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FG’s COVID-19 palliatives: Why Nigerians are not feeling the impact

By Onyedika Agbedo, Daniel Anazia, Tobi Awodipe, Ijeoma Thomas-Odia, Maria Diamond, Adetayo Adeowo and Onyinye Ezeilo
08 August 2020   |   4:25 am
There is a widespread belief among Nigerians that the country is not bereft of good policies to make life better for the citizenry. What they see as the missing link is the lack political will and unalloyed sincerity to give life to such policies.

There is a widespread belief among Nigerians that the country is not bereft of good policies to make life better for the citizenry. What they see as the missing link is the lack political will and unalloyed sincerity to give life to such policies. Those who hold that view argue that they have seen good policies dragged into the mud either because somebody somewhere did not do his/her work for selfish reasons or did it with selfish motives. This view resonated among many Nigerians with regard to the implementation of the COVID-19 palliative measures outlined by President Muhammadu Buhari to cushion the effect of the steps the government has so far taken to contain the spread of the virus on Nigerians.

The Federal Government had imposed targeted lockdown measures in areas with rapid increase of COVID-19 cases. As a way of cushioning the effect of the lockdown, the government rolled out palliative measures for certain groups. This included three months interest holidays for those holding Tradermoni, Marketmoni, and Farmermoni loans issued by the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture, and the Nigeria Export and Import Bank.

President Buhari had also announced an expansion of the initial number of households that would benefit from the direct distribution of food items and cash from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households. The government said the palliatives were for the most vulnerable in the society, but there were no laid down parametres for determining the beneficiaries. It was left to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, under the headship of Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq to handle.

As expected at the end of every assignment, the Minister recently gave an account of her stewardship where she was quoted as saying that the palliatives got to the intended beneficiaries.

Her words: “There’s hardly anyone in Nigeria who didn’t receive the Federal Government palliative care during the COVID-19 pandemic period. All the tribes in Nigeria received the palliative. In fact, it was evenly distributed.

“Hearing some tribes crying, especially the eastern part of Nigeria and the South-South, that no palliative care was given to them tends to blackmail. Nobody in the eastern or south-southern parts of Nigeria will say he or she didn’t receive any palliative from the government, especially the Federal Government relief cash transfer sent to their respective bank accounts. About 95 per cent of them received the relief fund. Those, I will say, that didn’t receive the funds are children.”

Although she has since denied the statement, clarifying that “it is impossible to give palliatives to all Nigerians”, findings showed that the percentage of the population that benefited from the gesture was infinitesimal even as it was yet to reach some states as at the time of filing this report.

Lagos State, for instance, received 6,000 bags of rice and two truckloads of vegetable oil from the Federal Government for distribution to the poor and the vulnerable in the state on April 10, 2020. The state government had also privately unveiled an economic stimulus package that targeted at least 200,000 households. But a resident in Adelakun Street in Ikotun Egbe, Orji Odanibe, told The Guardian that there was no such thing as Federal Government’s COVID-19 relief stimulus in his community.

“The only relief packages a number of people in this community got during the lockdown came from well-to-do individuals and Non-Governmental Organisations who were kind enough to help the less privileged with food items,” she said.

Another resident in Okea-Afa area of the state, Tunde Salisu, who said he could speak for his area, noted that nobody got government’s palliative in the community.

“I heard some people in certain areas of Lagos got but not in this community. Some of us in this area were fortunate enough to get yam, garri and noodles from the owner of a private school on this street. Some even went as far as Canoe bus stop in Oke-Afa to collect food items from a politician who gave out relief stimulus to the needy but there was no such thing as government palliative; none that I know of,” he stated.

A resident in Isolo, who works as a daily thrift collector around Isolo bus stop, Mubarak Ishola, recounted with bitterness how they were promised palliatives during the lockdown period and were told to go to the secretariat to collect them.

“It was only God that saved us during that period because if the Coronavirus they are talking about was very real and killing people as they said, all of us should have dropped dead due to the way we were always packing ourselves at the secretariat everyday. We were going there almost on a daily basis hoping for something, either foodstuff or money but we didn’t get anything till the whole lockdown was called off.

“However, my second wife that stays in Ikorodu said some people came to their LCDA and dropped off a few small bags of rice, beans, bread and tomato paste for almost 100 houses to share amongst themselves. When they looked at it, they knew the items couldn’t feed two families for a day so they decided to give it to the oldest people in the area that didn’t have any relatives to help them.

“I am pained that they stopped us from working during that period. Myself and other members of my association lost a lot of money then and we are still battling to recover till now. This government never adds anything positive to us, all they do is take and make life hard for us,” he said.

