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Palliatives palaver: Bloody fights as Nigerians jostle, throw punches sharing rice, beans

Many poor residents have turned the palliative-sharing grounds in their states into battlefields, as they fight one another to get the palliative given to them by the Federal Government to cushion the effects of the removal of fuel subsidy, Godfrey George writes

Mama Nanfe Chindongnan ran out of her home that Friday morning almost unclad when she heard the news. After losing her husband and two kids to a fire  incident in 2008, she now lives in Kwande, a community in the Qua’an-Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State, where she deals in kuli-kuli (groundnut or peanut cake).

So, when she heard that the van conveying the palliatives rolled out by the Federal Government to cushion the effect of the removal of fuel subsidy was in her LGA, she was overjoyed.

She cleared up the kuli-kuli from the local grinding machine, loaded it onto a wheelbarrow and pushed it to the bus stop where another lad was to take it to his mother, who would make it into the popular crispy snack consumed by most people in the area and around Northern Nigeria.

Seventy-six-year-old Nanfe that Friday afternoon rushed to the LG headquarters in Doemak, where it was said the van would make a stop and sharing would begin but was shocked to meet the gate locked. A large crowd of mostly elderly men swarmed the area.

Tired babarigas and worn-out head gears settled on the dry ground. It was there Mama Nanfe found out that some persons had come as far as Kurgwi and Namu, which are almost two hours from the area, to get the palliatives.

 In a telephone interview, Nanfe through the help of a local interpreter employed by Saturday PUNCH, said she and other persons who had come to the secretariat waited outside in the scorching sun for hours but no official came to address them.

“Some people slept there that evening, but I could not. I had to go back to Kwande that day. I spent nothing less than N1000 to and fro that day, and I didn’t even have any money.

“I thought the foodstuff they would give me would be what I would cook that evening to eat with the girl that stays with me but I left empty-handed,” she said.

Nanfe said she had to go back to the LG headquarters the next day. This time, the gate was open and the place was filled up. There were no food vans but people mulled that the officials were arranging to share the foodstuff in sacks. She and others waited.

After another hour or two of waiting, people suddenly began to run out of the gate towards a secondary school in the area. There was a rumour that palliative would no longer be shared in the secretariat but at the school. There was a stampede. Nanfe and many others were caught in the chaos and she sustained serious injuries.

Some persons helped Mama Nanfe and put her on a motorbike headed for the school but she had no money to pay for the fare. The N400 she had in her purse was her transport back to Kwande.

She simply went back home that day after another injured woman who had come with her six-year-old son told her to join them on a bike going back to Kwande so they could get treated.

In the end, Nanfe said the chaos turned out futile, as she landed in the hospital and had to incur a debt of N2,400 at a medicine store near her.

Nanfe’s story mirrors the struggles of poor Nigerians in their desperate bids to access the palliatives rolled out by the government after removing the fuel subsidy in May.

The Federal Government had in August approved N5bn for each state and the Federal Capital Territory to enable them to procure food items for distribution to the poor in their respective states. It was also said to have released five trucks of rice each to the 36 state governors and the Minister of the FCT.

Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State disclosed this at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, shortly after the National Economic Council meeting.

This development came in the wake of the hike in the cost of food items, occasioned by the rise in the price of fuel, owing to the removal of subsidy on the commodity.

Explaining further, Zulum said the state governors were to procure 100,000 bags of rice, 40,000 bags of maize, and fertilizers.

He noted that 52 per cent of the funds were given to the state governments as grants with 48 per cent as loans.

The government set up a committee, made up of the Anambra State Governor, Charles Soludo; and the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Governor AbdulRazaq AbdulRahman of Kwara State among others, tasked with the responsibility of engaging with the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress over the latter’s push for palliatives due to the subsidy removal.

Back in Plateau, the State Governor, Caleb Mutfwang, confirmed that he had received 3,000 bags of rice from the FG. He also assured citizens that he would make good use of the “available resources to mitigate the suffering of the people.”

He said, “On the issue of the palliative, the Federal Government is allocating N5bn in principle to every state for palliative to the poorest of the poor. We have received N2bn so far. 52 per cent is the grant component and 48 per cent is a loan component that we must repay.

“We were allocated 3,000 bags of rice for the state. We are mandated to use N1bn to buy rice locally. I pledge that not a single kobo of the N5bn will be misused.”

