Issues surrounding the rejected 1,800 bags of rice donated by the Federal Government to Oyo State as well as the delayed distribution of palliatives in the state, continue to worry the poor, writes WALE OYEWALE
For the people of Oyo State who are eagerly awaiting the distribution of the COVID-19 palliatives by the state government, hope for the planned welfare package appears far-fetched as blame game and controversies take the centre-stage. Apart from the heated criticism from the All Progressives Congress, which is the major opposition political party in the state, the controversy between the state government and the Nigeria Customs Service, Oyo/Osun Command, over the quality of the 1,800 bags of rice donated by the Federal Government to the state is a subject of contention.
The arguments back and forth on the quality of the rice being given to the state have attracted reactions from the public even as the long suffering masses of the state continue to express dissatisfaction and loss of trust and confidence in both the state and the Federal Government, and the Nigeria Customs Service, its agent.
As of Wednesday, when the state government made attempts to return the rejected bags of rice to the warehouse of the NCS where it took the product from last week, there was a near crisis situation as the men of the service turned the state team back from their office. After several minutes of arguments between the two parties, the state Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Jacob Ojemuyiwa, who led the team, said they had decided to report the development to the state executive council for advice.
Earlier, Governor Seyi Makinde had made clear his administration’s position on the action to be taken on the donation. According to him, the state government would not distribute bad and unhealthy food product to the people in the name of palliative as that would pose a greater risk than hunger. Makinde, who expressed disappointment over the donation indicated during an interview with Fresh 105.9 FM that the bags of rice would be returned to the Customs, “because I would not use the money of the state to assist the Nigeria Customs Service to destroy the bad bags of rice.”
Indeed, for the governor and his cabinet members, as well as the Peoples Democratic Party in Oyo State, the donated bags of rice from the APC-led Federal Government were nothing but ‘mere Greek gifts’. The opinion in some quarters within the state is that the consignment of rice in question was deliberately given to the state to embarrass Makinde and his party.
The people of the state, who had hoped for the windfall of palliative, last week as indicated by the governor, said they were utterly disappointed by the development. The hope of members of the public was raised earlier last week when the governor said the distribution of the palliatives to 120,000 households would begin. But up to time of filing this report, the exercise had not started.
The governor said he personally called some of the people on the list to ascertain if there was any colouration to the data.
He said, “I started from Saki East/ Saki West and Afijio Federal Constituency and then, I moved to Olorunsogo/Irepo and Oorelope Federal Constituency. In terms of the 14 federal constituencies, at least, I have an idea of who those people are and quite frankly, there is a shocking revelation. About 40 per cent of the people I spoke to were farmers. And they told me, yes, “it’s good for you to send us these palliatives but the real palliative that we want you to send us is to help us get to the farm. Assist us in clearing our land and then we are ready to go out there. So, there will be a second set of palliatives designed and targeted towards the farmers.”
However, as the day went by, the people expressed reservations on the delay and the blame game describing the posturing as mere excuses on both sides.
A cross-section of the people of the state said the drama between the state and the federal governments over the palliative was political and did not connect with their quest for survival.
One of them, Dele Ogunsola, said although the idea of giving palliatives to the poor and those who were economically distressed at this period was laudable, giving bad food products as and delaying the distribution of the materials were uncharitable and questionable.