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Rage, apprehension as states warehouse rice, delay palliatives sharing

Nigerians have expressed anger over the delay in the distribution of the palliatives by the state governors.

 

The Nigeria Labour Congress, Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, the Nigeria Union of Teachers, National Union of Pensioners and others in separate interviews with our correspondents yesterday lamented the hunger among their members and expressed misgivings about the way the palliatives package was being handled by the authorities, reports The PUNCH.

 

Last Thursday, the federal government had announced the distribution of N180 billion and 180 trucks of rice to the states to ease the subsidy pains but many governors have kept the materials in warehouses while the workers and residents languish in hunger.

 

The federal government announced N5bn palliative for each state of the federation and 180 trucks of rice as part of measures to assuage the pains of the subsidy removal which had led to multiple hikes in fuel pump prices and driven up the prices of goods and services, worsening the poverty level in the country.

 

Announcing the release of the palliative at the end of the 135th National Economic Council meeting presided over by Vice President Kashim Shettima in Abuja, Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum disclosed that the N5bn was to enable the state governments to procure 100,000 bags of rice, 40,000 bags of maize and fertilizers to cushion the effect of food shortage across the country.

 

The Assistant General-Secretary, Nigeria Labour Congress, Chris Onyeka, said the delay by the federal government in providing its own palliatives for Nigerians was worrisome.

 

According to him, NLC officials in states were not part of the committee involved in the sharing of the palliatives.

 

Onyeka said, “We are not involved. How can we be involved? How can we be involved with the governors to share the federal palliatives? We are not part of it. I told you that what they have done is to dash money, N5bn each, to the boys, who are the state governors.”

 

On whether the labour union was working with states that had their own palliatives, the NLC official said, “For the ones engineered by state governments, our people have been involved since, like in the launching of buses by some states.

 

“But if it is the federal government-driven one, we are not interested. It is not part of our agreement.”

 

Asked whether the NLC would want to see the federal government speed up the provision of palliatives for Nigerians as demanded by many workers, he replied, “Yes, of course. We have been exercising patience, but the delay is becoming worrisome.

 

Labour faults committee

 

“There is a presidential committee on that and it is supposed to implement this. The president also promised that he is going to restructure the committee. But as we speak, he has not restructured it and that has not happened. They better hasten up because we still have our plans if they fail to act.”

 

Onyeka, however, said the NLC was opposed to the N5bn palliative package given to states, alleging that it was ‘’a form of settlement to state governors.’’

 

He said, “That money was a dash for the boys. We believe the government has used that money to settle the state governors. It is not for the ordinary Nigerian or worker.

 

“So the possibility that such money will get to Nigerians is very slim and that is the truth. We made it clear that we don’t want any palliative for Nigerian workers and the Nigerian people to be handled by state governors.’’

 

“We made this very clear to the federal government on several occasions. So any money they are giving to them (governors), we are not in support of it,” the NLC official stated.

 

He added, “But the one for Nigerian people and workers, we are still negotiating and we are trying to work that out with the Federal Government. Although, that is if they are willing to live up to their promises to Nigerians.”

 

Corroborating Onyeka, the NLC Chairman in Benue State, Terungwa Igbe said labour leaders were not involved in the palliative committee in the state.

 

Igbe said that contrary to what happened at the national level where labour leaders were involved in the palliative committee, such, he said had yet to be replicated in the state.

 

He said, “I’m not aware of palliative committee set up in the state here but at the national level, labour leaders were Involved and we are hoping that we will be involved in the state too.

 

The spokesperson for the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Abdulrazaque Barkindo, could not be reached for comment on the allegations that the governors did not involved the labour leaders in the sharing of the palliatives and the allegations they warehoused the palliatives with little consideration for the suffering masses.

 

But an official said it was too early to level such allegations against the governors.

 

He said “It is too early to ask for any accountability or sharing of the palliative, even if you are the one given this palliative it can take up to five months before you can reach out to every part of a state.

