An attempt to forestall the rise in COVID-19 cases led the Federal Government to impose targeted lockdown measures in states with rapid high cases, such as Lagos, Ogun, and Abuja. Understanding the impact of the lockdown, the FG rolled out palliatives. The COVID-19 Palliatives are an aspect of welfare programs put in place to mitigate the effect of the pandemic. They were designed for those who were largely affected by the pandemic.
In light of this, President Muhammadu Buhari announced an increase in the number of beneficiaries of direct distribution of food items and cash from the initial 2.6 million households to include 3.6 million households. The presidency noted that the palliatives were for the most vulnerable in the society, and left the parameters for determining the distribution to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, headed by Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq. But the recent discovery of COVID-19 warehouses stacked with palliatives, which ought to have been exhaustively distributed among a struggling populace during the first wave of the pandemic, led to the looting that followed. The looting started in Lagos and soon spread across states like the FCT, Osun, Adamawa, Taraba, Kaduna, Cross Rivers, Plateau, among other states. Following the public outcry and rage that accompanied the looting, the private sector-led Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) explained in a statement by the coalition’s spokesman, Osita Nwanisobi:
‘Over the past few months, the private sector, through CACOVID has been working with governors, the FCT Minister, and the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) to procure, deliver, and distribute these food relief items to almost 2 million most vulnerable families (over 10 million Nigerians) across the 774 local government areas of the country, as part of the private sector’s support towards the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic.’
‘The sheer scale of this nationwide food programme and the timing of the orders and deliveries, which coincided with the lockdowns and reduced movement across the country, compelled CACOVID to roll out distribution in a staggered manner.’
‘The very large size of the order and the production cycle required to meet the demand caused delays in delivering the food items to the states in an expeditious manner; hence, the resultant delay in delivery of the food palliatives by the state governors.’
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum also corroborated this, while debunking allegations of hoarding relief materials. In a statement signed by its Head of Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, the forum averred:
‘The erroneous impression in the public domain that these palliatives were hoarded is not just inaccurate, entirely erroneous and untrue, but also mischievous to say the least. For the avoidance of doubt, some of the palliatives had the CACOVID stamp embossed on them, meaning that their source is unambiguous.’
‘As we know, CACOVID operations are mainly domiciled in Lagos, being the headquarters of most of the public-spirited organisations, corporate bodies, and individuals that came together to form the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID).’
‘Until mid-October, when the NGF had its last meeting, up to 10 states had not participated in the flag-off ceremonies for the distribution of palliatives in their states. This was because the items meant for distribution in these states had not been completely received from CACOVID. Some other states that still had palliatives in their warehouses chose to keep a strategic reserve ahead of a projected second wave of COVID-19.’
The NGF noted that some states were still receiving palliatives from the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, and ‘that no state has been involved in or has hoarded any palliatives.’ The forum maintained that as of October 2020 a sizeable portion of the items had been delivered but yet to be distributed by the governors. It explained that ‘although various states and the FCT had flagged off the distribution of the relief materials since August, some could not because they were yet to get a complete delivery of the items allotted to them.’ The Lagos State Government, in the same vein, said that distribution in the state was still ongoing, but had to be halted because of the EndSARS protest.
In spite of the explanations, Nigerians have continued to express their rage, and it is perhaps not surprising because there is a lack of trust in the system. Measures should as such be put in place to win back the trust of Nigerians as this plays an important role in nation-building. The distribution of the palliatives should continue as some states have started doing; with an assurance that it gets to the very people it was meant for. The various state governments in a show of transparency should throw open its windows as regards the distribution process so people can follow up and not feel betrayed by the very people to whom they entrusted proper handling of their affairs through the ballot.
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