Good governance, fiscal and capital developments will continue to elude us as a nation as long as the governments still dissipate energy and give tokens as palliatives as a means to insulate people from the biting effects of harsh economic policies. This approach painfully has been with us for long, despite the fact that it is always trailed with controversies, ranging from condemnation, debates on poor or zero delivery, lack of accountability, lack of transparency, outright stealing and more. Sadly, in virtually all palliatives, not only by the present administration, mistrust and lack of confidence by the people in the governments have persisted!
The latest palliative is the allocation to the 469 members of the National Assembly for rice for their constituents.
The opener to this was the viral video of Dekeri Anamero, the member representing Etsako Federal Constituency in Edo State, South South Nigeria. The clip showed the lawmaker inspecting truckloads of rice allegedly meant for his constituents. Subsequently, Anamero appreciated President Bola Tinubu for facilitating 2,400 bags of rice for his people.
From the same video came the revelation that each of 360 members of the House of Representatives received N100 million, while each of the 109 members of the Senate received N200 million to purchase rice to be shared in their respective constituencies. Note, should this be true, it means the sum of N57.2 billion has been budgeted, approved and released to execute a palliative still being contested by the supposed recipients!
Since the revelation reached public domain, National Assembly members have taken turns not only to deny receiving such bogus allocation, but also give it a political colouration. Just to cite two examples out of many responses made so far.
Last week Monday, Senator Orji Kalu’s Media Office clarified that the 30,000 bags of rice and cash donated by the former Abia State Governor to 13 villages in Igbere community was not part of the Federal Government palliative. Kalu’s Media Office specified: “The Senate Committee Chairman made the gesture out of his magnanimity as such has lasted since 1986 before he joined politics. He personally supervised the sharing formula of the largesse to make sure no group was short-changed. The palliatives were personally funded and not from the Federal Government.”
If Kalu’s reaction is considered short and direct, that of Clement Jimbo, the member representing Abak Federal constituency in Akwa Ibom State, South South Nigeria was elaborate, revealing, challenging and critical. After denying collecting money for rice, Jimbo further reacted: “I am a House member, the person in question, is my colleague and the video is a lie because no such things happened.’’
Jimbo alleged that Anamero was aspiring to be the Governor of Edo State, which made him buy rice and share it with his constituents. He didn’t stop here as he alleged that his counterpart tagged the rice with the President to “curry” favour from him and actualise his ambition of becoming the Edo State Governor. However, Jimbo, in a tone that sounded contradictory, claimed that the President and the Federal Government had plans to give the lawmakers palliatives for their constituents, but the plans were yet to be actualised.
As the debate rages, many have expected the Presidency to volunteer a timely response and clarifications on the matter. So far from the government’s side, the reaction received was the one from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security. It declared last week Tuesday that it was not delaying the distribution of the rice palliative.
“The issue under reference concerns constituency projects budgeted for under the 2023 Supplementary Appropriation and domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security. It is common knowledge that funds for National Assembly constituency projects are domiciled in the relevant Ministry for purposes of implementation. Implementation process for the 2023 Supplementary Appropriation is on-going. Constituency projects in this instance cover a range of needs of the constituents including: staple grains and some agricultural infrastructure as determined by respective members of the National Assembly,” the Director of Information in the Ministry, Dr. Joel Oruche, reacted.
In view of the interest of the country in the palliative said to have been approved by the last administration, President Tinubu should break his silence on the issue. When doing this, the President should confirm if truly the last administration approved the rice palliative for the Federal lawmakers’ constituents. Two, if yes, what manner of release of vote for the palliative to the legislators? Three, how and when each of the lawmakers are expected to receive the palliative item? It’s also very important for Nigerians to know whether the lawmakers were put in batches with respect to the collection of the item. We say this because despite having some lawmakers reacting and denying, many still maintain silence, leaving the public in the dark as far as details of the controversial palliative is concerned.
Apart from President Tinubu, the second party in this debate is the National Assembly. It’s our opinion that after a week of controversy and confusion, both the Senate and House whose members have been listed as beneficiaries should break their silence and speak on the matter.
Still, should the President, Senate and House decline to volunteer detailed and clear reactions, then the public could arrive at the conclusion that the rice palliative is true, but yet to be delivered or will never be delivered as usual!
This is where the issue lies. That our wrong approach to social intervention policies brought us to the present confusion and dilemma. Again, giving tokens as palliatives comes with many challenges, the height of which is misappropriation of funds that could have been spent to execute capital projects or provide fiscal policies that would directly benefit the public without any encumbrance. We declare that the over N57 billion budgeted for the controversial rice palliative, if true, in the end, won’t address or reach 50 percent of the targets! This is due to a systemic problem, which involves the corrupt government officials and first recipients (lawmakers) of the allocation.
Prior to the controversial palliative, the present administration in its drives to address post fuel subsidy removal hardships on common Nigerians had announced N5 billion allocation for each State. As at the last count, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of Economy, Wale Edun, announced that only N2 billion has been disbursed to states.