 

“This money was given just last week, so the Nigerian Labour Congress shouldn’t be in a hurry to ask the governors for anything. I am aware that in Adamawa State, government included the NLC in the sharing committee. NLC is not being truthful.”

 

But the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics and the Nigeria Union of Teachers noted that only the implementation of a wage award would be sustainable for the Nigerian workers and not distribution of grains.

 

The National President of ASUP, Anderson Ezeibe, argued that distribution of the palliatives through state governors would not be effective as it may be influenced by political considerations.

 

Moreover, he said, it was not a sustainable means of lifting the people out of the extreme poverty induced by the bad economic situation in the country.

 

He stated, “The issue of palliative distribution to Nigerians in the form it is taking is not appealing to my union. The process of distribution of food items and other items through governors is not going to be effective as it will also be fraught with unhelpful political considerations in the distribution.

 

‘’Moreover, it is not a sustainable means of lifting the people out of the extreme poverty induced by the bad economic situation in the country. The government should immediately work with the labour centres to work out a new and acceptable wage structure to cater for workers. Also sectors like agriculture, education, health, transport and infrastructure should be given utmost priority as they have direct bearing on the wellbeing of the people.”

 

Also speaking, the Secretary-General of the NUT, Mike Ene disclosed that no member of the union had received the palliatives, insisting that a lot was wrong with the process, noting that unscrupulous individuals could hijack the package.

 

He noted, “I’ve not seen anyone or heard anyone who said he or she has received any form of palliative. There are lots of issues wrong with this distribution. This is something that has been happening over time; the government will have good intentions but some individuals will hijack the whole process. There are situations where those at the local levels manipulate names and transmit them as list for palliative distribution.’’

 

Ene called for a review of the palliative distribution process, stressing that the surest way to alleviate the situation for the workers is through wage award.

 

“Now with the pains associated with the subsidy removal, there is a need for the government to actually review its plans. Things are getting expensive day by day. The one form of palliative that can actually be traced easily is the wage award. Add something to the salaries of civil servants to cushion the pains, ’’ he said.

 

The acting chairman of the Joint Health Workers Union, Dr Obinna Ogbonna said there is palpable tension in the country because of hunger and hardship.

 

“Even the blind can see that there is hunger in the land, the deaf can hear the sound of hunger. It is not child’s play, it is felt by everybody. The palliative that the government has planned, especially the one the government has engaged the TUC and NLC on, is yet to see the light of the day, and it is creating palpable tension all around,’’ Ogbonna said.

 

The Secretary of the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives, Lagos State Council, Toba Odumosu also said members of the association have been lamenting the hardship in the country.

 

“Our members are already complaining because of the effect of the subsidy, and the high inflation, and the salary is no longer enough to take them to work for the month. We expect the government to do the needful because the hardship and hunger are really biting hard,’’ he affirmed.

 

The president of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors, Dr Emeka Orji complained that the remuneration of workers was inadequate to deal with the economic situation in the country.

 

Workers, others lament

 

Lamenting the biting hunger in the country, he said, “I agree that there is hunger in the country and most people have not started getting the palliatives. Our members, who incidentally have fallen below the poverty line, have not gotten any form of palliative from this government and the economy is biting hard on our members.

 

‘’We appeal to the newly sworn-in ministers to hit the ground running and there should not be any excuses for the implementation of the policies that will help to ameliorate the hard economic situation.’’

 

The spokesperson for the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, Bunmi Ogunkolade, advised the states to quicken the processes while urging pensioners to mount pressure on their governors.

 

“Each state governor should quicken these processes of palliative disbursement. Pensioners should keep hope alive and endure little more. They should put more pressure on their state government. We should not keep quiet until we die,’’ he counselled.

 

Workers in the Lagos State Public Service have also decried the delay in the distribution of the palliatives by the state government.

 

A worker at the Audit Service Commission, who pleaded anonymity, told our correspondent yesterday that they have not received any grant or palliative from the state.

 

“I am a civil servant and we have not gotten any special grant or palliative from the state,” she said.

