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5bn palliatives: Don’t give us Covid-19 treatment, Nigerians beg govs

…Govs likely to give palliatives to associates, supporters – Don

‘…It may be a gift to majority of the govs who’re emperors’

‘… Media, CSOs must monitor disbursements’

…It’s time for organised labour to show its worth – YPF

The National Economic Council (NEC) recently said the federal government approved a N5 billion grant to each of the 36 states of the federation for the procurement of grains as well as five trucks of rice to each state as palliatives to cushion the effects of the fuel subsidy removal. BENJAMIN SAMSON in this report engaged with Nigerians and stakeholders on how to ensure fair distribution amid fears that it could be diverted by governors.

The NEC also approved the distribution of 40,000 bags of maize to be distributed to states. These were some of the outcomes of the NEC meeting presided over by Vice President Kashim Shettima at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Briefing State House correspondents at the end of the meeting, Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno state said the approval of N5 billion and trucks of rice and grains were part of measures to bring temporary solutions to the high cost of living caused by the subsidy removal, as the government continues to work with more enduring programmes.

Social register                                                                                                    

However, in a chat with this reporter, an associate professor, Mrs. Lantana Augie, said if the governors were not properly monitored, they would share the palliatives with their political associates rather than the despairing citizens

She said: “On the surface of this development, this looks good; but there are fundamental challenges associated with this approach of giving money and resources in a vacuum to states by the federal government.

“A couple of weeks ago, governors at a National Economic Council meeting had unanimously discredited the federal social register which was deployed in the past to reach the poor. They cited some challenges associated with the compilation of the register and ended up with a decision to jettison the use of the register while asking every governor to go back and compile its own state register.

“In my view, what the governors did amounted to throwing the baby away with the bath water. Yes, the register had its challenges and needed to be cleaned up. It is easier to clean up an existing register once the metrics and modalities of who should be on the register are worked out rather than to start the compilation of a fresh register. Today, no state can boast of having completed the assignment of producing a new register, displaying the same for validation or using any empirical methodology to ensure that it only contains the poorest of the poor.”

 Continuing, she said, “To the question on what basis will the governors proceed to distribute the trucks of rice, maize and other grains which they may buy.  Already, there are announcements of some governors distributing the same through local council chairmen, legislators and other elected officials. The argument might be that they are the elected representatives of the people and as such should know their constituents and are in a better position to identify the poor.

“This position falls flat in the face of empirical evidence, logic and the flawed character trajectory of these so-called representatives of the people. If there is no empirical monitoring and evaluation framework, a means of identifying the needy and poor beyond the whims and caprices of political leaders, you can be sure that these grains will end up in the plates of the rich and mighty and a few grains will go to their political associates, supporters and cronies. The qualification for accessing the grains or monetary benefits will simply be their support or affiliation to the ruling party at the state level.”

The Covid-19 experience 

Some Nigerians who spoke with this reporter urged governors not to hoard the palliatives like their colleagues did during Covid-19 pandemic.

A civil servant, Ini Ekpo, said, “In a nation grappling with past instances of misuse of public funds, it is crucial for the governors to adopt effective strategies that ensure the rightful usage of these funds.

 “We were all living witnesses to the ugly scenarios that played out during the Covid-19 pandemic where most state governors hoarded palliatives meant for ordinary Nigerians. We don’t want a repeat of that.

“Governors should publicly announce the allocation process, detailing the criteria and methodology that would be used to distribute funds and food among local governments and communities.”

For Tanimu Kana, an entrepreneur, “Governors must provide consistent updates on how the funds are being used, ensuring transparency and accountability to the citizens. They should also create a comprehensive budget outlining specific projects, programmes, and initiatives that will be funded by the allocated money.

“They should establish an independent oversight committee composed of representatives from civil society organisations, the academia, and the private sector to monitor the utilisation of funds.”

An IT specialist, Tunde Balogun, in his view, advised governors to “use technology to enhance transparency such as creating a dedicated website to provide real-time updates on fund utilisation.”

He said, “I am sure I will be forgiven by even the staunchest of grammarians to say that the word ‘palliative’ has become a truly dirty one in the Nigerian context. This is in reference to the incidents that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic, when citizens protested violently due to perceived mishandling or misappropriation of relief materials intended to alleviate the economic impact of the pandemic.

“The relief materials, including food items, cash transfers, and other essential supplies, were allegedly not reaching the intended beneficiaries in a timely manner leading to incidents of protests, unrest, and looting nationwide.

“The government at all levels should ensure that the palliatives meant to cushion the effects of fuel subsidy removal by the President Bola Tinubu-led federal government are equitably distributed to Nigerians irrespective of religion or political divide.

“Considering the poor governance structure at the state level where governors are emperors and the decision on what to do with outstanding sums beyond the procurement of grains may not even pass through the legislative powers for appropriation, we are left with a gift to a majority of governors.

“In states like Kogi, Bayelsa and Imo that will get into elections later in the year, the federal government may have provided resources to incumbents to be shared to political cronies as investments to win elections and return the ruling party to power.”

Also, a political analyst, Charlse Oko, called on the governments to ensure that the palliatives were equitably distributed irrespective of religious or political affiliations.

He said, “The federal government’s efforts to provide palliative measures, including trailer loads of rice and substantial funds, have been met with concerns about their effective distribution strategies. I firmly believe that the welfare of Nigerians transcends political, religious, and ethnic boundaries and I am urging state governments to ensure a fair distribution that encompasses all citizens.

 “There is a need to involve a diverse array of stakeholders in the distribution process. It should include representatives from religious, traditional and community groups. Such inclusivity guarantees that every sector of society is represented, thus promoting a more holistic approach to the distribution.

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