Stimulus Palliatives and Reality on Ground

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In this report, Chiemelie Ezeobi analyses the stimulus palliatives released by the Lagos State government to cushion the effect of the 14-day lockdown and the realities on ground

“It was a slow day in the small Saskatchewan town of Pumphandle, and streets are deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt, and everybody is living on credit. A tourist visiting the area drives through town, stops at the motel, and lays a $100 bill on the desk saying he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs to pick one for the night.

“As soon as he walks upstairs, the motel owner grabs the bill and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher. The butcher takes the $100 and runs down the street to retire his debt to the pig farmer.

“The pig farmer takes the $100 and heads off to pay his bill to his supplier, the Co-op. The guy at the Co-op takes the $100 and runs to pay his debt to the local prostitute, who has also been facing hard times and has had to offer her “services” on credit.

“She rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill with the hotel owner. The hotel proprietor then places the $100 back on the counter so the traveler will not suspect anything. At that moment the traveler comes down the stairs, states that the rooms are not satisfactory, picks up the $100 bill and leaves.

“No one produced anything. No one earned anything.However, the whole town is now out of debt and now looks to the future with a lot more optimism. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a Stimulus package works.”

Although the author of the above illustration is unknown, it seemingly depicts the story of the palliative package being distributed across Lagos to cushion the effect of the 14-days lockdown initiated by the federal government and backed by Lagos State government.

The Lockdown

Given the devastating effect of COVID-19 on nations across the world, its respective governments are taking stringent measures to combat the virus including imposing stay-at-home orders. But this is not without making provisions for palliatives for its citizens.

On Sunday, March 29, the federal government announced a lockdown. President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun – the three most affected states in Nigeria, which was to take effect from 11 pm on Monday, March 30, 2020.

Admitting that it would cause major inconveniences to many people, he however added that “these are sacrifices we should all be ready to make for the greater good of the country”.

During his nationwide speech, the president said the the shutdown was

“based on the advice of the Federal Ministry of Health and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC)”.

Nevertheless, he said some businesses have been exempted from the shutdown, they include; hospitals and all related medical establishments as well as organisations in healthcare-related manufacturing and distribution; food processing, distribution, and retail companies; petroleum distribution and retail entities; power generation, transmission, and distribution companies; private security companies and; telecommunication companies, broadcasters, print, and electronic media (conditional).

Reacting to President Buhari’s directive, the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu said: “We will use this containment period to identify, trace and isolate all individuals that have come into contact with confirmed cases. We will ensure the treatment of confirmed cases while restricting further spread to other states.”

Stimulus Palliatives

Few days after the stay-at-home directive to residents, in order to curtail the spread of COVID-19, Sanwo-Olu unveiled economic stimulus package for the indigent and the most vulnerable in the society. The stimulus, which comes in food packs, was to be distributed to every local government in the state to cushion the effect of the lockdown.

Speaking after an on-the-spot assessment of one of the state-owned food banks, located inside the premises of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives in Agege, Sanwo-Olu said the economic stimulus will reduce the burden of the temporary economic downturn on the citizens caused by the outbreak of COVID-19.

He added that the food packs, which were put together by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives will reach the most vulnerable communities and households across Lagos, saying that the indigents who rely on daily wages will be given priority.

He said: ‘‘We are here for an on-the-spot assessment, of our readiness, to see how we can fast track some of our stimulus package for our citizens. We are all aware that this is a trying time for our citizens and since the partial drop in economic activities, our government deemed it necessary to reach out to the vulnerable ones in the society.

“ These people are those that fall below the pyramid, the aged and the physically challenged who need to move from one part of the city to another for them to have a living. We felt that as a government, the least we can do is to identify them and give them these stimulus packages immediately.’’

The governor stated that the package will touch at least 200,000 thousand households in the first phase, saying the food packs are produced for a size of six people per household and would last for at least fourteen days.

“We have packaged dry food stimulus for about two hundred thousand families in the first instance for a household of husband, wife and about four children. We would be giving bags of rice, bags of beans, garri, bread, dry pepper and we are trying to see if we can add water and some elements of vitamin C.

“Each ration, we believe is going to be able to last them at least minimum 14 days just so our advocacy around stay at home, stay with your loved ones will be respected. This is a catalytic initiative of our administration with the hope that well-meaning corporate organisations and private individuals can step up to complement the efforts of the government.”

The state Commissioner of Agriculture, Prince Gbolahan Lawal earlier said the government would be working with the existing database of the state – using the Lagos State Social register and 4000 community development association register in 377 wards.

Realities on Ground

But despite the well-heeled instruction from the governor, its distribution has been rife with controversies. Lagosians have faulted the distribution pattern of the stimulus package, alleging that it is not reaching the people it is intended for. According to them, the actual package labeled ‘Lagos State Government COVID-19 Emergency Food Response’, negates what the governor promised.

