On April 7, the governor of Kwara State, Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq, while reacting to a viral video allegedly showing poor palliatives meant to cushion the effect of the stay at home directives, said the state government cannot feed everyone.
The video which drew a storm of criticism was released on social media by some residents of the Asa local government area of the state, showing alleged insufficient food items being distributed to the people of the area.
“Like the Chairman of the Palliatives Committee, His Royal Highness said, it (the palliatives) is not meant for everybody in the society. The government cannot feed everybody. That’s why we’ve left the market open, civil servants are getting their salary. Markets are open, so is the pharmacy. You can get there and buy things. To get a bag of 50-kilogramme rice for every Kwaran would cost us about N60 billion. There are certain categories of people entitled to these palliatives. Not everyone in all the wards should share it, including civil servants, No. There’s a distinction,” the governor was quoted as said in a report by the Nigerian Tribune.
Similarly, the Chairman of the Palliatives Committee, who is also the Emir of Shonga, Dr Haliru Yahaya, noted that: “Nobody who’s qualified had less than a bag of the items given. Everyone concerned, as picked by the committee, deserves one bag of the item. It’s sad to share the content in the bag of rice and start to be making a video out of it.”
But checks by this reporter revealed the travesty of the government’s statement.
Residents Fume as Hunger Bites Harder
Iya Eleja, a resident of Okelele Ilorin who also sells rice from a makeshift space whose roofs had surely seen better days, explained how the lockdown severely affected her sales, stating that the six cups of rice she prepared daily would not even be patronised.
Iya Eleja, as she is fondly called, could not bear the brunt of the lockdown. When the state government declared a cessation of movement in the state, it felt like life was being squeezed from her. Her body felt like a very dry sponge, completely at the mercy of the slightest gust of weariness.
At first, it was bearable, she only had to feed two mouths. But as the seconds chased the minutes to the hour, life started to take a dramatic toll on her piteous daily income. Her aged wooden tray now lies fallow.
But there was something still. Iya Eleja, in her worn-out clothes presumably handed down from a previous generation, was thrown in a buzz of excitement when the state government mulled the distribution of palliatives for people considered to be worst hit by the government’s directive for people to stay at home as part of the measures to prevent the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the state.
The categories of people are the aged; the physically challenged; women, widows, and widowers who are sole breadwinners of their families and artisans who are dependent on daily earnings.
Iya Eleja, a fishmonger and widow whose husband died six years ago, is a beneficiary of the palliatives. But the meagre measures of the palliative would soon dash her hope as it dawned that there will not be enough for everyone.
“A ti igba ti won ti ni ka gbele ni ko ti si oja mo (ever since a lockdown has been pronounced, there has been low patronage),” she lamented in a raw Yoruba accent of Ilorin.
“People are not coming out and the little sales I make is what I used to feed the children who are staying with me.”
“When Governor Abdulrahman announced on the radio that rice would be shared among the aged, we were happy. In fact, I discussed it with that woman,” she said while pointing at another woman fronting her wares, “that I will just use ‘owo arugbo’ (a sobriquet for FG conditional transfer scheme) to buy more fish that I will sell,” she explained.
However, when the food items reached her doorstep, she said “Oju ti mi gba fun won (I was disappointed). Even the three cups of rice did not last a night. But we are grateful to them.
In Nigeria, unregistered household enterprises comprise a significant portion of the economy, accounting for about 65 per cent of the GDP. Like Iya Eleja, the total lockdown declared by the state government has cut many daily income earners who live hand-to-mouth from their only source of income. Accordingly, the packages aimed at palliating the economic hardship of the order on the ‘poorest of the poor’ in the state is like a drop in the ocean of hungry mouths that sprawl across the state.
A resident of Sherikikaun, Ilorin, who preferred to be called Baba Lekan goes philosophical when commenting on the food items given to his zone. He confirmed that the area benefitted from the palliatives, but advanced the items could not stretch out to areas in the zones.
