IDEAS Radio 10 April 2020

IDEAS issues in Palliative Measures during COVID19 

Chukwudi Ezugwu: 99.3 Nigeria Info.  Welcome to the Public Square!  Every Friday from 4 pm all the way till 6 pm.  But before we get into all of the issues, we discuss IDEAS, and who better to share IDEAS with us than Ayo Obe.  On the show today,  I’m certain that a lot of Nigerians want to know, so we have somebody who is going to be speaking from an informed position.  We’re discussing palliatives, and people have spoken about Integrity, Accountability and Responsibility.  I’m certain that many Nigerians want to know how much Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability is there in government’s COVID-19 palliatives and relief?  I hope that at the end of this conversation with Ayo Obe a lot of Nigerians will heave a sigh of relief.  Good evening Ayo Obe, welcome to Nigeria Info.

Ayo Obe: Good evening Chukwudi.  Good evening Chukwudi, how are you?

CE: I’m doing great.  I’m sure that a lot of Nigerians are rubbing their palms now.   Whenever we hear palliatives, especially these COVID times, a lot of people just want to get right into the conversation.  Let’s talk about what it is all about, and why a lot of people are asking for Accountability.

AO: Well it’s obvious, any time that public money is being spent, then there must be Accountability.  When money is raised from the public, there must be Accountability.  … And I think that it’s important that we understand that it’s not because these are COVID palliatives or COVID reliefs that the demand for Accountability arises.  But, because the COVID-19 situation is an emergency situation, then it needs an emergency response and the safeguards that would be in place for other government spending … there … we need to understand that the … that even though we are doing things in a hurry, we still have to do them properly.  And I think it’s important because of the confusion, Chukwudi, that seems to have arisen between COVID relief and the existing Social Investment Programmes of the Federal Government, in particular the Social Invest… the Conditional Cash Transfer programme, which is being done for the poorest of the poor.

I actually did watch the Minister when she appeared before the Joint Committee with the Senate President and the Speaker of the House, and the first thing that struck me was that the Senate President seemed to have confused registration for the N-Power scheme – which is for graduates, employment of graduates.

CE: True.

AO: He seemed to have confused that with the Household Upliftment programme …  because he was saying that: “The poorest of the poor can’t register online” and so on and so forth.  … And my reaction was: Well, you know, have you just discovered that?  It was a bit sort of … it was funny.  So I think that we need … so that there’s a very exacting process for getting the people onto the Social Register of the poor, and then picking out the poorest of the poor to … for the Conditional Cash Transfer.

And the question is that: now a lot of people have been thrown into poverty by … simply by reason of the lockdown, and they won’t be on that Register … and so what … the question was, what is it that the Federal government has for them?  Or if not the Federal Government, what is it that the State Government has, because I think in Lagos State you know, that Lagos State said it has it has its own register of people, and it is also distributing palliatives, not money, but in terms of food …  

CE: Food supplies?

AO: packages and so on.

CE: Yes.  Hello?  Yes I can hear you loud and clear.

AO: Ok.

CE: So now, a lot of people look at the situation and say it appears like the leadership of the National Assembly are championing the cause of the ordinary Nigerian, but from your explanation, it seems like there is a slight misunderstanding.

AO: No I mean … Chukwudi, let me say that yes, the leadership of the National Assembly will want to … I don’t say that they don’t champion the leadership of the poor.  But you know, context is always a very important thing, and you know that the … that there had been this very … a public relations disaster to be frank, which was that in the middle of Nigeria going into lockdown, and people wondering about how, “If I’m a daily paid worker, or I earn my money every day, how am I going to survive?”, and quite frankly, even people who have businesses thinking: “I have to pay my workers so that they can get ready for the lockdown, but where am I going to get money myself?”  … and so that was happening, and this was the problem on Nigerians, on the head of Nigerians.  And then they saw the National Assembly taking delivery of quote and unquote “luxury cars”, and it’s a public relations disaster.  

CE: True.

AO: So I put it into … into that context.  But I also think that when the National Assembly was talking about … to the Minister for Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster and so on, when they were talking to her and they were saying that: “I know better than any Governor what … my constituency, who is poor in my constituency”, I found myself wondering: But do they actually know how the National Social Register is drawn up?  It doesn’t … it’s not about going to Governors and asking them to tell us who is poor in the constituency.  I mean, for a start, in any state, they go to the local government area which has the least resources, so … like all this talk about: Why are they paying them in cash?  When your state doesn’t have resources, it won’t have banks, it won’t have electricity, the issue of your having a phone doesn’t arise because  you can’t charge a phone and run a phone, you’re not within range and so on.  But when a legislator believes that he knows better … because you go into the community, you ask the community itself: Who are the poor people?  But even then, because … as they say, if the community leader happens to be an Oba and he says that they should put him on the list … 

CE: Hmm!

