Govs: Looted Palliatives Reserved for Second Wave of COVID-19

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•CACOVID explains delay in distribution
•Materials being distributed in Kwara before looting, says AbdulRazaq

By Obinna Chima in Lagos and Chuks Okocha in Abuja

The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) yesterday denied allegations that states hoarded palliatives, which were looted in the wake of the #EndSARS protests.

It said the looted food items in warehouses across the country were reserved for a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the vulnerable.

Notwithstanding the strategic plan of the governors, the Kwara State helmsman, Mr. AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, said the relief materials were already being distributed in the state when the hoodlums attacked its distribution point at the Ilorin Airport.

But a human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana, has urged the governors to emulate the Sokoto State Governor, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, by distributing the remaining palliatives in their states without further delay.

In a statement yesterday by the Head of Media of the NGF, Mr. Abdulrazak Barkindo, the governors stated that some of the property stolen and vandalised include palliatives set aside for vulnerable members of society.

The NGF said since the #EndSARS demonstrations started, they had held meetings to address the underlying concerns, adding that its members had aligned themselves with the call for justice, leading to the setting up of judicial panels of enquiry in the states to probe police brutality.

According to the statement, the governors regretted the loss of lives and property occasioned by the violent protests that erupted and called for calm.

They said information circulating in the social media needed to be fact-checked and pleaded with members of the public to desist from spreading rumours, which could further create panic and stampede.

It said: “For example, some of the property stolen and vandalised include palliatives set aside for vulnerable members of society.

“The NGF re-emphasises and corrects the impression that palliatives found in warehouses that were broken into in Lagos and some other states were kept in storage for members of the society, especially our vulnerable citizens.

“The erroneous impression in the public domain that these palliatives were hoarded is not just inaccurate, entirely erroneous and untrue but also mischievous, to say the least.”

It said for the avoidance of doubt, some of the palliatives had the CACOVID stamp embossed on them, meaning that their source was unambiguous.

It explained that CACOVID operations were mainly domiciled in Lagos, being the headquarters of most of the public-spirited organisations, corporate bodies and individuals that came together to form the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID).

“Until mid-October, when the NGF had its last meeting, up to 10 states had not participated in the flag-off ceremonies for the distribution of palliatives in their states. This was because the items meant for distribution in these states had not been completely received from CACOVID,” the NGF said.

It stated that as of a couple of weeks ago, some states were still receiving palliatives from the federal government through the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

The governors refuted allegations that the palliatives had been hoarded, and assured all contributors that prior to the looting of the warehouses, the states had kept full accounts of all the items received and distributed.

The governors assured Nigerians that they were doing everything possible to ameliorate the sufferings of the people.

“The Nigeria Governors’ Forum stands for justice, improved governance and a progressive Nigeria,” it said.

Materials Being Distributed in Kwara before Looting, Says AbdulRazaq

In Kwara State, Governor AbdulRazaq clarified yesterday that the relief materials were already being distributed before the hoodlums struck.
He had inaugurated the official distribution of the palliatives on August 11, 2020, following the handover of the goods by CACOVID.

Speaking on a live programme on Midland FM in Ilorin, CACOVID representative in Kwara State, Mr. Taoheed Fasasi, said: “In terms of the distribution of the palliatives, it’s been an excellent performance for Kwara State especially in terms of three key things. One, identification of the beneficiaries. We’ve always feared that this could be where there will be a problem because we don’t want it to get to the wrong hands. But they (state government) have been able to come up with lists that come directly from the grassroots. And, with this, we know how many families that were given. We have recordings of how many families were given.

“We were in Jebba (Moro, Kwara North), for instance, and it was not just about distribution, we saw the families. We know where they are and what they do, what do they need and things like that. The distribution is not like an orphan. It was more or less like CACOVID handing over to the beneficiaries.

The assistance from the (state) committee has been wonderful.”

Fasasi said the monitoring and evaluation team of CACOVID was on the field to ensure that the palliatives got to the right persons across the state, asserting that its reports do not support the claims that the government hoarded the palliatives.

