The controversy surrounding COVID-19 palliatives which has resulted in looting of the items nationwide continued yesterday as Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State said the distribution of materials in his state was delayed at the request of the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiya Umar Farouq.
The Nigerian Governors’ Forum also reacted on Monday, saying it was not true that governors delayed distribution of the items donated by both the Federal Government and the Coalition Against COVID-19, CACOVID.
“As we know, CACOVID operations are mainly domiciled in Lagos, being the headquarters of most of the public-spirited organisations, corporate bodies and individuals that came together to form the Coalition Against COVID-19.
“Until mid-October when the NGF had its last meeting, up to ten states had not participated in the flag-off ceremonies for the distribution of palliatives in their state. This was because the items for distribution had not been completely received from CACOVID,” the NGF had said in a statement signed by Head of Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazaq Barkindo.
But the ministry in a swift reaction yesterday, said though it would not like to join issues with the governor, the delay in distribution was not caused by the minister.
This came as CACOVID also explained yesterday that most of the states did not distribute the palliatives because they were yet to get their full allocation.
This is even as the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has asked the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, to promptly, thoroughly, transparently and effectively investigate the circumstances surrounding the alleged hoarding of COVID-19 palliatives in warehouses in several states, which ought to have been distributed to the poorest and most vulnerable people during the lockdown, and to publish the outcome of such investigation.
In apparent response to SERAP’s request, the ICPC said it would investigate the looting of palliatives meant to cushion the negative economic impact of the lock-down induced by COVID-19 on Nigerians.
Minister wanted to be part of palliatives’ distribution — Tambuwal
Speaking while addressing citizens on his government’s effort at checking riots in the state, Tambuwal said Sokoto had no hoarded relief materials meant for distribution.
He said the state had only received two categories of palliatives since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to him, the first relief materials received from the Coalition Against COVID-19, CACOVID, was a bit delayed because the donors wanted the materials to be pooled together before distribution.
The governor informed that as soon as this was achieved, the distribution was done, saying the delay in sharing of the second category received on October 17 from the Federal Government, was on the request of Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiya Umar Farouk, who wanted to be around when the distribution starts.
He said: “Sokoto State has no case of hoarded relief materials meant as COVID-19 palliatives. The state never recorded both the protest and the attendant mayhem. There was one by Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID), which was a donation by an ensemble of philanthropists.
“The distribution of this category was a bit delayed months ago because the donors wanted the donations to be pooled. As soon as that was achieved, we distributed the materials under the supervision of the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Alhaji Sa’idu Umar.
‘’The other category were those items brought by the federal government through the office of the Minister of Disaster Management, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouk.
“The items were received on October 17, precisely nine days ago. The little delay we had in distributing the FG palliatives was at the instance of various requests by the minister. She needed to be personally around when the exercise started.
“She made the requests five times before turning up. So, it is not our fault that the items are still being distributed as we speak. It was the minister who said we should wait until she comes. And that was what happened.
No reason to hoard palliatives — Ondo govt
On its part, the Ondo State government said it had no reason to hoard palliatives, according to the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Donald Ojogo.
He said: “Without prejudice to the peculiar circumstances in respect of affected states, our case is different in Ondo State. We have no case of invaded warehouse where COVID-19 palliatives were looted.
“Our system of distribution was unique and swift to the extent that local government areas got their shares immediately such palliatives were brought in. We had no reason to have unshared or undistributed items.
“It then means that we may not be in a position to know what happened because we didn’t have such experience.”
Protests halted distribution of CACOVID palliatives —Sanwo-Olu
The Lagos State Governor, Mr, Babajide Sanwo-Olu has maintained that the distribution of CACOVID food palliatives was on-going before it was halted due to #EndSARS protests before the invasion of the warehouse.
Sanwo-Olu, who spoke through the Acting Commissioner for Agriculture, Ms Abisola Olusanya, said the food palliative packages was donated to the state government by the Private Sector Coalition against COVID-19 (CACOVID) group, on September 22, 2020 and formally taken receipt of the food palliatives from the CACOVID team meant for distribution to the indigents.
