Subsidy: Imo, Abia, Enugu, Anambra, Benue, Delta lead states without clear palliative plans
• ‘We’re working out something good for our people’
• Residents score Lagos, Rivers’ initiatives low, make demands
Notwithstanding last Thursday’s approval of N5 billion for each of the 36 states of the federation by the Federal Government for procurement of food items and fertilisers as part of efforts to alleviate the sufferings occasioned by the removal of petrol subsidy, many of the states are yet to have any concrete palliatives plan for their residents.
This is even as the residents of some states that have started implementing some palliatives are divided on the impact of such measures on their wellbeing. While some residents scored the initiatives very low, others applauded them but called for improvement and adoption of other measures.
For instance, residents of Rivers State told The Guardian, yesterday, that the rolling out of 17 luxury buses on July 11 this year by Governor Siminalayi Fubara for free intra-state transportation as a measure to cushion the effects of fuel subsidy removal was not well thought out. While some residents scored the measure low, others stressed the need for more palliatives, saying the modus operandi of the buses negates the essence of the scheme.
Findings by The Guardian showed that the bus operators resume work by 9.00am, go on break between 12noon and 2.30pm, resume again and close at 4.00pm daily. Some buses were said to have broken down after operating for just one month and are no longer functional.
A civil servant in the Ministry of Works, who simply gave his name as Tochi, said: “The buses do not really have much impact on the sufferings of the people. I was going to Mile One from Secretariat by 12noon today and when I came out to enter the bus, the drivers said they were on break and so I should wait till 2.30pm when they will resume. You are aware that they also close by 4.00pm for the day. So the whole thing surrounding the palliative is not encouraging.
“I am not seeing any impact of the buses. What civil servants need is increase in wages, more employment into the civil service, then create opportunities for farming to develop agriculture and increase food production and also create skills acquisition for the masses.”
According to him, “if the above recommendations are implemented, we can afford good food and pay for transportation to wherever we want to go.”
Another resident, Bright Jumbo, said: “The governor has tried by putting out buses but what about those riverine people; those people that bring goods, especially fish and other seafoods. If the governor can, at least, just as he brought out these buses, put one or two boats at different jetties, it will go a long way.”
An entrepreneur in the state whose office is located at Ikwere road in Port Harcourt, Emmanuel Lekan, however, applauded the initiative, saying: “I am yet to enter the bus but I see people using it and assuredly, it is reducing the pains of subsidy removal, especially the hike in transportation.”
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State has also rolled out palliatives to cushion the current hardship being experienced by residents. After the state’s security council meeting held in Alausa on July 31, the governor announced a 50 per cent reduction in the fares charged by the state-owned public transportation company, effective August 2.
Specifically, Sanwo-Olu said that commuters patronising BRT buses and other public transport means operated by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) and Lagos Ferry Services (LAGFERRY) would enjoy a 50 per cent fare cut. The governor added that private commercial public transporters would also cut fares by 25 per cent, as the government had reduced the taxes they pay daily.
While many commended the gesture, the directive has been hugely ignored by commercial drivers and partially complied with by state-owned public transportation services.
For instance, the transport fare from Ojota to Alausa Secretariat, which was increased to N300 as a result of fuel subsidy removal, was still N300 two weeks after the governor’s announcement. From Berger to Obalende on commercial buses that cost N700 before has increased to N1000.
Despite Sanwo-Olu’s directive, some commercial vehicles take N1,500 from Berger to Victoria Island and N2000 to Lekki. The situation is the same across many routes to the disappointment of residents.
Also, the governor rolled out health palliatives for expectant mothers, which cover the cost of normal delivery, Caesarean Section and antenatal care in state-owned hospitals. The beneficiaries of the measure are excited, but the health personnel are complaning because it has increased their workloads due to lack of personnel.
A beneficiary, Odeyemi Omowunmi, who is heavily pregnant and on admission in one of the government- owned health facilities ahead of her due date, said she could not believe it when she was told that she would be treated free of charge.
Omowunmi said: “My husband and I live in Abule Egba, where I started antenatal care at a private clinic. I was seven and a half months into my pregnancy when they discovered that my blood pressure was too high. My husband feared that I might lose the pregnancy again, having had two successive miscarriages.
“We were referred to the Island Maternity Hospital for an advanced medical examination where doctors told me I must be admitted for continued observation. My husband did not want me admitted initially because of the cost. But we were told the care is completely free. We didn’t believe it until I started getting treatment without anyone asking us to pay a dime.”
In Cross River State, Governor Bassey Otu, last weekend, kicked off the first batch of distribution of palliatives to the residents.
The items, ranging from foodstuffs to seedlings and farming equipment, including pesticides, were distributed at the Industrial Park in Calabar to the seven local councils of the southern senatorial district of the state, while grinding and sewing machines were being awaited.
Otu remarked that the palliatives were an initiative of the Federal Government through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). The governor, who was represented by his deputy, Peter Odey, said the distribution would also be carried out in the central and northern senatorial districts.
Although many residents commended the move, an Ogoja-based businesswoman, Mrs. Cynthia Nwachukwu, said the government should go beyond distribution of items and to cut the number of working days to help civil servants in the state.
