COVID-19: Social Action condemns illegal extortion of money from food transporters, leading to rise in food prices

The government owes it to the masses to reduce food prices and ease the economic hardship
The government owes it to the masses to reduce food prices and ease the economic hardship

RIVERS STATE REPORT

“We, the food suppliers, are essential service providers, because food is an essential commodity for human survival. But, the security agents at roadblocks and checkpoints along the highways, insist on collecting money from us, before allowing us to proceed into Rivers State. There are so many roadblocks now because of COVID-19 and the ban on inter-State movements. At each point, these security agents collect between 3,000 Naira and 5,000 Naira.”

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Vulnerable households worst-hit by COVID-19, in dire need of FG’s Social Investment Programme

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Vulnerable families have been impoverished and devastated by the harrowing experiences brought upon them by the scourge

Written by Mercy Christopher

Given the importance of a conscious implementation, succeeded by a meaningful outcome, to the sustainability of any Intervention programme, the Federal Government’s plan to transmute its National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) into a new Integrated National Social Investment Programme (I-NSIP), may not amount to much beyond the rhetorics, if the government fails to focalise the programme on the most vulnerable Nigerians in the present COVID-19 era. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastation it has brought upon Nigerians, could invariably mark a defining moment for the NSIP. The pandemic has negatively affected the Nigerian economy, causing an unprecedented inflation across the country which has sunk a lot of indigent Nigerians, deeper into poverty. These vulnerable ones who have been impoverished and devastated by the harrowing experiences brought upon them by the scourge, are presently the symbol of acute poverty, in the year 2020. They are currently in serious need of the government’s interventionism, to enable them find their bearings in the new COVID-19 era. Most of these people are the bread-winners in their households. What better way can the government ameliorate the hardship of those poor households who were taken unawares by the novel pandemic, than to ensure that the NSIP is re-engineered to incorporate them and provide urgent remedies for their benefit?

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Increase in COVID-19 tests, reveals higher number of confirmed cases in Bayelsa

Picture-shows-a-member-of-the-CSO-Situation-Room-addressing-people-at-a-public-place-in-Bayelsa-State
Picture shows a member of the CSO Situation Room addressing people at a public place in Bayelsa State

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Bayelsa State increased astronomically within a period of two days, following an increase in the number of tests conducted on samples of suspected cases taken from the State. The State still has no COVID-19 Test Centre. Given the rising number of confirmed cases in the neighbouring States, Rivers and Delta, coupled with the unrestricted movement of people across the boundaries between Bayelsa and the border States, it was predicted before now, by the CSO Situation Room, that Bayelsa State could witness a community transmission. Also, the failure to observe the stipulated guidelines to prevent a spread of the virus, such as the use of face masks and handsanitisers, regular hand washing and physical distancing, was a compelling reason to suspect that Bayelsa could be having more than the 32 confirmed cases which it had as of June 10, 2020, if more tests were conducted. Sadly, this suspicion has become a reality, with more tests being conducted. On June 16, Bayelsa recorded 54 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the State’s total number of confirmed cases to 86. This marks the highest number of reported cases in a single day, in the State. On the following day, June 17, Bayelsa recorded a new set of 25 confirmed cases, which further increased the number of infected persons to 111, as published by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC.

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Civil Society Network organises Sensitisation campaign on gender-based violence in Borno

An-interactive-forum-on-gender-based-violence-(GBV)-organised-by-the-Civil-Societies-Network-at-Bolari-1-IDP-camp,-Konduga-LGA,-Borno-State
An interactive forum on gender-based violence (GBV) organised by the Civil Societies Network at Bolari 1 IDP camp, Konduga LGA, Borno State

Borno State Report:

With the rising spate of rape cases recorded in several States of Nigeria in recent times, concerns have been raised in Dalori 1 IDP camp in Konduga LGA of Borno State, about the need to protect girls by empowering them with knowledge through child-sex education, as well as information about Gender-based Violence (GBV). This has prompted the Borno State Civil Societies Network which includes Social Action, to launch a sensitisation campaign at the Dalori 1 IDP camp, with a view to creating massive awareness amongst teenage girls, about the dangers of sexual exploitation and the need to stay vigilant against sexual predators. The campaign which is slated to be a weekly sensitisation programme, commenced in June, 2020, and is aimed at reaching out to teenage girls who are referred to as Persons of Concern (POCs) in the camp.

