COVID-19: Seme border communities and politics of palliatives measures


Following the deadly Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the need to curtail the spread in the country, the federal and some state governments have initiated a number of palliative measures aimed at cushioning the effects of the attendant social dislocation on the populace. But, this report by PODO SUNDAY, has shown that all that glitters is not gold





As the second phase of the Federal Government directive on lockdown enters its final week, the economic realities bites harder with palliative supposedly meant for the populace allegedly being shared among politicians and their friends only. Interestingly, the level of compliance with the “stay at home” directive by the government, which began on Tuesday, March 31, in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states, had dealt a heavy blow on both the social and economic life of the ever bustling border communities. Almost all shops and trading spaces are locked up except for a few food vendors, who are also complaining of low sales from residents.

The story is the same in Badagry through Seme border as the bobbling gateway to Benin Republic has remained a shadow of itself. At Gbaji joint security check-points, where gridlock used to be thick on a daily basis, only a cluster of security officials were seen on duty chatting when our reporter visited the area during the week. The situation is not significantly different at the Ministry of Works Yard, Suntan Beach Resort, Sito Gbethromeh Secondary School, and Ashipa junctions of Seme highway.

The bustling and hustling at the border is also gone with only a handful of people and security vehicles patrolling. These have brought all economic activities in the once bubbling border to its knees. A middle-aged woman, who sells soft drinks and water, told our Correspondent that business had been dull.

“It was better if I had stayed back at home,” she added. However, the distribution of stimulus package comprising 5kg rice, beans and garri by political representatives to cushion the effect of the lockdown were marred with complaints of favouritism and partisanship, according to a notable youth leader, Sewanu Michael, who spoke with our correspondents.

The other youth leaders, Omotayo Samuel and Zosu Kehinde, who were also monitoring event of the lockdown and actually followed the distribution processes, lamented that stimulus packages distributed by both Hon. Bonu Solomon, SA on Tourism to Governor Sanwoolu and House of Representatives member, Hon. Babatunde Hunpe, were done on the basis of party caucuses in all the 10 villages so far visited on that axis. Others like Comrades Michael and Aladeotan David equally decried the actions of those they described as politician’s boys, who handled the distribution processes as condemnable.

To them, “our politicians haven’t learnt any lesson; they are not yet ready for change even though that’s what the ruling party preaches.” A large numbers of vulnerable women, children and jobless youth, were said to have been shunned in the distribution of items as some of them were tagged “non-indigenes”, a development that angers common sense. Communities with larger numbers of vulnerable population at Seme axis that are still in need of food at this critical time include Aivoji, Agonvi, Aketegbo, Sito, Bapo, and Gbethromeh. Others are Hunvemeto, Akoro, Azangbemeh, Ethesugbemeh, Pitimeh, Parada, Agbagbothomeh, Kenwemeh, Thota, Ashipa, Pengbo, Oglogbo, Wayingbemeh, and Yenawa.

These communities are praying that the methods deployed in sharing the first and second stimulus are not repeated during the anticipatory additional 14 – day lockdown. If such happens, they said, the poorest of the poor among them would have to lick their wounds alone. In another breathe, the youth leaders praised the chairman of Badagry West Local Council Development Area, Hon. Gbenu Joseph, who, according to them, personally accompanied his own stimulus packages, moving from one village to the other and distributing it to residents without any preferential treatment or attachment to any party or tribe.

“The transparent way and manner he did his, is highly commendable, and worthy of emulation by both leaders and followers alike,” the youth leaders said. When contacted for his reaction on the allegations on the telephone, Bonu and Hunpe denied such insinuations, even as they branded it malicious. They said Badagry remained one and united as one family but that the reality on ground is that, such stimulus cannot get to everybody at the same time.

They called for restraints, saying the coming days could be a blessing in disguise for those who were yet to feel the palliative measures in the area. They said: “We are promising to do better and beyond the present arrangement.

This is our word, and it must be kept, God willing.” In spite of these denials and promises for better days, another youth leader and student activist from Badagry West, Comrade Aladeotan David Water, told Saturday Telegraph that he has his reservations. To him, the emergency food response of Lagos State Government and Badagry West LCDA following the lockdown in the wake of COVID-19 was nothing but a political jamboree. “It is also an avenue for political office holders, who used the occasion to show their relevance and strength. The stimulus package was targeted at party faithful and their relatives, especially those from the state government,” Water alleged.

He however, commended the Badagry West LCDA whose sharing committee was headed by the chairman, Hon. Gbenu Joseph, who Water said, personally touched every community within his compass with the little he had. This, he said, was a departure from what came from both Abuja and Alausa that were hijacked by politicians and their supporters. Water added: “The youth were also denied from both the sharing committees and beneficiaries in preference for politicians.

We want government to involve youth representatives in future arrangements if success must be recorded. We equally enjoined youths to adhere strictly to the lockdown directives of both the Federal and Lagos State governments and always stay safe in order to stay alive.”