Emeka Onuwa, a resident in Mushin, in Isolo local government area, admitted that, “the government truly made arrangements for palliatives to be distributed but a large number of the citizens didn’t benefit from it” while Anita Ayobami said the only palliative she got was from buoyant families in the neighbourhood.

“Many of them distributed many food items to residents in the street throughout the period of the lockdown,” she said. For Mrs. Ogechi Bamidele, as much as she longed for the palliatives, she got nothing. “It came as a temporary relief when I heard that palliatives will be distributed but I waited in vain. It was as if you needed some kind of connection to get them. I am not sure I know anyone around me who got the palliative; it was mostly political party members and their households that benefited. The thing kept revolving around them,” she said.

Olaegbe Babatunde also accused politicians of diverting relief items sent to the state by the Federal Government. He said: “Nothing was distributed at all; it all ended up with the politicians. We never benefitted from it in any way.”Kolade Alabi Joda, a resident in Alagbado area further corroborated the claim.

“I did not even benefit at all. None was brought to my area; the materials were diverted to God knows where. A five kilogramme of rice was brought to my entire community. How did you want it to go round?

“The items were diverted somewhere else instead of distributing them to the people. People lamented but nothing was done about it. So, everybody had to just let it go,” he said.

Many residents, mostly the aged, who spoke with The Guardian in Isuti-Egan, Igando, in Ikotun-Igando Local Council Development Area claimed they did not receive the stimulus package from the government, accusing politicians of diverting the materials.

“There was nothing like palliative for the poor; it was meant for the rich. They are the people that brought the disease to Nigeria, now they want us to suffer. The so-called food they claimed they shared did not get to us the poor and downtrodden.

“The food was shared to party members, and we didn’t get because we are not members of the party. You journalists know the truth. During the period, the chairman of our street called one Saturday morning to show us the so-called food that was to be shared. It was one DeRica of rice, one DeRica of beans, one sachet of tomatoe paste for a street with about 80 houses.

“The chairman told us that only three of the palliative bags were sent to the Community Development Association (CDA) that comprises eight streets with over 500 houses. When they want to share electricity bills, they come to our doorsteps but when they want to share food to the masses, they will not deploy that same system,” said Patrick Obayan, a septuagenarian.

Olufemi Odeyemi described the claim that every Nigerian received the government’s palliative as laughable. “It is understandable because there is no sincerity of purpose in our leaders despite our huge resources,” he added.

In Ilasamaja area of the state, Babalola Olamide said the distribution of the items did not go as expected.He explained: “When we got to the distribution centre in our area, we were told that it was for a particular set of people. We argued with them, but they insisted, so we left. It was unfair. Since then we have not seen anything like palliative. Meanwhile, during the lockdown things were hard for almost everybody; people were hungry. Why must palliatives be for a set of people?”

Blessing Olaitan also said: “The lockdown really affected me so much that I was very broke. I went to bed without eating most of the days. But I did not receive any foodstuffs from government. I saw some people sharing some things but we were told it was for widows and the people they gave in my area were not up to five.”

However, Francis Denedo said he knew when the government distributed the palliatives but deliberately refused to collect.
“I decided not to take anything because I didn’t need it. During the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, some people told me the government was sharing palliatives somewhere around Abule-Egun. I saw some family members holding packs of noodles, groundnut oils and other household needs.

“However, I instructed my wife never to collect. She was shocked because according to her, it is our right. I told her it is our right for sure, but it is not for everyone. It is meant for those who have nothing to feed on. It is better to give our share to the very poor because I already stocked up food.”

A staff of Oshodi/Isolo Local Government Area (LGA), who spoke under the condition of anonymity, confirmed the allegation that politicians feasted on the palliatives. He stated that though some materials got to them, they were very few and were shared amongst party members in the secretariat.

“The palliatives that got to us was very meager and they just shared it amongst staff that belong to the All Progressives Congress (APC) party. I can tell you very confidently that we didn’t share anything to the general public except maybe an individual or politician did that privately. But if we are talking about official palliatives, there was nothing like that.

“In fact, for most of the staff here, they didn’t get any palliative of any kind. The only thing I can say the staff got from the chairman of Isolo LCDA, Shamsudeen Olaleye, was N2, 500 each, which was paid into their accounts,” the source said.

The following reports from Ekiti, Plateau, Imo, Abia and Cross River states also give graphic details of how the COVID-19 relief packages were managed in those places and the people’s verdict on the initiative.

Ekiti Govt, Residents Disagree On Distribution Of Palliatives
From Ayodele Afolabi, Ado Ekiti
THE Ekiti State government and residents of the state have disagreed on the distribution of palliatives received during the lockdown occasioned by outbreak of COVID-19. The government told The Guardian that it has distributed palliatives to about 60,000 households during the pandemic, but some residents said they didn’t get anything while others said what they got was meager.

