Warehoused COVID-19 Palliatives:  Are The Rich Now Robbing The Poor?

When in August 2020 the private sector-led Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) formally flagged off a nationwide distribution of multi-billion naira food palliative and other relief items to mitigate the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable Nigerians, many people erroneously thought that the palliatives will be equitably and fairly distributed in line with the wish of the partners in the Coalition.

It is expedient to recall that the relief materials for which the private sector operators spent about N23 billion to cover 1.7 million families amounting to about 10 million people across the 774 local government areas in the country, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) were applauded by many Nigerians.

At the time the donations were been made to vulnerable Nigerians that were unarguably hit by the negative of the pandemic, CACOVID’s Administrator and Chief Executive Officer of Aliko Dangote Foundation (ADF), Mrs. Zouera Youssoufou, told journalists in Lagos that the food distribution was the next phase in the line of actions mapped out by the coalition to partner government in the fight against the pandemic and relief the vulnerable people of the burden posed by the outbreak of the disease.

It is no doubt against the foregoing backdrop that when the leadership of the Coalition in the month of September 2020 released 107,546 food palliative packs to the Lagos State government that many Nigerians were delighted as they heaved a sigh of relief.

In Lagos, for instance, the food items were received on behalf of the state government by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu at the Lagos House, Alausa in Ikeja.

Speaking at the event on behalf of the state government, the acting commissioner for agriculture, Abisola Olusanya said the food items were meant for indigent residents and the elderly.

According to Olusanya, a single beneficiary will get each pack containing 10 kilograms of rice, five kilograms of garri, five kilograms of sugar, one kilogram of salt, two cartons of noodles (Indomie) and one carton of pasta, for his or her family. To the dismay of many, the rations were not received by millions of Lagosians except to family members of the political class.

Against the foregoing backdrop of the existing reality, it is difficult for anyone to believe that the items were truly distributed to the people they were meant for. The reason for the foregoing line of thinking cannot be farfetched as hoodlums on October 22, 2020 invaded a warehouse where COVID-19 palliatives were stored away at Mazamaza community in Lagos State.

A Viral video footages circulating on social media showed the looters, entering the warehouse and looting the COVID-19 palliatives in the community, located in the Oriade Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of the state. On the trail of the foregoing video are videos of different hues from other parts of the country trending on social media at the moment.

On why the items were not expediently distributed as they were meant to be given to those who were considered to be vulnerable in the State as a result of losses experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic, Olusanya responded by saying that “The government notes that the warehouse in question is not state-owned and its usage was made available to the CaCOVID group. The State Government had been allowed to commence rebagging of food items allotted to it from the quantities meant for South-West states.

“The re-bagging was being done to account for each beneficiary receipt, as was required and monitored by the CACOVID team.

The distribution was ongoing but had to be halted due to protests, before the invasion of the warehouse yesterday.

“For effective distribution of the food palliative, groups such as transport unions, ethnic groups, religious associations, artisans and tradesmen association, market men and women association, People Living with Disabilities, orphanages and old peoples’ homes among others were being used as distribution channels to their members.

“The State Government however regrets the invasion of the warehouse and appreciate the support offered by the CACOVID group to the citizenry of Lagos.”

It is not an exaggeration to say that not all Lagosians believe the explanation been offered to the people by the government.

Explanations offered for the non-distribution of the palliatives in most states in a country where huge percentage of over 200 million of the people are literarily hungry are been considered to be preposterous. Not few Nigerians believe that hunger is behind the looting. As at the time of typing this piece, many are still asking “Why did politicians hoard palliatives meant to be distributed as a result of the hardships experienced by the people during the COVID-19 lockdown?

One of the explanations that was considered to be preposterous in the true sense of the word, and which failed to satisfy the inquisitiveness of the people, was the one given by a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, representing Ikorodu Constituency, Sanai Agunbiade aka SOB, whose property was invaded by irate youths who discovered and looted the CACOVID palliatives. He said he intended to distribute them on his birthday.

“For my birthday on 25th October 2020, I have sent out, through my Media Team, notice of my intention to give support to 50 widows who have already been nominated by different groups in a programme christened Widows Mite for Widows and also distribute to some vulnerable and indigent individuals across the three local councils of my constituency, some palliative materials donated by the state and federal governments, as well as myself,” he said.

As Nigerians are still waiting for other politicians to explain to Nigerians what happened that palliatives that were meant for the people or rather their constituents in time of need, discoveries of warehouses were the items were stored away in warehouses have collectively become an eye-opener, and points to the fact the rich, who are invariably politicians in this context are wickedly stealing from the poor. This can be buttress as it is obvious that most of the items were stored away not only in warehouses, but also in their houses. Against this backdrop, not a few of them believe that it’s nothing short of wickedness for those in position of authority to keep the provisions while people were starving during the lockdown.

As at on Sunday, October 25, 2020, hoodlums hiding under the guise of the #EndSARS protest that has paradoxically eased off were reported to have looted Cross River COVID-19 palliative warehouse at Bishop Moynagh Street, State Housing Authority in Calabar. In the same vein, hoodlums in Benin City, on Saturday, stormed the government warehouse along Medical Store Road in the Uselu, axis of the Edo State capital and looted the COVID-19 palliative items stored in the warehouse. As it has been since warehouses stocking Covid-19 palliatives were discovered by hoodlums in Lagos, the story has not been the same from almost all the 36 states in the federation.

As Nigerians have kept demanding for explanations on why the palliatives were stored away without been distributed to the people they were meant for but given to some politicians as in the case of the Lagos politician who intended distributing the items on his birthday, the Osun Food and Relief Committee on COVID-19 said the looted items at a warehouse in Ede town were not hoarded, but rather kept for the flag-off of the official distribution.

Alhaji Bayo Jimoh, Secretary to the committee, in a statement in Osogbo, said that the looted items were donated to the committee as palliatives to the people by Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19. In this context, one is compelled to ask Alhaji Jimoh, “If the items were donated to the committee as palliatives to the people by Private Sector Coalition Against Covid-19, is that reasonable enough for them not to have being distributed to the people they were meant for?

At this juncture, it is advisory enough to say that throughout history that food shortages and hunger have led to civil unrest. Most notably in history is the French Revolution that was obviously caused by the price of bread, and was fingered to have played a role in stoking anger toward the monarchy.

In the same vein, history has it that in 1863, a protest led by women and teens changed the course of American history. As documented, a group comprised mostly of hungry mothers, freed slaves and impoverished children were fed up with speculators hoarding food and the government funneling resources to businessmen and the army. The situation provoked emaciated women and groups of girls and boys who worked in local factories for as little more than $1 a day to descend on Capitol Square in Richmond, Virginia, demanding to see the mayor, and reasonable access to food and other necessities.

It is also advisory enough to say that if Nigeria does not want to be documented in history as one of the countries that experienced food-related crisis, that her leaders should eschew the storing away of food items donated to vulnerable Nigerians. It is not an exaggeration to say that not few Nigerians see all explanations that have been given so far by the leaders to be spurious and preposterous. Personally, I am of the view that the salary and perks of an average politician is enough to feed his or her family. The question now can be asked, if the salary and perks of an average politician are considered to be enough to take care of his home, why then resorting to rob from the poor?

Be that as it may, it is germane to ask, “Are the rich stealing from the poor? If the answer to the foregoing is in the affirmative, the rich and politicians among us should be reminded that Proverbs 22:22-23 says, “Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the Lord will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them”.

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Articles by Isaac Asabor