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Controversial palliatives tear Nigerians apart

Controversial palliatives tear Nigerians apart by Emelike Obinna, Iwok Iniobong, Innocent Odoh and James Kwen April 12, 2020 | EAS...

Controversial palliatives tear Nigerians apart

by Emelike Obinna, Iwok Iniobong, Innocent Odoh and James Kwen

April 12, 2020 | EASTERN PILOT

The sharing of the Federal Government palliatives through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, under Sadiya Umar Farouq, has so far been enmeshed in controversy.

The Federal Government had, penultimate week, started to make provision for the vulnerable in the society, disbursing N20,000 Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) payments to the beneficiaries.

The disbursement, which kicked off in Kwali Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory and some parts of Nassarawa State, was to serve as a palliative to help ease the untold hardship, which the lockdown has imposed on the vulnerable.

Farouq reportedly claimed that over 2.6million households have so far benefited from the palliative and that over 11million vulnerable persons have been identified in 35 states yet to benefit from the palliative measure.

Many Nigerians wondered what criteria were employed to arrive at the conclusion that the poorest of the poor were domiciled in Nasarawa, for instance. Critics also faulted that some videos of the exercise making the rounds on the social media show that some of the beneficiaries cannot be said to belong to the category being described as the poorest of the poor, as they look chubby and well-fed.

Allegations are rife that the sharing of the palliative packages has been discriminatory and politicised.

In some states, some residents have come out openly making a caricature of what was given out to them as a stimulus package.

BDSUNDAY gathered that the failure of those saddled with the responsibility of distributing the package to be transparent may have so infuriated some citizens who felt neglected to the point of openly disobeying the sit-at-home directive by the Federal Government.

Last week, the furore over the sharing method attracted the attention of the leadership of the National Assembly, which summoned the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq and some top officials of the Ministry in Abuja on the issue.

Angry citizens allege corruption in distribution process

Some analysts are blaming the breaking of the order on the uncoordinated sharing of the palliatives in the country and corruption by officials who are allegedly looking to profit from public sufferings.

“It seems the Federal Government does not have a good strategy at reaching a good number of low-income households that need the palliatives. These are also the people breaking the stay-at-home order because they are hungry and no food to eat”, Marcel Ogonna, a senior public servant, said.

He argued that if government is claiming to have given money and food to the people, there should be data on the beneficiaries. “Every low-income earner I know said they have not seen any palliative. So, who are government officials giving, where and when? he asked.

Ayotunde Ogunbode, an accountant, queried the whereabouts of the 12,500 metric tonnes of food items handed over to Sadiya Farouq, minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development by Sabo Nanono, minister of Agriculture, at the Minna Silo Complex in Niger State recently.

“The minister did not figure out how to dispatch the items to the many towns and villages where people need them. All she assured was the ministry has a structure in place from the federal to the local government areas to reach the vulnerable people. My mother in Ayetoro has not seen anything yet”, he lamented.

He argued that with the high cost of food items in the market, especially bag of rice, corrupt officials would rather divert as many items as they can to resale later to distributors and make money.

“It is only data, evidence of distribution and collection by the beneficiaries, making the process public and seamless and reaching out to the neighborhoods of the vulnerable that would curb corrupt practices in delivering the palliatives”, he said.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former minister of finance, condemned the Nigerian approach on the palliatives, urging the country to learn from Rwanda.

“Responsible food distribution with social distancing to assist low-income households in the #COVID-19 era! A great example from #Rwanda where community workers distribute food and other necessities door-to-door,” the ex-minister tweeted on her handle.

But Lagos State government has been impressive with its effort at curtailing the spread of coronavirus, as well as providing palliatives.

While the state is set to begin sharing of the second round of the relief items, many have observed that the items are not getting to indigents in the state.

Agnes Sessi, chairman, Lagos State chapter, Nigerian Labour Congress, who raised the alarm, urged government to make the process seamless by deploying already existing structures such as market groups, trade unions, social groups, community development unions, among others.

For others, the 200,000 households target in the first phase of the relief items sharing was negligible and using the data base of Lagos State Residents Registration Agency to identify the vulnerable was counterproductive as many low-income earners in the area not registered.

“Can the registration agency offer names of beneficiaries on their data? Officials may use that as cover up, while much of the items are taken elsewhere”, Sule Ahmad, an aggrieved resident said.

As Lagos State commences the sharing of the second phase of the relief items, Ogonna said it would be necessary for the officials to give details of the beneficiaries of the first phase as many doubt if up to 100,000 households received the items as claimed to be delivered by the state.