For Michael, the President’s promise to end corruption has been messed up as his government has successfully and technically developed a new breed of corrupt practices. Michael also said that money donated by well-meaning Nigerians and other donor countries has not been judiciously channelled into ameliorating the sufferings of poor Nigerians. He said that those in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states whose daily livelihood have been locked down without any tangible stimulus package to cushion the effects of the deadly virus have now been made to bear the brunt. He also decried what he called the scam associated with the distribution of the relief package, which he claimed were being shared among party leaders and followers.

The young Comrade, however, wants government at all levels to enlist the services of Civil Society Groups and Non-Governmental Organisations in the distribution of stimulus packages. He condemned the use of political mechanisms in sharing of relief materials as it turned out to be “party affairs.”

Aside that, Michael wants rich Nigerians, philanthropists and corporate organisations to complement the efforts of government and engage these bodies and youth groups to reach out to the needy instead of donating money and materials that could be embezzled by those he called greedy politicians without conscience. He called on the Federal Government to urgently equip hospitals and build new ones and repackage the health sector to match global best practices and standards.

He believes that COVID-19 pandemic is surmountable and wants the government to build more test centres in all the local government areas of the nation with qualified health personnel to administer quality treatment for those infected. Another youth leader, Zosu Joshua Kehinde, has also said that most of the rural communities at Seme border are yet to benefit from the state government stimulus package, especially the aged and the youth, who are in their numbers.

He identified the political modalities deployed for such distribution as major hindrances for such relief to get down the ladder. Zosu, who is also the honourable speaker, National Association of Badagry West Students (NABWESS), berated those who shared the federal and Lagos State government stimulus package for being partisan even in the face of an emergency health issue like COVID-19 pandemic where everybody seems to have become vulnerable.

He said: “Why play politics with our lives? We want further disbursement to involve community leaders, youth groups, women representatives and PTAs and not politicians if the government is actually sincere in reaching out to the vulnerable in the society.

We also want the government to use this opportunity to upgrade our health facilities and make all teaching hospitals in the country a major medical research centres.” The government, many believe, seem not to understand the impact of the lockdown because they have so much for themselves and their families.

“How can you be giving out ‘palliatives’ and decide to start from party loyalists? The poor settlements where traders and those who do day job come from are ignored. Those are the places where much attention ought to have been given.

They are people who have no farms and their small businesses and daily paid jobs are no longer functional. Who needs this assistance more?” asked, one angry woman from Ketu area of the metropolis. It’s equally been lamentation and wailing in other quarters of the “Centre of Excellence”.

The citizens are alleging that the process of distribution of the items the government made available for that purpose has been hijacked and politicised. Residents of Kosefe in Ketu, for instance, openly expressed their displeasure even as they told Saturday Telegraph that they had lost hope of receiving any stimulus package from the state government. A large crowd was reported to have also jostled and cheered in the poor district of Alimosho in Nigeria’s megacity as the doors of a lorry swung open to reveal hundreds of sacks of food.

The rice, beans and other staples were part of a programme from the local authorities to feed some of the poorest in economic hub of over 20 million after it went into lockdown to halt the coronavirus. But the joy of the local residents soon turned to anger as the realisation dawned that there would not be enough for everyone.

“Liars!” a woman reportedly shouted with a child tied on her back. As it turned out, only 50 sacks of food were said to have been unloaded and handed over to a local traditional leader to dole out before the truck closed up and headed off to make its next delivery.

To say that the stayat- home order issued by government has cut countless people, who live hand-to-mouth in many neighbourhoods off from their only source of survival, is like stating the obvious. Others that sighted a semblance of the palliative packages in other areas decried the distribution process; they complained that a greater portion of the relief materials was reserved for party members when the goods arrived their localities. Many of them were seen angrily accusing those distributing the items of having pilfered the packages.

However, some have noted that the government faces a tough balancing act at this point in time. How, for instance, to contain a pandemic that risks flooding Nigeria’s weak health system and keep a lid on the wrath of millions of poor unable to make ends meet, has remained a major challenge for the authorities.

There are also others who believe that signs of a potential explosion are already bubbling under the surface. A task force of unarmed security officers has been touring many crowded district in Lagos trying to enforce the lockdown.

They cleared prostitutes and their clients out of brothels before turning to mosques where hundreds had gathered in contravention of the rules. Soon after that, thousands of young people started emerging from the adjoining pathways to stop them, hurling bottles at the police cars as they fled.

The announcement of the palliative measures had attracted impressive donations from corporate organisations and individuals. These positive reactions have equally elicited a level of expectations among Nigerians, who looked forward to some reliefs to enable them cope with enormous household responsibilities arising from the lockdown.

Unfortunately however, this has not been the case as the measures introduced, especially in Lagos State, appears to have been largely compromised by a few greedy politicians. Much of the palliative packages, according to many, have not reached majority of those for whom they were intended.

The poorest of the poor in different communities like those in Badagry were indecently excluded from the distributed food items. Those that got, received, what many saw as not fit for humans. In Lagos State where many have been affected by the lockdown, overwhelming majority of its citizens whose daily means of livelihoods were interrupted and without alternative sources of income were yet to be reached by the palliatives.

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