The Coordinator of Ekiti COVID-19 Task Force, Prof. Bolaji Aluko, said the state did not receive funds from the Federal Government, but noted that, “there are deferred loans.”

“The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) sent over 11 trucks which contained about 12,000 bags of garri and 10,000 bags of maize that has just been received. We got 1,800 bags of rice and about 300 or so got bad.  We also received 700 kegs of vegetable oil.

“We distributed the items to about 60,000 households. Single households didn’t get because we distributed through the local governments, churches mosques, associations that are duly registered, monarchs in different communities and political parties. We have the records of those that got the palliatives.

“We are not actually targeting everybody. We target those who are vulnerable even before COVID-19 and those who became economically vulnerable as a result of the pandemic. The ones that will be distributed soon will get to more people,” he said. A resident in Ikere Ekiti, Odunlade Collins, said the palliatives had not gotten to people in the area.

“I learnt that some foodstuffs were distributed in some parts of Ikere Ekiti. I made enquiries from my area, that is Ilutitun Sammy area but nobody said he/she received. I only received the one distributed by my church.

“We thank God that we survived the untold hardship without any form of palliative from the government. Now that we have been out of the lockdown, we now survive through our normal means of income,” he added. A resident in Oke Ureje, Ado Ekiti, Ogundana Jacob, accused the government of politicising the sharing of the palliatives, alleging that it was channeled through the party’s leadership across the local governments. 

“You must belong to their party before you can smell such thing. That is why Governor Ayo Fayose was better in this regard because he would have personally supervised the distribution of the palliatives and made sure it got to the right people,” he noted. In Kota Ekiti, a resident, Ojo Sunday, said that his wife received one kilogramme of Semolina and N100 worth of salt for a family of six people, adding that the items were rationed to few families.

“The government gestures fell short of our expectations. We had thought it would be tangible and enough to feed a family for two days. We were completely locked down for several months without any form of assistance to ameliorate our situation,” he lamented.

A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Opeyemi Bola-Ayodeji, however, told The Guardian that the government did its best within the limits of its resources. She said the palliatives were distributed evenly to residents of her area in a non-partisan manner.

“There is no way the government can feed the whole population. If government uses all it has to buy food for the citizens, how will it be able to fulfill other obligations? I have not seen any government that can please the entire citizenry,” she noted.

‘Items Given To LG Chairpersons To Share Didn’t Get To Us’
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos 
IN Plateau State, most residents of Jos/Bukuru metropolis said the distribution of palliatives was shrouded in secrecy. An elderly man who lives at Rukuba Road in Jos North, Mr. Akor Mike, told The Guardian that the people only heard of plans by the government to distribute palliatives but did not actually benefit from it.

“We were only hearing that government would distribute relief materials but we did not see anything. At least, I am approaching 70 years. If there was anything like that, it would have reached me and my family. In election periods, politicians will go from house to house, from church to church or from mosque to mosque but when it comes to distribution of palliatives at a period like this, you won’t see them,” he said.

Mike said the chairmen of the 17 local councils of the state were dubious if indeed the palliatives were given to them to distribute to residents. “They did not tell the truth of how they shared the palliative if they actually received them,” he noted.

For Mallam Badiru Adekunle Abdul Aziz, an elderly man, nothing had got to him. A widow, Mama Ada, and her neighbours also said they did not receive any help from the government during the lockdown.

However, Chairman of the Plateau State COVID-19 Palliatives Committee, who doubles as the Deputy Governor of the state, Prof. Sonni Tyoden, said the distribution of the palliatives was decentralised in all the 17 local government areas of the state.

Speaking through his Press Secretary, Mr. Doman Wetkum, he noted that he could not tell what actually came in as palliatives donated to the state because some came through the governor himself.

“The deputy governor is the chairman, Palliatives Distribution Committee. The distribution of the palliatives was done directly to the local governments and it was decentralised. Whatever came from both the federal and state governments went directly to the local governments. It was decentralised and sent to them directly with the permission of the deputy governor.

“In fact, he visited the local governments and handed over all the palliatives to the chairmen. It was the chairmen who now shared the palliatives to the people. But civil servants did not benefit because they are salary earners. But what came in from the Federal Government, I am not in a position to tell you. You know most of those donations were received by the governor, the deputy governor or the Secretary to the State Government,” Wetkum explained.  

