Reading about the hunger protest in Philippine on Wednesday, I couldn’t help but picture what may happen in our country should there be further delay in delivering relief materials and other palliatives promised by the federal and some state governments to cushion the effect of the lockdown occasioned by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak .
Residents of a slum area in the capital city, Manila, staged a protest to demand relief goods amid a month-long Coronavirus lockdown that had left many of them without work, claiming they had not been given any food packs and other relief supplies since the lockdown began over two weeks now.
Back home here in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, during a national address last Sunday, ordered the lockdown of Lagos, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Ogun State for two weeks as one of the measures to control and contain the spread of the pandemic. He announced that relief materials would be deployed to ease the pains of residents of satellite and commuter towns and communities around Lagos and Abuja whose livelihoods would be affected by the restrictive measure. Other palliative measures include: feeding of school children (though schools are on holiday); a conditional two months cash transfer for the most vulnerable in the society; two months of food rations for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and many more.
However, days into the lockdown, we are yet to see these measures come to light. Yes, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 told us on Wednesday that the President had approved the release of 70,000 metric tonnes of grains from the National Strategic Grain Reserves, to be distributed to the poor and vulnerable in the worst hit states, as well as persons whose livelihoods will be affected by the lockdown. A day before then, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Farouk, had announced that no fewer than 11 million Nigerian citizens would benefit from the palliative measures. But what we have not seen is the poor people around us who have nothing to feed on, especially at this critical period, getting these relief materials. And why the beneficiaries are pegged at 11 million; the statistics used to select them are still unclear to me.
Furthermore, the minister said the palliatives distribution has started with the IDPs in the North-East who received two months’ rations of relief materials. Commendable! But should this handful of persons be the ones to have gotten these materials four days into the lockdown? How long will it take for it to go round? Is it when the lockdown ends? Perhaps, we need to be reminded that millions of those who are compelled to self-isolate for two weeks are hustlers, who eat from hand to mouth and that staying this long without food or money in their pockets is as good as asking them to choose death either by hunger or the virus.
Is government right in taking the harsh decisions? Of course, yes. Seeing the devastating effects of the novel virus all over the world, how people are dying in hundreds daily, our government, both at the federal and state levels, must be commended for all their efforts so far in checking the spread of the disease in the country. The closure of the inter-state borders, restriction of movement, banning of public gatherings, among other measures are in the interest of the people. However, one would expect that these measures will have human face. Many would have expected the palliative measures be delivered to the people before the lockdown as it obtains in other countries. In Lagos State, though markets are shut, neighbourhood food markets are set up at selected locations to cater for the needs of the people. Wouldn’t other governors and the FCT Minister adopt this? With these, you can be sure of compliance and commitment from all citizens.
However, one sure thing is that government cannot do it alone. In a country of over 200 million people with a greater population living on less than a dollar a day, coupled with our dwindling economy, we will not be realistic to think that government alone can adequately cater for the huge number of poor citizens. A whole lot of assistance is needed from individuals, organisations and corporate bodies. Gladly, we have seen actions in this direction in the past few days with the donations from banks, well-to-do individuals and even federal, state lawmakers, ministers and governors pledging their salaries for the same course.
As at Wednesday, monetary contributions to the account set up at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under the auspices of the private sector Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) was said to have hit N15 billion with 37 donors on the list. Some faith based organisations have also been quietly doing what they know how to do best – reaching out to the poor. It goes to prove the saying that when faced with a threatening situation; Nigerians never fail to aggressively tackle it, putting aside all religious, ethnic and even political sentiments. We hope that the mangers of this and other COVID-19 relief fund will use the monies for the purpose they are meant for so that when the Coronavirus war is over, there will be no need for the setting up of panel on mismanagement of COVID-19 funds as had been the case with other such funds in the past.
Meanwhile, while more corporate bodies are expected to join in the donation, other citizens should not fail to play their own role. Individually, we can help our poor neighbours by sharing what we have with them. Sellers of food items and other essential items should desist from exploiting other Nigerians by creating artificial scarcity of their goods and increasing their prices arbitrarily. As a matter of fact, there should be price control mechanism in the country which will place restrictions on the prices that can be charged for goods and services in our markets going forward. Let those truly in need of the relief materials go for them when they are eventually brought.
However, while we believe that together we can make the economic, psychological and mental torture of the pandemic bearable, government should do the needful to avert the wrath of the hungry masses.
By: Calista Ezeaku
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