 

She added that workers in the state still go to work every day, saying, “We still report at the office every day.”

 

She called on Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu “to be more proactive and put words to action both in the (public) service and to Lagosians at large.”

 

Like their counterparts in Lagos, the NLC and Trade Union Congress in Kwara State said their members had yet to receive the promised palliative from the state government.

 

The chairman of the Kwara State branch of the NLC, Saheed Olayinka said that no worker in the state has received foodstuff or any other package, apart from the N10,000 added to their salary.

 

“The labour unions were not included in the committee set up by the government to distribute the palliatives, we have not received anything from the government,” he said.

 

The TUC chairman in the state, Tunde Joseph, echoed the same sentiment, saying, “Our members have not received any foodstuff from the government apart from the N10,000 put on the workers’ salary.”

 

The Delta State chapter of the NLC said it is discussing the issue of palliative distribution with the state government.

 

The state NLC Chairman, Goodluck Ofobruku said nothing had been given to the workers in the state.

 

In Gombe State, the government’s plans to add an extra N10,000 to the workers’ salary had yet to take off.

 

The NLC Secretary in the state, Ibrahim Fika, said the wage award would run for six months.

 

The Director-General, Press Affairs, Gombe Government House, Ismaila Misilli, disclosed that the governor is targeting about 420,000 beneficiaries.

 

Anambra State government said it would give N12,000 monthly to its workers.

 

Announcing the sharing formula for the palliatives yesterday, Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State said he raised the number of households targeted for palliatives across the state from 300,000 to 400,000 households.

 

Each household will be made up of six family members to be multiplied by 400,000 which, by implication, moves Zulum’s new target to 2.4m individuals.

 

He had earlier disclosed a target of 300,000 households each with six persons.

 

Speaking while sharing some palliatives at the former Bakasi IDPs camp, he said, ‘’Today, we are here to distribute palliatives to 100,000 vulnerable households under the Presidential Initiative. This is in addition to the 300,000 households Borno State Government had rolled out early this month.”

 

The state’s deputy governor, Umar Usman Kadafur, flagged off a similar distribution exercise in Biu town on Monday.

 

In Bayelsa State, there is no indication that the state government has started the distribution of its share of the Federal Government’s palliative to civil servants and residents.

 

As of yesterday, there was no official announcement by the Governor Douye Diri-led administration on the N5bn palliative fund.

 

However, the deputy governor, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, held a meeting with caretaker committee chairmen of the eight local government councils, labour leaders and principal officers of the LGAs at the Government House, Yenagoa, on Monday.

 

A statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media, Mr Doubara Atasi, said Ewhrudjakpo informed the workers that the administration would this month commence the payment of wage and gratuity award to local government employees and retirees to cushion the biting effects of the fuel subsidy removal.

 

Worried by the deteriorating situation, the Small Scale Women Farmers Organisation of Nigeria has urged the FG for inclusion in the palliative measures.

 

The president of the female farmers, Mary Afan, stated this at a press briefing in Abuja yesterday.

 

She requested that the FG should provide immediate palliative measures; distribution of improved seeds and farm input for dry season farming; targeted transportation subsidies to smallholders; support for climate-smart agriculture; market access enhancement; and improved agricultural funding, amongst other things.

 

Akwa Ibom workers

 

In Akwa Ibom State, the Palliatives Committee set up by the government would commence the distribution of relief packages next week.

 

Chairman of the TUC and member of the committee, Dominic Abang, disclosed that the committee had received 3,000 bags of rice from the FG and was waiting for the state government to augment it with additional 10,000 bags.

 

Abang, who disclosed that the committee has produced a social register, said that necessary modalities have been put in place to ensure a seamless distribution throughout the state.

 

Despite the clamour for quick distribution of the palliatives, the Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed just constituted the committee on Monday.

 

The committee will be headed by his deputy, Auwal Jatau.

 

Mohammed said the distribution of the palliative would commence soon, adding that the distribution committee was set up to come up with the framework of assistance to beneficiaries, including payment of allowances to civil servants, payment of gratuities and pensions to retirees and pensioners, transportation, procurement of food and non-food items.