Despite all the assurance, Saturday PUNCH, can confirm that many residents in the state are yet to get the palliatives from the government.

An unemployed youth in Kurgwi, a sleepy town in Quan’an Pan LGA, Muhammad Muhammad, said he had not received any palliatives from the government.

Stressing how much suffering he had undergone to get the palliatives, he said he went as far as Jos when he heard that the palliatives were being shared but got nothing.

“I didn’t even see any palliative. We just waited and waited and left. Although we learnt that, another day, some elderly people were invited by the government and given some packs of rice, millet and beans, my mother who is almost 80 and my elder sister who will be 60 in October have not received anything.

“We are poor and things are so expensive. We are calling on the government to help us,” he added.

Another resident, Mrs Nimpar Gomel, who lives in Kanke town alleged that some community leaders cornered the palliatives for themselves.

She said some residents were given only four cups of rice and beans and two cups of millet.

“Some people travelled from as far as Pankshin (another town in the state) when they heard they were sharing the fuel subsidy palliatives but went back with injuries, as a result of the struggles to get it, or with nothing at all, because the foodstuff was not enough,” she said.

When contacted, a source in the state Ministry of Information said the governor met with some elders of the state to discuss the sharing formula earlier in September.

However, he said he was not sure whether or not sharing had started. The source promised to reach out to another source in the office of the Secretary to the State Government, Samuel Jatau, and get back to this reporter.

After a few days, this source said he could confirm that the government met with the elders of the state on August 20 to seek their advice on how the palliatives would be shared, adding that an agreement was made to use traditional rulers and community mobilisers.

“Some LGAs have started sharing but the truth is that the foodstuff sent to Plateau State is just 3,000 bags of rice. The N1bn which was mandated to be used to purchase additional foodstuff to add to the foodstuff would also not be enough.

“So, those people complaining of inadequate foodstuff should wait; it will get to the people who deserve it,” the source added.

Diversion claim in A’Ibom

On September 6, the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Umo Eno, started the disbursement of the palliatives at his Ikot Ekpene Udo village, with each of the 2,272 villages expected to get 40 bags of rice for onward distribution by the village councils to beneficiaries mostly drawn from the very poor homes.

While flagging – off the distribution, the governor had explained that the items were meant for the very poor, warning that whoever diverted the items should expect a curse upon their heads, and prayed that God should turn such people to also be in the position of those they cheated.

However, some residents who spoke to Saturday PUNCH, claimed they had not got any palliative from the government.

A 72-year-old widow in Mkpat Enim LGA of the state, Mrs Rosemary Essien, said she has yet to receive any palliatives from the state.

“I have not seen anything. The day they said they were sharing it in my neighbourhood, I rushed down there even with my bad leg but I could not enter the place. The crowd was too much and I knew I would not survive there for long if I struggled to enter with the younger ones,” she said.

Another resident in Ikot Ekpene LGA of the state, who gave his name as Joseph Ante, said he was shocked that the government has done nothing about the way the palliatives meant for the poor in the state were diverted by some persons.

“It is no longer news here in Ikot Ekpene. I saw them with my eyes. They brought out three bags of rice to share with a whole ward that had over 1,000 persons. Who would they give and who would they not give?

“How can the rich be dragging these grains of rice with us, the poor? If you see what they gave my mother who was forced to join a queue where she waited for nearly the whole day, you would weep. They gave her one spaghetti, four cups of rice, two cups of beans and half measure of garri. Then, they put it in a fancy, government-branded bag,” he added.

A civil rights group in the state, Foundation for Justice and Peace-building, called on the state government and the Palliatives Distribution Committee to urgently set up an effective feedback mechanism to monitor the distribution across the 31 local government areas.

Fingered in the allegations were some village heads in Etinan, Etim Ekpo, Nsit Atai, and many others.

Lamenting their ordeal, a resident of Ikot Nseyen community in Etinan LGA, told our correspondent that only 30 bags of rice were shared with the villagers, alleging that the village head and his council could not explain how 10 bags went missing.

The situation appears to be worse in Etim-Ekpo. The palliatives were shared in sacks and were finished before most people could get them.

In the bag, a resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of attack, said she saw one pack of spaghetti, a pack of salt and half measures of rice, beans and garri.

