In one of the media briefings by the Presidential Committee on COVID-19, the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, laboured hard trying to explain why the palliative put in place by the government might not amount to much by the time it gets to individuals and families.
He argued that if N1billion, for instance were to be shared at the rate of N5,000 per person, it will get to only 200,000 people. If this were to be increased to N10,000, beneficiaries will be reduced to 100,000. Were the same amount to be distributed at the rate of N20,000 per head, it will only go round 50,000 persons.
Ogbeni Aregbesola explained that the palliative was meant for the most disadvantaged members of society and could not have been for everyone.
This reality becomes more poignant in light of the protests and outcries that have greeted the government’s palliative for the lockdown. Indeed, in the first week of the first lockdown, a video went viral of a woman in Lagos raking on the small portion of rice with a small cowhide meat. This was followed by another video in Osun of opposition members pouring rice meant as palliative on the road and mocking the state government, at the same time complaining that the portion given to them is small and even expired.
The lockdown has destabilised everyone, no doubt, and as it goes on, it continues to take unbearable tolls on all. It has seriously affected the rich, poor, young, old, employer, employee and other categories and we can only pray that we put the whole saga behind us soonest, and resume normal life.
But at the heart of these protests is the national malaise of misplaced sense of entitlement. The palliative is meant for the weakest members of the society; those that have absolutely nothing and without having a helping hand, will be worsted. It is not meant for those who are comfortable and are only required to make some sacrifice.
But the sad news is that everyone wants a piece of it the way we scramble for any government largesse. I know some millionaires who were actually looking forward to the palliatives, just because it is coming from the government.
The saucy woman in Lagos and the insouciant opposition members in Osogbo would ordinarily not be qualified for the palliative because they own android phones and can buy data with which they recorded video and shared it on WhatsApp. They evidently are eating better food on their own and therefore can look at government’s provision with disdain and contempt. That the Osogbo people can throw away the rice meant they don’t need it, so it could not have been meant for them.
I believe those who have some reserves or are still receiving their salaries should be thankful. Our attitude should be reaching out to the underprivileged around us and share some of our resources with them. This should not be the responsibility of the government and political office holders alone.
Let’s be clear, this is a totally new challenge for Nigeria. We have never been in this situation before and we have no experience to draw from. We have no national experience social welfare for the citizen and not even a sufficient database that could be the platform for social welfare.
Only Ogbeni Aregbesola when he was Osun governor consistently put in place a system of social welfare which includes ‘Agba Osun’ an intervention of monthly stipend and healthcare for the senior citizens, ‘O’Rehab’, an intervention of rehabilitation and resettlement for lunatics and destitute in the state, all of whom recovered and were either resettled or reunited with their families.
The Euro-American countries dolling out sumptuous palliative are well experienced. They have two devastating World Wars to draw from. For 50 years, they were under the threat of nuclear annihilation while the Cold War lasted and have since then put in place food reserves and logistics that will last for at least six months, at the first instance, in case of any emergency of this nature. They just slide seamlessly into the emergency programme.
But we have no such experience and could not have envisaged that pestilence ravaging the world would shut down the country, crippling economic and social activities.
It is my sincere hope that we have learnt enough lessons and a similar situation will not catch us napping in the future.
But we must recognise the challenge ahead of us, with oil prices in precipitous fall, selling below $0 in the United States. This has raised the spectre of revenue lockdown in which 80 per cent of national revenue may disappear, putting governance at all levels in tailspin.
We must all lift our nation in prayer, ask God to remove this evil from our land and give our leaders the wisdom to navigate this tempestuous sea successfully. This is because if this situation continues, even the rich will be happy to be given the food being derided by fools at the moment.
Osogbo, State of Osun