Endless wait for palliatives in states amid accountability deficits
As governments across states roll out bullet points of ‘achievements’ to mark the first 100 days in office, citizens are left with little or nothing to cheer as they hustle their way out of the biting socio-economic realities. Apparently to douse the tension, the Federal Government had rolled out a palliative plan, with N2 billion already disbursed to each state government. Findings, however, showed that the attendant distribution of palliative, when seen at all, is largely reminiscent of the 2020 experience – of palliative hoarding, thieving, and looting by the deprived public. Tope Templer Olaiya, Bertram Nwannekanma (Lagos), Seye Olumide (Ibadan), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Tina Abeku (Abuja), Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Gordi Udeajah (Umuahia), Adewale Momoh (Akure), Bala Yahaya (Minna) and Rauf Oyewole (Bauchi) report.
Beyond the rhetoric and chest-thumping from government officials, there is hunger and palpable discontent in the land. In the twilight of May, the President Bola Tinubu administration came on board with its ‘Renewed Hope’ mantra on the wings of high expectations. It was further buoyed by the euphoria that greeted the ‘Subsidy is gone’ inauguration address of Mr President. In quick succession, there were several policy reforms and Executive Orders that followed, all engineered to reset the country on the path to a productive and sustainable economy.
But weeks down the line, like a hurricane, the ripple effects of the policy changes are beginning to take a drastic toll on Nigerians, exposing the flaws of President Tinubu’s astute courage without strategy.
One area citizens have been badly hit is the twin effects of petrol subsidy removal and currency harmonisation, otherwise called naira float. Despite assurances, there are strong indications that the pump price of petrol is expected to record another round of increases, the third within three months, except there is an intervention from government, short of a return of subsidy.
Amid the hullabaloo caused by this policy is the half-hearted attempt by the government to calm the dust already raised through severe hardship in the land.
First, the President announced an N8,000 palliative for some selected families tagged vulnerable households. After being confronted with the impracticability of the monthly cash of N8,000 for six months to 12 million households, the idea was quickly jettisoned citing concerns over ability of the cash distribution to meet the administration’s goal of supporting the poor in the country to grapple with the resultant price spike following termination of the subsidy regime.
In its place was the promise by the government to increase the country’s minimum wage, a longstanding demand of the Organised Labour, who have mobilized for an industrial action thrice since June, with a fourth in the offing in another 21 days. While many states are yet to fully comply with the N30,000 minimum wage since it came into effect in 2019, Labour is proposing a N200,000 benchmark to march up to the rising cost of living.
Ongoing negotiations with the government appear to have entered a cul de sac with no word yet from either party after expiration of the eight-week timeline given to resolve all contentious issues and implement the resolutions arising from the demands of Labour.
On August 17, a breather was announced when the Federal Government approved N5 billion for each state and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to enable them procure food items for distribution to the poor in their respective states.
Disclosing this after the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting in Abuja, Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State said in addition to the fund, a part of which is loan to the states, the Federal Government also released five trucks of rice each to the governors to be shared as palliatives. Explaining further, Zulum said the governors are to procure 100,000 bags of rice, 40,000 bags of maize and fertilizers.
Governors: Where are the palliatives?
Already, three weeks since the announcement of disbursement of palliatives to states, only a handful have swung into action to get the much-needed succour to the people, while many others are still in the setting up of committees’ stage.
Taking the lead is Borno State with Governor Zulum pledging to reach 100,000 households under the presidential directive, which is in addition to the 300,000 already captured by the state in earlier palliative plans.
According to the governor, each household of six to be reached directly in the 400,000-palliative plan of both state and Federal Government would take the estimate to 2.4 million citizens.
He disclosed this during the distribution of the palliatives, which he supervised himself, in Gwoza, Kukawa, Jere and Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC) LGAs. 1,215 corps members posted to the state for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), also got N30,000 each among other food items donated.
Arising from the ugly experience in Bayelsa, Ondo State Government has disclosed that stringent security measures have been taken to safeguard warehouses housing items meant to be distributed as palliatives across the state.