Lamenting, she said, “I don’t know what Governor Eno wants us to do with this foodstuff. Is it for a day’s meal or a week? Is this what the FG said he should give to us who are poor, or what has happened to all the bags of rice I heard President Bola Tinubu approved for states?”

The state Commissioner of Information, Ini Ememobong, could not be reached for comments as of the time of filing this report, as his phone lines were unreachable and text messages sent to his mobile were not replied to as well.

Meanwhile, speaking at a forum in Uyo, tagged, “Policing Palliative Distribution and Securing the Beneficiaries”, the Executive Director of the civil rights group, FJP, Saviour Akpan, recalled the COVID-19 experience and other instances where some traditional leaders were alleged to have diverted what was meant for their poor subjects, saying such imperative should inform the setting up of an effective feedback mechanism.

He explained that such mechanisms would help the state government receive general information, complaints of sharp practices, as well as commendations from various communities across the state, while also guarding against human rights violations.

According to him, the feedback could also serve as a parameter for assessing the level of success or otherwise of the exercise, and as well provide first-hand information for the government to finger any village head or community leader found to have indulged in a disgraceful act.

He said, “Government should immediately set up a feedback mechanism or possibly, a toll-free line where citizens can call to give feedback whether or not they received the palliative as was directed. The government should endeavour to make whatever information received available to the public. This will help prevent human rights violations that may arise as a result of the distribution.”

Lagos

Many residents were shocked when a video said to have emerged from a palliative sharing event in Shomolu LGA of Lagos State was published on social media.

In the video, residents were seen struggling to get a pack of the rice, beans and spaghetti that were dished out by the officials of the LGA.

Those who gathered at the Agunbiade Primary School that Saturday morning, to receive subsidy palliatives, stumbled on one another to get their share.

In another video, two residents were seen beaten to a pulp.

When interviewed, one said they had got a pack but were trying to ‘defend’ it from others who said it was supposed to be theirs. That was how the angry residents beat them up and took their palliatives away.

Some officials who were in a closed van threw the packed foodstuff at the crowd who were left to scamper for them.

Many packages ended up being torn as the angry residents dragged them and argued over their ownership.

The state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, had directed a 50 per cent fare reduction across the state-owned public transportation services.

He also disclosed that plans had been concluded with various stakeholders to distribute food items to vulnerable people in the state.

The intervention, he said, would be done through effective distribution channels of stakeholders, including civil society organisations, local government authorities, Community Development Associations, Community Development Councils, churches, mosques and traditional organisations.

However, in Mushin, for instance, some CDA executives are alleged to have cornered some bags of rice meant for the residents.

A source in the area told Saturday PUNCH, “Information reaching me now is that they took pictures of the elders giving them palliative and later collecting it from them behind the cameras. This is sad. We are just four streets under this CDA and we are behaving like this.

“I have reported this issue and I hope the dishonesty of some selfish miscreants will be exposed. They need to be flushed out. If they are going to follow the grassroots level, then it should be done well. This is wickedness.”

The source claimed that 100 bags of rice were given to each ward and 15 were brought to the CDA. However, when it was time for the foodstuff to be shared, five bags ‘miraculously’ went missing.

A resident in the area, Ogunsola (surname withheld), said his father was among the elders whose palliatives were collected from them after they had been snapped by the distribution officials.

He said, “Quite unfortunate that one of those in the picture is my father. I have never for one day been interested in Mushin politics because it is filled with miscreants at the helm of the affairs.

“But my father is a core member of the All Progressives Congress and he attends their meetings a lot. I was shocked when he told me they took his picture and other elders with the palliatives and still collected them from them that their names were not on the list and that they would get back to them later. This is so annoying.”

When our correspondent reached out to one of the executives of the CDA, who gave his name as Mr Adebart, he said, “I know the elders complaining. We got the names from the street of some of the women and their name were not among the six slots.

“The palliative came through the old CDA executives because we, the new ones, are not well known to the politician. Out of the 20 slots, the old CDA leaders removed five each for themselves and what was released to us was 15 instead of 20 slots, earlier approved.

“For the record, those pictures you are seeing were during offloading from the bus. Most of them didn’t have patience for the list to be called but chose to carry it from the bus. Those elders are not part of the list. Everybody whose name was on the list collected their palliatives.”

