseme Francis, was in tandem with his monarch on the transparency of the process: “We love the process. This is a good one. It has been long we saw any good thing like this in Yenezue-Gene community. As I speak, every elder in the community appreciate the gesture of NAF. We pray that God would continue to bless them.”
An 85-year-old woman, Madam Christiana, who spoke on behalf of the beneficiaries in the native Epie language, commended NAF and NAFOWA, which remembered those who are truly vulnerable, for the gesture. She appealed to the government and other organisations looking to provide palliatives to follow the system adopted by the Air Force to select beneficiaries.