By: Jimoh Fatai Adesina,
The index case of the ravaging Coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19 was recorded in Nigeria on the 27th of February 2020, few months after the outbreak in China. Right on, the Nigeria government had ample opportunity to prevent a widespread by taken proactive steps to curtail the deadly virus. Indeed, the hope of many Nigerians was that since it’s an imported virus that couldn’t travel on its own, the government would curtailed its spread in no time just as experienced during the Ebola disease outbreak under the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
On 28 January, the Federal government of Nigeria had assured citizens of the country of its readiness to strengthen surveillance at five international airports in the country to prevent the spread of the virus. The government announced the airports as Enugu, Lagos, Rivers, Kano and the FCT The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control also announced same day that they had already set up coronavirus group and was ready to activate its incident system if any case emerged in Nigeria.
However, despite all the noise about the virus both on local and international media, the PMB administration dragged feet for a long while till the pandemic became an household name before closing the air space in particular which happened to be the major entry point for the virus.
Safe for the efforts of the Lagos state government, particularly, the governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, perhaps today we would be on the list of the worst hit nations! In all, the spread of the virus (COVID-19) continued to rise in Nigeria not minding all scientific and otherwise preventive measures in use in the country until lately at the middle of September when a drastic reduction in cases became consistent.
The Buhari-led administration enforced the first initial 2-week lockdown on March 30, 2020, for two out of the 36 states (Lagos, Ogun), and Abuja , the federal capital territory after over a month of the index case and, on April 13, extended it by another 2 weeks. Shortly after the order was announced by the President, there was an uproar among the citizens due to a myriad of concerns. Just in 2018, Nigeria was announced to be the poverty capital of the world by the World Poverty Clock, stating that over 40% of Nigerians are living below the poverty line. Several people, especially artisans and other unskilled labour expressed their bitterness about the unending hunger been experienced during the unplanned lockdown. Most declared that it’s better to contract the virus than being killed by hunger.
With a population of about 200 million people, Nigeria is one of the most populous black nations worldwide. For this huge population, the health system pre COVID-19 is in comatose. In most of the cities, health systems are completely not functional as they have not received adequate attention.
A survey by the NBS in 2019 on Poverty and Inequality shows that 40.1% of the population in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and the largest producer of oil in Africa, is classified as poor.
According to a UNICEF report 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school. Only 61% of 6 to 11-year-olds regularly attend primary school. Some states in the north east and north west of the country have more than half of the girls not enrolled in schools as marginalization ensures that girls are deprived of basic education.
Prior to COVID-19 there was a seemingly effort to ensure young children stay in school and have access to proper education, as Nigeria contributes approximately 20% of the total global out-of-school population.
The COVID-19 pandemic is revolutionizing digital and online education globally but kids in rural and undeserved communities in Nigeria, are being left behind as they are not equipped to adapt or transition to the new methods of learning.
On 19 March 2020, the Federal Ministry of Education approved school closures as a response to the pandemic. States in the federation contextualized this, with the Lagos State Ministry of Education releasing a schedule of radio and TV lessons for students in public schools.
However, for families that earn below $1 per day and faced harsh economic realities due to the four-week lockdown in the state, the purchase of radios or TV might be a trade-off that they cannot afford..Thus, this inequality can only mean that these kids who currently cannot keep up with their peers because of inaccessibility to digital tools may never catch up and will continue to feel the effect of this gap long after the pandemic is over
Right across the world, state-imposed lockdowns have necessitated social solidarity policies that were previously unthinkable. Rescue programmes vary greatly in terms of social protection measures, cash assistance but there is no alternative to governments stepping in to secure the livelihoods of millions of people.
Thus, in his pretentious effort to act as a listening president, Buhari promised the citizens some palliative measures, such as disbursing of cash and food items to those most affected. But what was experienced was a far cry from the promises made; in fact, there was no palliative in reality; perhaps it only exist within the President’s caucus.
The process of disbursing the approved palliatives was as usual, marred with huge corruption. A large number of citizens then had to disobeyed the lockdown order in the hope of making sales or trying to earn money through their own efforts when it became glaring that the government did not planned the palliatives for their welfare!.
The combined effort of the police and the military to enforce the lockdown also caused more deaths than the infection itself. Meanwhile, as they were “doing their duty”, they were also enriching themselves!