“We are really grateful to the government for these food items,” he announced to the chagrin of the audience. “We got the foodstuffs as distributed across each zone. From Sherikikaun, Alagbado, Sobi, to Harmony, this is what is given to us. We are asked to stay at home, but these palliatives cannot cushion the effect of the hardship. It would not be enough,” he emphasized
The Chairman of the Palliatives Committee, Dr Haliru Yahaya Ndanusa, announced that commodities for the first phase include 19,400 pieces of 10kg bags of rice; 19,400 of 5kg of semovita; 1,940 packs of spaghetti; 9700 packs of salt; 4,850 packs of sugar; and 38,800 (1 litre) of vegetable oil. He noted that garri (cassava flakes) and tomato purée donated to the government will also be distributed.
Furthermore, he stated that more will be delivered to the subcommittee in the coming days.
But, Rukayat Ogundipe, a resident of Offa expressed displeasure at the palliatives distributed to her house. With anger visibly plastered on her oval face, Rukayat denied being given any palliatives due in large part to the paltry measure her household was given.
“We were not given. And the reason is that after writing our names for Abdulrahman’s foodstuffs, the women leader came back to us that the food is meant solely for the aged women in the ward. But we heard on Radio that the poor, widows and women are entitled to the palliatives.”
Rukayat argued that despite the emphasis on the aged women, the food was not enough as hoodlums cornered the food at the ward level. “We were given a bag of rice (10 Kg) for 21 people. How did they want us to share it? Is that what they want us to feed on with our kids throughout the lockdown?” she asked rhetorically.
“Do they want us to starve till death? I have four children to feed. We have been practically shut from everything. I am a porter; how do they want us to survive with these two cups of rice? they should give us days when we would go out to find what would sustain us,” an aged woman, Abdulganiy Latifat, implored the government.
Jamiu Rukayat, a resident of Ilorin, who sells cooking ingredients also expressed displeasure at the meagre items distributed to her. “Most of us in this community are low earners that if we did not move out a day, we would starve. Our thought when we were asked to stay at home was that the government would provide for us. But it seems the government is only concerned about themselves. It is not that the food that was distributed was enough, in fact, what about 20 people are sharing is not enough for two kids.”
She feared for her health, relating that even though the virus is ravaging, hunger is deadly.
“Imagine people like us who will only get to feed when we go out are unable to, it would even be fatal than the virus.”
Inadequacies, Non-Compliance Trail Distribution of Food Items
According to the chairman of the committee on palliatives, the palliatives are to be distributed at various ward levels, targeting categories of persons that are considered to be worst hit by the government’s directive.
Traditional rulers, religious leaders and community-based organisations at various ward levels are to oversee the distribution. In this vein, the state also employs the service of NGOs to monitor the distribution process and ensure that the palliatives are handed to the ‘poorest of the poor.’
Checks by this reporter revealed how the directive is flouted. The items are still being distributed household to household across the state after collection at the ward level.
This is furthered by another resident, Abubakar Ahmed, who disclosed that cherry-picking beneficiary would stir distrust among members of a household as everyone has been rendered vulnerable.
Abubakar Ahmed, who sells vehicle spare parts at Ipata Oloje Market, Ilorin, stated: “I have not been able to go to shop and the little that remains with me has expended on food. Now that the government is sharing food items, we are all vulnerable and cannot afford to start picking those who would benefit or not.”
“We realized that the food items won’t be enough, so we brainstormed on what to do. We agreed that it should be distributed among the members of the household since the rice would not even feed a person. So, we distributed it among the women in the house.”
While the state government argued that it is not being partisan on the distribution of palliatives across wards level, Alfa Mudashir Afolabi, a resident of Offa, alleged that the distribution process is smeared with politics. According to him, a resident who is not known at ward meetings would rarely receive the items.
“Although they said it is not partisan. But if someone who is not affiliated to the ruling party went to where it is being distributed, they would hardly get the items. Those who are collecting at ward level distribute the item along party affiliation”
This is furthered by Abiodun Ajala, Offa, who alleged that the palliatives are distributed along political lines by those entrusted with the distribution. Ajala who commended the initiative stressed that the government needs to brace the pool to cover more vulnerable
“It is all politics. If you witnessed how the items are being shared, you would agree the women leaders are selective. We have been asked to stay at home, they should at least provide what we would be eating.”
I believe the governor is trying, but those distributing the items are sabotaging his effort. People are lamenting. There is hunger in the land, the governor should brace up the committee to cover more vulnerable,” he urged.
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