While inspecting the food items and agricultural inputs stored in the warehouses along with other members of his committee, the Chairman of the Palliative Strategy and Implementation Committee, Wale Akinterinwa, assured of prompt distribution of the items to vulnerable members of society.
Akinterinwa also disclosed that the state has received N2 billion out of the N5 billion disbursed by the Federal Government to the states, adding that the state received 5,700 bags of rice from Abuja but plans to distribute 12,000 bags of rice.
The committee chairman, who doubles as Commissioner for Finance in the state, said a special committee was set up made up of all spheres of society to avoid the distribution becoming a political party affair.
In Oyo State, Governor Seyi Makinde has set up a 15-man committee under the Sustainable Action for Economic Recovery (SAfER), to mitigate the effects of the removal of fuel subsidies.
The committee is headed by the Chief of Staff, Segun Ogunwuyi, while Prof. Musibau Babatunde, Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning, will serve as its Secretary. To have a far-reaching effect the governor also appointed representatives of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Muslim community, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).
The SAfER package comes under six major headings viz; Transportation, which includes the extension of bus routes, the introduction of inter-city Omituntun buses to link geo-political zones and fare reduction for students as well as the aged; Food Relief Package – focusing on providing over 200,000 poorest of the poor households in the state with food items; Food Security – aimed at providing input support for 10,000 farmers in the state; Agropreneurial support – Through this, young agro-preneurs under the Youth Entrepreneurship in Agribusiness Project (YEAP), who have established businesses, would have access to N500 million loan to improve their agricultural enterprises.
Others are SMEs Stimulation Package – provision of N500 million low interest rate loans for Small and Micro-Enterprises (SMEs), including traders, artisans and other small business operators, in the state through microfinance banks; and Healthcare support – Under this scheme, the government will be providing health insurance for 100,000 of the most vulnerable citizens. It will also pay their one-year health insurance premium under the Oyo State Health Insurance Agency (OYSHIA) scheme. In the same vein, the government will pay the health insurance premium for all pensioners under the OYSHIA scheme. Any pensioner who has already made payment will be refunded.
Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma, confirmed that the state had received the sum of N2 billion at the first instance, from the Federal Government, as part of the state’s share of the N5 billion earlier granted to each state as “physical support” palliative to cushion the effect of the removal of petrol subsidy.
Uzodimma, who disclosed this during the flag-off ceremony, informed numerous persons who converged that out of the amount received, 65,000 bags of rice under phase 1, procured locally by the state government which were stored at six different warehouses would be distributed at a structured manner to ensure every Imo resident received his or her share on non-partisan basis.
According to the governor, the state was expecting to take delivery of N1 billion worth of maize from the Federal Government soon, appealing for patience as Imo residents face the biting effects of the policy.
Last week, some states commenced distribution of the palliatives. In Lagos, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on Sunday, flagged off the distribution of palliatives to over 500,000 households.
“The strategic goal of this programme is to reach 500,000 vulnerable households in the state with staple food items using two methodologies – Bulk food items (50kg rice, 50kg garri and 100kg beans) for groups, and food boxes (10kg rice, 5kg garri, and 5kg beans) for individual vulnerable households,” he said.
Mr Governor explained that the distribution to vulnerable households would be done through groups, institutions, non-governmental organisations, community development committees, people living with disabilities and the social protection department in the Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget using the social register of the vulnerable in the state.
But it was near pandemonium at Oshodi-Isolo and Somolu Local Councils of Lagos at the distribution centre, where the chairman of Somolu Local Council in Lagos, Abdul Hamed Salawu, mismanaged the crowd in distribution of subsidy palliatives.
To avert a similar scenario in Abia State, Governor Alex Otti has barred political appointees and their families from distribution of the palliatives designated for 10,600 poor/vulnerable families in the state.
The governor specifically directed that each of the about 184 political wards in the state will get 14 bags of rice and excluded his political appointees and their families among the beneficiaries of the 3,000 50kg bags of rice received by Abia out of the said 81,000 bags reportedly designated for the state.
