Since Wednesday last week, hoodlums across the states have been breaking into stores and strategic reserves looting food items and everything on sight in the wake of the #EndSARS protests.
Besides donation by the federal government, groups such as the Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) and spirited individuals had also contributed food and non-food items even as much of such donations had not been distributed to the targeted people.
The consignments were, however, looted in the last few days, a development that prompted some state governments to issue statements in which they gave excuses as to why they did not distribute the palliatives.
There has been a deafening silence from the presidency and the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Social Development and Disaster Management on whether the commodities “discovered” were actually hoarded by the state governments or not.
Individuals and groups had in the last seven months chided the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC government over the COVID-19 palliatives said to have been given to states.
But one of Buhari’s daughters, Zahra, on Sunday aligned with Instagram stories that said the discovery of undistributed COVID-19 palliatives in warehouses across the country by youth revealed that her father was not the problem of Nigeria.
She reposted that the discovery showed that her father actually made efforts to cushion the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on Nigerians.
“Now that people confirmed that Buhari distributed enough palliatives nationwide, it is clear Buhari is not our problem,” the post claimed.
The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiya Umar Farouq, was also called out severally for allegedly siphoning the palliatives.
She is now seen as “a hero of sorts” as people paid tribute to her on social media.
Her ministry had at the height of the coronavirus pandemic said it had distributed assorted food items to states for onward distribution to the most vulnerable population but the claim was rebuffed by many saying they did not benefit from the gesture.
Efforts to speak with the minister on Sunday were not successful as her telephone line was not connecting.
She was yet to respond to a text message also.
States on the defence
However, with the ongoing destruction and stealing at stores and other places, some state governments have issued statements saying they could not distribute the looted palliatives given to them because they were awaiting clearance from Abuja.
In Osun for instance, the Secretary of the state’s Food and Relief Committee on COVID-19, Bayo Jimoh, on Friday, said the looted items at a warehouse in Ede town donated by CACOVID were not hoarded, but rather kept for the flag-off of the official distribution.
The Commissioner for Information in Plateau State, Dan Manjang, on Saturday, also denied that they hoarded the palliatives looted by hoodlums and other citizens at various warehouses.
When contacted, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, Head of Media, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), promised to get back to our correspondent.
A source at the NGF secretariat said an official statement might be issued soon on the matter.
‘They hoarded relief materials’
But credible sources in Abuja said it is within the jurisdiction of state governments to distribute palliatives given to them to the targeted groups without any external influence or directive.
One of the sources close to the federal government who does not want to be named, said, “We really don’t want to join issues with the states because this is a trying moment for all.
“But to set the record straight, there was never a time when the Presidency or the ministry of humanitarian affairs said, state governors should not distribute the palliatives given to them until a certain time,” he said.
Another source said, “The interventions were meant to support the poor whose livelihood was affected by the lockdown and therefore it is not tenable to say that such donations should not be shared.
“I don’t think if any government official either at the Presidency or anywhere will ask governors not to distribute such interventions.
“Of course some of us are aware that Plateau State for instance, got its donation a few days ago but some states received theirs months ago,” he said.
“The directive was that states should immediately distribute the good to the most vulnerable not to keep them,” another source said. “So, if some states kept the products this long; maybe they have a different reason; I am saying that they hoarded what they received,” he added.
Daily Trust reports that in some states, some residents were given noodles or a small quantity of rice in the name of COVID-19 relief at the height of lockdown.
Many Nigerians were shocked after seeing the quantum of assorted food items including rice, pasta, sugar, oil, Semovita and other grains being carted away from stores in some states.
Besides stores where COVID-19 materials were kept, the hoodlums irrespective of gender, religious or political persuasions are also wreaking havoc on strategic places belonging to state governments or its agencies.
In Plateau, Osun, Lagos and Adamawa, the hoodlums yesterday ransacked government stores, houses of prominent politicians, traditional leaders and renowned personalities in search of COVID-19 goods.
We flagged -off distribution since – CACOVID official
A member of the CACOVID steering committee, who preferred anonymity to avoid confrontation with the state governors told Daily Trust that: “It is painful that the governors of the states are deliberately misdirecting public anger at corporate organisations that voluntarily donated these items to help them ameliorate the suffering of the poor.