 

The situation was the same in Kano State where the authorities were yet to get their acts together on the distribution of palliatives to workers and residents.

 

The Kano State NLC Chairman, Kabir Inuwa, disclosed that the civil servants in the state had yet to receive any package.

 

But Sanusi Tofa, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf, said that the government will soon commence distribution of the palliatives.

 

Tofa, who declined to state the exact date for the commencement of the distribution, said the state government will constitute a committee to deliberate on the sharing modalities.

 

Speaking with one of our correspondents, Osun State Commissioner for Information and Public Engagement, Kolapo Alimi, said the food items so far received from the central government was not substantial and the state was still waiting for 600 bags of rice.

 

Alimi also said 2, 600 bags of rice had been received, adding that the government was still working on the template for the distribution of the items.

 

The vice president of the association, Grace Disa, warned that the increased burden on the farmers could lead to food insecurity, severe nutritional deficiencies, high poverty levels, and a further decline in farmers’ already challenging economic situation.

 

The Ekiti State TUC Chairman, Sola Adigun, knocked the N5bn palliative to states and the 3,000 bags distributed to the vulnerable in the state, describing it as insufficient.

 

Illustrating the ways the government could better meet the peoples’ needs, he said, “One of the ways that the labour has been suggesting which Ekiti State Government has started is to make alternative transport systems. If our transport fare is subsidized directly or indirectly, then it will augur well for workers.”

 

Yesterday, Benue State governor, Rev Fr Hyacinth Alia acknowledged receipt of N2bn out of the N5bn promised by FG, disclosing that the balance was underway.

 

The governor disclosed this in Makurdi while flagging off the distribution of Federal Government relief materials to the 2022 flood victims in the state.

 

He revealed that the money would be channelled to transport, food, agriculture, education and human capital sectors.

 

Alia promised that his administration will pay the registration fees for students sitting for the West African Examinations Council and National Examination Council for the 2023/24 session.

 

He explained that the N5bn palliative was divided into two components- N2.4bn was interest-free loan while N2.6bn was a grant.

 

He also disclosed that a total of 5,000 women would receive grants through their various cooperatives while 2,000 youths would be trained in six ICT programmes.

 

Furthermore, the governor said part of the money would be used to pay one month’s pension for state and local government pensioners.

 

He disclosed that the government would supply 100 buses to the state-owned transport company, Benue Links as well as launch a township shuttle in Makurdi, Gboko and Otukpo towns.

 

Speaking further, the governor explained that the state had received five trucks of rice from the FG totalling 3,000 bags, adding that each local government would receive 100 bags.

 

Announcing the sharing formula for the palliatives yesterday, Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State said he raised the number of households targeted for palliatives across the state from 300,000 to 400,000 households.

 

Each household will be made up of six family members to be multiplied by 400,000 which, by implication, moves Zulum’s new target to 2.4m individuals.

 

He had earlier disclosed a target of 300,000 households each with six persons.

 

Speaking while sharing some palliatives at the former Bakasi IDPs camp, he said, ‘’Today, we are here to distribute palliatives to 100,000 vulnerable households under the Presidential Initiative. This is in addition to the 300,000 households Borno State Government had rolled out early this month.”

 

The state’s deputy governor, Umar Usman Kadafur, flagged off a similar distribution exercise in Biu town on Monday.

 

On its part, the Ondo State Government assured it would commence sharing of the palliatives to the vulnerable people in the state in the first week of September.

 

The state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mrs Bamidele Ademola-Olateju stated that vulnerable people, including pensioners would be given N10,000.

 

She stated, “On social intervention for pensioners – starting this August as earlier promised, pensioners will get their N10,000 paid at the same time they are getting their salaries.

 

‘’Also, vulnerable people in our communities will start getting their N10,000 from the first week of September. For public serv

 

ants, the outstanding leave bonus for 2020 will be paid along with their salaries this month.’’

 

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