COVID-19 Palliatives: FG Shifts Attention to Urban Poor, People Living with Disabilities

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*To select beneficiaries by account balance, mobile network

*Account holders with balance of N5000 and below to benefit

*People who top up their phones with N100 and below to also benefit

By Omololu Ogunmade

The distribution of palliatives to the poor and vulnerable in the society in this second round of lockdown will focus on the poor in the urban centres, Humanitarian Affairs Minister, Sadiya Farouq, has said.

Briefing State House reporters in the late hours of Monday, Farouq said in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to increase the number of beneficiaries of palliatives by one million, to cushion the effects of lockdown in the fight against COVID-19, this second round of distribution will focus largely on the poor and people living with disabilities in urban settings.

According to her, the modus operandi will involve the distribution of money under the conditional cash transfer scheme as well as food items.
“You are aware that the President in his broadcast of Monday 13th April, directed that we expand the beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer by one million and in this regard, we are going to focus more now on the urban poor.

“These are people who depend on the informal sector to earn their livelihood; they are daily wage earners and these are the people that we are really going to focus more on as well as people living with disabilities,” she said.

Asked what would be the criteria for selection of the beneficiaries, Farouq said her ministry had adopted three options for the cash transfers.
She listed the options as the use of bank verification numbers (BVN) of account holders to select persons who have N5,000 and below in their accounts and people who recharge their phones with not more than N100 as well as social registers.

“Well, we have three options. One, we are going to use the national social register that we already have. “Two, we are also going to focus on the urban poor as I mentioned, by using their verified BVN accounts to get them, that is, people that have an account balance of N5, 000 and below.
“We are also using the mobile networks, to know people that top up the credit units for their phones with maybe N100 or less. Those are also people that we consider to be poor and vulnerable.

“So, these are the three options that we are exploring and I am sure that by the time we get this data, we will be able to give this intervention,” she added.
However, the minister said only 25 percent of the affected population in each of the two states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) would be covered in the current arrangement, explaining that the scope may be enlarged later.

“Let me also say that we have a standard. Twenty-five percent of the total population is what we will take out. It cannot go round everywhere, but we are starting from somewhere.

“Twenty-five percent of let’s say the location of Lagos State, for example, is what is going to benefit from this intervention that we are doing. Going forward, we might expand it but this is what is obtainable for now,” she explained.

On the distribution of food items, Farouq said the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management would handover the relief items to state governments, following the unpalatable experiences of members of the distribution team in the last two weeks.

According to her, some of them were mobbed in the course of the distribution, and to avoid a repeat of such a bitter experience, the items would just be handed over to the state governments for onward distribution to their people.

The minister added that different groups set up by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, including the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) would sort out the distribution.

“On the issue of palliatives in terms of food relief, we have an emergency response plan in place. In the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, we have different functional groups.

“One of such groups is that which deals with mass care, logistics and security, to be led by the National Emergency Management Agency under the ministry and they have a structure from national, states, down to local governments, where the various state emergency agencies and other security agencies are involved in this distribution.

“So far, we have already done the distribution together with the state authorities in these two states affected by the lockdown, together with the FCT but going forward, when we are going to give these food items, we are going to hand them over to the states because issues have come up, as at yesterday (Monday).

“Our people were mobbed. Some of them were attacked in the course of carrying out this assignment. So, the general conclusion is that we give this food relief directly to the state governments for them to distribute to the beneficiaries,” she said.

The minister also shed more light on the N21 billion donation to Nigeria by the European Union (EU) to assist the country in the fight against COVID-19 on Tuesday.
According to her, the donation did not come in cash but as medical equipment and provision of structures aimed at facilitating efforts in fighting the deadly disease.

“This donation is coming in kind, basically, by way of medical equipment and also some structures to be put in place as a response to this COVID-19 pandemic.
“In that intervention, there are also humanitarian issues that would be addressed. As you are aware, this is a health emergency but at the same time, it is also a humanitarian emergency.

‘So, the ministry is going to come in here because we are to coordinate all humanitarian interventions coming into the country by way of making sure that such interventions get to the poor and vulnerable in our society,” she said.