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‘LOOTED PALLIATIVES’: The inside story (2)

This is the concluding part of the story, behind the ‘looted’ palliatives, as chronicled by ISIOMA MADIKE, who tracked the looting of palliatives in both Lagos and Oyo states for weeks

Agunbiade reacts to allegation

Agunbiade, in his reported response to the looting of the palliatives in his home, had called what happened in his Ikorodu home a sponsored attack and an attempt to assassinate him. He told one of our reporters that he had been seriously vilified in the media and that he had suffered political persecution in the hands of some political detractors in Ikorodu. He said in the published interview: “This opportunity I have as a representative should be used to tell you that the Hon. Agunbiade that you know is not a thief but a man of integrity.

I am sure you all know before now that I have personally had cause to distribute palliative reliefs for both indigenes and non-indigenes in my constituency. They skewed a narrative that I wanted to celebrate my 50th birthday but most people attended my 50th birthday some years back. After I did my golden jubilee, I decided to stop doing the merriment part of my birthday. “So, what I did was that every October 25, I come up with a programme that will impact the people.

In that tradition and mindset, I decided to impact 50 selected widows in my constituency with N50,000 each. We reached out to people, groups and community development associations and they are the ones that nominated these widows. The stakeholders who generated the names are here in our constituency.

“Also, I thought that instead of just a one-off wining and dining session for my birthday, I decided to buy foodstuffs that I can distribute to people and they will take them to their various homes. Please note, that was not palliative; that was my relief to indigent and less privileged people in my constituency.

“These foodstuffs were purchased at my own expense and kept somewhere around my house; they were not kept in my house. I started buying bags of rice, beans, garri and others at the end of August. We were packaging them for about 700 people. During the last Ramadan, we couldn’t have our annual lecture because of COVID- 19 protocols.

So, we packaged all that we used to share and give them out to the people in my constituency as foodstuff. “Incidentally, the government of Lagos State also gave us palliatives at that period but I wasn’t in the country at the time.

Those who were holding brief for me distributed both the ones I bought for Ramadan and the ones given by the government to the people, and we have video evidence of how they explained to the people that the palliatives are different. “While getting these materials ready to distribute to people to commemorate my birthday, the government of Lagos gave us some palliative materials in the second week of October.

The understanding among lawmakers in the Lagos State House of Assembly is that those materials will be distributed at the statewide stakeholders meeting fixed originally for October 21. “But because of the #EndSARS protest that engulfed the nation and the state, the House of Assembly put off the scheduled programme indefinitely. All the materials got from the government are just 120 packs of noodles and 50 bags of different foodstuffs. Both the noodles and the foodstuffs were already marked with not-tobe- sold from the Lagos government and CACOVID.”

Youths demand arrest of Alli-Macaulay

However, angry youths had called for the arrest of Alli-Macaulay after they claimed that she used the COVID-19 palliatives as birthday souvenirs. This development came after the bill on the regulation of social media in Nigeria, one in which the politician insinuated that some youths on social media are always on drugs and that is the reason for irrational behaviours on cyberspace. She had said: “They (Nigerian youths) are high on drugs all the time, most of them. They go to social media to do all sorts of things.”

Her remarks made Nigerians dig up photos from her birthday in which some of the souvenirs had CACOVID palliative inscriptions on them. Group sought her recall from the House A group, Amuwo Odofin Stakeholders’ Consultative Forum in Lagos, had also petitioned the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to commence a recall process of Alli-Macaulay, from the Lagos State House of Assembly.

In the petition, dated November 2, and addressed to the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the group alleged that the firstterm lawmaker is not accessible and has not represented them well since assumption of office.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that the petition, titled: “Notice of Petition to Recall Honourable Mojisola Kehinde Alli-Macaulay, Member Representing Amuwo-Odofin Constituency I from the Lagos State House of Assembly,” was signed by Messrs Kingsley Nwanze and Gbenga Akinbinu, the Convener and Secretary respectively.

The petition read in part: “She does not have a functional constituency office as required by law within the constituency for almost two years in office. She has not prepared any bill aimed at improving the lives of her constituents and by extension, Lagos State. It was widely circulated on major social media platforms also that she used COVID-19 palliative items as gifts at her last birthday party.

Her continuous representation is totally against the well-being of her constituents.” Nwanze, in an interview with this reporter, said it is indeed sad that palliatives meant for the suffering masses in Lagos State were looted.

It is even more pathetic, he added, knowing that some persons in government actually looted these palliatives for their own selfish cravings. He said: “The palliatives shared in Amuwo-Odofin Local Government Area were not evenly distributed across the different groupings within the locality because most of the items ended in the hands of those in government and their cronies.

The suffering masses had very little to share among themselves. For me, the looting of palliatives by government officials has no justification whatsoever. But for the suffering masses, it can be justified though to a reasonable extent because hunger is the worst enemy of mankind.

“It is justified because why would anyone hoard palliatives knowing full well that there is so much hunger in the land? It is the most grievous height of wickedness to humanity. How does one explain such an attitude being exhibited by lawmakers, who receive bogus remunerations for selfish endeavours? I was very sad seeing pictures of palliative items on social media that were shared at the birthday of the Honourable member representing Amuwo-Odofin Constituency 1.

“How justifiable can such action be? They claimed to be preparing for the second wave of the COVID-19. That, to me, is wrong. Why would they be preparing for the second wave of the pandemic when people are already dying of hunger? It is a fact that hunger is worse than the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There were obvious tendencies of favouritism in the sharing of the palliatives. I expected that the government agencies particularly the ICPC would have arrested and prosecuted those persons in government that were caught hoarding the palliatives for their selfish needs. Unfortunately, these people are going about, unperturbed in our society.” Also, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) spokesman for Lagos State, Taofeek Gani, said he was not surprised with the way and manner the palliatives were shared because, according to him, “it is the characteristic of the APC government; they have continued to betray the trust given to them by the people.

“Do you know that two of the members of Lagos State House of Assembly were caught in Ikorodu and Amuwo-Odofin? They caught them with these palliatives in their houses and the two of them said they were to distribute the items on their birthdays. What is that supposed to mean? “That is very insulting and irritating. So, the Lagos State government cannot claim that they kept those palliatives for distribution.

In-fact some of us are of the opinion that they actually kept them for the just concluded by-election; their intention was to use the palliative items for campaign. This will demoralize people who donated the items even though they now speak to protect them. If there is proper investigation of this issue, there is no way the official indicted can go Scott free. “What happened in my area is worse because we did not even see anything.

In other areas, they merely distributed part of the items to both registered members and those sympathetic to their government. In other instances, they were asking for tax clearance before they could be given items.

In the end, the people the palliatives were meant for were denied the items. How does one explain that?” However, efforts to get Alli-Macaulay to state her side of the story were not successful as calls put through to her known line were not answered. She did not equally return the calls. Also, test messages sent to her telephone line and via WhatsApp were not answered as well.

Government denied hoarding palliatives

Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government has continued to deny that the palliatives were hoarded to be shared among government functionaries. It had earlier condemned the vandalisation of the warehouse lnerat Mazamaza. Olusanya had refused formal interview with this reporter when she wrote in a text message response that “information on all of this was put on our social media handles.

Time lines show when we received and distribution methodology. This happened a month ago so trying to get news on this at this is a bit unsettling as to the real agenda behind your request.” She had before then stated in a statement that “The State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu had on September 22, formally taken receipt of the food palliatives from the CACOVID team meant for distribution to the indigent.

The Government notes that the warehouse in question is not state-owned and its usage was made available to the CACOVID group. “The State Government had been allowed to commence re-bagging of food items allotted to it from the quantities meant for South-West states.

The rebagging was being done to account for each beneficiary receipt, as was required and monitored by the CACOVID team.” Olusanya added that the distribution was on-going but had to be halted due to protests, before the invasion of the warehouse.

“For effective distribution of the food palliatives, groups such as Transport Unions, Ethnic Groups, Religious Associations, Artisans and Tradesmen Association, Market men and Women Association, People Living with Disabilities, Orphanages and Old Peoples’ Homes among others were being used as distribution channels to their members.

The State Government however regrets the invasion of the warehouse and appreciate the support offered by the CACOVID group to the citizenry of Lagos,” she said. Similarly, her counterpart in the information ministry, Gbenga Omotosho, in a separate telephone chat with this reporter had also said: “There would be no need for this again as events have overtaken it. That is not what people want to read now and if I’m your editor I would advise you against going ahead with this story. The economy is distressed now, coupled with the trouble brewing in the Niger Delta region and you are still talking about the looted palliatives? We should move on by now,” he said.

Recall that CACOVID had in late September, supplied Lagos State with food items worth over N1.4 billion, to alleviate the effects of the pandemic. The coalition said the food provision would cover 107,564 households in Lagos State. But the distribution was yet to happen before the #EndSARS protest began. Following the crisis that ensued, the warehouses holding the palliatives were discovered and plundered by “hoodlums”. The state government had also noted that while there was outrage that officials of governments were hoarding food in time of starvation, the time frame showed that the food palliatives were received months after the lockdown was lifted. “And the State governments appear to be fulfilling the wish of CACOVID, which is streamlined toward the most vulnerable in the states,” it added.
However, the balance of what remained for distribution after looting is not known, as none of the state officials were ready to talk on that.

Nwanisobi insisted on CACOVID position

Meanwhile, the Director, Corporate Communications Department, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Osita Nwanisobi, in a telephone chat with this reporter insisted that the position of CACOVID had not changed regarding the looted palliatives. In a signed statement sent across, the private sector coalition, explained the delayed distribution of the food items by the state governors where the items were discovered and looted in the different warehouses they were stored.

The coalition stated that it was deeply concerned by the events, and urged those involved in the wanton destruction of public and private properties to immediately desist from such activities in order to allow the states to proceed with a peaceful and fair distribution of the palliatives to the most vulnerable in society.

It explained: “Over the past few months, the private sector through CACOVID has been working with all state governors, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister and the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) to procure, deliver and distribute these food relief items to almost two million most vulnerable families (over 10 million Nigerians) across the 774 LGAs in the country, as part of the private sector’s support to the national response to the C0VID-19 pandemic.

“The sheer scale of this nationwide food programme and the timing of the orders and deliveries, which coincided with the lockdowns and reduced movement across the country, compelled CACOVID to roll out distribution in a staggered manner, with states classified in three phases, to enable orderly delivery to the needy.

“At the time CACOVID embarked on the palliatives efforts in April, we decided to procure the food directly from the manufacturers, to avoid a distortion of prices in the market. The food package was designed such that each of the nearly two million families received: 10kg bag of rice, five kg of garri/maize, flour/semolina, and one carton of pasta, two cartons of noodles, 5kg of sugar and one kg of salt.”

It pointed out that unfortunately, the very large size of the order and the production cycle required to meet the demand caused a delay in delivering the food items to the states in an expeditious manner; hence the resulting delay in delivery of the food palliatives by the state governors.

When contacted, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum Head of Media & Public Affairs, Abdulraque Bello-Barkindo, said he was not in a position to talk about looting in the states hence he advised that we contact the states in question to find out from them how the items were distributed and why and how the looting took place.

Oyo

In Oyo State, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Seyi Makinde, Taiwo Adisa, who spoke for the state government after the Commissioners of Information, Agriculture and Health declined comment, told Saturday Telegraph that the issue of palliatives had been a case of endless expectations. CACOVID, he said, promised it would deliver to the state up to 150 trucks of support. “But, only a few of the trucks were received. So, how do you distribute items that can’t go round? That’s the first issue.

Then the items in those supplied are Spaghetti and Indomie packs. This is Oyo State, a traditional state where we have our staple food items, which the people appreciate. We can’t reasonably distribute Indomie and Spaghetti here without incurring the anger of our people; at least you must add rice to that before it can be meaningful. “That’s why the state government asked CACOVID to make sure it supplies rice to Oyo so the items can be meaningfully distributed.

We were still expecting the trucks that would bring the rice. When the state couldn’t wait anymore, Governor Seyi Makinde asked the Food Security Committee of the COVID- 19 Task Force to get other locally produced food items and flagged off the fifth round of palliatives distribution. “Remember we have done four rounds of distribution previously. We were to kick start the fifth round distribution the same week the #EndSARS disruptions started.

That was why Governor Makinde announced the immediate commencement of distribution of the 5th round of palliatives.” Adisa claimed that his state used its own money to purchase mainly locally produced and procured items for distribution in the first four rounds. “And now we can’t just go ahead and distribute only Indomie here, and as you know, distribution itself takes planning. That’s why we had to choose dates to certify as well, structure the logistics,” he added.

The CPS also said that the palliatives that were looted by hoodlums at a warehouse in the Akobo area of Ibadan, the state capital, did not belong to the state government, stressing that the Makinde-led administration would not do anything to short-change the people.

He said, “The looted warehouse belongs to a private individual, who operates in Oyo State, and was given a valid contract by the CACOVID that has been helping states and the Federal Government to fight COVID-19.

So, it was the rice that he procured on his own for repackaging that was mistaken to be Oyo State’s that hoodlums looted. Ours were stored at the secretariat.” However, a middle-aged woman, who identified herself only as Mama Toyin, confirmed that “A house was burgled about 8pm at Ajara after Akobo Ojurin, Olorunda axis. They carted away bags of rice, which I don’t know the number. And I don’t know whether it belonged to the state or an individual. “Some of the youth claimed they broke into the warehouse after hearing that a government official stock his house with bags of rice meant as palliatives for Oyo people. I wouldn’t know whether that information was fake or real.”

Owner of looted warehouse speaks

Meanwhile, Alabi Adeoye, while reacting to enquiries from this reporter, confirmed that he owns the warehouse. According to him, he was an agent of the CACOVID engaged to supply rice to Abia, Cross River, Plateau and Taraba states.

He said that the company was re-bagging and repacking the rice in line with the specifications of the coalition before distribution to the states, explaining that his company, which has been operating in Oyo State in the past five years, lost close to N50 million to the attack. He said: “Oyo State Government was not part of the states we were asked to supply by CACOVID. On September 30, CACOVID contacted us if we could handle the supply of rice for them.

We have an interest in farming. We are farmers and we have a good network with every state. We told them we could handle it, and we were able to get the purchase order. “After that, we instructed our team to manage it from Ibadan, simply because we believe we can also generate revenue in Ibadan and create more jobs. We have farms in Ibadan and it has been profitable for us. And we have been able to employ a good number of the indigenes to manage our farms for us. So, these are the reasons they gave us the job.” Pressed for further explanation, Adeoye said he was busy outside Ibadan, and directed the reporter to look for his detailed explanation on the issue in the Nation Newspaper, before he hung up the telephone.

Concluded This investigative work was supported by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Reporting/MacArthur Foundation.

 

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