N5 billion cash palliatives to governors –Banire, SAN

By Muiz Banire, SAN

Although the economic conditions of most Nigerians have been unenviable for some time, particularly prior to the inception of the current administration, the situation, however, got worsened with the removal of oil subsidy.

The elimination of multiple exchange rate windows also significantly impacted the economy as the value of naira further depreciated.

This has contributed immensely to the harsh living conditions of most Nigerians. Notwithstanding the cost of the policies to Nigerians, however, Nigerians appear to understand the rationale behind these seemingly unfriendly policies.

As the situation becomes unbearable and living condition deteriorates, Nigerians started demanding relief by way of palliatives.

At the initial stage, the federal government had thought that the distribution of N8,000 monthly to the vulnerable could relieve the situation, but upon the realization of the fact that the social register to be used lacked integrity, the federal government had to review its position and opted to channel the interventions into other concrete areas capable of impacting the people through empowerment.

This is laudable but for the fact that the greater number of the interventions are yet to take off. I suspect that delay must be due to the absence of the ministers who are to trigger and supervise the implementation of the various initiatives.

Now that we have the ministers sworn in, the expectation is that we will start feeling the effects of the interventions. Part of the interventions proposed then by the federal government was the distribution of fertilizers to farmers and also grains to the people.

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I am aware that the latter interventions were eventually torpedoed by the state governors who argued and demanded that the distribution be done through them.

The President, in his characteristic tendency towards federalism and devolution of powers, acceded to the requests of the governors.

Since that period till date, spanners have been thrown into the initiatives and we are yet to see either the grains or the fertilizers. The fertilizer that is meant to enhance outputs from farmers is becoming inconsequential as the rainy season winds down.

What is the usefulness of fertilizers, and even grains during the dry spell? Futile, of course. In this regard, can we appeal to their Excellencies to urgently do the needful before we are confronted with the reality of the immateriality of the interventions?

With this disposed, I return to the core of our discourse today, which is the five-billion-naira ‘largesse’ shared out to the states to ameliorate the conditions of the people.

This issue has been a subject of controversy in recent times, particularly arising from the antecedents of the governors.

A lot of Nigerians seem to believe that the allocated fund will not serve the purpose for which it was meant as they are most likely to be diverted by the state governors.

Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama opined thus on the issue, “When I heard the news that N5 billion has been allocated by the Federal Government to each state as palliatives to cushion the effect of the economic ‘wahala’, my immediate reaction was whether this will reach the people that need it.

I worry if this well-intended palliative will not be used up by political leaders to recoup part of what they spent during elections or to settle their political acolytes.”

The thought of this great patriot aligns with that of most Nigerians. By way of the ground thought, let me categorically state that in the application of this fund it is crucial that transparency be the watchword of the governors.

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I do not expect any of the governors to directly superintend over the money. My expectation will be that the fund be set aside as dedicated and made to be administered by a team of men and women of integrity with impeccable character in each state.

This is a trust fund for the people, particularly the vulnerable, and must not be under any pretence be convoluted or mixed up with other state funds.

To a large extent, it is a trust fund meant for the beneficiaries. The committee suggested should be saddled with the responsibility of determining the modes of application of the fund.

There are so many ways to skin a cat, implying that it is not only through the sharing of the fund directly to the beneficiaries that it can be impactful. Virtually all the states are yet to conduct any household survey so as to galvanise data that can be used in the distribution of the fund.

Where this is the scenario, the best option is for the committee to work out its own modalities for the application in a manner that it will be impactful.

Without second guessing or anticipating the outcome of such committee’s deliberations, I venture to suggest the following considerations that might be impactful.

I personally do not share the idea of cash interventions in any manner whatsoever; it is fraught with so many dangers and improprieties but that is not the focus of this discourse.

I, therefore, will not delve into it. Consequently, the first area that I believe that such committee must look into is food security, which is already being threatened.

Beyond the fact that the availability of foodstuff is becoming a challenge, the available quantity is unaffordable to the majority of Nigerians. Food, it is said, once netted out of an individual challenge, the rest is tolerable.

I suspect strongly also that hunger kills and can easily be a dictator unto suicide. To this extent, therefore, urgent intervention in this sector is inevitable.

By this, I am not suggesting the purchase and distribution of food items, often shrouded in fraud, but the attainment of reduction of the prices of foodstuffs.

How is this to be done? To the best of my knowledge as a farmer, the bourgeoning cost of foodstuffs is not unassociated with the cost of transportation.

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For example, a tuber of yam at the point of produce might be a thousand naira; by the time the tuber is transported from the point of production to the consumption point, the logistics cost would have ballooned the cost to five thousand naira.

This circle, which applies to virtually all foodstuffs, puts the accessibility and affordability beyond the reach of most Nigerians.

Therefore, a properly calibrated intervention in this regard would help lower the cost of foodstuffs and render it accessible to most Nigerians.

The other area connected with the prohibitive cost of foodstuffs is storage. Any observer of our foodstuffs markets will discover that not less than 30 percent of the transported foodstuffs, particularly the perishables, ends up on the refuse dump.

This is obviously due to the perishable nature of most of the foodstuff consumed by Nigerians. Of course, no trader of such produce is ever out to make a loss in his trade.

The implication of this is that such cost of the perishables, often anticipated by the dealer is added to the cost of sale.

This again raises the prices of the foodstuffs astronomically. I need not remind us that the import of this is that the products become unaffordable to most Nigerians. What the above, therefore, implies is that there is a need for preservation and storage facilities in the wholesale markets.

It is no rocket science that the cost of acquiring this is beyond the financial capacity of the traders.

This fund can, therefore, be used for the acquisition of storage facilities by way of intervention.

Paltry sums, essentially to offset administrative cost, can be paid by the traders for the preservation and storage. This again has the multiplier effect of reducing the prices of the foodstuffs.

The third area crying for attention is the processing of the raw products. Provision of processing facilities for this purpose will further discount the present unaffordable prices of foodstuffs.

The fund again can be used in this regard. In all of the above, employment and empowerment are generated, with the consequential effect of reducing insecurity.

The perfection of these thoughts lies with the wise men to be assembled by the various state governments. I cannot claim monopoly of knowledge in this respect.

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The other area of intervention might be in the cost of transportation as per the fares payable by the people, especially the vulnerable.

The fund can be used to subsidize the fares for the vulnerable. Where the state government runs transport service, an immediate discount of the fares can be introduced, but where it does not, the vulnerable can be asked to register for a fare card that will entitle them to discount from the fund.

I am not oblivious of the propensity of fraud in this regard but believe that a near perfect solution can be devised by the wise men. It is an area eminently qualified for intervention from the fund.

I do not support the procurement of buses with the fund as this will equally be enmeshed in corruption. Before calling ‘Jack Robinson’, contracts with 40 percent profit margin would have been awarded to cronies, militating against the purpose of the fund and the interest of the beneficiaries.

Let the private sector deal while the government guarantees patronage. These are the immediate and critical areas of intervention. Of course, there are myriads of other areas but these, I feel, are priorities within the limited available fund.

Towards ensuring the attainment of the objectives of the intervention, there is no need for the labour union grandstanding on the removals and chasing shadows, the mandate of the union must basically focus on the monitoring of the spending of the savings generally, and particularly the allocated fund to the various state governors.

The civil society organizations and the community development associations must not be left out in the bid to ensure accountability and probity of the fund.

The governors too must ensure that they discharge and acquit themselves in the spending of the fund. This fund must not be allowed to go the same direction of its precursors. My plea.

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