“The question we should ask the governors is, are they not aware that the media had variously reported the flagging -off of the distribution in their states? What next after the flag-off?
The official said the scenes that emanated from the invasion of warehouses in several states as they watched on television might have jeopardised the laudable fight against COVID-19, as the masses were seen disregarding the safety protocols whilst carting away palliatives.
“How can we explain that the same items that were distributed even to some of the farthest points in this country like Borno State have been distributed by the state while others wait?
“The next question is for the media to ask the states that have distributed whether they required another approval after the flag-off”
The CACOVID committee member said the donations were done in good faith adding that “At CACOVID, we have a very good governance structure and we have the likes of PriceWaterCoopers (PwC), a reputable audit firm as part of that process to ensure monitoring and evaluation.”
On August 6, CACOVID formally announced the flag-off of a nationwide distribution of multi-billion naira food palliative and other relief items to mitigate the adverse effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic on vulnerable Nigerians.
CACOVID administrator and CEO of Aliko Dangote Foundation (ADF), Zouera Youssoufou said with the announcement in Lagos, the coalition divided the distribution using the six geo-political zones and the distributions were flagged-off simultaneously across states.
We’re trying to find out what happened – CBN
Meanwhile, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) said it is probing the non-distribution of the CACOVID palliatives.
The apex bank had taken custody of the monetary donations from the philanthropists during the heat of the pandemic and the lockdown.
The acting Director of Corporate Affairs at CBN, Mr Osita Nwanisobi said on telephone: “We are trying to get information from the states to know exactly what happened.
“The CACOVID is a CBN-led initiative in collaboration with the private sector. If you look at what has happened, these are things that have already been given to the states for them to distribute to the masses.
“We are still trying to get the numbers. CACOVID also has its media initiatives. It is not a CBN affair. It is private-sector driven. But we are trying to get the numbers,” he stated.
First Bank mum
There were recent comments on social media attributed to the MD/CEO of First Bank, Dr Sola Adeduntan, who allegedly stated in a closed WhatsApp group known as the “Sigmites” that the palliative materials were only delivered in September and early October.
Sigmite is an acronym for members of the oldest socio-philanthropic students’ organisation known as Sigma Club, University of Ibadan.
First Bank has neither issued any counter-statement to deny the statement attributed to the managing director as at the time of this report. The Head, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability/Media & External Relations of the bank, Ismail Omamegbe, was yet to return a telephone phone call by one of our reporters.
On October 3, CACOVID had petitioned the Edo State Government over alleged misappropriation of food palliatives worth over N465 million by a member of House Representatives from the state.
The coalition said it had dispatched food palliatives to Edo State to cater for 36,295 households just like for other states for distribution but was alarmed to see the lawmaker on state television distributing the foodstuffs claiming he bought them without recourse to CACOVID as the provider.
Daily Trust reports that on July 1, the Nasarawa State Government had distributed 38 trucks of palliatives to vulnerable persons in the state. Zamfara did that on July 25; Ondo state did its own on August 9, and Borno distributed the palliatives on September 23.
Buhari condemns looting
President Muhammadu Buhari has condemned the resort to widespread attacks and the organised looting and plundering of public and private property in many states, warning that such actions were inimical to public good.
President Buhari, in a statement issued by his spokesman, Garba Shehu, said all civil authorities, community and religious leaders in the country must rise against the organised looting and plunder currently being witnessed in parts of the country.
The president said this after revealing that his administration was still working hard through many pragmatic ways to reduce the hardship of the millions of unemployed, poor citizens and those whose lives had been thrown into disarray by the harsh economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The statement, which the president also used to condemn the loss of lives, read: “A government that has launched a massive crackdown on corruption brought in strong laws for a decisive battle against corruption pursues loot recovery at home and abroad and taken strong decisions against those who thought they were above the law, will not fold its arms when an otherwise, legitimate and peaceful protest is turning into a free-for-all vandalism and looting.
“While the administration has, for its part, blocked so many means of looting public money in a war against corruption, it is the expectation that all civil authorities, community and religious leaders in the country must rise against the organised looting and plunder we are witnessing in parts of the country. Families must turn back children who bring home unaccounted goods, in the same way, wives must ask their husbands to return looted items brought home,” the statement said.