Politicians Shared Palliatives Sent To Imo, Residents Allege
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri
THE Imo State government received foodstuffs comprising bags of rice, tubers of yam and noodles from the Federal Government as palliatives to cushion the effect of the COVID-19 lockdown on the people. The All Progressives Congress (APC) administration in the state led by Governor Hope Uzodimma took delivery of the items. However, it was not enough to go round expectant households in the state.

Uzodimma had directed that the items should be kept at the Imo International Convention Centre (IICC), Owerri, and be speedily distributed to the councils through the chairmen of the Interim Management Committees (IMCs) of the 27 local councils of the state. He had also directed the council bosses to work with the monarchs in various autonomous communities to distribute the palliatives. 

But The Guardian was inundated with complaints that the officials distributed the foodstuffs mainly to members of the APC when it contacted residents.

Some residents in Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe, said they did not receive any palliative at all while few beneficiaries in some communities said they received cups of rice and tubers of yam to share jointly. George Ibe of Ahiazu Mbaise regretted that the entire community received a quarter bag of rice and three tubers of yam to share.

“Please how do you share this type of palliative – a quarter bag of rice and three tubers of yam? We decided to leave the items for the poorest among us?”

Ngozi Nwachukwu of Mbaitoli Local Government Area (LGA) also noted that, “my household did not see such a thing. I wonder why the minister made such comment that every Nigerian received it.”

For Alex Manu, an herbalist, residing in Owerri North LGA, there was nothing like palliative to him and his household. He said: “I heard that there were small food items distributed during the lockdown. I did not receive anything. Go to other organised nations. During the lockdown, some officials of their governments were going from door-to-door and house-to-house dropping food for the people. But here, the governments distributed through their political party. This is unfair. Everything is politicised. We should change the way we reason if we want Nigeria to grow. America gave each lawful resident $3,000,” he claimed.

Cross River Yet To Receive FG’s COVID-19 Palliatives, Says Commissioner
From Agosi Todo, Calabar
THE Cross River State government has disclosed that it has not received any form of COVID-19 palliatives from the Federal Government since the outbreak of the pandemic.

The chairman of the state COVID-19 Response Team, who is also the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Beta Edu, made disclosure in a telephone interview with The Guardian, noting that only few individuals and the private sector have supported the state government with palliatives so far.

Edu said: “The Federal Government has not given us any support or palliative. What we have been sharing is from the state government; some private sector operators like Ben Akak Foundation, owners of Davandy Group; Chief Asuquo Ekpeyong, Dangote Group and the likes have donated palliatives to the state government to support us.” She, however, noted that the state was still expecting the Federal Government’s support.

Findings showed that the government has, through the office of the wife of the governor, Dr. Linda Ayade, commenced the distribution of the palliatives to residents through traditional rulers and religious leaders in the state. The second phase is currently ongoing through the State Ministry of Humanity and Social Welfare.

But some residents in Calabar lamented that they had not received any palliative from the government since the outbreak of the pandemic while some said they had benefited through their traditional rulers. 

A resident, Evangelist Ona Kalu, from Garden Street in Calabar South, said they received the first phase of palliatives, which was shared by his traditional ruler.

“Our traditional ruler gave us four cups of rice, beans, three tablets of soap, one sachet of oil, nose mask and hand sanitizer. They were moving from house to house to share it,” she said. Another beneficiary, who simply gave his name as Mr. Udodor, said they gave his wife few cups of garri, beans, hand sanitizer and nose mask.

“I know that the state is doing this out of what they have received from individuals and the private sector but what they gave is not encouraging and we received it when there was still lockdown,” he said.

Mrs. Affiong Ene, who had not benefited at all, said: “We are just hearing on television, radio and online news that the state government would be sharing some palliatives. Sometimes you hear that they have shared to people already and I begin to wonder who are the people enjoying these things because where I stay in Ikot-Ishie, we have not seen anything, not even one cup of garri.”

‘We Distributed Palliatives Without Partisan Considerations’
From Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia
ABIA State has received some COVID-19 palliatives from the Federal Government.

The Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mr Chris Ezem, who is also the chairman of the state Inter-Ministerial Committee on COVID-19 told The Guardian that officials from the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs visited the state and inspected the state warehouses, after which the state received 1,825 bags of rice, 32 kegs of 25 litres of vegetable oil and 551 bales of fairly used clothes out of which 49 bales were bad.

He disclosed that the state took delivery of the items at the Customs Warehouse in Owerri, Imo State, adding that the state also collected another 600 cartons of vegetable oil from Onne Port in Rivers State. He said that all the items were distributed to the people of state irrespective of religion or political affiliation.

It could be recalled that the government had repeatedly announced scheduled dates for groups in the state to collect their allocations from the Central Warehouse located in the Government House, Umuahia.