Another resident, a mother-of-six, who gave her name as Mrs Shittu, said she went to the secretariat to enquire on how the sharing of the palliative would go and was told that it was by slots.

“I found out that my street was given only five slots. How can five people enjoy palliative in an entire street? That is nonsense. It is called palliative for a reason and I believe everyone has the right to it, whether old or young.

“It is only Allah that would judge the greedy executives trying to shortchange the poor to enrich themselves. They are not truthful about the process and we who need the palliatives are left with nothing,” she added.

Reacting to the development, the National Coordinator, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Onwubiko, said it was a big shame that the LGs in the state could not coordinate palliative distribution to the poor.

He said, “This show of shame is the reason we at HURIWA object strongly to the thoughtless, irrational and insensitive decisions by President Bola Tinubu to withdraw subsidy from petrol without adequate arrangements on how to ameliorate the untold sufferings that would inevitably be unleashed on the over 133m multi-dimensionally poor Nigerians.

“The decision of President Tinubu to distribute bags of rice and N5bn to each state of the federation through their governors is illogical, irresponsible, and despicable.

“These same governors, who had failed to utilise funds allotted to them from the federation account monthly to provide social services and set up functional infrastructures to power the private sector to become productive in their states, are the same persons that President Tinubu gave money to share to poor Nigerians.

 “First, how did the President conclude that N5bn is all that the poor citizens would need to reduce the hardship inflicted by his thoughtless withdrawal of fuel subsidy?

 “How did the President assume that there are an equal number of poor households in each state of the federation that made his government distribute equal amounts of money as palliatives? The entire issue of palliatives is a massive scam. It is unfortunate, regrettable, and outrageous.”

A call put through to the chairman of Mushin Local Government Area, Emmanuel Bamigboye, was unanswered. Text messages sent to him were also not replied to as of press time.

Saturday PUNCH, also reached out to the state governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr Gboyega Akosile, for a comment. He was yet to get back to our correspondent as of press time.

Wrestling in Ondo

It was like a local wrestling match when a video surfaced of a ward chairman in the Ondo State chapter of the APC, Olumide Awolumate, beating the state Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Welfare Development, Mrs Julian Osadahun.

Arigidi Akoko, Akoko North-West LGA of the state was as shocked as the rest of the country when the commissioner left the area with heavy swelling on her head as a result of the impact of the chair used by the APC ward chair to hit her. What were they fighting over?

Awolumate, who has now been suspended by the state chapter of the party for his “unruly behaviour” and Osadahun engaged in a free-for-all on Sunday during the distribution of palliatives to the people of the local government.

Speaking about what transpired, Awolumate claimed that the commissioner and her son, in the company with a police officer and another man, came to his house to arrest him and he never resisted arrest, but the commissioner’s son confronted him, started beating him, and tore his clothes. He said he had to defend himself.

He said, “What happened is that we had a meeting at the local government level, at the house of a leader, Pa Akeju. We talked about the party, in which the commissioner talked about the palliatives that were distributed some time ago.

“The commissioner disclosed that the palliatives had been given to different sectors, and at that juncture, I raised my hand as the ward chairman of the party that the 10 bags that were supposed to be in my custody did not get to me.

“I noted that some groups had been given, which included the Peoples Democratic Party members, artisans and groups and said ours should be sent to me.

“I raised this in the presence of all the leaders of the party, and the commissioner objected to this, saying she was the head of that committee at the state level, but I objected to my non-inclusion in the sharing of the palliatives, as I was not invited.

“This led to an argument and I was prevailed upon to leave the meeting. I was home with my family playing ludo when I saw the commissioner in the company with her son and a police officer.”

According to him, on getting to his house, the commissioner’s son reportedly pounced on him from behind and started hitting him. He defended himself from being attacked in the presence of his wife, children and friends.

“I stood up and fought him back. As I was fighting him, the commissioner joined her son and fought me too. She started beating and tearing my clothes in the process. She carried a chair and threw it at me and in retaliation, I took the chair and threw it back at her,” he narrated.

The state chairman of the party, Mr Ade Adetimehin, said the party had met and discussed the incident and it was decided that Awolumate should be suspended from the party.