At the end of the day, the COVID-19 financial palliative that was meant to lift the suffering of Nigerians who have suffered untold hardship during the lockdown turned into massive corruption avenue for those in charge. Instantly the lies and the cover ups of how money was distributed became a fairy tale of another pandemic corruption.
At the beginning, ethnicity became the game plan as declared by Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq, the Minister in charge of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, when she said that “there are no poor in the South”. It is a provocative declaring that angered a lot of Nigerians.
Later, people wondered openly how a government of the day was able to distribute N20, 000 cash to over 2.6million Nigerians within ten days. It was indeed an unprecedented one in a country where collecting important document or data capture codes such as BVN, NIMC no etc without inflicting hardship on the people. Such speed of distributions is unprecedented even in well developed countries all over the world
Meanwhile, management of the palliative fund by the Federal Government failed to create the desired meaningful impact on the livelihoods of the targeted poor masses hence the irruption into protests and head on collision with the lock down order.
Thirdly, the intended beneficiaries which are the poorest of the poor have not been captured in the palliative distribution. Most of the people who they claimed received the payment of Conditional Cash Transfer and other relief materials are not the vulnerable Nigerians. There was no transparency and accountability in the distribution of the relief packages hence most of the stimulus ended up in wrong hands.
Further, the elites behind the distribution of the money were able to manipulate the system due to inaccurate statistical database of the real poor Nigerians and in the process enrich themselves and their families.
Analysts have posed so many questions concerning the distribution of the palliatives as people continue suffer untold hardship in the hands of a government who rode into power on the wings of integrity and accountability.
Nigerians are asking for the modality used in the selection of the poor and vulnerable? How the poor Nigerians were identified within such a short period in a country without reliable and accurate database is still a mystery yet to be unraveled.
The government had claimed to have 11,045,537 individuals in 35 states, 453 local governments, 4,946 wards, 47,698 communities and 2,644,495 on the National Social Register receiving the monthly stipend of N5, 000 since 2016 and that about 2.6 million households have been captured under the Conditional Cash Transfer payment for assistance during corona virus lockdown.
In the same period, government also insisted on feeding school children who of course, were indoor in the various homes avoiding contact with immediate family members not to talk of food vendors! Where are the pupils? What method was used by the Federal Government to locate their houses and how many were eventually reached?
Another typical example of government agencies entrenched corruption during the period was the recent confession made at a senate investigative hearing on the N40 billion corruption allegation against the commission, by the acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Kemebradikumo Pondei, that the commission spent N1.5 billion for staff as ‘COVID-19 relief funds’.
While Responding to questions regarding the COVID-19 Relief Fund paid to NDDC staff, the MD said ”only N1.5 billion was used to take care of staff” despite being paid their salaries staying at home by the same government!.
What actually manifested during this period is the un-seriousness and lack of integrity on the part of the government whose focal point is fight against corrupt practices in public and private lives. The disbursement of the palliative measure to cushion the effect of Covid-19 lock down has been domesticated and developed into an emblematic corruption.
Covid-19 stay-at-home policy has toughened and impoverished Nigerians into resignation. The Covid corruption has brought out their hidden disenchantment. It is a more malevolent and deadlier virus than its generic variant Covid-19. Pandemic corruption in Nigeria has imprisoned millions and sent more millions into early graves.
No amount of hand washing or sanitiser could wash off the lingering stench of corruption within this present administration led by Muhammadu Buhari as we have seen in the disbursement of hardship palliatives meant for the vulnerable and poor Nigerians.
It is now a known fact that the coronavirus pandemic has revealed the failure of government to evenly distribute our commonwealth with fairness and justice. The whole process is another pandemic of stealing, cheating, corruption and outright robbery by the PMB-led administration which further fuels our corruption pandemic that many thought this government was set to quench during the struggle for office.
One hopes that this experience will one day arose a spirit of revolution against this insensitive government who at this such a critical time that government all over the world are working on genuine and impactful palliatives for their citizens, Nigerians are unfortunately being faced with new myriads of impoverishment through increase in fuel pump price and electricity tariffs.
Jimoh Fatai Adesina, a public commentator writes from Lagos, Nigeria