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Lamentation still trails Lagos, FG’s palliative package as middlemen hijack programme

It is lamentation and bitter wailing in Lagos and parts of the country as Nigerians complain that the stimulus packages announced by the Federal and Lagos State governments to cushion the effects of the lockdown imposed on some states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to contain the further spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have not been sincerely deployed.

The citizens also alleged that the process of distribution of whatever that may have been made available for that purpose has been politicised.

Residents of Akinyemi in Ketu/Agboyi Local Government Area said they had lost hope of receiving any stimulus package from the state government, let alone from the Federal Government.

Those that have sighted a semblance of the palliative packages in the area, decried the distribution process; they complained that a greater portion of the relief materials was reserved for party members when the goods arrived the local government.

“They said they are sharing food, but if you don’t have a party card, you won’t get. They brought rice to Agboyi, the woman that was in charge divided it and said it was for party people and started sharing a DeRica (a unit of measurement) to people,” an obviously enraged resident said.

“These rich people are the ones that brought the disease to Nigeria, now they want us to suffer,” a resident, a woman in her late 60s, lamented.

Corroborating her complaint, another resident who gave his name as Osuji, said a fight broke out a few days earlier, when the supply was divided and kept for party members. He said that trouble started when only three bags were left for the entire street after a larger quantity had been earmarked for party members and officials in the area.

“When they came here on Thursday (last week) they divided the food and said it was for their party people, that’s when a fight broke out between them and the Agberos (area boys). They just dropped three bags for the entire street.

“They share NEPA bill, why can’t they use the same system to distribute it. People are at home for two weeks and you’re throwing food to people anyhow,” Osuji complained aloud.

Osuji, who had made a video of the distribution process, but later discovered that it came out poorly while trying to show the reporter, said he called their attention and told them he was over 60 years but he was ignored.

“They didn’t attend to me,” he said, “they came with three bags and distributed it anyhow to an entire street. Even with LASRRA identity, nobody knew they were in the street. This thing I’m telling you did not last for one minute. How can a country be run like this? Why must a state be run like this?” he said angrily.

On March 27, the Lagos State government unveiled an economic stimulus package tocushion the effect of the lockdown on the poor and most vulnerable people in the state.

The stimulus, which comes in in the form of food packs, was meant to be distributed to every local government in the state, targeting, at least, 200,000 households in the first phase, according to Sanwo-Olu.

He said that the aged citizens from 60 years and above with a family of six and the most vulnerable would be given priority, especially those who relied on daily wages for survival.

“We have packaged dry food stimulus for about 200,000 families in the first instance for a household of a husband, wife and about four children. We would be giving bags of rice, bags of beans, garri, bread, dry pepper, and we are trying to see if we can add water and some elements of Vitamin C. Each ration, we believe, is going to be able to last a household of husband, wife and about four children for, at least, a minimum of 14 days so that our advocacy around ‘stay at home’, ‘stay with your loved ones’ will be respected,” Sanwo-Olu said.

Gbolahan Lawal, commissioner of Agriculture, also said that the government would be working with the existing database of the state, using the Lagos State Residents Register Agency (LASRRA) and 4,000 community development associations registers in 377 wards in order to be able to reach the targeted beneficiaries.

But since the first phase began (and ended), the programme has received bad reviews and reprimand. Many residents are yet to receive theirs, while some who were lucky to get alleged that the content of the bag was far below what the governor had promised.

Pictures and videos have trended on social media making a public show of the so-called palliative package; these have only fueled outrage. In one of the videos, a bag of rice was given to a street, some hunger-buffeted residents fought over it; they ended up  tearing the bag and spilling the grains all over the place.

A resident of the Ifedagba CDA, Ajasa-Command, Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area, Mustapha Ogunsakin, shared on his Facebook wall:

“The COVID-19 emergency relief package of Lagos State was received in my CDA this morning. Mind you, the CDA consists of about 300 families made up of both strong and weak people. I learnt the same package of two bags consisting of 3kg of rice, 3kg of garri, and 3kg of beans was given to more than 16 CDAs in my area. We gave the package to six widows.”

What is more bewildering is the fact that the distribution process—which often led to chaos—breached the guidelines of social distancing as it often attracted huge crowds tussling for a share.

According to residents who spoke to BDSUNDAY in Akinyemi, a similar scenario had occurred, with only three bags of rice given to the street and no one could state exactly who benefited.

“They said we should sit at home, but we didn’t get any food from the government. I have LASRRA. The government said they’re going to give food to those up to 60 years and above; I didn’t get. They didn’t come here at all,” said Badmus, a resident.

Earnest Etim,a dispatch rider, said he had only heard of the palliatives on television but has neither seen one in his area nor received it.

Another resident of Ketu said: “If the government can share NEPA bill, I don’t think they cannot do this. They came to Agboyi Street to share the goods. They brought out three bags of wheat and gave it to the whole street in Ojaomo, Off Agboyi. Nigeria is a joke.”

Each pack of the Lagos State COVID-19 Emergency Food response contains 5kg rice, 5kg garri and 3-4kg of beans and is sealed. But residents have continued to react to the paltry quantity which negates the pronouncement of the governor on what the actual pack should contain.