“I am aware that in response to the resulting financial strain of the subsidy removal on public workers, some proactive state governments introduced temporary measures to alleviate the situation by reducing work days from five to three days per week for state-employed workers pending when other sustainable palliatives can be provided. It is pathetic that our state government is yet to follow suit,” she said.
In Nasarawa State, the government said it was set to distribute palliatives to residents, adding that a plan to ensure proper and equitable distribution had been perfected.
The Senior Special Assistant to Governor Abdullahi Sule on Public Affairs, Peter Ahemba, who made this known in Lafia, said: “The items to be distributed include food, agricultural materials such as fertilizers, herbicides, cash and others that will meet the immediate needs of the citizens.”
Edo State has also announced that 314 households in its database, with over one million people, would start receiving N20, 000 palliative beginning from September 2023. The Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Chris Nehikhare, made the announcement to journalists after the state’s executive council meeting in Benin City recently.
A resident, Osagie Daniel, commended the government for providing funds for the vulnerable in the state.
Meanwhile, findings by The Guardian showed that other states, including Delta, Enugu, Abia, Imo and Kaduna are yet to unveil any concrete plan to mitigate the impact of the petrol subsidy removal on vulnerable residents in their domains.
In Delta, Governor Sheriff Oborevwori has only promised residents that their sufferings as a result of the removal of petrol subsidy would soon be history.
His Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Festus Ahon, told The Guardian that the government was “working out something that will be good for our people” without being specific on what the people should expect.
“Government is still working on it,” he said.
In Enugu State, residents are still waiting for the roll out of the palliatives promised by Governor Peter Mbah on August 1 when he inaugurated the committee to distribute items.
During the inauguration of the committee headed by the Deputy Governor, Ifeanyi Ossai, Mbah had charged it to handle the palliatives with transparency and ensure speedy distribution of the items to those in dire need of them.
Although the governor did not state specifically the palliative package, he assured the people that the government would do all in its power to address the pains being suffered by them as a result of the removal of subsidy. At the time of filing this report, distribution of the palliatives was yet to begin.
A civil servant, John Onu, stated that irrespective of the items the government intends to distribute, it should look at cutting down the number of working days as a priority.
“I expect that the state government should not only provide free transport services to our place of work, they should also reduce the number of days we are expected to go to work. Working five times a week under this heavy fuel price is not helping our income. I have not earned one naira extra since the subsidy of fuel was removed,” he said.
To a trader, Mrs. Mary Ugwu, the palliatives would help put food on the table of some families whenever they are distributed. She, however, expressed fears that such materials might end up in the homes of politicians, as was the case with previous exercises.
“That is why I will want the government to either provide a free transport scheme or improve the condition of those working. When you buy food items, politicians will hijack them and it will not get to those it is meant for. The language is always that everybody needs palliative to survive,” she said.
Chief Jude Uwakwe also told The Guardian that there were several fundamental issues about palliatives provided by the government in the past, stressing that it had never addressed the pains of the masses and had been mismanaged.
“That is why I think that something should be done to improve the minimum wage of the average worker. I am saying that the government should review the entire workforce and bring back our refineries to work so that the pump price will come back to normal. They should use earnings from the removal of subsidy in the last few months to improve mass transportation scheme, create micro-credit for small scale entrepreneurs, especially for rural people. They should also look inwards to fish out companies evading tax, which if paid could contribute to the internally generated revenue. This can help uplift infrastructure in the states,” he stated.
Anambra State government is yet to announce to the public its plans and measures to cushion the effect of subsidy removal. As a result, residents have cried out to Governor Chukwuma Soludo for help, saying subsidy removal had created poverty, hunger, high cost of living, loss of jobs, closure of businesses as well as uncertainty in many homes.
“Tell the government that we are suffering. Both federal and state governments should help the people. My family and I have not received any help. Some states have announced interventions like payment of N10,000 monthly to their workers, some allowances for medical personnel. Lagos slashed transport fares while others shared food items to the poor and most vulnerable households,” a trader in Awka, who identified herself as Lady Julian Williams, said.
A similar situation obtains in Imo State, where Governor Hope Uzodimma pledged to provide some palliatives shortly after President Bola Ahmed Tinubu announced the removal of subsidy, but it is yet to be implemented.
Also, residents of Benue State are still waiting for the government to roll out its subsidy palliatives.
When The Guardian sought to know the plans of the state government to cushion the effect of the removal of subsidy from both the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Aondona Dajoh, and Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof. Joseph Alakali, they simply replied that there were plans to that effect.
The Special Assistant on Media to the SSG, Philip Salemkaan, said: “There are plans in the pipeline. Government will roll out the whole package in due course.”
Governor Uba Sani of Kaduna State also reiterated plan by his administration to roll out measures to immediately cushion the effect of the fuel subsidy removal on the residents.
In response to The Guardian’s enquiries on what the government was doing, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Muhammad Lawal Shehu, said “the governor remains committed to easing the effects of the fuel subsidy removal and inflation on the people of Kaduna State.”
Shehu explained that a committee comprising labour leaders and state government officials was “currently working on creating channels to reach our most-vulnerable groups by supporting them with palliatives.”
Abia State is also among states that have not announced a clear subsidy palliatives plan for the residents.
The Commissioner for Information and Culture, Okey Kanu, told journalists last Monday that the government had been doing the needful towards cushioning the effect of subsidy removal on the people, but failed to disclose any of the measures it has so far taken to that effect.
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