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Social Action laments increase in self-medication against COVID-19 in Akwa Ibom

Uyo, Akwa Ibom State (courtesy Helloakwaibom)

AKWA IBOM REPORT

There have been alarming reports in Akwa Ibom State about the flagrant refusal of some residents of the State, to comply with the laid-down protocol of the government, relating to the testing of persons who have symptoms of the coronavirus disease. It was gathered that, several people who experience these symptoms, such as fever, sore throat and difficulty in breathing, no longer contact the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC. Instead, they stay at home and experiment with drugs, especially anti-malaria drugs, with a view to finding a cure to the symptoms they are experiencing. The Social Development Integrated Centre, also called Social Action, believes that by this development, we have hit a new low, in the fight against the pandemic. It is a clear departure from the initial response to the pandemic which saw many persons being tested, quarantined, treated and re-tested to ascertain a clean bill of health, before being discharged. The confounding reports on people resorting to self-medication at home, without being tested, only spells doom for the populace. The refusal of these people to get tested and placed in isolation (if found positive to the virus), will expose many others to the disease and prevent the NCDC from getting the actual figures and overall statistics about the pandemic in Nigeria. The current number of confirmed cases in the State stands at 48, as of June 14, 2020, but from all indications, there could be more infected persons in the State who are on self-medication or have recovered, without undergoing a medical test to ascertain their status.

It was learnt that some people who experienced complete loss of smell and taste, as well as fever and sore throats, recovered fully within 3 – 5 days, after administering anti-malarial medications on themselves. This has stirred doubts in the minds of several persons in the State, about the authenticity of NCDC’s fight against COVID-19, with some people suggesting that the anti-financial crime agencies in the country should investigate the work of the NCDC, and ascertain if the rumours about NCDC giving false records of confirmed and quarantined cases in order to inflate its budget, is true. Not a few persons in the State now believe COVID-19 is only a common ailment, synonymous to malaria, which is not worth the fuss it generated in the country at its inception.

However, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, has in recent times, updated on its website, the COVID-19 symptoms, which now include, shivering, catarrh, diarrhoea, headache and fatigue, as well as cough, fever, difficulty breathing, sore throat, loss of smell and loss of taste. The NCDC has also addressed the similarities in the manifestation of COVID-19 and malaria in humans, by stating on its website, that, “Although both diseases may present with fever, they are very different. COVID-19 is caused by a virus while malaria is caused by a plasmodium parasite. An individual can have COVID-19 and malaria at the same time, but they are very different”.

The deadly coronavirus disease, has been known to have diverse effects on infected persons, with some having mild symptoms and others, very severe symptoms, owing to the presence of underlying conditions, or an exposure to a high viral-load of the germ. It is therefore necessary for the State Government to work in conjunction with the Federal Government of Nigeria and its agency, the NCDC, to adopt means of addressing this budding problem of self-medication, so as to ensure that NCDC continues to capture the actual statistics on the infection rate of COVID-19, as well as the survival and death rates. Some of those measures could include an enhanced contact tracing and surveillance.

Social Action therefore calls on the State Government to pay attention to the need for more COVID-19 surveillance and do all within its power, to ensure the State has more surveillance teams involved in contact-tracing and collection of samples from suspected cases for testing. It has become expedient for the State to have more surveillance teams in all LGAs of the State, given the hike in the number of confirmed cases, and the increase in suspected cases that have resorted to self-medication within the State. The government should also intensify its collaboration with the NCDC to ensure that all health workers involved in the management of coronavirus cases are well-trained and equipped for the work. All first responders and medical professionals in all hospitals should be given Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect them while they attend to patients under their care. In addition, the State Government must deploy resources within its control towards ensuring an adequate provision of essential supplies such as medical equipment, food, drugs, face masks and sanitisers. For a State faced with such a high degree of distrust by the people, in the way and manner the NCDC has handled the pandemic, it is expected that the government will do all it can to ensure that the confirmed cases in the State are well-managed and no item needed for their care is lacking. This has become necessary, not only for the survival of infected persons in the State, but also to encourage more persons to willingly subject themselves to a test, if they experience any of the COVID-19 symptoms, and be quarantined, if they test positive to the virus.

Social Action condemns stigmatisation, calls for more COVID-19 testing in Rivers State

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Rivers State Report:

The scepticism about the existence of the deadly coronavirus, has become a trending development in Rivers State, despite the rising number of confirmed cases in the State, which stood at 489, as of June 14, 2020. The Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, who spoke recently about the distrust and disbelief of many residents in the State about the virus, stressed that their cynicism is posing a major challenge in the bid to rapidly combat the pandemic, as he hinted that Bonny Local Government Area is now the epicentre of the pandemic, accounting for a large percentage of the number of confirmed cases in the State. The Social Development Integrated Centre, also known as Social Action, a non-governmental organisation currently involved in research and monitoring of the impacts of COVID-19, has noted that the scepticism and denial surrounding the pandemic, is symptomatic of the stigmatisation of persons confirmed to be infected with the disease. The fear of stigmatisation from having one’s family member tagged a coronavirus survivor or added to the statistics of coronavirus deaths, is what drives the narrative falsely peddled by many in the State that the virus is not real. Many would rather profess that COVID-19 is a hoax; and in the event that anyone in their families dies, it will never be said that the life was lost to the novel disease, even if it was. This explains the reason why, in spite of the fact that, some prominent persons in the state who are well-known to the people, have died as a result of coronavirus, many people would still not want to admit to themselves that the virus is real.

