Monday Column By Emmanuel Yawe
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Events moved in Nigeria in the last few weeks at supersonic speed. The #EndSARS demonstrations, once peaceful and successful, extracting concessions from government turned violent; and the violence went on with unprecedented looting of public and private store houses. For once it seemed as if the much expected Nigerian revolution had come.
It came unannounced. When Omoyele Sowore, the fast footed journalist and politician had come last year blaring the music and messages of his “Revolution Now”, the government was ready and waiting for him. They quickly picked and locked him up.
The #EndSARS thing came with a difference. For the first time since it came to power in 2015, the government beat a series of retreats, conceding to all demands from demonstrators and started conceding to their seemingly unarmed demonstrators. Apparently buoyed by their initial successes, the demonstrators went a bit too far. They attacked prisons and freed convicted criminals. Soon the demonstrations lost their innocence attracting a volley of military fire power at the Lekki toll gate where the demonstrators had amassed.
Now clearly provoked and on the offensive, the demonstrators went wild. In the wake of the outbreak of Covid19 and the inevitable lock down, government had set up a Presidential Task Force PTF which went ahead to raise staggering amounts of money from public and private donors. These donations were devoted for palliatives that will help the poor who were at the receiving end of the ravaging hunger and pandemic. But the masses kept complaining that the palliatives were going the wrong way and never met those who were the poorest of the poor and the would-be beneficiaries. We soon knew the truth when mobs of demonstrators attacked the warehouses where the palliatives were kept. All over the country, the palliatives were locked up – some in advanced stages of decay. The demonstrators did not waste time in helping themselves by carting them away. These exposures were certainly embarrassing to the state governments who were to be the focal points of distributing the palliatives.
But the most bizarre, revealing and embarrassing exposure was the short video clip which surfaced on the social media. In it, we were told that palliatives meant for the people of Benue in North Central Nigeria were suddenly found in the Norwest, specifically, the city of Kano which has made its name over the years as a center of national and international trade. The items clearly labeled and branded palliatives for Benue state were out there in the Kano market for sale.
The social media video came out at a very bad time. It was a few days after a meeting of stake holders in Benue unanimously agreed and passed a resolution that Governor Samuel Ortom had performed well in the face of the #End SARS crisis. Suddenly, it appeared the accolades for Ortom were undeserved if under his watch palliatives meant for the poor people of the state were sold out.
To save the day, Ortoms foot soldiers stepped out to explain how the COVID19 palliatives meant for the Benue poor got to Kano market. Benue State Commissioner for Information and Tourism, Mrs. Ngunan Addingi who spoke on the matter at the end of the State Executive Council, EXCO, meeting in Makurdi explained that traders who benefited from the palliatives resorted to selling off the items rather than make use of them. She explained that the leader of the traders who received the items on behalf of his members had been invited for questioning over the matter few months ago when the incident happened but regretted that a video trending on social media had portrayed the issue as a recent incident.
Mrs. Addingi said, “there is a video trending on social media that is talking about palliatives that had been given to Benue state but were sold in Kano. “I wish to clarify that the matter did not happen in October. When the CACOVID distribution was made, the committee had met and decided that some of the market people and traders that were also affected by not being able to open their stalls for a long time should be beneficiaries of the palliatives.
“So the market associations were invited during the sharing of the palliatives and they got their shares. So that is how some of the palliatives got to the market people.
“However we heard that the chairman of the Wurukum market, name withheld, who hails from Kano state had collected those items and instead of using the items for themselves felt they should sell them. That is how those things got to Kano “As a matter of fact, the issue is being investigated and he was actually arrested. We leant that some of them sold the palliatives instead of using them because they needed the money more than the palliatives at the time. “So that issue happened long ago and it has nothing to do with the #EndSARS protests or palliatives problems as the trending video tends to portray.
“In fact our Police Commissioner in Benue state is involved in that investigation and at the end of it he will brief everyone of their findings.”
In all my over forty years post- graduate experience as a journalist in Nigeria, I have never seen a most dumb and unintelligent defense of government by its spokesperson. The Benue Information Commissioner has complicated the problems of the state government. It would have been better if she kept quiet over this stinking scandal. The explanation has scandalized the government by raising more questions than answers. They have only shown us how not to defend a government.