Politics of COVID-19 Relief Items in Ogun State

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Dapo Abiodun

Kayode Fasua writes that alleged favouritism in the distribution of COVID-19 relief items may have renewed bitter rivalry among political groups in Ogun State

It was like a daze of the locust. A fully loaded delivery van had progressed on the Oke-Shaje road, off Elega, in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, at the speed of a snail. The crowd of locals in that area that swarmed it also helped create the needed mood for everyone to realise that the Ogun State Government’s relief package in the season of Covid-19 had arrived.

But in the rowdy muttering of jabbers by those desperate to get their respective share of the largesse also dawned, the brutal truth that not half of the crowd stood the chance of going home with anything. At the Oremeji juncture along the stretch, the much-valued van detoured and the leaders of the Community Development Association (CDA) strolled out majestically, to give their ruling on the sharing formula.

The items brought included bags of rice, of beans, of salt, and packs of various condiments. A list was thus released in a jiffy, comprising the names of prospective beneficiaries. That was the beginning of crisis. Some of the residents smelt a rat in the compilation of the list, alleging that it was designed to feed only members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who worked for Governor Dapo Abiodun in the last election, and starve those who were led out of the party to vote for Mr. Adekunle Akinlade, the pet candidate of then Governor Ibikunle Amosun, under the make-shift political party called Allied Peoples Movement (APM).

Seething with rage, some suspected Amosun loyalists in the area insisted that the food items must be shared equally between the respective loyalists of the two Ogun State’s political strongmen, or be returned to base. Eventually, some elders came around and pacified the agitators, assuring that the freebies would get to every home in the long run.

Elsewhere in Ifo local council area of the state, it was yet another suspicion between the APC and some members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The state’s deputy public relations officer of a faction of the PDP, Alhaji Moshood Salami, who resides in the Iju-Aga area of the council, told THISDAY that his party men were initially invited to the council secretariat at Ifo, to come take delivery of food items meant for their members.

“But to our amazement, on getting to the local government secretariat under a difficult condition, we were told to go back home as the items were meant only for the poor and vulnerable.

“Who told them that we don’t have the poor and vulnerable in our party,” he fumed.

However, it would seem that former Governor Amosun, who is now a serving senator on the APC platform, would prefer a top-level dialogue with Governor Abiodun on the Covid-19 food distribution suspicions, rather than encourage any friction, bearing the fact that the two politicians are now back in the same political party.

Giving indication to this in a chat with THISDAY, Amosun’s spokesman, Mr. Azeez Alani, said, “We would not like to engage the governor in a war of words or pass any comment on the issue, since we are back in the same party with him.” On the morality of segmenting the distribution of food items in the face of socio-economic restrictions occasioned by the Coronavirus pandemic, Alani still insisted, “No comment, please.”

But clearing the haze, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Abiodun, Mr. Kunle Somorin, said it was only sheer mischief that could make anyone politicise the good intention of the state’s administration, in bringing relief to people who had been holed up at home.

The initial items distributed, he said, were meant for the poor and the vulnerable in the society, hence government’s insistence on direct distribution to the intended beneficiaries. As the lockdown progressed, he assured, other people would benefit from the palliative foods.

“Government’s attention had been drawn to some video clips circulating on the social media purportedly showing some scanty items being distributed to Community Development Councils/Associations for onward distribution to their members.
He said these video clips were not only mischievous but deliberate concoctions and distortions to play dirty politics at a time of a grave global crisis.

“For avoidance of doubt, the Ogun State Government’s relief food pack contains the following seven items: 5kg of rice, 5kg of beans, 5kg of garri, salt, seasoning cubes, four numbers of vegetable oil sachets, and five numbers of tomato puree sachets.

“The pack is branded with Ogun State logo for ease of identification. A pack is meant for one household, not for a street or CDA.

“Five hundred thousand poor and vulnerable households are targeted in all, covering an estimated three million poor and vulnerable individuals in the state. The distribution has started with the first batch of 100,000 households across the 20 local governments in the state on a ward-by-ward basis, and in phases of 250 to 300 households per ward.

“This phased approach is adopted because of the logistics of supply (at a time everyone is scrambling to buy available food items), repackaging and distribution to all the local governments and subsequently to the intended beneficiaries.

“The government wishes to reassure the citizens that the distribution is an on-going process, and that the items will reach all the mapped beneficiaries in due course; starting with the elderly, the poor and the vulnerable,” Somorin clarified.

Meanwhile, the Association of People with Disabilities (APWD) in Ogun State has complained that the relief items distributed by the state government have not been reaching their members, especially the blind and the lame.

Speaking with THISDAY in Ijebu-Ode, its state chairman, Mr. Abiodun Adebesin, urged Governor Abiodun to wade in by making a special arrangement to cater to the need of the physically challenged residents.

“The truth is that, once the physically able members of the public get hold of these items, they don’t remember us in any way.

“When there was no lockdown, we were living a life of social neglect and living from hand to mouth; how about now that nothing is working, owing to the Covid-19 lockdown? Our fate is better imagined,” Adebesin demurred.

He urged the state government to relate with their association in distributing relief items meant for its members across the state, even as he applauded the administration of Governor Abiodun, “for having a human face”.

In a similar breath, the leadership of Living Faith Church Worldwide (Winners’ Chapel International) has authorised donations to the Lagos and Ogun State governments, in the fight against the Coronavirus scourge in Nigeria.

A statement issued by Professor Sheriff Folarin, Chairman, Editorial and Media Board of the Church, said the Living Faith Church had also put together, medical resources and food items as part of its phased and continuous support to the Nigerian authorities in taming the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and biting effect of the lockdown on poor citizens of the country.

“The global Coronavirus pandemic has reached dangerous dimensions, with a spike in infection numbers around the world, and inevitable adverse effects on global economy and on virtually all areas of human endeavour.

“The Living Faith Church, as a faith-based organisation with a global outreach, wishes to register its support, in entirety, to the Nigerian government and global efforts to win the war against this unseen but common enemy of mankind,” he disclosed.

Among the medical and health resources yielded to the Lagos and Ogun State governments respectively, are two state-of-the-art ambulances with capacity for first-aid test and treatment of those infected or on emergency resulting from the infection.

“Other items include 20 cartons of latex hand gloves (10 boxes per carton), 10 cartons of disposable face masks (40 boxes per carton), 40 pieces of infrared thermometer (gun-shaped type), 500 pieces of personal protective device (PPE) Hazmat suit, 2 boxes of pulse oximeter (10 per box), and two cartons of blood pressure monitor (10 per carton),” Folarin disclosed.

Taking delivery of the ambulances and other medical items recently, Presiding Bishop, David Oyedepo, maintained that the church would continue to render medical, material and spiritual support to the government and the people to ensure that the situation in Nigeria did not explode or become intractable.

The statement noted that Bishop Oyedepo personally upholds the principle of giving and catering for the needy, which are the hallmarks of the ministry under his leadership.

“Also received are food items, which are meant for immediate distribution as palliatives to the less-privileged, who are likely to be the worst hit by the lockdown.

“These are 400 bags of rice, 150 bags of beans, 400 bags of garri, and 500 gallons of vegetable oil, among other items,” the Church’s spokesman informed.

QUOTE

That was the beginning of crisis. Some of the residents smelt a rat in the compilation of the list, alleging that it was designed to feed only members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who worked for Governor Dapo Abiodun in the last election, and starve those who were led out of the party to vote for Mr. Adekunle Akinlade, the pet candidate of then Governor Ibikunle Amosun, under the make-shift political party called Allied Peoples Movement (APM)