According to a Public Affairs Commentator, Peter Agu, allotting 3,000 bags of 50Kg bags of rice to the Abia population of over five million people, was a mockery. He said rather than donate that small quantity of rice that would not get to all the citizens, the Federal Government should procure buses and deploy them evenly in the states, make education and health free, boost farming and empower small-scale traders with interest- free loans, among others.
In Enugu State, the committee inaugurated by Governor Peter Mbah to work out modalities for distribution of the palliatives is yet to commence work. The committee is headed by the deputy governor, Ifeanyi Ossai.
At the time of filing this report, nothing is on ground to indicate that the state had either received the N2 billion or other palliative materials from the Federal Government to cushion the pains of the removal of the subsidy.
Efforts to reach the deputy governor on the development failed. He didn’t pick his calls as well as replied to messages sent to his WhatsApp. The Bauchi State government has said that a larger per cent of the beneficiaries of the Federal Government subsidy removal palliative would be reached at their various polling units, while other sections of the beneficiaries would be reached through “appropriate channels”.
Commissioner for Humanitarian and Disaster Management, Hajara Wanka, while briefing journalists on the sharing arrangement of the palliative, said that N2 billion would be used to procure 88,889 25kg bags of rice for distribution to vulnerable groups in the state.
According to her, N800 million would be used to settle gratuity of the state retirees. “We suggested a model for sharing and we proposed for consideration of the numbers of polling units as communities because it is through polling units that you will get to the grassroots and reach the deserving population. To avoid anything political in the distribution process, it will be headed by traditional and religious leaders and monitored by the local government authorities,” she said.
Governor Mohammed Umaru Bago of Niger State has vowed to prosecute anyone caught diverting palliatives meant for the people. Handing down the warning, the governor said the state had obtained court order to deal with anyone found culpable.
Bago, while highlighting the modalities adopted for the distribution, the state had received from the Federal Government N2 billion cash, but it is augmenting it with N250 million.
According to him, all wards in Chanchaga, Bida, Suleja and Kontagora councils are to be given N20 million per ward, while the remaining 21 councils will be awarded N10 million each.
Others that will benefit from the palliative include traditional institutions (N80 million), Organised Labour (N110 million), political parties (N150 million), Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s) (N75 million).
In addition, five trucks of rice will be distributed to each ward of the 25 councils while 40,000 bags of maize to be shared are yet to be received from the Federal Government.
“I am declaring a three days holiday to enable committees to distribute the palliatives accordingly. We are going to shut down governance so that our people can have succour,” Bago said.
Already, the Department of State Services (DSS) said it has received reports from some states relating to diversion and sale of palliatives meant for citizens. According to spokesman of the secret police, Peter Afinanya, consequently, the Service undertook investigations in that regard and has recovered some of the items as well as apprehended the suspects.
“While this operation is ongoing in other states, the Service has for instance, intercepted a suspected criminal syndicate in Nasarawa State responsible for the diversion and sale of the palliatives meant for the vulnerable in the place.
“Among those suspects are officials of Nasarawa State Emergency Management Agency (NASEMA) and their accomplices in the markets, notably Modern Market Lafia, where the items were being resold. The suspects have, however, been handed over for appropriate disciplinary measures.”
The DSS, therefore, called on members of the public who may have information relating to this emerging trend to report the same to the relevant security agencies for necessary action.
It’s déjà vu
Clearly, the ghost of the ugly past is running riot. Like the bane of most government expenditures, a lot more of the palliatives nationwide may be headed for the ill-fated destination of being looted, resold to the general market, shared to party cronies as government officials’ souvenirs or simply get expired in many rundown warehouses hidden in obscure locations.
Nigerians will not forget in a hurry the story of 2020. Two things defined that year – COVID-19 pandemic and the #EndSARS protest. It took the second, which occurred across the country in October to expose the sham that was called COVID-19 palliatives, expected to have been distributed between March and June when there were lockdowns on most states in efforts to curtail the spread of the pandemic.
Months later, in April 2021, a civic advocacy group, BudgIT released a report, which detailed how COVID-19 palliatives were hijacked and distributed among politicians in the thick of the pandemic.
