By YUSUF ISHAKU GOJE
As the world grapples with the spread of the deadly corona virus (Covid-19) with varying measures being taken by governments aimed at halting and eradicating it, the negative socio-economic dimension continue to hurt economies and further push many down the rung of abject poverty. Kaduna state, a sub-national government in Nigeria has initiated preventive measures in checkmating the spread of the virus; and equally important, is providing palliatives to cushion the socio-economic consequence on especially the most vulnerable groups. These groups can be categorized as residents who are disadvantaged or disabled and most susceptible to socio-economic neglect, risks and shocks.
Only recently towards ameliorating the suffering of the vulnerable groups, the state government earmarked 500 million naira for the procurement and distribution of relief materials in eight pilot local government areas. The pilot local government areas are Kaduna North, Kaduna South, Chikun, Igabi, Jema’a, Kaura, Sabon Gari and Zaria. The palliative committee in charge of the distribution is headed by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Alhaji Balarabe Abbas Lawal. There are also coordinators overseeing the pilot local government areas supported by cluster committees set up to identify and deliver the relief materials to the vulnerable groups in their communities.
Over the past one week, the distribution is being carried out in the eight pilot local governments in the State. Even though no directive was given that civil society organizations (CSOs) should be allowed to track; a number of CSOs, in the spirit of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), took the initiative to engage process within their locality. This is not without some challenges, some of which are the restriction of movements due to the lockdown, difficulty in timely access to procurement and distribution information, harassment of some CSOs by security agents and very low involvement CSOs in the planning process which negates the spirit of OGP. However, using a tracking template designed specifically for the objective reporting of the distribution process, a mixed output of successes, challenges and lessons learnt were observed and captured.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the palliative measure initiated by the State government which is targeted at the most vulnerable in the society is not only timely but key to socio-political stability. Also, the fact that the relief materials were timely procured, and coupled with the hitch-free and well-coordinated supply to the various distribution points is commendable. The unrestrained joy expressed by some of the target beneficiaries goes to show how desperate they needed the intervention. Equally praiseworthy, is the willingness of some of the local government coordinators to oblige civil society to track the distribution process in recognition of the OGP principles despite no official directive to that effect.
The successes, notwithstanding, it is necessary to identify key challenges that limited the maximum attainment of the desired goal of the palliative measure. These can serve as valuable lessons that will strengthen and make the process more result-driven as the government prepares to scale it up. The most evident of such challenge is the absence of clear-cut criteria for identification and selection of the most vulnerable groups, coupled with the fact that there was low awareness creation in the communities where the target beneficiaries are. Most of the community members thought wrongfully that the items were meant for everyone due to the lockdown.
Also of great concern, is that there was no agreed quota for each category of vulnerable beneficiaries leading to in-balance in the distribution. This is even with the fact that some of the local governments have social registers that should serve as guide. For instance, the persons with disabilities had very few beneficiaries from our observation and interaction with the leadership of the Joint Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD). This was compounded by poor planning and coordination by some of the cluster committees in the distribution of the relief materials, as in some of the communities it became a free for all with large crowd hijacking it and the packages shared in bits.
There were also no crowd control strategies in some of the LGAs leading to neglect of precautionary measures such as: social distancing, hand-washing, wearing of face mask etc during the distribution. Furthermore, the involvement of the ward top officials of the ruling party in many of the cluster committees led to disenchantment and apathy in many of the communities, many of who labeled the distribution as a party affair. Also, there was allegation of diversion of the relief materials (102 cartons of Indomie and 300 gallons of Vegetable oil) in Nasarawa/Kudanden cluster; this is worrisome, and should be investigated, as these are items that will feed many hungry and desperate vulnerable households.
It is gratifying that the government is already adopting lessons as exemplified by the pronouncement of the Deputy Governor, Dr. Hadiza Balarabe, on the 6th April, 2020; to the effect that credible civil society organizations will be partnered to ensure more transparency and accountability in the distribution process. If this is taken forward, the civil society organizations/actors (media inclusive) can provide technical support pro-bono to the committee in mapping beneficiaries (enriching the social register), increasing awareness creation, deployment of effective distribution strategies that takes into cognizance social distancing and other precautionary measures, generate citizen’s feedback and ensure social accountability.
Goje is Head Leadership, Governance & Advocacy of the Coalition of Associations for Leadership, Peace, Empowerment and Development (CALPED)