The Controversy of Nigerian Government’s COVID-19 Palliative Distribution Method

The Controversy of Nigerian Government’s COVID-19 Palliative Distribution Method

On Wednesday, the Federal Government of Nigeria through the office of the Ministry of Humanitarian affairs announced that the palliative it intends to give to vulnerable Nigerians are for those who have less than N5,000 in their bank accounts.

The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiya Farouq, said this during her chat with State House correspondents, that the modalities are for the urban poor, but it’s going to be disbursed using BVN verified bank accounts.

President Buhari had, on his broadcast on Monday, promised to make cash disbursement to most vulnerable Nigerians as a palliative to cushion the effects of the coronavirus lockdown. The Minister said his instruction is that the money be given to the most vulnerable, who can be classified as those with less than N5,000 in their accounts.

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“You are aware that the president in his broadcast of Monday, 13th April, directed that we expand the beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer by one million and in this regard, we are going to focus more now on the urban poor.

“These are people who depend on the informal sector to earn their livelihood; they are daily wage earners and these are people that we are really going to focus more on as well as people living with disabilities” she said.

Farouq added that the Ministry has adopted three methods to distribute the palliative across the country. She said that apart from using the BVN, the Ministry has adopted a phone recharge ratio as a criteria of cash disbursement; and those who recharge above N100 will be unworthy to receive cash from the federal government.

“Well, we have three options. One, we are going to use the national social register that we already have. Two, we are also going to focus on the urban poor as I mentioned by using their verified BVN accounts to get them, that is, people that have an account balance of N5,000 and below.

“We are also using mobile networks to know people that top up the credit units for their phones with maybe N100 or less. These are people that we consider to be poor and vulnerable. So, these are the three options that we are exploring and I am sure that by the time we get this data, we will be able to give this intervention,” she said

The Minister also explained that what is available for now will not be enough to go round, and only 25% of the total population will be covered.

“Let me also say that we have a standard. Twenty five percent of the total population is what we will take out. It cannot go round everywhere, but we are starting from somewhere. Twenty five percent of let’s say the location Lagos State, for example, is what is going to benefit from this intervention that we are doing. Going forward, we might expand it but this is what is obtainable for now,” she said.

Following this announcement, many have been wondering why N100 recharge and N5,000 account balance will be used as a standard.

Although in a country where the living standard of many falls below $2 per day, it is expected that the majority of the populace will fall in the category described by the government. But at the same time, it doesn’t rule out the fact that those who live above the described standard are also poor and need help at this time.

Many have faulted the standard of distribution adopted by the Nigerian government, saying it will hurt the majority of the people who need the palliatives. The argument is based on how long N5,000 ($13) can take an individual let alone a family, especially in the urban places in the country.

Given the value of Nigerian money, those who have N5,000 in their bank account are not different from those who don’t have. They are all considered so poor since the money can’t afford them life’s basic needs. And in a time like this, when the cost of living has increased following the lockdown of businesses, the money becomes even more meager.

On the other hand, it is believed that many who use the N100 call card top up may have limited need for calls, and those who top up with more than N100 may be doing so out of necessity not because they have enough to spare. It is also believed that anyone could receive N5,000 or more than N100 call cards as a gift from anyone.

A concerned Nigerian said at the breaking of the news that the government is going to use N100 recharge ratio as basis for the disbursement of cash: “What is paining me most is that my brother that has never given me money just sent me N200 airtime. I do not know who asked him to send it; now see what he has caused.”

As many look forward to the government to survive the lockdown, it is expected that everyone is taken care of. But in an apparent situation of insufficiency, the government has been urged to adopt methods of palliative distribution that will not cheat people out.

“In a country where the minimum wage is officially N30k, to deny a citizen  5k because he has 5k under lockdown with no end in sight is illogical and irrational,” said former senator Shehu Sani.

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