Ogunbode also called on the anti-graft agency to beam its searchlight on funds meant for the palliatives, the items and processes as stealing from the most vulnerable in crisis period should attract high jail term.

 Nigerians defy lockdown, threaten protest if FG extends it

The impact of the initial 14 days lockdown imposed on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun states by President Muhammadu Buhari to tackle the spread of the COVID-19 is increasingly becoming harsher on Nigerians even as the lockdown expires after Monday April 13.

After nearly two weeks of shutdown many shop owners in FCT have started opening their businesses and the predominant excuse has been that they cannot shutdown their businesses and allow their families to go hungry as the expected Government palliatives have yet to reach them.

However, Nigerians appear even more distraught at the news of a likely extension of the lockdown by government as confirmed cases of the virus hits nearly 300 in the last couple of days.

A resident of Karu, a suburb of the FCT, Emmanuel Ugwu, told BDSUNDAY on Friday that people have no option but to open their businesses to feed their families. He said the lockdown has been very difficult for Nigerians, warning that any extension will lead to massive protests as government seems to have failed to provide the needed palliatives.

“The situation in Nigeria is very pathetic and it’s hitting every Nigerian hard. Things are so hard that Nigerians are dying of hunger and not even of COVID-19. As I am talking to you now many homes have nothing to eat even ordinary garri is not available for them. Everywhere you go to people are turning to professional beggars, every call you receive from family relations and friends people are just begging to stay alive,” he said.

He said that if the lockdown continues, hunger will kill more people than the coronavirus even as he warned that any extension of the lockdown will lead to civil disobedience, saying Nigerians may prefer to die of the virus than of hunger.

“The government made us understand that there could be an extension of the lockdown. But Nigerians are ready to come out enmasse to protest if there is an extension. We prefer to die outside than to die inside our homes. If the policemen and soldiers will kill us, we are ready to die, we cannot sit at home and die of hunger, let coronavirus kill us instead,” he said.

He however, urged the government to find a way to disburse to Nigerians the funds coming from donations from private organisations and individuals such as Dangote, Femi Otedola and others to ameliorate the impact of the lockdown.

A resident of Nyanya, another suburb of the FCT, who gave her name as Rhoda Ibrahim, was in her hair-dressing shop doing her work on Friday. When asked if she was not scared of the task force on the enforcement of the lockdown, she dismissed any threat of arrest, stressing that she needed to work to help her family as there are no palliatives from government.

“The government said we should stay at home but they failed to provide us with what to eat. They are not even giving us electricity because there is darkness everywhere. So, we cannot wait on the government and allow our family to starve because of COVID-19,” she said.

Experts have also warned that Nigeria will be in bigger economic trouble as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc following the fall in oil prices at the international markets, which has caused the economy to dwindle.

A security expert, who wished not be named, raised the alarm that insecurity and crime rate would worsen in the coming days and warned Nigerians to prepare for the worst.

“The economy is shutting down with the lockdown and no adequate provision is being made for the people of the lower class. There will be a sharp rise in crime such as armed robbery, theft, kidnapping, molestation simply because people are suffering. A lot of people no longer have viable sources of income. They have tried borrowing, begging and may resort to stealing,” he warned.

BDSUNDAY observe that while the Abuja city centre is in compliance with the lockdown, most people in the suburbs are having difficult times coping. Although most shopping malls are shut, many petty business owners in the suburbs have opened amid constant harassment from the task force.

NASS, Presidency biker over social investment programme

The National Assembly and Presidency last week engaged in counter-accusations over the true position of things in the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) domiciled in the office of the Vice President.

While the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila are reported to have said the programme has failed, Maryam Uwais, special adviser to the President on Social Investments said their position was because members cannot include their candidates into the programme.

The National Assembly Leaders reportedly said the programme has gulped over N2trillion since 2016 when the special intervention fund was created as an annual budgetary allocation targeted at the poor and the sum of N500billion was provided in the budget every year since 2016.

Lawan and Gbajabiamila, who spoke at a meeting with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq and some top officials of the Ministry in Abuja lamented that the fund had failed to reach the intended beneficiaries, hence the need for urgent reforms.

Lawan said: “The National Assembly is very much interested in the current intervention initiatives of the ministry, particularly with respect to the disbursement aimed at assuaging the plight of the poorest of the poor in Nigeria against COVID-19.

“We feel that we need to work together with you to ensure that there is effectiveness, there is efficiency, that those who are supposed to benefit, benefit directly”.

