OPINION: These Palliatives Are Not Getting There, By Taiwo Adisa

Last week, I witnessed a scene play out in one of the states where agents of the government were busy distributing palliatives to the “poorest of the poor” in line with the lingo that got popularised in recent years by the Muhammadu Buhari administration.

An open-roof truck, call it a minivan was making its way into the premises of a local government, loaded with bags of palliative items. On queue were a few men, women, and children who had apparently been alerted to come and receive the palliatives in the aftermath of the removal of fuel subsidy. Some area boys were also on hand, though they refused to join the queue. As the vehicle conveying the items got close to the queue, a sort of commotion was ignited by the area boys. One of them jumped into the truck, apparently to take care of himself before the vehicle could come to a halt.

Attempts to chase him out of the truck were rebuffed. The truck driver sensed an attack, put his vehicle into reverse gear, and moved out of the local government premises. As he was driving away from the waiting gang of palliative collectors, the area boy in the truck was busy throwing bags of the palliative items to his men on hand. Some of them were on motorbikes. Others soon joined him inside the truck and confusion became bigger than expected. The commotion left the vulnerable women and children empty handed and the truck driver eventually managed to take the few bags that survived the looting to safety.

That happened in a state that attempted to justify the payment of N5 billion palliative largesse given by the Federal Government. So far the government at the centre said it had released N2bn of the N5billion approved by the National Economic Council. At the end of the exercise in that local government secretariat (name withheld), the men and women who had faithfully joined the queue were the losers. I was even surprised to see that a horde of Okada riders usually trail the palliative trucks, carrying boys who would readily ignite crisis so as to ensure they were able to loot the items.

That much was the scenario that played out in most states that have so far distributed the much talked about palliatives in recent weeks except for the points where the ceremonial flag off of the distribution was performed by either the governor or his designated official.

So how does that address the misery of the poorest of the poor and where does it leave the question of reliable data that informed the decision to transfer the burden of palliatives to the states in the first instance?

I recall that not a few Nigerians rejected the idea of distribution of N8,000 to N12 million households from the planned $800 million World Bank loan mooted by the administration of President Bola Tinubu. The major issue that made Nigerians reject the idea was that the effect of the billions spent in that manner through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management during the immediate past administration was not felt by the citizens. Now that the states were saddled with the task of distributing the subsidy largesse via a saner process, what happened to the data collection process and why are we having haphazard distribution being hijacked by area boys?
I am sure if we are to conduct a survey of the actual beneficiaries of the said palliatives, no state will be able to provide a database that would readily provide verifiable contacts that can be classified as the poorest of the poor. I want to believe that the major beneficiaries of that exercise are those who procured the food items and those who re-bagged them as well as the truck drivers who simply do away with remnants of the looted bags.

But how did we get to this point where tokenism in service delivery is ruling the waves as our people are reduced to beggars? I should think that the idea of palliatives rose from the global experience in the wake of Covid-19, which at the height of its majesty, left most of the country (and the world) practically locked down. Then, countries of the West, East, and where ever, had to find ways to feed their citizens, aside from providing other manners of palliatives. I do not, however, understand how the idea of food palliatives bode with the effects of fuel subsidy removal.

Whereas the effects of Covid-19 are temporary, the resultant effect of fuel subsidy removal is a permanent scar on the individual and national economy. On paper, a citizen is given 10kg of foodstuffs as a soothing balm. But that cannot cure an injury that is permanent in nature. Some elders say it is better to teach people how to fish rather than give them fish to eat.

The removal of fuel subsidy has seen prices of foodstuffs and items jumping beyond the roof. Transport fares had tripled as inflation continued to bite. So what can the 10kg foodstuff do to take away the pain considering that on a daily basis, the man who has just eaten the rice palliatives will have to pay the exorbitant transport fares to his workplace? Perhaps the whole idea of palliatives should have been well thought out by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to the extent that transportation challenges and wage issues are better dealt with.

The Oxford Dictionary describes palliative as “a medicine or form of medical care that relieves symptoms without dealing with the cause of the condition.” It further defines palliatives as “an action that is intended to alleviate a problem without addressing the underlying cause” and further provides a usage by stating: “At present available treatments are only palliatives and no curative drugs are available yet.”

If palliatives are merely scratching the issue, where are the permanent solutions? The government knows the source of the crisis; it must tug at it rather than attempt to put a temporary smile on the face of its citizens who will still have to confront the harsh economic reality out there.
The government must end the importation of refined fuel by whatever means, including begging Dangote to refine it for us in a special arrangement. It must sell the moribund refineries in Port Harcourt, Kaduna, and Warri so as to find some breather for the Naira and lessen inflation. Those are the real palliatives that can save the masses.

(Source: News Breaking Naija)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *