Toads of the COVID-19 WAR
Toads of War is the best-selling novel authored by Eddie Iroh where he gives a background to the Nigerian civil war and a vivid description of what transpired on the Biafra side of the war, He asserts in the novel that there were many toads of war who unduly benefitted from the prosecution of the war, usually at the expense of the hapless citizens of Biafra and the Biafran state.
Nigeria has since prosecuted several ‘wars’: the war against Boko Haram; war against corruption, the war against kidnapping, the war against COVID-19 and many other wars. Unfortunately, we seem to have had a growing tribe of ‘Toads’ who have spread their toxic secretions of mindless greed, treachery and utter wickedness to corner the resources meant to fight these wars or worse-still, steal the resources so that the war will continue to fester while they amass incredulous wealth as the people and the Nigerian state lay prostrate.
In announcing the lockdowns to help slow the spread of COVID-19, it was clear that each state government and the federal government understood the need to provide social and economic security for their vulnerable citizens and, indeed they promised to do so. The federal government imposed movement restrictions in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) while Kaduna, Cross River, Ebonyi, Enugu, Kwara, Yobe, Jigawa, Adamawa, Delta, Rivers, Kogi, and others also introduced some forms of restriction in their respective states. Not a few people were however convinced that the palliatives will not trickle down to those that really need it nor will it be sufficient. Unfortunately, reports emanating from across the country have confirmed the citizens’ worst fears.
Clearly, the multi-level corruption in Nigeria will always leave citizens holding the short end of the stick as bureaucrats and politicians align with, or fight one another to amass the biggest loot out of any situation no matter the effect on the intended beneficiaries and the image of their main principals despite their (principal’s) best intentions. This comes as no surprise as both at the federal and state levels, there seems to be a disdain for transparency when executing social and economic empowerment programs and, indeed any program. The use of data is usually shunned and where it is supposedly used it is restricted to gross, opaque numbers rather than full disclosures which technology can easily help provide.
Smelling danger over the issue of palliatives by the federal government, the National Assembly summoned the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq in early April to an interactive session where they expressed deep reservation on the way the National Social Investment Programme had been executed since 2016 even as the federal government sought approval for a N500,000 COVID-19 palliatives program. Summing up the views of his colleagues, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamilla observed that “Your job right now, is probably the most important as we speak, because you are saddled with the responsibility of alleviating ‘poverty’ or the hardship, due to no fault of anyone, being thrust upon Nigerians’
He said the donation would go a long way in supporting Nigeria’s efforts at controlling and containing the virus to prevent community spread, as well as revitalise the national health care systems.
The President used the occasion to express sincere condolences of the Government and people of Nigeria to EU-member countries and families who lost their loved ones as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Assembly also asked for a detailed breakdown of how over N2 trillion had been distributed under the NSIP program since 2016. Interestingly, the Office of the Accountant-General which the minister averred was the depository of the information being requested by the NASS was engulfed in a strange fire less than 24 hours after that encounter!
Alarmed, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) urged Nigerians to demand a forensic investigation by independent criminal forensic scientists. It said “HURIWA strongly believes that the fire is too suspicious to be dismissed as a mere accident or happenstance. … N60 billion was reportedly blown away by the Federal Government in the guise of implementing conditional cash transfer to some ghosts and some political nitwits rather than to the millions of poor Nigerians. “How did this cash get shared and frittered away in a few hours? To whom did this humongous cash get to, and where are the records since the National Assembly only yesterday raised the alarm? And 24 hours later, there was a fire at the office of the Accountant General of the Federation?
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) also asked the Federal Government and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to “provide spending details of public funds and private sector donations to provide socio-economic benefits to the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people, including details of beneficiaries of any cash payments, cash transfers, food distribution, and other benefits during the lockdown in Abuja; Lagos and Ogun states because of COVID-19.”
SERAP said: “Providing socio-economic benefits to the country’s poorest especially at this time of COVID-19 crisis is a matter of human rights, not charity. It is also implicit in Nigerians’ right to freely use their natural wealth and resources, which ought to be spent for the public good. Ensuring that relief funds and donations are used to provide much-needed benefits to beneficiaries is critical to keeping people alive, and addressing vulnerabilities and inequalities in the country.”
The Lagos state government on its part is re-strategizing how to distribute its food supply program after being stunningly embarrassed by the wanton stealing that rubbished its efforts to bring palliatives to the citizenry. It has been alleged that some party faithful aligned with privileged civil servants to hijack the procurement and distribution of the food items which saw just a bag of items meant for one family being issued to a street with as much as 30 houses and in some instances, whole communities. The scenario was the same in Ogun state.
Sometimes, however, it is feared that the collusion to profit from the pains COVID-19 could be orchestrated from the highest levels. For instance the 2 months “free electricity” being arranged by the National Assembly raises a lot of suspicion in a country where the vast majority of poor electricity consumers remain in darkness for weeks, sometimes, months on end. According to statistics published by the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET), the invoice for the energy consumed by Nigerians stood at N52 billion in January this year. This means that the Federal Government may have to pay N104 billion to the Nigerian Electricity Supply Market (NESI), which consists mainly of private investors. Such a huge resource could be better deployed at this time as it is feared it may end up as another racketeering exercise as was the infamous fuel subsidy scam.
In Cross River state, there is a brewing controversy as critics tackle the government over a recent memo by the state executive council directing that each of the 18 local governments donate N50 million Naira to the fight against COVID-19. The resolution has since been forwarded to the state House of Assembly to pass the relevant law to compel the local government to comply. Neither the citizens of the state nor the local government chairmen have been told what the state government intends to do with the N900 million!
As Nigerians grapple with the sad effects of COVID-19 which promises to get much worse before it gets better, it is necessary to remind all toads of the COVID-19 war and everyone in privileged positions amassing all the money and assets and feeding fat under the guise of fighting COVID-19 and providing badly-needed palliatives to the poor will not make them more content and better. It is clear that if COVID-19 does not kill them, the curses of the people and the weight of their loot surely will.