He stressed that the National Assembly was concerned about the conditions and guidelines for the intervention programmes which are specifically directed at the most vulnerable Nigerians.

“When for example, some conditions are set that those who will benefit will have to go online, through the Internet or BVN (Bank Verification Number) 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.

“We believe that when we work together, the Executive side of government and the National Assembly as representatives of the people, we will be able to reach much more of these people who are in serious distress even before the coronavirus”, Lawan said.

But in a swift reaction, Uwais said: “The National Social Investment Programme has gulped over N2trillion since 2016, when the fund was created.

“Although the total appropriation by the National Assembly (NASS) from inception, for the 4 NSIPs, is N1.7 trillion, the actual funds released for the NSIPs between January 2016 and October 2019 (when the NSIPs were handed over to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development), amounted to N619.1 billion, constituting 36.4percent of the total appropriation from the NASS.

“It was further asserted, apparently, that because the beneficiaries are not known personally to the NASS members, the National Social Register is a ‘scam’ and needs to be reformed through a process that is ‘more inclusive’ of the NASS.”

According to her, “The demand for the inclusion of candidates to the NSR from the NASS has been a recurring issue from the inception of the NSIPs. My role and singular focus has simply been to comply with the terms of Agreement and the MoU entered into by the Federal Government of Nigeria, as well as to establish an objective, efficient and transparent process for uplifting the poor out of poverty through structures and mechanisms that are credible and sustainable.”

Uwais further said: “I have consistently reminded both NASS Committee Chairmen on Poverty Alleviation that there is no social protection programme in the world in which politicians are responsible for selecting the beneficiaries of cash transfers. All successful social protection programmes extract their beneficiaries from an objective community platform, if only to ensure that the poorest of the poor are supported out of poverty in an inclusive community driven and timely manner.

“The data being collated in each household enables the accurate and scientific measurement and tracking, to assure of analysis and research towards resolving poverty. Since poverty knows no ethnicity, religion or political affiliation, the process must be insulated from influences that are likely to deviate from achieving the desired objective of alleviating abject poverty, rather than be used for patronage or as compensation for loyalty”.

The National Assembly also quickly countered that it takes: “strong exception to the innuendo by the presidential aide that her rejoinder was issued towards safeguarding the entitlements of the poorest of Nigerian citizens, whose benefits are likely to cease because they are not known or connected to NASS members or any other person of influence.”

Ola Awoniyi, special adviser on Media to President of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly, said the Federal Legislature, said such insinuation is unfair to the members of the National Assembly and entirely baseless.

He emphasised that public office holders should be receptive to constructive ideas and suggestions expressed to enhance service delivery and to improve the performances of public projects and institutions.

Awoniyi, while denying the newspaper reports on the National Assembly position on NSIP said: “At the meeting with the minister, the leadership of the National Assembly made some observations on aspects of the NSIP and recommended that the implementation process be fine-tuned and the scheme be backed with legislation to make it more efficient, effective and accord with global best practices.

“Although the official Press Statement issued at the end of the meeting clearly conveyed the deliberations and resolution of the meeting, some misrepresentations appeared in the reports by one or two newspapers.

“Specifically, there was nowhere in the statement that NSIP was described as a ‘failure’ as reported by The Nation newspaper or a ‘scam’ as reported by the Sun newspaper. Also, there was no mention of N2trillion or any amount whatsoever in the statement”.

Civil society raises concern over distribution of palliatives

Faulting the method of disbursement, the civil society organisations in Lagos it had failed to achieve the desire objective.

In a statement to the media on Friday by Federation of Informal Workers of Nigeria (FIWON), Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development, University of Lagos, Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-HOPE Nigeria), among others, signed by, Deji Akinpelu, co-founder of Rethinking Cities and made available BDSUNDAY, the CSOs urged the Lagos state government in particular to engage individuals, corporate and faith-based organisations in the distribution of the palliatives in order to reach the vulnerable individuals in remote communities.

“We note that the urban poor are the most vulnerable in this period of global health pandemic and economic uncertainty. Constant displacements over the past decades have increased overcrowding in many low-income areas, making all the palliative measures even more necessary.

“We salute the efforts of all individuals and corporate entities supporting the efforts of LASG in these challenging times and we gratefully acknowledge the solidarity of international donors and development organisations. We further appeal to them and to LASG that COVID-19 tests and advocacy be extended to low income communities, with clear protocols on reporting and responding to suspected cases outlined, bearing in mind that these communities are densely populated.”


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