“It is not just about handing over to the state but ensuring that it gets to where it is supposed to get to. We always have a monitoring team. Apart from being a member, I have a monitoring team that’s also checking me at every point in time. It is CACOVID’s way of doing things. As the state committee was getting it out, we were interacting with the beneficiaries. We have videos. We went there based on those identified,” he added.

Architect Kale Belgore, Counsellor to Kwara State Governor and State Government Focal Person on the palliatives, explained that beneficiaries across least 15 of the 16 local governments have collected as at Friday, October 23rd when the hoodlums attacked the Cargo Terminal where the palliatives were warehoused.

He added: “We were loading the one for Offa (the 16th and last local government to get theirs) on Friday when the hoodlums attacked the place. In fact, some trucks containing palliatives had left for Offa. So, the hoodlums vandalised the trucks and made away with the remaining palliatives for Offa and what was to be distributed for some umbrella bodies of some physically challenged people, the blind colony, orphanages, and correctional centres, among others.”

CACOVID Explains Delayed in Distribution

Meanwhile, the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) yesterday appealed for calm as tongues continue to wag over the discovery and looting of palliatives it donated to states.

The private sector coalition in a statement that was signed on its behalf by the Acting Head, Corporate Communications Department, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Osita Nwasinobi, explained the delayed distribution of the food items by the state governors where the items were discovered and looted in the respective warehouses they were stored.

The coalition, which stated that it was deeply concerned by the events, also urged those involved in the wanton destruction of public and private properties to immediately desist from such activities in order to allow the states to proceed with a peaceful and fair distribution of the palliatives to the most vulnerable in society.

It explained: “Over the past few months, the private sector through CACOVID has been working with all state governors, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister and the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) to procure, deliver and distribute these food relief items to almost 2 million most vulnerable families (over 10 million Nigerians) across the 774 LGAs in the country, as part of the private sector’s support to the national response to the C0VID-19 pandemic.

“The sheer scale of this nationwide food programme and the timing of the orders and deliveries, which coincided with the lockdowns and reduced movement across the country, compelled CACOVID to roll out distribution in a staggered manner, with states classified in three timed phases, to enable orderly delivery to the needy.

“At the time CACOVID embarked on the palliatives efforts in April, we decided to procure the food directly from the manufacturers, to avoid a distortion of prices in the market. The food package was designed such that each of the nearly two million families received: 10kg bag of rice, five kg of garri/maize, flour/semolina, and one carton of pasta, two cartons of noodles, 5kg of sugar and one kg of salt.”

It pointed out that unfortunately, the very large size of the order and the production cycle required to meet the demand caused a delay in delivering the food items to the states in an expeditious manner; hence the resulting delay in delivery of the food palliatives by the state governors.

For instance, the group stated that rice had to be milled; semolina and maize flour had to be processed, noodles and pasta had to be manufactured and sugar had to be refined.

According to the statement, as such, the first delivery could not start until June.

However, as of October 2020, a sizeable portion of the items had been delivered, but yet to be distributed by the governors, it added.

“Although various states and the FCT had commenced flag-off of the distribution of the food items since early August, some could not conclude the distribution as they were yet to receive complete deliveries of the items allotted to them. In the interest of transparency and accountability, CACOVID will, in due course be providing the full delivery schedule and flag-off dates by each state,” it stated.

CACOVID noted that prior to the events, it had worked with the states through the NGF to determine the number of households per state; the states and FCT to provide clean and secure warehousing for the food; the composition of the state and local government committees, including civil society organisations, religious organisations, LGA chairpersons, ward leaders, media representatives, security services, CACOVID representatives); and clear distribution guidelines to ensure; and equitable distribution of the food amongst the neediest.

It stated: “Given that the states and the local government authorities oversee all relief efforts in their jurisdictions and know their citizens best, we had worked with each governor and the minister of the FCT, utilising a combination of our protocols and their existing structures and processes to ensure food items reach the intended beneficiaries.