They also accused those distributing the package of bias, adding that they give only to card carrying members of their party and not to all residents as instructed by the governor.

Videos abound on the social media space about the distribution process and the sparse quantity given to residents. Another anomaly was the fact that the sharing process made a mess of the social distancing policy put in place to reduce the spread of the virus.

The social distancing policy states that all must be at least two feet from another. At each distribution point, a mammoth crowd was always seen, most without any protective device on. In trying to ameliorate the situation, the distributors have even started door to door sharing, but this has not in any way stopped the recipients from not gathering together.

According to the Founder, Women Arise Initiative, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, the methods adopted in distributing the relief materials have also become an issue.

“The predisposition of some of those put in charge to cut corners to compromise the integrity of the exercise, as well as divert relief materials even at the risk of their own personal safety also becomes worrisome,” she added.

Meanwhile, one of the major challenges hampering the palliative is the sparse quantity given to recipients. But the government insist that at the point of leaving the dispatch centre to the wards, the packages are complete, which then points accusing fingers at the middlemen.

Recently, some youths in Agege turned bread, one of the stimulus package given to them by Speaker of the House, Mudashiru Obasa, to football. To alleviate the suffering, Obasa had distributed distributed a stimulus package to his constituent members, which includes 3.500 bags of 2kg rice, 1,500 packs of table water and sanitisers at his constituency office in Agege. But the angry youths had turned it to football on the grounds that a loaf of bread won’t hold water for the teeming hungry families. In a now-viral video, the youths claimed that the speaker gave the N100 size of the bread for four persons in a building to share.

Also, in Alimosho Local Government Area (LGA) over 8000 stimulus packs were delivered to the LGA/LCDAs. But some of the recipients claimed they were given a stimulus pack per compound.

In Zone 3 in Obadore, Alimosho LGA, the CDA chairman in a video alleged that the 5kg of rice and beans with two satchets of tomato paste was all he got for his community.

In Ijora, one the CDA chairmen alleged that his community got five Bagco bags that contained 5kg of rice and 5kg of beans each. According to him, he is supposed to share that to the 3000 residents of his community.

Another CDA chairman in Akowonjo alleged that

a bag of 25kg rice and a loaf of bread were given to all residents of his CDA. In Agbado Oke LCDA, the CDA Ileke also complained about the sparse package he got, which is to be shared among the residents of the 600 house in the LCDA.

Clarification from LASG

Reacting to the legions of videos and pictures circulating on social media, the Special Adviser on Agric, Abisola Olusanya reposted a video on her Twitter handle to show what a stimulus pack contains, which buttresses what the governor said each pack should contain.

Olusanya said: “This is how the components of a pack of the Lagos State COVID-19 Emergency Food response stimulus looks like. Anything otherwise is not from Lagos State Government.”

Also, according to the Senior Special Assistant to the governor on New Media, Jubril Gawat, the content of each palliative should be “5Kg rice, 5Kg garriand around 3-4kg of Beans … in each pack … All packs are sealed”.

But given the continuous complaints that have continued to riddle the social media space, the state government on Monday made further clarifications about who the stimulus is meant for.

According to a post on the governor’s social media handle, the stimulus is targeted at the indigents and vulnerable.

The statement read: “In the past few days, the social media have been awash with biased opinions about the welfare package initiative of the Lagos State government to support the indigent and the vulnerable.

“The welfare package was one of the various decisions taken by the Lagos State Executive Council to ease the discomfort thrust on Lagosians by the lockdown announced by the federal government, especially on those who earn daily income.

“It has become necessary to reiterate the modus of distribution of the welfare package as well as the category of beneficiaries of the government’s compassionate gesture, which is deliberately being distorted by mischief-makers.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the first stage of the welfare package was designed to cater for 200,000 households, comprising of a father, mother and four children across the 20 local governments and the 37 local council development authorities.

“It is a misconception that it was meant for all Lagosians. No. All aged residents who are above 60 years old and registered with the Lagos State Residents’ Registration Agency, LASRRA, were sent text messages and requested to confirm the accuracy of their details, such as name and home address. They have since responded to the text messages so as to benefit from the package.

“The food relief materials for the above 60 group are being delivered directly to the beneficiaries by representatives of the State Government based on the data with the Lagos State Residents Registration Agency.

The other category of beneficiaries comprises the indigent and vulnerable within the various communities at the grassroots.”

Unanswered Questions

If the stimulus package is meant for indigent and the vulnerable, does it mean the distributors did not get the memo? If they did, as they are sharing the packages to CDA chairmen, have they at any point clarified that it’s simply meant for the vulnerable and indigent? Some of the contents of the package do not have what the governor promised for each, so at what point were they reduced? Who regulates what is being shared? How can the stimulus pack last a family for two week? Is a second ration coming? All these questions must be answered if the controversies surrounding the distribution of the stimulus package will be put to rest.