COVID-19 Palliatives: Inadequate Coverage, Biased Distribution

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As the economic impact of COVID-19 continues to deepen, just like other countries around the globe, Nigeria is faced with unexpected challenges. With the World Health Organisation (WHO) calling for states to enforce social distancing measures, the implementation and impacts of the restrictions in Nigeria have exposed the problem of hunger that people face as the restrictions continue.Like other countries, enforcing temporary and total lockdown to promote social distancing to curb the spread of the virus became a necessity. The Rivers State government on March 26, 2020, ordered the closure of markets. However, such precautions are more challenging among the masses, as most of them cannot earn their daily bread. The masses were not prepared for the total lockdown.

With the coronavirus pandemic, the poor are experiencing the impacts of astronomical increases in the price of food as markets are closed, and government restrictions have curtailed the movement of agricultural products between states.

The federal and state governments have announced palliative measures, including the distribution of cash and food to poor households. However, Social Action observed that the palliatives are not reaching the vast majority of the most vulnerable households in places monitored, such as Rivers State.

The Rivers State Government on April 11 announced its distribution of palliatives which is supposed to be a rescue package to the poorest to expand social protection, assistance, vital support and strengthen resilience in the face of the pandemic. The Governor of Rivers State announced the budget of 2 Billion Naira to cushion the effects of the measures to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in the state.The governor inaugurated the committee which is chaired by Ambassador Desmond Akawor, the People’s Democratic Party Chairman in Rivers State.

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Corruption and bureaucratic bottlenecks impede the effective administration of the palliatives. Social Action has expressed concerns, noting that a prolonged stay-at-home could mean an invitation to starvation. In Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Social Action interviewed a family who falls in the category of the most vulnerable. The single-mother led family of seven is suffering untold hardship, as the breadwinner is unable to earn daily income during the lockdown. According to Charity Life, the oldest child of the family, they depend on the goodwill of people to survive.

The Rivers State Civil Society/Media Situation Room on COVD-19, during a media briefing,queried why a party chairman should preside over such a sensitive committee, and why civil society was not represented. The Situation Room frowned at the practice of sharing government palliatives across party lines. The Situation Room also recounted the experiences shared by different communities in which the food palliatives had been shared,which never went well. The situation room asked how food could be shared across Obio Akpor and Port Harcourt Local government within 24 hours to all households.

The Situation Room acknowledged that members of some communities received food items such as Indomie noodles, such as in the elderly and women in Okuru Ama Community, Amadi Ama and Abuloma in Port Harcourt Local Government. However, it was not the same in some parts of ObioAkpor Local Government, such as Elelenwo, Rumuogholu, Eliozu, Rumuodara, Tank and Eliowhani, as residents cried out that the food was being shared to party members only. In parts of Port Harcourt, the story was the same or even worst as residents of Borokiri, Marine Base, Aggrey Road, Reclamation, Bundu Ama, Mile 1,2 and 3 cried out that they had not seen food rations from the government.

In response to the Situation Room, the traditional ruler of Elelenwo, Eze EmenikeWeli Chukwu argued that he did everything possible to share the food that was brought to all residents irrespective of their party affiliation. He said he was not a party man and could not have shared the food to only one party people in the community.

The Rivers State Government, through the Commissioner of Information,responded that the government would do everything possible to make sure the palliatives gets to all without bias or party sentiments.

However, the situation has not improved. Social Action monitors in Gokana Local Government Area revealed that many communities did not benefit from the government programme. In Tai Local Government, monitoring in Buno and Nowa communities, community leaders reported that they were waiting for the government to bring food after they heard of the measures on the radio. At Eleme Local Government, some packs of Indomie Noodles and rice were distributed among some community members. Families received few food items that would not last beyond a day or two, in most cases.

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