By Victor Tunde Oso & Nnamdi Ojiego
Nigerians are divided over the suggestion by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar that the federal and state governments should set up a palliative fund to assist Nigerians as they observe stay-at-home orders occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While some welcomed the idea, others said the money could be hijacked.
In a statement, Atiku had observed that much of the Nigerian population live on subsistence basis and do not have the financial capacity to cope with long periods of isolation or lockdown.
He announced a pledge of N50 million to the proposed fund, saying, “To this end, Priam Group pledges N50 million on my behalf as my humble contribution to a relief Fund that will form part of the stimulus package.”
Stating modalities for the disbursement of the fund, the former VP said, “At an approximate 30 million households or thereabouts, government should devise modalities to distribute N10, 000 as supplement for food stuff to each household, among other palliative measures, with no one left behind.
Wealthy Nigerians under the aegis of Nigerian Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19, which include Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Mr. Femi Otedola, Alhaji Abdulsamad Rabiu, Mr. Jim Ovia, Mr. Tony Elumelu, Mr. Segun Agbaje and Herbert Wigwe, are donatingN11billion at N1billion each in this direction. On the side of government, all 43 cabinet ministers in the Federal Executive Council FEC, have donated 50% of their March 2020 salaries to support the private sector-led initiative.
Alex Ogundadegbe, a public sector analyst, said, “There are about 40 million people who are registered via BVN.
“If the Federal Government accedes to Atiku Abubakar’s request to pay each person N10, 000 it could be a great gesture to ameliorate the effects of COVID-19 on individuals.
“The United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have already pledged to pay workers relief stipends. “The feasibility of the processes in Nigeria is hindered by the limited database available to the government. “The unbanked and the under-banked people will not benefit from this scheme if it is carried out”.
Emmanuel Nwagboniwe, a media practitioner, maintained that while such calls are timely and expedient given the hardship citizens have been subjected to due to the partial lockdown, “my fear is that when such funds are made available, our ever greedy politicians and top government functionaries (at the three tiers of government) will hijack the programme to enrich themselves and their cronies”.
He went on: “At the end of the day, the hapless citizens will go through hell accessing the fund, as they will be required to provide evidence of their citizenship, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, including party membership card, voters card, BVN, drivers licence, letter from local government of origin, among others.
“For a nation that has no accurate data of our population, it will be extremely difficult to determine how many citizens are entitled to the canvassed fund, and of course, foreigners may easily benefit more that the citizens.
“The truth is: as we are today in this country, it will be off the mark to expect a seamless disbursements of such funds, so, I advise that government should expedite action to curtail the pandemic and the people return to work for their daily bread.”
Aniyikariaye Olowokoyi, an educationist, said if truly Atiku and others gave money to the Federal Government, which should be distributed at N10, 000 to each family in Nigeria as a palliative measure against COVID19 for the people to stay at home, it is a welcome idea. Other wealthy Nigerians, religious leaders, he said, should emulate the gesture by giving money or foodstuffs to the people.
“Asking people to stay at home without help from government would just be a mere wish. It is high time our leaders and the well-to-do in the society come to the rescue of the masses.”
Mrs. Adewunmi Akindina, a teacher, while commending the Atiku gesture, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently call on state governors, who are “thoughtlessly shutting their borders to re-open them”.
Akindina stated, “I heard that Kogi State has closed its borders. This is one of the food baskets of the nation. Even if they give us N10, 000, if there’s no food to purchase, the financial aid will come to naught.
“So, there’s the need for our leaders to sit down and co-ordinate their actions.
“I went to the market in the afternoon today in Ota, Ogun State and essential foodstuff were no longer available apparently because people had bought up the foodstuff to stockpile them.
“The Federal Government should also warn the police, who we learned (at the market) are seizing, harassing and extorting truck drivers bringing foodstuff from the North to the South.
“Government needs to look into this. Except these are done, even if government gives each Nigerian N50, 000, if people cannot get foodstuff to buy, the whole country will starve.”
Mr. Hassan Taiwo, a fabrics trader at Iyana Ipaja, Lagos, described Atiku’s call as timely. “What Atiku is saying is nothing but the truth. I can’t survive beyond one week without going to my shop. Can anybody survives without money”, he queried.
Another respondent, Mr. Efemena Ovie, a property management consultant in Banana Island, Lagos, said if no palliatives was put in place, hunger would kill the people before Covid-19 would get to them. “How can you ask people who try to feed by what they make daily to stay at home without giving them anything to ‘hold body’? It is either they die of starvation or they resort to self help”, he stressed.
Our online readers were not left out. Some of the commentators, who expressed their feelings @ www.vanguardngr.com, said good advice must always be heeded irrespective of who was giving the advice or suggestion.
According to one Mr. John, “Atiku has spoken and done well. This is what we expect patriotic leaders to do and act. Suggest and lead. At times like this, helping the most venerable ones of the society help to fight this virus to a stand still. Hope others will follow suit. I just hope and pray that the people who needed this help most get it. I also hope and pray that people charged with this responsibility do not use it to their own advantage. Hope this will not be another corruption channel.”
In his reaction, Tito Kane, who said he was not a fan of Atiku maintained that the PDP presidential candidate has made a great suggestion that would be beneficial to Nigerians of every tribe and religion. “I endorse his idea. I am of the opinion that we must not always ignore good and profitable counsel that will benefit Nigeria and Nigerians simply because someone who gave the advice is at variance with our ways. Good advice must always be heeded to irrespective whoever it is coming from. Buhari must do the needful now.”
Another Vanguard Online commentator, Benny Hills, described Atiku’s suggestion as playing to the gallery. “I wonder who is advising Atiku. Laudable as his suggestion may be, it is too pre-emptive to suggest and start acting at the same time. Government has not planned any stimulus and you’re already donating to it? To me, this is akin to playing to the gallery than expressing a genuine interest.”