Nigeria: Include Panadol Inside Covid-19 Relief Packages!

27 October 2020

The outrageous revelations concerning COVID-19 relief palliatives is evidence that all levels of government in Nigeria are either corrupt or at best incompetent, and public officials in Nigeria still treat the citizenry with total disregard for their welfare.

To appreciate this, minds must be cast back to what can best be described as the post-COVID-19/pre-ENDSSARS protests period. This is the time between when the federal government announced total lockdown and palliative measures, and the start of the ENDSARS protests. Back then, the Minister for Humanitarian Affairs drew the wrath and ridicule of the many Nigerians when she announced that the federal government had spent billions disbursing palliatives which "the majority of Nigerians" had received. Citizens were amazed at how she could brazenly say publicly what was so evidently not true.

A concerned National Assembly had to call and ask for evidence of the purported massive expenditure on palliatives. The Minister, who averred that she personally went around the nation distributing cash and palliatives, was ridiculed when she couldn't provide the name of a single recipient!

Fast forward to the post-ENDSARS peaceful protests when destruction of property and nationwide looting took place. Warehouses were discovered in Lagos, Illorin, Calabar, Kaduna, Benin, Ekiti, Akure, Jalingo and Asaba, loaded with COVID-19 relief materials wasting away. It proved that the Minister was right in claiming that billions had been spent on COVID-19 relief materials, but wrong in saying that they had been distributed to households. Looters were filmed carting away bags of rice, cooking oil, noodles, sugar, flour garri etc, all branded as COVID-19 relief.

Medical experts advise that both the expiry dates and physical condition of relief materials be checked before consumption because many were infected by insects or spoilt by moisture due to the damp unhygienic environment of the warehouses where they were hoarded.

CNN Africa reacted to the scandal by saying "Isn't it wild that food that was supposed to be shared among the poorest Nigerians during lockdown was left rotting in warehouses across the country?" The sheer waste is mindboggling and gives rise to the valid question as to whether the federal government and relief agencies had no mechanism for monitoring the distribution after palliatives were delivered to warehouses nationwide. It is as if government doesn't know itself! Were they simply relying on corrupt governors and civil servants to distribute them conscientiously? At the end of the day, the scandal isn't surprising because every suggestion from those not in government, which would have ensured greater accountability and effectiveness in distribution was dismissed out of hand. Experts in physical distribution management were side-lined. As a result, no one can be sure that identical hoarding didn't happen to the cash purportedly handed out to faceless, nameless citizens.

In Taraba State, five looters reportedly died in a stampede when bags of money were discovered hoarded along with palliatives! It has been aptly pointed out that Nigeria's errors and failures as a country aren't due to a dearth of intellect or the absence of voices of reason, but rather due to government's abandonment of wise counsel and rejection of voices of reason. Leadership and selfless service have remained the bane of true development in Nigeria and there appears to be no concrete plan for amending, developing or altering the unproductive structure of public administration.

Time and again, the masses are made to pay for government's profligacy, corruption and incompetence. In truth, nothing government does in Nigeria actually works properly. There was no reason to believe that the COVID-19 palliative situation would be different, from previous instances in which relief materials meant for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP's) were hoarded rather than distributed. Perhaps if not for criminally minded looters, the truth would never have come out. Reactions from state government officials have been varied. In Ekiti State, the governor pleaded with looters not to consume the palliatives because quite incredulously they are "poisonous". This is in spite of the items being clearly labelled COVID-19. In Kaduna State, government officials claimed that palliatives discovered in trucks parked in private premises were "awaiting sharing" even as government is easing the lockdown. In Delta State, even as flooding ravaged citizens, the governor gave orders to treat those who come near palliative warehouses as criminals. Conversely, Kogi State governor commended looters for making their looting peaceful. In Cross River State, although the governor begged for forgiveness, state government officials came up with the creative excuse that palliatives were not being hoarded but "distributed in sequence", claiming they were instructed not to release the palliatives pending a press conference by a team from Lagos. This only served to open another can of worms concerning complaints over huge amounts squandered by COVID-19 task force members unnecessarily gallivanting round the nation. Perhaps the most absurd reaction to the looting came from the Edo State government which ridiculously claimed that relief materials meant to urgently alleviate suffering caused by government's enforced lockdown were being kept as "strategic reserves". The fact that the goods had expiry dates exposed the sheer humbug of this explanation. Having lost face, the state governor published a "record" of items supposedly received and distributed with no means of verification and which no one actually believes. There can be no justification as to why relief materials given free of charge months ago, were not distributed when people have been dying from hunger. Earlier this month, a university lecturer committed suicide by hanging himself due to his inability to feed his family.

Cynics and critics of the Edo State government's explanation are asking why they didn't also keep the money they shared for vote buying in the last election to use as "strategic" financial reserves.

Nationwide, the distribution of COVID-19 palliatives has been an unmitigated disaster. Security forces have reacted to the looting in different ways. In some locations, they sympathised with looters, did nothing to stop them, but encouraged them to be peaceful and not destroy property as they cart away palliatives. In other locations, they secured premises and prevented looting, as a result of which several persons were feared dead. Perhaps least surprising of all were locations were security agents actually joined in the looting!

Now that Minister of Humanitarian Affairs knows that the few Nigerians who accessed COVID-19 palliatives were those criminally minded and agile enough to loot warehouses, arrangements will have to be made for the remainder of us. It has been suggested that because the way and manner in which government serially botches intervention efforts is giving most Nigerians a headache, the next round of tranche of palliatives should include sachets of Panadol!

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