AO: … and then they also, or an Imam, or a church … the pastor, they will put them, but then they go and do enumeration and they say: What do you have in your house?  And then if they discover that you have certain items, then your score on the register of who is going to be paid, may take you out of the range.  So when … so that it’s not a matter of a legislator feeling that they know.  Because for many Nigerians, the actual feeling is that if the legislators are so on ground with the really poor people in their communities, there are some things that they would never do.  There’s some money that they would never spend.  And they are spending it!  So I put it in that.  And then on top of it, … some of these schemes, I always refer to Tracka, because I just refer back to what Uadamen Ilevbaoje told us about how Tracka came to be established by BudgIT, and it was that funds had been raised for flood relief, and the people who had actually been affected by the flood were not getting the money, instead, lists were being drawn up of man-know-man, politician this, that and the other.  And so when a legislator starts saying: We can identify who are the people …  we can help”  You know, at first they were saying: We should have a say, then they say they can help …  it raises a lot of red flags for people, that the … that … please, don’t turn this into a political football.  Let it be purely objective criteria so that we can really start to tackle the problems faced by the really poor, often people with disabilities and so on.  But I think that, as I said, it needs to be separated in the end, from the … from immediate relief that is needed for the COVID-19 crisis that we find ourselves in.  Unfortunately Chukwudi, I wasn’t able to find out how exactly the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs is drawing up the details of those who are to be paid, because … I think I mentioned it last week or the week before last, that we as Nigerians also have some responsibilities in this matter, because Nigerians love awoof …

CE: True, true.  I mean someone called … someone called on the show yesterday to say that he has a bag of rice at home, but he just wants to taste government rice, because he has never tasted it before!

AO: This is what I mean.  I mean we also saw the picture, the video of a woman who used her own money to try and also provide in her community, and people were turning their noses up at what was being done … 

CE: One interesting quotable quote, the lady who said: “I don’t eat ponmo!  I don’t eat ponmo!”

AO: It has become very famous!

CE: For something that was been provided by a citizen like you!

AO: I don’t think we should try to unduly vilify the lady because she’s not unique in Nigeria, it just happens that she was ready to say it on the television.  But … I’ve also seen legislators inviting, or former legislators inviting people to say: “Is this what they feed themselves?  Or is this what they think you deserve?”  You know, and all sorts of things.

Because quite frankly Chukwudi, we don’t know how long this lockdown will last.  Because, while it was declared for two weeks, it would be a tragedy if – after putting ourselves through this problem, and I appreciate that for some, it is a real privation, for others – lazy people like me – it’s a holiday,  but … for many people it’s real privation, but having put ourselves through it, we then have to throw it all away because: Ah, they said two weeks, we can’t spend more than two weeks!  We just have to arrest the spread of this virus.

CE: Very true.

AO: So we don’t know how long it’s going to last.  And if we spend everything now because everybody wants two meat and dodo in their rice, what happens by week three?  So we have to be a little bit … we have to be a little bit …

CE: … careful about how we go about it.

AO: It’s not that we necessarily have to be too understanding, because we always have to put our elected representatives and … whether they are in the executive or whether they are in the judiciary … or sorry, in the legislature, we have to put them on their mark and to let them know that they are being watched.  But we also have to realise that we are in uncharted waters.  I’ve said before that government needs to be very clear and fast about explaining what it’s doing, because … we’ve seen pictures, we’re now seeing some videos of the conditional cash transfer programme being shared.  They’ve taken care to show the money being shared in some states in the south east because of the complaints that the money was only going to the north, and … people cheering and so on.  Now the reason why people are cheering is because the Ministry had stopped paying those people who were expecting that money since the beginning of the year, so of course if they are now being paid their arrears, why won’t they cheer?  

But those … that is not the same thing as a new programme that they are supposed to be … or new measures that they are supposed to be bringing out for the newly poor or the Lockdown poor, and … every State Government has responsibilities.  We saw the Governor of Oyo State also expressing his dissatisfaction, but I think what’s expected, is that whatever dissatisfaction one has with the existing programmes, you need to understand them and how they are drawn up … 

CE: True.

AO: … so that you don’t find yourself doing double payment … to people who are already on the National Social Register and getting money from there, and then you as the State Government are acting as if you don’t know what is happening there, and  then you start paying the same people: that wouldn’t make sense.  Because there are some people who are really in need.  So this is the point that I think has to be made.  The obligation to account does not disappear because there’s an emergency.

CE: Very true.  Now thank you so much Ayo Obe for the insight and I’m very certain that many Nigerians now know what the situation is, and when we talk about Accountability Responsibility, we would ask the hard-hitting questions and demand answers from our representatives.  Thank you so much.

AO: Thank you and I just want to wish everybody – not just this Good Friday – but to wish them a Happy Easter holiday, even if it’s totally indistinguishable from the other days that we have been having.  Thank you so much Chukwudi.

CE: Alright, thank you very much.