As the leadership and members of the Senate frantically attempt to extricate themselves from the allegation of receiving prayer messages worth N100m each as subsidy palliative sent to their inboxes, the drama around the subject matter heightens across the country with intriguing perspectives thrown at the public court.
Joining the fray, the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress, TUC, are calibrating their arsenals in preparation for yet another Mother of All strikes since the government has refused to come to the dialogue table with any meaningful strategy to ease the sufferings of the masses other than gifting State Governments N5billion each to buy foodstuff and distribute to the vulnerable as a first-aid measure in place of yet to be executed subsidy palliative schemes or scams, some Nigerians wonder.
Since the Siamese twin words Palliative and Empowerment crept into our political lexicon, they assumed different meanings. From the prism of the political merchants/class, it is a benevolent act to mitigate suffering by putting together a few foodstuffs and cash allegedly running into billions of naira and hauling them at the masses. The quantity and its impact over a significant period to mitigate their suffering is irrelevant, but these intermittent gestures get media hype and gratitude demanded from the beneficiaries.
In this light, the recent announcement by the present federal government to release N180billion subsidy intervention palliative funds to the sub-nationals is not only contentious but lacks rigour as Nigerians question the sincerity of purpose and the predictable outcomes of colossal waste looming menacingly at us. The word palliative in the Nigerian context triggers a Post Traumatic Disorder Stress syndrome, PTDS, borne out of the recent history associated with government palliative schemes, where Nigerians vandalized the stores warehousing these palliatives during the Covid-19 pandemic restiveness.
The federal and state governments appropriated billions to procure relief materials and essential supplies, including foodstuff for onward distribution to the suffering masses during the scourge of the pandemic; it did not get to the dying masses as the items rotted away in government warehouses across the nation without almost no exception.
This discovery was outrageous and scandalous as some of these items got repackaged as birthday souvenirs for some governors, campaign materials for others, and, in some instances, distributed to party members as loyalty packs to soften the grounds for the next election.
At the twilight of the administration of President Buhari, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, told Nigerians that the administration had secured a World Bank facility to the tune of $800millon as initial tranche of palliative fund as cash transfer to about 50million poor Nigerians. Let us get the picture clear, $800 million converted to Naira with some officials hitting the street corners, towns, villages, and hamlets and getting poor people to line up to collect cash. Meanwhile, it was a loan that would attract all manner of interest and would liquidate by July 15, 2051, about 28 years after the reign of the Monarch called Buhari. With Nigeria, nothing incredulous is impossible, or if we can rephrase that, what cannot happen in Nigeria does not exist!
So, when Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu touted the most prepared president for the job with an executive fiat removed the fuel subsidy as anticipated by the majority of Nigerians given the colossal fraud and scam embedded, he said courage fell on him during his inaugural speech at the Eagle Square, and was applauded by Nigerians across party lines, even when some argued that a more tempered caution was a safer option.
Among the policy experimentation of this present administration, one that seems not to sit well with the people is this palliative scheme in the form of cash transfer. The government tested the waters with the N8,000 offer for six months, but, in unison, Nigerians resisted what was qualified as another national joke taken too far.
The nation has not recovered from the shenanigans of the Ministry of Humanitarian and Disaster Management under Buhari, where cash business was rife in an economy in pursuit of a cashless policy, and on top of that, a Ministry spent billions of naira feeding children in public schools at the height of the Covid 19 imbroglio, when the children were supposed to be at home with their parents. The EFCC must investigate that loot, and the new government should not be hell-bent on distributing cash or foodstuff; must continuity of governance or policies be a display of arrogance, ignorance and sheer absurdity? If the people say no to a policy, imagine Nigerians for the first time saying they don’t want cash transfers or foodstuff, just be creative about your palliative schemes, but the government is adamant. Your guess is as good as mine.
How many policy interventions are robustly researched, scrutinized and designed to capture the realities of the problems on ground, is one gift the leadership of this country seems to lack or deliberately ignores for clandestine reasons or sheer incompetence. This government of the people, by the people and for the people, indeed seems to stand on its head in this clime, else we should not die here on cash and foodstuff palliative.
Sometimes, one wonders if public servants are Father Christmas or put up this elaborate circus to keep the populace impoverished and disillusioned, or how will anyone throw billions of Naira into a scheme with no clear-cut direction, no accountability track, transparently deficient, smacks of intellectual rigour and, poorly rated by the vast majority of the targeted beneficiaries. So, either the government has cotton wool in its ears, or the entire nation will be Yahoo Yahooed again!
Policy insensitivity, from conception to execution, is undeniably a common denominator amongst successive political hegemonies in this country over time. While the trend along those intervention tracks stretches from the ridiculous to the absurd, the repetition across governance is disturbing and calls for further scrutiny and perhaps some psychoanalytical evaluations because this cash palliative will kill us.
The government has released N2 billion to each state from the budgeted N5 billion, and the theatre room is flung open. Have you seen a recent viral video of the rice palliative in a State up North? You will weep for this shameless giant of Africa. Nigerians were subjected to the most dehumanizing conditions as people scrambled for rice mixed with sand on the floor, trying to get palliative.
A government that refuses to listen to its people cannot be said to be democratic, no matter the garb it wears. If there is no going back on this palliative scheme, apply the funds to activities and programs that will enhance productivity and guarantee sustainable impact. Why not strengthen the primary health centres, increase access and cut down costs for the people, and overwhelm the transportation sector with more commuter buses at affordable rates that will force the shylock bus owners to fix their prices within a reasonable range. How can we create easier access for farm produce to the markets cheaper, reduce tax collectables at the marketplaces, increase the minimum wage, stimulate the SME’s space through direct microcredit schemes, create sound policies and a conducive operational environment, etc.? The list is endless, and trust me, the government knows better.
The way this N180 billion is about to be expended is another route to a painful national joke and embarrassment that will sponsor nothing but thievery and plundering of our national patrimony, QED.