“We had also appointed an independent monitoring team to ensure that the item would be delivered as intended. We are aware that official flagging off and handover of the palliatives had taken place in 28 states and the FCT and state government have been distributing at various places. As of today, October 26, 2020, some states have confirmed completion of their distribution while others were in the process of proceeding with the distribution before the looting took place.

“By these looting incidents, it, therefore, meant that some intended beneficiaries had been deprived of the opportunity of benefitting from CACOVID’s good intentions.”

It maintained that in line with its earlier promise, KPMG’s Professional Services, its external auditors, are at the verge of completing the audit of all contributions from donors as well as a listing of all medical and food items procured with the funds.

“We will be sharing the external audit reports of our spending, alongside a full report of CACOVID activities, including delivery and planned flag-off dates of our donations to Nigerians.

“It is very unfortunates that various states, including states that have concluded the distribution of their allocations, are seeing their warehouses and other premises being raided. It must also be noted that not every warehouse in Nigeria that contains palliatives is affiliated with CACOVID donation, given that the states themselves, the federal government and other organisations have also made donations,” the statement added.

It appealed for calm, to enable states to be allowed to proceed with their palliatives distribution peacefully.

Falana Urges States to Release Food Items

Falana has appealed to state governors still ‘hoarding’ COVID-19 palliatives to distribute the relief items to citizens immediately.

The rights lawyer described as a crime against humanity, the alleged ‘hoarding’ of the food items donated to states by CACOVID.

Falana, in an interview yesterday with ARISE NEWS Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, said: “It is almost like a crime against humanity just as some public officers have diverted money meant for providing palliatives for internally displaced persons.

“I mean you ask yourself, what level of stealing is this? And so, this is why we are worried that the members of the ruling class in Nigeria will have to have a rethink that there are certain areas you must not get to in looting the treasuries of the country.

“Again, I want to appeal here for warehouses that have not been torched. If palliatives have been stored, I want to appeal to all the state governors in Nigeria to emulate the example of the Sokoto State governor that simply, in the view of this challenge, distributed the items.

“How can a government hoard indomie? It’s intolerable. It’s provocative. Our government will have to apologise to the Nigerian people.”

Falana added that government at all levels must compensate business owners whose assets were looted by hoodlums in the aftermath of the protests against police brutality.

Falana condemned the destruction of lives and assets by hoodlums, saying that those who lost loved ones must be compensated.

“While I sympathise with those who have lost goods, while I sympathise with families that have lost their loved ones, we must make a case out of what has happened.

“I am talking about the development of our laws. Those who have lost goods, those who have lost properties that were not insured, should put sentiments apart, don’t say because the government in Abuja is our party, no, the law has left that stage “Every Nigerian is entitled to the protection of his or her life and property.

Once through negligence, through lack of proper policing, you lose your property, the government must pay. I am not talking about humanitarian assistance. As a matter of law, if anybody dies in the process, the family members have rights to make a claim and we have cases where this has been decided by our courts.

“So, let nobody in Abuja say these properties in Abuja were destroyed by hoodlums, it will never happen again. No; you have a duty to compensate those who have lost their properties, you have a duty to compensate those who have lost their breadwinners and potential breadwinners so that next time, the government will have to take measures to prevent this kind of unfortunate incidents.”

Falana also said the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 And Beyond (ASCAB), has commenced an investigation into last Tuesday shootings of protesters at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos State.

The human rights activist, who is the Chairman of the ASCAB, said the group has so far identified the barracks where the soldiers who opened fire on protesters were deployed from.

“We have already identified the barracks where the soldiers left for Lekki, we have already identified the barracks.”

He, however, did not reveal the details of the barracks.

Falana added: “The president was likely to have been told soldiers were ordered so I want to believe that’s why it was not addressed. They said it was a rumour but I think the facts are emerging now that indeed soldiers went to Lekki, indeed they fired at protesters and indeed some of the protesters at least two have been officially acknowledged to have died from gunshot wounds.”