IN one of his famous books, inimitable literary icon, Prof. Chinua Achebe, wrote that proverb is the palm oil with which words are eaten. Incidentally, it is a maxim that was never lost on my late father.
In settling quarrels among his subjects as a traditional ruler and in his interactions with people generally, he relied on witty adages and anecdotes to drive home his points.
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One of the edifying allegories he regaled us with was the near hopeless assurance from a father who told his famished son that his hunger would soon be assuaged because the cow tied to a stake would soon be slaughtered.
The question is how much longer the hungry child can endure, considering that it would have to be slaughtered, roasted, dismembered, washed and cooked before it becomes a meal.
That, unfortunately, has been the experience of millions of Nigerians who in the past five or six weeks have had to lock themselves up in their homes on the orders of the federal and state governments in the bid to curtail the spread of the deadly coronavirus, with a promise that food, money and other essential items would be made available to them as palliatives for the harsh economic conditions that would become their lot on account of the lockdown.
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Not a few Nigerians had leapt for joy with the announcement by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, Sadiya Umar Farouk that the Federal Government had resolved to distribute food and money to alleviate the economic effects of the stay-at-home order.
According to her, no fewer than 2.6 million vulnerable Nigerians would benefit from the federal government’s cash transfer intervention programme while 11 million households were identified in 35 states to benefit from the palliative measures.
Farouk, who fielded questions from newsmen during a presidential task force media briefing in Abuja, said it was assumed that each of the households identified contained an average of six vulnerable persons.
She also said her ministry was working assiduously to cover an additional one million households subsequently, assuring that there would be no favouritism in the distribution of the cash and other items.
Nigerians who had read about similar arrangements in the US, UK, China, Italy, Spain, France, Egypt and other saner climes where similar arrangements had ensured that the people kept themselves indoors and were lavishly fed and funded by their governments, felt there was no cause for alarm, and that became the basis for the eager and cheerful manner they complied with the stay-at-home order in Lagos, Ogun and other states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
It was a unique opportunity for the government to prove for once that it is capable of responding to the plight of its citizens, but that which it blew.
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As far as keeping promises is concerned, it is a monumental disaster. From Lagos to Abuja and Kano to Ogun, it has been cries of the money and food items purportedly released at the federal and state capitals not dispensed to the ordinary Nigerians they were meant for.
As it is customary with us, the well-intentioned programme was messed up by the avarice of its executors. From my enquiries, none of my mechanic, vulcaniser, a barber or members of their households has got a whiff of the largesse.
The cart pusher in my neighbourhood and his wife and children had no idea what I was talking about either when I asked about their own shares of the palliatives.
A leader of one of the communities in Ifo Local Government Area, Ogun State recalled in a radio programme how a truckload of food items meant for the community with a population of about 3,000 people was driven into a police station and looted by some individuals.
In the end, only 50 packs of the items got to the community it was meant for! It is the expected outcome of a shoddy and sordid programme designed from the outset to turn a few people in government into emergency billionaires at the expense of poverty-stricken Nigerians in desperate need of redemption.
It is reminiscent of the Better Life for Rural Women programme of the Babangida administration between 1985 and 1994 whose beneficiaries were chubby-cheeked women in gold-plated necklaces, high-heeled shoes, satellite-modelled headgears and expensive sunglasses.
Their class has again become the ultimate beneficiaries of the sunny side of a calamity that threatens to impoverish prosperous individuals and leave thriving businesses in ruins.
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Very soon, our roads will be dominated by their limousines and Ferraris. With their ill-gotten wealth, they will take over the political space, loot the treasury dry and generally dictate how the rest of us must now live our lives. What a country.