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Covid-19 Lockdown: Nigerians berate federal govt over ‘non-transparent’ distribution of palliatives

Covid-19 Lockdown: Nigerians berate federal govt over ‘non-transparent’ distribution of palliatives April 14, 2020 | EASTERN PILOT Sad...

Covid-19 Lockdown: Nigerians berate federal govt over ‘non-transparent’ distribution of palliatives

April 14, 2020 | EASTERN PILOT

Sadiya Umar-Farouq 

The Nigerian government has come under criticism on social media over the process it is using in distributing palliatives to vulnerable persons, particularly the conditional cash transfer programme.

According to President Muhammadu Buhari, these initiatives have been intensified to cushion the economic impact of the lockdown arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ministry of humanitarian affairs earlier announced that it had begun the distribution of N20,000 each to the households captured in the National Social Register (NSR).

Nigerians, however, said there was no accountability and transparency in the process of distribution.

The criticism became more intense on Monday night after President Buhari declared an extension of the 14-day lockdown on Ogun, Lagos and FCT to curb the spread of coronavirus In the country.

Many Nigerians took to social media with hashtag, #payusviaBVN, to demand the government pay every Nigerian via their Bank Verification Numbers (BVN).

Nigerians also cited other countries such as Namibia and Canada, where the governments have started transferring money directly into citizens’ bank accounts.

The Hong Kong government in February announced it would pay residents over the age of 18, 10,000 Hong Kong dollars, as part of measures aimed at reducing the financial crisis of nationals.

The U.S. Senate last month also finalised a $2 trillion economic stabilisation plan to help workers and businesses in the country.

Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has also unveiled an $82 billion aid package to help Canadians and businesses, including direct income support.

The BVN is a biometric identification system implemented by the Central Bank of Nigeria, initiated during the Goodluck Jonathan administration, in 2014 to curb illegal banking transactions in Nigeria.

According to 2019 data, the Nigerian Interbank Settlement Scheme said about 38.5 million bank accounts have been linked to the BVN scheme.

“The federal government should mine from these data by accessing persons who cannot sustain themselves during the lockdown, Segun Sowunmi, a spokesperson to the opposition party, PDP said on Channels TV.

The president during his second nationwide broadcast on COVID-19 appealed to Nigerians that his administration is aware of the hardship following the lockdown.

He said “despite these realities, we must not change the restrictions.”

He also explained that no country can afford the full impact of a sustained restriction of movement on its economy.

“No country can afford the full impact of a sustained restriction of movement on its economy. I am fully aware of the great difficulties experienced especially by those who earn a daily wage such as traders, day workers, artisans and manual workers,” he said.

He directed the addition of one million households to the National Social Register (NSR) up from 2.6 million households to cushion the effect of the impact of the coronavirus.

Nigerians not impressed
However, the NSR, a world bank assisted scheme, has come under criticism by Nigerians.

Many Nigerians want the government to identify the vulnerable members of the population benefiting from the palliatives and the process used for the selection and distribution.

The minister of humanitarian affairs, Sadiya Farouq, in a statement on Tuesday, said the ministry had begun improving the process.

The ministry had earlier said it has distributed the first tranche of N5 billion.

But many Nigerians have taken to Twitter to express their dissatisfaction.

We are improving process- Minister
The minister of humanitarian affairs, Sadiya Farouq, said the ministry had begun the ‘digitisation’ of the cash transfers and other programmes under the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP).

The minister said this was to enhance transparency and accountability in onward disbursement of funds.

Ms Farouq, while addressing members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, also disclosed that the ministry has resolved to henceforth hand over relief materials for the vulnerable persons across the country to state governors for distribution.

According to her, the decision followed complaints and controversies surrounding the distribution of cash to the beneficiaries under the NSIP.

“Going forward, we have decided that we are going to be handing over food relief to the governors for onward distribution to the poor and vulnerable in their states. We have started already. I was in Lagos and Ogun States last week and I handed over trucks of relief items to the governors.

“So far, we have reached out to the three affected states that have been locked down by the Federal Government, including the FCT. We have also sent food relief to Imo and Ebonyi States,” Ms Farouq said.

She also explained that the N20,000 payment followed the presidential directives to pay the beneficiaries two months advances.

The N20,000 covers four months’ stipends for the beneficiaries from January to April, she added.

More Innovations
The minister said she hoped to cover half of the states of the federation in the next tranche of payment with the use of mobile wallets and the BVNs in future.

“We give them N5,000 per month and now that Mr President has directed that we give two months advance, this is why we are giving them N20,000.

“We agree that the process looks very cumbersome and for the purpose of accountability and transparency, the ministry has begun the digitalisation of this process. We have four pilot states that are on digital payment so far and we are continuing with that.

“We hope that in the next payment, we will be able to do half of the states of the federation.

“We are also using phones, mobile wallets and the BVNs of the beneficiaries where it exists because it is not all the beneficiaries that are on the banking system,” she said.

The official also added that, “we are working on the rapid expansion of the register. It is not a day job, but we have started the process. Our main focus now will be on the urban-poor because these are people who have become vulnerable as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown.

“We will also be focusing on Persons Living With Disabilities (PLWDs). Though we have some of them currently in our register, we will focus more on registering the people with special needs.”

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