Palliatives hijacked by middlemen

In a report by a newspaper, a source in the Ministry of Agriculture said the ministry distributed the food items in each ward as it should and accused some middlemen of hijacking the distribution and not giving the appropriate quantity to the indigent people in the state.

“It is possible that those at the wards may not have taken the packs to the masses. It was later, after the distribution exercise that we discovered that all the food items and the quantity expected to be delivered to the people have been hijacked. The quantity we asked them to give was not what was given after all,” a source at the ministry was quoted as saying.

According to the source, “We also learnt that where the food was not sufficient, it was given to the elderly, and to religious organisations to distribute to their indigent members. To ensure the food gets to the appropriate people, another batch was distributed and the addresses provided for the Lagos State Residents Registration Agency (LASSRA) registration was used in calling the masses to confirm if they actually collected any food item.”

FG’s conditional cash transfer lopsided, sectional

Apart from the Lagos State’s palliative measures, the Federal Government’s conditional cash transfers (CCT) has torn Nigerians apart.

On March 30, the Federal Government announced palliative measures such as food distribution, cash transfers and loans repayment waivers to ease the pains of its restrictive policies during this difficult time.

In Presidents Buhari’s second national broadcast, he said the palliatives would be sustained during the second phase of the lockdown and increase household coverage to 3.6 million from 2.6 million.

“I have also directed that the current Social Register be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households in the next two weeks. This means we will support an additional one million homes with our social investment programmes. A technical committee is working on this and will submit a report to me by the end of this week,” Buhari said.

But many Lagos residents who spoke to BDSUNDAY said they have neither received any money nor food items from the Federal Government. Since it was announced, they have been expecting it, they said.

“The cash from the FG, I’ve not received anything. I heard about it on TV that they will be giving out money. But nothing has been given,” a resident said on condition of anonymity.

The Federal Government claimed that the CCT programme started in 2015 with 14 states and has expanded to accommodate more states. The programme targets poor and vulnerable households, and according to National Cash Transfer Office (NCTO) only 1,126,211 of these group are currently benefiting from the Federal Government’s conditional cash transfer. It has not made any impact in reducing the poverty level in the country.

The Federal Government allocated N500 billion in the 2016 budget for the implementation of its social welfare agenda. The government also budgeted the same amount for social programmes in the 2017 budget.

However, Nigerians have criticised the programme, branding it as lopsided following the emergence of photos on social media showing thewishywashy implementation of the programme in some northern states.

“I’ve never seen a government more fraudulent and shameless as the FG of Nigeria. How can you lockdown three states and be sharing money in states that aren’t on lockdown? Why embezzle at every chance y’all (SIC) get?” a Twitter user said.

While the lockdown period fuelled by the COVID-19 may have exposed what another social media user described as an apartheid government run by Buhari regarding the CCT, this so-called bias did not just start this coronavirus period.

In a publication by the ICIR, data of the beneficiaries revealed that of the 35 states and the Federal Capital Territory, North West region tops with the highest number of households benefiting from the cash transfer with a number of 561,758 households.

Others are North Central- 321,434, North East- 109,442, South-South- 67,696, South West- 37,904, and South East- 27,977 households.

Top five states with the highest number of beneficiaries are Katsina- 133,227, Zamfara- 130,764, Jigawa- 99,044, Kano- 84,148, and Plateau- 78,430.

While Lagos, Delta and Borno States are yet to benefit, data released by the National Social Safety-Nets Coordinating Office (NASSCO) showed that Ogun State is yet to be captured in its register.

Hashtag PayUsViaBVN

On Tuesday, Nigerians converged on social media to campaign for payment through their Bank Verification Number (BVN) after a video of Segun Sowunmi, spokesperson for PDP, PCC surfaced on Twitter.

In the video, Sowunmi urged the government to execute the CCT through the BVN of Nigerians when he spoke on Channels TV, on Buhari’s broadcast, his relief funds and managing the vulnerable.

He said: “I told them that you have about 38.5 million people on the BVN already, therefore, you can look at their bank balances and get an idea of those who cannot even sustain themselves in the lockdown and put something in there directly, it won’t be lost. They will get something. There will be a way you’ll touch them, they will know they got something…”

The hashtag further received a boost and became a major Twitter trend when a Nigerian celebrity known as Tacha tweeted and called on the FG to pay Nigerians through their BVN.

“Use our BVN, not our phone numbers. No hungry person will practise personal hygiene. Credit Nigerians,” the former BBNaija star said.

According to a twitter user, Otunba Erinle, there are about 39 million Nigerians on the BVN. “It takes the Nigerian Government little or nothing to identify bank accounts having below N250, 000 and then transfer at least N50, 000 to it.

“Moreover, the European Union in Nigeria just donated N22billion today (last Tuesday) to supposedly assist Nigeria. #PayUsOurPalliativesViaBVN.”

They demanded payment from donations the Nigerian government has received from the private sector over the past weeks since the virus’ impact kicked in.

An analyst who spoke to BDSUNDAY said that Nigeria was being run by a recalcitrant government whose dealings are smeared with tones of dictatorship, and notorious for lack of creativity in policy implementation. He wondered if the Pay-via-BVN campaign will ever work.

“…if Namibia is said to pay their citizens some reliefs for COVID-19 through their bank accounts, why can’t Nigeria government pay us via BVN?” another user tweeted.

 

Desmond Okon

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