According to Sanwo-Olu: “The State Government was allowed to commence rebagging of food items allotted to it from the quantities meant for South West States.
“The rebagging was being done to account for each beneficiary receipt, as was required and monitored by the CACOVID team. “The distribution was on-going but had to be halted due to protests, before the invasion of the warehouse.
“For effective distribution of the food palliatives, groups such as transport unions, ethnic groups, religious associations, artisans and tradesmen associations, 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.”
‘Don’t blame Minister for this’
But reacting to Governor Tambuwal’s claim last night, a source in the ministry who preferred anonymity, disputed the claim of the governor.
According to the source, neither the minister nor the federal government dictates to the states how they should run their affairs.
“It is ridiculous for anybody to try to shift blame for his failure to the minister or the federal government. This is because neither the federal government nor the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development dictates to states how to run their affairs.
“As far as we are concerned as a ministry, we did our best by ensuring the distribution of relief materials to all the states in good time for onward distribution to their citizens.
“If for any reason the states failed to distribute the items to where necessary, the ministry should not be blamed for that,” the source added.
Speaking earlier in Gusau on Monday, the Minister, Sadiya Umar Farouq, said she had forgiven those who accused her of hiding COVID-19 palliatives meant for the poor.
“I am aware many people have made various spurious allegations and accusations against my person and my ministry over the way we distributed Federal Government palliatives to cushion the effect of COVID-19.
“I have always said I am carrying out my duties and responsibilities to the best of my ability and with fairness to all parts of the country.
“Now that they have realized their mistakes, l will only pray to God to forgive us all,” she maintained.
How we shared palliatives — CACOVID
Throwing more light on the situation, CACOVID in a statement by Osita Nwasinobi, said: “As of October 26, 2020, some states had confirmed completion of their distribution, while others were in the process of proceeding with the distribution before the lootings took place.”
Announcing plans to publish the full delivery schedule and flag-off dates of its palliatives by states, the group also assured that its external auditor was on the verge of completing the audit of all donations as well as food and medical items procured.
It urged those involved in the wanton destruction of public and private properties as well as looting of the warehouses where the palliatives were kept to desist from such act, to allow states proceed with a peaceful and fair distribution of the palliatives to the needy and most vulnerable in the society.
The group explained that though it embarked on the palliatives effort in April, the first deliveries could not start until June this year to the state governments.
“However, as of October 2020, a sizable portion of the items had been delivered but yet to be distributed by the governors. Although various states and the FCT had commenced flag-off of the distribution of the food items since early August, some could not conclude the distribution as they were yet to receive complete deliveries of the items allotted to them.”
CACOVID disclosed that 10 million vulnerable Nigerians were targeted to benefit from the palliatives sent to the state governments across all the 774 local governments in the country.
According to CACOVID, ‘each household is supposed to receive 10kg bag of rice, 5kg bag of garri/semolina, one carton of pasta, two cartons of noodles, 5kg of sugar, and 1kg of salt.
The group added that it worked with state governors and the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory to ensure food items reached the beneficiaries.”
SERAP tasks ICPC
Reacting to the development, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, asked the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, to thoroughly and transparently investigate the circumstances surrounding the alleged hoarding of COVID-19 palliatives in warehouses in several states.
SERAP’s petition followed reports that some people have discovered and taken away COVID-19 palliatives stored in warehouses in several states.
In the petition sent to Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, Chairman, ICPC, SERAP asked the agency to “ensure the prompt and effective prosecution of anyone suspected to be responsible, if there is relevant and sufficient admissible evidence of hoarding and diversion of the palliatives.”
In the petition dated 24 October, 2020 and signed by SERAP Deputy Director Kolawole Oluwadare, the group said: “It would seem that Nigerian authorities asked people to stay at home as a protective lockdown measure but then failed to discharge a legal responsibility to timely, effectively, and transparently distribute COVID-19 palliatives to ease the hardship faced by the poorest and most vulnerable people.
