ABOUT a fortnight ago, the Federal Government announced a N185 billion fund or N5 billion for each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, for the procurement of food and agricultural inputs to help cushion the effect of the recent implementation of the subsidy removal by the Bola Tinubu administration.
The National Economic Council, NEC, headed by Vice President Kashim Shettima, with the 36 State Governors as members, unveiled the package through the Governor of Borno State, Professor Babagana Zulum, at the Presidential Villa.
Zulum said 52 per cent of the fund was a grant, while 48 per cent was a loan. FG also sent five trucks of rice to each state. The states are to purchase 100,000 bags of rice, 40,000 bags of maize and fertiliser to bolster their palliative measures.
We are delighted to see that the NEC, through a panel of six governors selected from the six geopolitical zones, is to liaise with the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and its fellow organised labour stakeholders in administering this scheme. We urge that some frontline civil society advocacy groups, such as the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, should also be brought on board to widen the base of accountability.
We also expect the states to initiate their own respective independent measures rather than merely lying supine to suck from the Federal Government’s feeding bottle, a pandering to dependency syndrome. The states have also benefited immensely from increased federal allocation since the subsidy removal implementation started three months ago.
We must be careful in the way we push the narrative of targeting “the most vulnerable” in sharing the palliatives. During the COVID-19 episode, this concept was brazenly abused. Officials employed ethnic and partisan favouritism in distributing cash and food procured by the governments and public-spirited moneybags under the guise of targeting the “most vulnerable”.
Some of these officials also rebranded the palliatives for their birthdays and stored them in warehouses for their future political campaigns. When the hungry masses discovered some of these warehouses, riots and orgies of looting broke out throughout the country.
Tension is already building up. The sudden and improperly implemented subsidy removal has created mass unemployment, business shutdowns, factory closures, hunger and despair. Few Nigerians can claim they do not need palliatives to survive.
Until all the refineries come on stream, we call on Federal and state governments to keep on subsidising food, ensuring their prices stay within affordable levels. They should also invest heavily in energy transitions such as petrol/diesel to gas schemes to enable artisans and transporters revive their businesses through cheaper and cleaner energy.
The palliative measures should not only be targeted at food subsidies, they should also benefit farmers and business owners to keep the economy going.