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Gbenga would not take it easy with whoever he was speaking with on the receiving end of the telephone. He raised his voice in rage and displeasure over a perceived injustice meted out on him by leaders of the All Progressive congress in his ward. “I worked for this party during the election; now you people are sharing packages and I am being sidelined. What do I tell those that joined me in voting for this government? I will go to that man’s house and scatter everything”, he blurted in Yoruba language.
It was the evening of Saturday 24th April, 2020, the day the government of Ogun state began sharing the second tranche of palliatives in the state. Gbenga was not only furious at those who were contracted to share the packages in his area, he was also angry at himself for forgetting that the said Saturday was the day party loyalists would get their booty from packages meant for the poor and vulnerable in the state.
In an attempt to get the full gist, PLATFORM TIMES accosted Gbenga to seek answers to relevant questions concerning the affair. “Take it easy Bros Gbenga. What happened?”
“Just leave me alone. This people think we are foolish abi? This is my only hope. I have been waiting for this day. The first time they distributed the food items, they said it was not our turn; now they are telling me it is for some old members. Let me first go and see the chairman.” He retorted before buzzing off in anger.”
Gbenga, who is in his early 30s, is not only poor, but also jobless. He has been doing menial jobs before the lock down, but now he has no means of survival. His membership status in the APC places him ahead of millions of residents who hold no membership position in the party, yet his leaders still cornered his own share of stimulus packages. What then is the fate of non-members of the ruling party in getting a deserved share?
Ogun state, including Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory has been on lock down for over 20 days on the order of President Muhammadu Buhari as a result of the pandemic Covid-19. While Lagos is locked down for its large population, Ogun only suffers the same fate due to its proximity to the center of excellence. Meanwhile, in order to mitigate the hardship that may ensue as a result of the lock down, the President ordered the distribution of food items to states that have recorded cases of Covid-19. The federal government reportedly approved 70,000 metric tonnes of grains for distribution to the poor and vulnerable.
The minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq said on Tuesday, April 21 that about 279 trucks of grains had been distributed to Lagos, Ogun and Abuja. Her words, “So far, we have deployed 279 trucks of grains to the three affected states locked down by the federal government and we are making plans for the next deployment to other frontline states.”
PLATFORM TIMES reported on April 17, that Ogun state governor, Dapo Abiodun received 12 trucks of rice and garri from the federal government. This is after he had received five trucks of rice and one truck of vegetable oil a week before.
The governor himself admitted that the first phase of distribution was fraught with alleged diversion. He told newsmen in his residence in Iperu that he had learnt his lessons from the first phase and would ensure improved distribution method in the second phase.
“We have learnt some lessons from that experience and these will guide the next phase that will benefit additional 80,000 households of about 400,000 individuals, comprising of the elderly, the poor and vulnerable. That is an on-going process that will ultimately reach 500,000 households or 3 million individuals,” the governor said.
Even though he threatened that further diversion of the palliatives would be treated as “crime against the state”, yet the practice persisted in the second phase as numerous testimonies gathered by PLATFORM TIMES show that leaders and members of APC in the state have hijacked the packages.
Despite the many trucks claimed to have been shared by the state governor, many residents, old and young still groan in hunger. Respondents who spoke to PLATFORM TIMES alleged that a considerably better share of the items was hijacked for members of the APC while the rest was distributed in meager quantity to ordinary people.
Arewa, a student of Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta lives with her parents and three siblings along Abiola way in Abeokuta South Local government area. She described what was distributed to her family as “a token” which they had to give out to a poorer family, since they have enough to survive.
“My family received a token that was barely enough to feed – a derica of rice, beans and garri, four cubes of maggi, one laziz groundnut oil and one sachet of tomato paste. We had to give it out to another family that needed it more.”
She also confirmed that some items were shared among party members that never got to other members of the community. “Just few days ago, we heard that they (APC members) shared about 48,000 pieces of eggs amongst themselves at the local government secretariat, without sharing it out to other people.”
Michael Oladipupo, who lives with his parents in Ibara area of the state capital said, “Those that received were aged people (60 years and above) and those that are party members”. Micheal shared a picture of items distributed to aged people and he alleged that only members of the APC in his area got a pack of noodles each. The picture shows a sachet of tomato paste, 6 cubes of seasoning and a bag containing cassava flakes (garri). “Only some APC members got the Indomie pack in addition to other items shared,” he said.
“I am hungry” – 84-year-old blind woman cries out
With claims that most recipients of the palliatives are poor elderly citizens, PLATFORM TIMES visited some remote communities in Abeokuta, including Ago-Ika, Oja-Igbo and Ikereku to hear from these old people and ask how they are faring in the lock down.
Looking hungry and haggard, 84-year-old Safiatu Mustapha is blind and is yet to receive any package from the government. She is also worried for her children who have stopped going to work and therefore unable to provide adequately for her as they used to do.
“As you can see I cannot see clearly, I have not received anything from the government since the lockdown began. Government is insensitive to our plight because they did not allow the children that take care of me to go to work. They did not provide any package to cushion this effect; they just abandoned us and leave us to our faith. To eat now has become a difficult thing for me because there is no money and I cannot see. I am surprise you are even asking me about stimulus package, I did not receive any Stimulus Package from government.” She said.
75-year-old Alhaji Kamorudeen Balogun expressed his anger towards the state governor. He alleged that the distribution of stimulus packages had been politicized while many poor and vulnerable people were left hungry.
“I did not receive any palliative from the government. In fact, I am angry with the government of Dapo Abiodun because I have heard different stories from radio that they are giving stimulus package to aged people, but I am surprise that they have turned it into politics, if you are not part of them, you cannot benefit. This is Ramadan period, I don’t do anything, I am vulnerable, but government has abandoned us; before, I still used to go out and look for what I can eat, but with the lockdown I can’t even leave my house. It is annoying that despite different publicity, we did not receive anything from the government.”
The narrative is the same with Kokumo Adeniji, 70-year-old, who also denied receiving any package from the government. She complained of hunger and hoped that the government would remember him and not let him die in the lock down.
“The government needs to come to our aid so that we will not die of hunger during this COVID-19, it has not been easy even when there is no COVID, but now that we are having this pandemic, I think government need to do more for the aged. I did not receive any palliative from any government and I am not part of those that benefited from the cash money transfer. As old as I am, I still try to look for how I will survive, but since this lockdown even to survive has become a challenge to many of us and I hope government will just assist us and provide with something so that we will not die during this period,” he said.
A quote credited to Mahatma Ghandi says “there are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world with over 90 million people living in multi-dimensional poverty. The pandemic Covid-19 worsens the situation as many have lost their means of livelihood, yet the government has failed to attend to the most basic of their needs. In what tone do we preach safety and peace to these people whose stomachs ache for just a loaf?
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