In the report on COVID-19 Fund Management titled: “COVID-19 Fund: Fiscal Support, Palliative Analysis & Institutional Response,” the group expressed worry over the poor accountability mechanism in the management of the COVID-19 fund and distribution of palliatives.
The organisation revealed in its report that in most monitored local government areas in Lagos, palliatives were hijacked and diverted by politicians and shared among party members. “Some residents who are not members of the party lamented the hijack and their exclusion from the whole distribution process,” the report said.
“During the #EndSARS protest, hoodlums attacked a government-owned warehouse where the food meant to be distributed during the coronavirus lockdowns in the Maza-Maza area of Ojo LGA, Lagos State, were stored.”
BudgIT said the same was the situation in other parts of the country as politicians took ownership of the distribution.The organisation said that in Kano, residents of Minjibir revealed that the selection process of the beneficiaries was strictly for political party loyalists, and the vulnerable groups in the community could not benefit from the palliative distribution.
“Party leaders were tasked to share to only party members upon presentation of party card or identification of being a member of the ruling party,” the report said. Similar findings were reported in Ogun, Rivers, Niger, among others.
CACOVID, a private coalition of donors and corporate founders, donated N21.5 billion for palliatives. This is aside from the N500 billion Federal Government set aside for COVID-19 intervention programmes through its Economic Sustainability Plan.
“As of the time of our report, comprehensive details of disbursed funds have not been published on the Open Treasury platform. This further establishes our concerns about the lack of a proper framework for COVID-19 fund accountability in Nigeria,” BudgIT concluded.
The same absence of palliative accountability was displayed by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs after it disclosed that the Federal Government spent N523.3 million on school feeding programmes during the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
Again, like it happened in 2020, some residents of Bayelsa State, who could no longer bear the brunt of the harsh economic conditions, penultimate weekend, stormed and looted foot items and other palliatives in a government-owned warehouse in Yenagoa. Bags of rice and garri, as well as cartons of noodles and bottled water, which were among the relief commodities contributed by concerned Nigerians following the state’s flood crisis in 2022, were looted by the invaders.
Many even stormed the warehouse located along the Isaac Boro Motorway with pick-up vans and private automobiles to transfer the supplies, most of which had already gone bad.
During the looting, the state administration sent personnel from its security unit, Doo Akpo, to disperse the people and protect the facility. The state voiced astonishment and alarm about the invasion of the warehouse’s premises and called the act unjustified, claiming that the food products were remnants being gathered for disposal since they were no longer fit for human consumption.
Responding, the Director-General of the State Emergency Management Agency (BYSEMA), Walamam Igrubia, said: “During the 2022 flood in the state, the agency used the warehouse to store food items. As part of preparations for an impending flood this year, the DG visited the premises, and remnants of food items, notably rice and garri that were no longer fit for consumption, were cleared from the warehouse and placed outside for disposal the following day.”
Responding to questions on how the Federal Government intends to ensure that palliatives meant for the poor actually gets to them, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Betta Edu, said the government has set mechanisms in place to avoid a repeat of the 2020 scenario.
According to her, it is no more business as usual for those who think they can subvert government efforts to uplift poor Nigerians as her ministry will be transparent in all its dealings by matching intervention with faces and people that can be identified at any given time, adding that this time around, journalists would be carried along to monitor the conditional cash transfer programme the ministry will soon embark on.
“The most important people in the whole picture are those who are beneficiaries. We need to begin to put faces to stories; who benefited, who is the person, who are the people, where are they and can you show us evidence of this benefit that you got?
“It will not be a situation where if the government says they are going to reach 15 million people, it will appear as if they are talking about ghost workers. So, your job as a journalist is to help the government to be transparent and to be as close as possible to the people because there is a huge gap between the government and the governed. Citizens hardly feel the pulse of the government and we want to close that gap.
“I am ready to support journalists that want to go to the field to find out about any intervention we will carry out. Please, go check and be the eyes of the masses, find the beneficiaries and for the first time in this country, we are going to count the numbers together, all of us will do the maths together,” she gave the assurance in a chat with The Guardian.
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