The chairman said, “The party will not tolerate any indiscipline. Such an act is an act I condemn in its entirety. The party met on it and the chairman of that ward was suspended. How can you beat a woman? I don’t tolerate it, please. Let it be very loud and clear. No matter the offence of that commissioner, the party must respect a woman.

“Our party is noted for welfare. You can check from all the local governments, nowhere the party was involved. So, the man has been sanctioned,” he added.

All efforts to reach the commissioner proved abortive as she did not pick up her calls nor respond to a text message sent to her as of the time of filing this report.

Meanwhile, a coalition of over 500 women organisations and activists under the aegis of Womanifesto on Wednesday took to the streets of Akure to protest against the humiliation and attack on the commissioner.

The protesters who displayed placards with different inscriptions demanded Aolumate’s arrest and prosecution.

However, the commissioner during the protest, debunked the video credited to Awolumate, describing it as a shady cover-up.

She told Womanifesto that she had received several threats from Awolumate before the viral attack.

Osadahun also said she had reported a threat to her life both to a Deputy Superintendent of Police as well as the King of Arigidi in Oke-Agbe, Ondo State before the last incident.

A leader of the protesters, Mrs Folashade Bamgboye, insisted that the assault on the female commissioner “was an assault on all Nigerian women.”

Kwara, Osun

Residents in Kwara and Osun states have faulted the sharing formula used by their respective state governments to distribute the subsidy palliatives sent by the Federal Government, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.

This is because some states of the federation have begun sharing the palliatives released by the FG to cushion the impact of the fuel subsidy removal.

A video trended in August where Kwara residents complained that there was a lack of transparency in the sharing of the 1,200 bags of rice donated by the Federal Government for the people of the state in 16 local governments.

In the video, the commentator informed the crowd that out of the 1,200 bags of rice, Adewole ward, which is one of the 12 wards in Ilorin West Local Government Area was given eight bags and when it was further divided among the areas in the ward, Agunbelewo area, comprising several families, got six bowls of rice which he put amid the people as one of the bewildered residents asked; “how do we share this now?”

In a trending video on social media, some citizens of Adewole Ward of Ilorin West Local Government Area of the state were seen walking away from the venue of the distribution of the foodstuff in the Agunbelewo area of the ward.

The residents said the people of Agunbelewo were allocated six measures of grain which is about one and a half of plastic out of the eight bags of rice allocated to Adewole ward where the state governor, AbdulRaman AbdulRazaq, hails from.

A man, Yinusa Magaji, who identified himself as a leader in the area said the entire people in the Agunbelewo area were given six measures of rice to share.

“We received six measures of rice out of one bag allocated to three areas of Agunbelewo, Gaa Odota and Adewole Housing Estate in Adewole ward.

“We want people to challenge us if they gave us more than six measures contained in this bag,” he said.

Before he ended his speech, the crowd that gathered in the place had reduced, as many were said to have left in anger.

The state governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Rafiu Ajakaye, described the video as the handwork of members of the opposition party in the state.

Meanwhile, the state government has set up an independent body to oversee the distribution of the palliatives.

Ajakaye said the committee chaired by the state Commissioner of Police, Mrs Ebunoluwarotimi Adelesi, comprised traditional rulers, religious leaders, civil society organisations, security agencies and community leaders.

In a viral video in August, some residents of Osun State lamented that they were yet to receive the subsidy palliatives.

However, the spokesperson for the state governor, Olawale Rasheed, said the palliatives were yet to be distributed, urging the residents to hold on for the last batch of rice to be received.

Calls put through to Rasheed to confirm if the state had begun distribution were not answered as of press time.

SERAP demands accountability

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has urged the 36 state governors in the country to “disclose details on the spending of the N2bn palliative recently disbursed to each state by the Federal Government, including the names of beneficiaries and details of the reliefs so far provided with the money.”

In an open letter signed by SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said, “It is in the public interest to publish the details on the spending of the N2bn palliative and any subsequent disbursement of funds to your government.

“Nigerians have the right to know how their states are spending the fuel subsidy relief funds. It is part of their legally enforceable human rights.

“Transparency and accountability in the spending of the N2bn and any subsequent disbursement to your state would help to reduce the risk of corruption, mismanagement, diversion, or opportunism.”

SERAP also noted that it would take all appropriate legal actions to compel the governors to comply with its request in the public interest.

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