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The appalling allocation of ₦27.7Bn for National Assembly renovation, amid Health and Education Budget cuts

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                                                                                    Written by Lucas Nwachukwu

While the state of healthcare and education is changing globally as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nigerian government has chosen to be ignorant of this reality. In a shameless and appalling move, the Federal Government in the 2020 revised budget, allocated to the National Assembly a whooping ₦27.7 Billion for the renovation of its complex, while the allocation for basic healthcare provision, which is meant to cater for the public healthcare sector of the entire country for a year, was significantly reduced by ₦44.4 Billion to ₦25.5 Billion, a decrease of more than 42.5 percent. Similarly, the Universal Basic Education (UBE) fund was reduced significantly, from ₦111.7 Billion to ₦51.1 Billion, by more than 54.2 percent.

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COVID-19: CSO Situation Room solicits for massive support from Bayelsa community leaders

Bayelsa SA-Chief

BAYELSA STATE

Amidst the rising cases of coronavirus disease in the country and the shocking nonchalance of many Nigerians towards the pandemic, the Civil Societies Network in Bayelsa State has resolved to ensure public discourse about the pandemic is kept on the front burner, by calling on traditional rulers, youth leaders, religious overseers and other community leaders to use their influence in expanding the public outreach campaigns on COVID-19. The Civil Societies, operating under the auspices of the CSO Situation Room, find it ironical and bothersome that, the more the number of confirmed cases increases in the State, the lesser the public interest in curbing further spread of the virus. The reverse, ought to be the case. With the spike in the number of infected persons within and around Bayelsa, the CSO Situation Room has begun reaching out to community leaders in the State, requesting them to play the symbolic role of closing the gaps in communication with the people, by raising their voices and calling for action against the spread of the deadly virus in the State.

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Revamping the Social Protection Programmes to minimise the impact of COVID-19

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By Mercy Christopher

COVID-19 and its socioeconomic impacts have been and will, for a period of time after the virus, continue to be of serious consequence to the poor and vulnerable in Nigeria. The virus which infects people regardless of their economic and social status poses a greater threat to the poor.

Nigeria has since 2018 remained the country with the highest incidence of poverty in the world. According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, more than 82 million Nigerians are trapped in extreme poverty, living on less than $1 a day as of May 2020. This figure is expected to increase as the COVID-19 outbreak is expected to push more people further into poverty. World Bank estimates that COVID-19 will push 49 million people globally into extreme poverty in 2020 (World Bank, 2020). In that figure, Nigeria accounts for 5 million people who will be pushed into extreme poverty according to the estimates. This is excluding the number of struggling people living on the verge of poverty, on $3.20 – $5.50 per day. According to the World Bank projections, 100 million people in this class will be pushed into poverty. With the dispiriting projections, it has become apparent that the Nigerian government will need to act strategic and fast in protecting a majority of its population who are most vulnerable to the shocks occasioned by COVID-19.

The hardship experienced by most Nigerians whose sources of livelihood were severed as a result of the lockdown measures in the earlier months of the pandemic highlighted the need for social protection in Nigeria. With a good number of the workforce especially in the informal sector lacking savings to facilitate self isolation and most people lacking basic necessities to survive a lockdown, the public’s attention was drawn to existence of a social protection program in Nigeria under the name National Social Investment Programme (NSIP). The programme since then has undergone a heightened public scrutiny and criticism by politicians, Civil Society Organisations, the public and the government itself. The National Assembly have, in recent times, had cause to question the impact and implementation of the Social Investment Programme. During a meeting convened by the leadership of the National Assembly with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, on Federal Government intervention initiatives aimed at reducing the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on vulnerable Nigerians, the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives faulted the scheme for being inefficient in its delivery and for failing to reach its target audience. These criticisms are not out of place.