In Lagos State, despite the media hype and wide residents’ cluster identification, many still complained that the palliative distribution was political and considered the gesture as a ruse. It’s difficult for anyone to fault those who reacted in this manner, as the fundamental problem remains the approach. The manner of distributing palliatives as we speak in Nigeria is ineffective, lacks impacts and of no significant values. If residents in cities like Lagos grouse over not being reached, what do we say of remote and rural states, where the level of awareness and agitation is comparatively lower?
Still on fuel subsidy removal, the economic downturn and its effects on businesses and families, President Tinubu after a series of meetings and negotiations with the organised labour took a step to avert impending nationwide workers’ strike. During his 63rd Independence Anniversary national broadcast, Tinubu announced the approval of N35,000 provisional wage award for all treasury-paid Federal Government workers for six months (October, 2023 – March 2024). In addition to this, the President approved payment of N75,000 to 15 million households at N25,000 per month for a three-month period from October to December 2023. This token again amounts to N1.125 billion. The question is: What were the verifiable yardsticks used to identify and determine the beneficiaries? Has any disbursement been made, despite the announcement?
The fact of the matter is when policy of this nature is made, so many factors play out such that the authorities fail to act their words or where action follows pronouncement, the public servants in charge of policy implementation frustrate the smooth flow for personal gains. It’s for the aforementioned reasons the wage award is more or less another jamboree. The same goes for the household’s payment.
In our previous Editorials right after the assumption of office by President Tinubu and removal of fuel subsidy, we have articulated and stressed that no matter the percentage and degree of salaries increase, we are heading nowhere, without adequate infrastructural provision and development. We have also offered that Nigeria, with a fuel based economy should and must have active and functional refineries. These are the bases to grow industries, support and motivate entrepreneurs, create jobs, grow the economy, attain empowerment and improve standard of living.
Prior to more viable measures and approaches to a prosperous life, we like to go back to the palliative in view. Let’s assume that the allocation is real, in that case, if the rice is meant for festivity periods, this is January, what is the issue? Does that imply the Ministry of Agriculture lacks the capacity to deliver the required volumes? This is horrible to know and very unfortunate to have happened, despite the huge investment to facilitate and encourage local rice production in the past. Seriously speaking, those who were in charge of the affairs of the office in the last two administrations – whose second national anthem was growing our agricultural sector – should be called to answer questions. We remember that the motivational slogan then was: “We must eat what we grow and grow what we eat.” But in spite of this, the Nigerian local rice is nowhere to be found! So sad!
So, beyond tokenism, as we have canvassed before now, we restate that the government should focus exclusively on infrastructural renewal, growth and development. Fiscal expenditure will also bring lasting impacts on businesses and households. For instance, if the N57.2 billion was spent on providing discounted telecommunication and electricity tariffs, the impacts will be cut across. Nobody will be left out.
It sounds so awful and annoying to hear that a government that has budgeted N5 billion on students’ loans scheme, but yet to implement it, would have the gut to vote such hefty figure on the palliatives, which voted monies would end up in personal accounts and few available items would be shared among the politicians, their supporters, friends and relatives!
Also, we call for industrial resuscitation. The tokens in which the aggregate becomes substantial should be used to revive our moribund industries. And as we have demanded in the past, let’s have working refineries. The monies wasted on palliatives with no impacts should be invested on our ailing oil refining facilities. Out of four, none is working. And this in spite of the promise that the pioneer, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, South South Nigeria, would be operational from December last year!
For now, Nigerian governments should leave tokenism for churches, mosques, orphanages and community voluntary organisations. We propose two approaches to this. The first is, if the government is bent on giving handouts, then the gift should be channelled solely through central and recognised religious bodies such as the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. Both are broad enough and command the respect of all faithful, belonging to different organisations/denominations under them. If this doesn’t work out again, then, the government should stay off completely, focus on investing in infrastructures and utilities that would add value to businesses and people.
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Once, the government divorces itself from the undesirable tokenism, then it becomes the exclusive responsibility of religious bodies to take over, without any government intervention, except on issues relating to law and corporate governance.
As we advocate this new approach, we advise the government to be seriously conscious of its actions, be sensitive to people’s hardships and forthwith stop wasteful spending. The rice palliative looks like a moving story. So, if it’s real, we maintain it’s of no value. Therefore, at the convenient level, the government should stop the wastage and the money allocated for it be spent on items all Nigerians can directly benefit from.
Again, if we desire a meaningful and impactful cash or kind tokenism, let’s work on having a credible and regularly updated national data bank, which can be used to determine verifiable social register. It’s a tall order, but it remains the best way to go, to end the absurdity, corruption and wastages done in the name of palliatives. If this government is wise and smart, as it gives the impression, it should heed the words of wisdom! The timeline now is: almost nine months out of four years. Mr. President, be wise, hear what Nigerians are saying and work on their basic demands.