7th November, 2022
By Owei Lakemfa
Bayelsa State was for weeks submerged by floods which damaged or washed away bridges and roads, homes and farms, power transformers, and hospitals, and displaced 99 percent of its over 2.5 million people. Some deaths were recorded with the living clinging to life while the buried could not safely remain in their abode as the floods covered or washed away graves. The only means of reaching the state was either by air or water.
State Governor Douye Diri, a fortnight ago, cried out that despite international concerns and desperate pleas, neither the Federal Government nor its agencies had sent relief materials. He was specific that although the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, Hajiya Sadiya Umar-Farouk claimed to have sent relief materials, these had not been received.
Indeed, if the Ministry had sent relief materials to such an area covering 10,773 square kilometres, there should be some evidence including when it was supplied, where and who received it. But no such evidence could be provided, leading to a recall of how the same Ministry in 2020 scammed Nigerians during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Federal Government had imposed a total lockdown on Nigerians with no movement. Subsequently, all schools were shut-down and children, like the rest of the citizenry were confined to their homes.
Shockingly, the Disaster Ministry claimed it spent N523.3 million to feed pupils in three locations during the lockdown. How was it possible to feed children who were on lockdown at home? Did the Ministry procure the addresses of the pupils and went knocking their doors to feed them? There was not a shred of such evidence. No pupils could be produced who were fed by government during the lockdown. When doubts were raised, rather than keep her head down, Minister Umar-Farouq in an audacious move, addressed a world press conference insisting that her fairy tales must be believed by a rational world.
She claimed that in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, her Ministry during the lockdown, fed 88,227 pupils in 29,609 households. In Lagos, she claimed 112,767 pupils were fed in 37,589 households while in Ogun State, 181,173 pupils were fed in 60,391 households. In all, she claimed that her Ministry in seven weeks, fed 248,371 pupils in the three areas when their homes were under lockdown. In striving to explain the magic how pupils on lockdown at home were allegedly fed by her Ministry, she replied that they were “Take Home Rations.”
If such money had been paid out as COVID-19 relief package, each of the estimated 200 million Nigerians would have gotten N2.5 million each. It was a scandal over which a decent human being should have resigned. But she stayed in office; retained by a government whose leadership when it was in opposition in 2012 popularised the slogan: ‘If Nigerians don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.’
The school feeding programme itself is a mess. While the Presidency in 2020 claimed it was spending N679 million daily, the Minister denied this. Some weeks later, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, revealed that it had traced to private accounts N2.67 billion meant to be funds for the school feeding programme. The Federal Government was to later accept that the flood relief materials had indeed not gotten to the state.
Its excuse was that trucks conveying them were stuck in Kogi State and other locations due to the flooded condition of the roads. This did not appear sensible as it was known for weeks that Bayelsa had been cut off from the rest of the world and that the two ways of reaching it were by air or sea. So why would the Federal Government claim to have put trucks on the road and then announce that it had supplied relief materials to the state?
When finally the relief materials were airlifted on October 26 and 27, 2022, they were shockingly meagre. The National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA South- South Zonal Co-ordinator, Mr. Godwin Tepikor, announced that the Federal Government supplied 1,400 bags of 10kg rice, 1,400 bags of 10 kg beans, 1,400 bags of 10kg maize and 75 20kg bags of salt while the non-food items supplied were 8,000 pieces of nylon mats, 1,000 pieces of mosquito notes and 600 cartons of bath soap.
The State Government through its Emergency Management Agency Chairman, Hon. Walama Igrubia, disputed the Federal Government’s claims on the number of relief materials brought to the state. He was, however, emphatic that what the people need is primarily food: “The intervention so far is not encouraging. The non-food items brought can come later but the state needs food at the moment. It is when a man eats that he can survive.”
The Leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Chief Edwin Clark, given the snail speed at which the Ministry seems to be working in an emergency in which lives were being lost, took a swipe at the Minister: “We have a Humanitarian Minister that is not humane, who was only active to carry out school feeding of school children who were confined to their homes during the COVID-19 lockdown.” Honourable Minister Umar-Farouk who appears to have a lot of time in her hands, responded in almost a child-like manner: “Merely looking at me, you know that I am humane.”
At a press conference in the Presidential Villa on Thursday, November 3, 2022, Madam Farouk was obviously seething with anger over the Bayelsa State issue. In seeming to reverse herself on her false claims that only four local governments in the state were affected by floods, she said: “Almost all of Bayelsa, but it will also interest you to know that Bayelsa is not even among the ten most hit. I think Jigawa is number one and we have taken intervention to Bayelsa and it’s still on-going.”
Incredible! It is a disaster for a Minister of Disaster to rank states affected by a disaster as if it were a sports competition in which medals were being awarded. Her conclusion is primarily based on the number of deaths. So by her logic, since the floods led to 91 deaths with 148 injured in Jigawa, compared to 58 dead and 81 injured in Bayelsa, Jigawa wins the gold medal!
Our country is suffocating; with inflation inching towards 20 per-cent, hunger spreading, insecurity, especially banditry, common place, the country being buried by debris of foreign debt, corruption rampant, hospitals in decrepit state and education virtually abandoned, Nigerians can hardly breathe. Given the fact that the handover date is still six months away, we need to beg the Buhari administration to loosen a bit, its suffocating grip on the country so we can at least be alive to witness its glorious exit.
*Owei Lakemfa is a journalist and labour activist