The National Social Investment Programme which was established in 2016 to tackle poverty and hunger has from its inception given rise to a several lines of questioning. The first is based on the demographics of the country and how to ascertain the actual number of poor people who are the beneficiaries of the programme. The statistics of people living in poverty in Nigeria are based on projections and speculations. A good example of this is the recent publications of the number of poor people by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics and the National Social Safety Coordinating Office (NASSCO) which shows a huge discrepancy. According to NASSCO, 9.45 million Nigerians in 35 states of the federation are living in poverty as of January 2020. NSB in May 2020 placed its own figure of poor Nigerians at 82 million. With such discrepancy in the target group of the programme, the implementation of the programme will definitely be hampered.

Another aspect of the programme that has been criticised is how the funds earmarked for the programme are being utilised. The NSIP is funded through a $500 million credit granted by the World Bank in 2016, $322.5 million Abacha loot recovered from Switzerland in 2017 and the yearly appropriation of N400 billion after the initial N500 billion appropriated in the 2016 federal budget. The Nigerian government have been unable to provide a comprehensive data of how these funds are expended. In an independent monitoring undertaken by CSOs under the Monitoring of Recovered Assets through Transparency and Accountability (MANTRA) for August/September 2018 phase of the conditional cash transfer, the report indicated a number of flaws in the programme (Africa Network for Environment and Social Justice, 2019). According to the report, staff of NSIP had no official documentation of total persons paid and not paid in the August/September round of payment in some LGAs and communities. The report also noted that data provided at the national level oftentimes varied with that provided at the state level for households enrolled in the programme, the total funds disbursed and the total number of persons paid. Some beneficiaries enrolled in the programme are also not paid and some community leaders who are part of the programme noted that it was unclear how the selection criteria for beneficiaries were developed.

A major setback of the programme is the fact that the administrators of the programme have continuously failed to share timely information of the operations of the programme to the general public. This has created public distrust about the programme as many Nigerians now see the NSIP as a front to siphon money. The Special Adviser to the president on social investment, Mrs. Maryam Uwais (who supervised the programme from 2016 to September 2019) in an attempt to defend the programme after several days of public backlash, provided some information to the public. She asserted amongst other things that the programme as of September 2019 benefited 1,491,296 poor and vulnerable households comprising of 6,056,872 individuals in 33 states. Assuming these figures are factual, the reach of the programme is still limited when compared to the number of people living in poverty, so is its efficacy is reducing poverty in Nigeria.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Nigeria has witnessed reduced economic activity that has increased the socioeconomic pressures of most Nigerians. Workers in some sectors are being laid off, non essential businesses have been on a halt, restriction on movement also affects the income generating capacity of most and the prices of essential goods and services have been on the rise. With the pandemic still at its peak and the hardship not near its end, the government need to be more strategic in prioritising and implementing social protection programmes in the country. The Federal government has recently turned to borrowing to finance the federal budget which scarcely captures the new reality and the eminent socioeconomic needs of Nigerians.

Rather than plunge the country in debt to cover projects whose impact will not be felt by a majority of Nigerians, the government could revamp and channel funds into social programmes which will not only address poverty and hunger but will also grow businesses and develop capacity especially for persons in the informal sector. This approach will go beyond minimising the impact of COVID-19 to actually promoting inclusive growth and diversification of the economy. As emphasised by the International Monetary Fund, the poor and middle class matter the most for growth through economic and social channels as an increase in the income share of the bottom 20 percent (the poor) is associated with higher GDP growth (IMF, 2015).

The NSIP has the potential to tackle the emerging socioeconomic challenges Nigeria is faced with as a result of the pandemic. The programme was designed to address hunger, poverty alleviation, employment creation, child education, agriculture, local production and promotes small and medium businesses. All that government needs to do is prioritise the programme, perfect its method of delivery, adequately fund it and ensure its transparency and accountability.

Poor living conditions mar fight against COVID-19 in Borno IDP camps, says CSO Situation Room

Children-and-adults-will-fare-better-against-coronavirus-if-they-do-not-have-to-endure-harsh-living-conditions-in-dilapidated,-crowded-tents-which-contribute-to-underlying-health-conditions
Children and adults will fare better against coronavirus if they do not have to endure harsh living conditions in dilapidated, crowded tents which contribute to underlying health conditions. Pictures show Shuwari 5 IDP camp in Dikwa LGA.

Borno State Report

Day after day, the sight of malnourished children living in deplorable conditions, has become a sickening phenomenon witnessed in most IDP camps in Borno State. Dilapidated tents, poor clothing and food lacking in basic nutrients, are the unpalatable hallmarks of human existence in these camps. At least, 600,000 people are living in the IDP camps located in Borno, having been displaced from their communities due to the insurgency that has hounded the State since 2009. Fortunate to have survived and fled the violent attacks that took the lives of tens of thousands of Borno inhabitants, these resilient survivors are now faced with a perpetual struggle to stay alive. Most of them lost their homes, farms and small-scale businesses to the conflicts.

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