“Unless promptly investigated, the allegations of hoarding and diversion would undermine public trust in any efforts to bring the spread of the pandemic under control, exacerbate the negative impact of the crisis, and deny those most in need access to basic necessities of life.
“Tracking, monitoring and ensuring COVID-19 palliatives are timely, effectively, and efficiently distributed to those most in need would improve transparency and accountability, respect for human rights, as well as remove the possibility of political considerations or bribery in the distribution of the palliatives.”
SERAP expressed “serious concerns that the alleged hoarding of COVID-19 palliatives in several states and the apparent failure to timely, effectively, efficiently, and transparently distribute the palliatives and other reliefs to the poorest and most vulnerable people have continued to deny many citizens the much-needed support.”
It also urged the ICPC “to visit the states where COVID-19 palliatives have been discovered in warehouses, and to track and monitor the distribution of palliatives across the 36 states of the country, and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to remove the risks of diversion, and ensure that the palliatives get to those most in need, and not used for political or corrupt purposes.”
The petition, also copied to Professor Itse Sagay, Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, read: “Some people have reportedly discovered and taken away COVID-19 palliatives stored in warehouses in several states, including Cross River, Edo, Ekiti, Kwara, Kaduna, Lagos, Osun, Plateau and Taraba states, with some of the people reportedly saying ‘the food is ours but they are keeping it for themselves.’
“Promptly attending to these recommendations would show your agency’s willingness to proactively exert your mandates, as this would act as a deterrent against breaches of Nigeria’s constitution, anti-corruption legislation and international standards, as well as ensure the transparent and accountable distribution of COVID-19 palliatives and other reliefs.
“SERAP notes that billions of naira have been budgeted and donated to respond to COVID-19 and help ease the resulting impact and hardship on the poorest and most vulnerable people.
“Nigeria has also received millions of dollars in international aid and announced programmes to help citizens through the lockdown, including direct distribution of food to millions of vulnerable households.
“This request is consistent with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission Act, and the country’s international obligations, including under the UN Convention against Corruption, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Nigeria has ratified these treaties.
“The request is also consistent with the COVID-19 transparency frameworks that have been put together by the Nigerian authorities.”
Consequently, SERAP urged the ICPC to put pressure on federal and state authorities to:
lDevelop clear criteria on who exactly qualifies for COVID-19 palliatives and other reliefs to ensure that the palliatives are not used by corrupt officials to benefit themselves and their political supporters at the expense of the intended beneficiaries.
lSeek and publish distribution information from federal and state authorities, including details of the timelines of distribution of COVID-19 palliatives and other reliefs, as well as the logistics that have been put in place to facilitate the distribution.
lSeek and publish details of palliatives and other socio-economic reliefs that federal and state authorities have so far provided to the poorest and most vulnerable people, including the list of beneficiaries of any such palliatives and reliefs.
lOpen public complaints reporting mechanism on distribution of COVID-19 palliatives and other reliefs to ensure access of citizens that may be unduly denied of the aid to justice and effective remedies;
lWork with federal and state authorities to identify which areas remain most in need of palliatives and other reliefs and ensure timely, effective, efficient, transparent and accountable distribution to the intended beneficiaries.”
ICPC to investigate if ‘palliatives’ were hoarded
Meanwhile, ICPC’s spokesperson, Azuka Ogugua, said in a statement yesterday that the decision of the commission to investigate the delay in the palliatives’ distribution followed demands by Nigerians for the commission to investigate and uncover the rationale behind the storage of palliative materials.
“In the aftermath of the looting spree that ensued as a result of the protests across the country, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, is set to commence the investigation of the sources of looted items.
“This is in response to increasing public demands on the commission to investigate and uncover the rationale behind the storage of palliative materials meant for the suffering masses in warehouses across the country which were supposed to be distributed to the people,” the ICPC said.
The ICPC said it would investigate the sources of the goods looted from the warehouses from both the public and private sectors, adding also that it would scale up its monitoring mechanism of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, saddled with the acquisition and distribution of the palliatives. (News Express/Vanguard)