In the course of the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged a new challenge of mitigating the impact of its devastation of the daily lives of any community which it invades. This, the world has responded to, through administration of palliatives to victims of the scourge which by current account, pervades the entire world and has spread to over 185 countries. It is therefore easy to imagine the humongous scope of relief that is required to assuage the agonies of people from country to country. Depending on several factors, respective countries adopted palliative options that matched their local circumstances to assuage the discomfort of their citizenry. In the same fashion various interests in Nigeria comprising the Federal, state and local governments as well as private sector operators, religious bodies, NGOs and others, adopted palliative options that suited their respective circumstances. Interestingly however, the public sector of the palliative regime in Nigeria betrays interestingly sordid angles of the country’s politics, which even COVID-19 in all its viciousness, may have failed to tame.
At the onset of the COVID-19 outrage as well as the attendant restrictions of social distancing and lockdowns, the Federal and state governments rolled out series of remediation measures aimed at containing the worst forms of privations for the most vulnerable Nigerians. Some of these measures included moratorium on repayment of loans by federal government development finance institutions to the less endowed persons as well as tax concessions; with the star features of the palliatives being the actual disbursement of cash and material provisions to 3.5 million Nigerian needy. Not surprisingly, while reports of these exercise from the administrators on these palliatives tell of progress, protests have from the same exercises, some designated also trail such exercises over the instances of foul play and lack of transparency in them.
In the determination of some Nigerians to play the shrew whenever the opportunity to do so arises, numerous reports have been circulating over inanities perpetrated by such officials, assigned to the exercises across the country, which even featured some ordinarily unexpected agencies. For instance leading the rank of alleged diverters of palliatives is the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development with Minister as Sadiya Farouk, which is contending with allegations of less than transparent transactions, in the administration of its complement of palliative measures to the needy. Its problems are associated with the suspect process of identifying and registering the designated needy across the country, even before COVID-19 pandemic. Allegations that the registration of beneficiaries favoured members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have trailed the current COVID-19 relief exercise under its statutory brief.
In the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) the Minister of State Dr Ramatu Aliyu had to resort to the esoteric, by placing curses on government officials who were diverting material palliatives to unauthorised locations and interests. Good job by the Minister one will say, even as success there depends on how spiritually sensitive the thieving officials are. Perhaps she can also up her game by making the FCTA to recall some of their retired but not tired doctors, nurses and other health professionals, to come on board at this time of shut-down induced, escalating health challenges in the territory.
Meanwhile, among the dramatic dimensions in this palliative diversion drama, are the reported ongoing probe of instances of palliative diversion by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), as well as the Chanchanga Local Government Council in Niger State. So pervasive is the incidence of diversion of palliatives that even in the mega palliatives being executed by members of Nigeria’s billionaires’ club featuring corporate heavy weights like the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Godwin Emefiele, Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote and Herbert Wigwe – Managing Director of Access Bank Plc, among others, the immediate guarantee they adopted for the success of their venture, is to brand whatever material they shall distribute, to prevent diversion of same to the markets.
Incidentally the disposition of substituting personal interest for the public weal and the associated winner takes all mentality which drives the palliative diversion syndrome, did not arise with the COVID-19 dispensation. It has been the operational calculus in Nigeria as far as the distribution of any public largesse is concerned. In a country where sentiments rather than objectivity and rationality trump all other considerations, the distribution of palliatives has so far been conducted according to any subjective criterion that confers advantage simultaneously to both administrator and would-be beneficiary. Where political persuasion will serve, the membership of the ruling political party of a would-be beneficiary determines his or her good fortune. Any non-member of the ruling political party in a designated location, stands little or no chance of benefitting from any palliative no matter the severity of the person’s personal circumstances. Same with religious persuasion or even ethnicity. Little wonder that since the exercise began, Nigeria’s public space has been riddled with tales of a palliative regime whose awry features, accentuate the good, bad and ugly faces of political tendencies in the country.
The critical lessons from the ongoing palliative regime is that, it is gradually becoming a political tool for punishing persons of dissenting views and rewarding faithful acolytes. Such a tendency if allowed to fester unduly, is likely to deepen public mistrust in government and lead to open resistance of government administrative measures. It needs to be recalled that until the COVID -19 pandemic hit Nigeria, the country was virtually sitting on a keg of gunpowder, with a welter of centrifugal political tendencies straining it at its soul; all because of the politics of nepotism and winner takes all.
The coming of the pandemic could even qualify as a blessing in disguise; as it diverted the attention of all political gladiators in the country to the basic challenge of personally surviving the virus first, and thereby providing the much needed hiatus for Nigerians to reassess their individual positions in the country, and that of the country in the world. Among the takeaways from the pandemic is that Nigeria’s politics needs to change, if the aspiration to remain in united in diversity shall be realised. That can only be achieved when the politics of what affects one affect all prevails.