By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Like a whirlwind, the looting of warehouses used as stores for the COVID-19 palliative went from one state to the other.
The looting came on the heels of the #ENDSARS protests as warehouses were invaded by irate youths who went into frenzy of rage in many states when they found that some of the state governments failed to distribute the palliative meant to cushion the harsh economic effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several homes were also looted by the piqued youths who somewhat felt they could help themselves where government failed to show transparency in the handling and disbursement of the palliative.
Interestingly, while the storm raged in parts of the country, and particularly states bordering Benue state, the atmosphere in Benue was that of apprehension as many thought just like other neighbouring states, the government’s warehouses under the direct care of the Dr. Emmanuel Shior-led State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, was still stacked with palliative from CACOVID, a private sector initiative to extend needed support to the poorest of the poor in the society.
Some antagonists of the Ortom administration had thought that the violent protests and looting would spill into Benue.
They were all wrong as Benue was among the first states to ensure the distribution of the palliative long before the #ENDSARS protests erupted.
Moreover before the eruption of the looting spree in parts of the country, Governor Samuel Ortom had received a laud ovation at a presidential stakeholders meeting organised in Makurdi by the Minister of Special Duties/Inter-Governmental Affairs, Senator George Akume to discuss the #ENDSARS protest over the manner he handled the protest in the state.
Speaker after speaker at the event including Wantaregh Paul Unongo, Senator Barnabas Gemade, representatives of the youths and Civil Society Organisations, Chairmen of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and People’s Democratic Party, PDP, the clergy, women groups and traditional rulers, commended Ortom for proactively handling the protests in Benue which helped in averting any form of crisis, looting and loss of lives.
At the heat of the protests, the Governor had in the course of addressing the protesting youths in Makurdi won their heart when he showed solidarity with their cause and accepted that the leaders of the country had failed them.
The Governor, in a thought-provoking speech calmed the frayed nerves of the thousands of the protesting youths
He said, “I have always supported what you are agitating for today and I want to assure you that by the grace of God, from all of us in this country there must be a shift from what we are doing.
“We as leaders have truly failed the people of this country and we must devise better ways of correcting the anomaly. These protests in Benue and Nigeria provide us the opportunity to turn things around and ensure that we have a better future for our children.
“Truly, Nigeria needs restructuring because we may not survive where we are heading. The insecurity is too much, the economic hardship is too much, everything is up side down and we must by all means turn things around. I stand with you and I support you,” he said.
Before then, the state government had constituted a committee made up of people drawn from the CSOs, the Police, DSS, religious leaders, local governments, labour, Community Leaders, CACOVID Monitoring and Evaluation Team, SEMA and others who directly supervised the distribution of the palliative to the 23 LGAs of the state
The LGA Chairmen on the directive of Ortom set up similar committees in their respective councils to handle the distribution of the palliatives in their various communities.
The distribution was flagged off in Makurdi on August 6, 2020 and directly supervised by the CACOVID monitoring team and the media. Said Benue state Deputy Governor and Chairman of the COVID-19 committee, Benson Abounu who spoke at the occasion “a summary of the items received and distributed to the 23 local government areas includes, Rice 4,929 bags (10kg), Noddles 96,279 cartons, Pasta 49,029 cartons, Semo (5kg) 49,029 bags, Sugar (5kg) 49,029 bags and Salt 49,029 sachets.”
The items were sent to the 23 LGAs and organisations that should benefit from the intervention.
On September 10, 2020 the last batch of the palliative comprising of 1,200 cartoons of noddles, 400 bags of rice, and hundred of bags of semovita were sent to the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, camp across the state.
That distribution was monitored directly by the SEMA Executive Secretary, Shior, and the media to ensure transparency.
Shior, who explained that the distribution was the last batch of what was donated to the state by CACOVID, said that, aside the intervention the state government had earlier sent its own palliative to the IDPs.
He said “we are taking the palliative to eight official camps to over 500,000 IDPs and we are emptying the warehouses today in the presence of all in keeping with the core value of this administration which is honestly, transparency, probity and accountability.”
He pointed out that upon reception of the palliative, Governor Ortom mounted pressure on agencies concerned, including the CACOVID team, to come to Benue and ensure that the items were distributed.
“As if Governor Ortom saw what was coming, he pressurized everyone to have the items distributed to the people who were in dire need of the intervention. So we wasted no time to get the CACOVID team to come to supervise the distribution which was done transparently,” he said.
This apparently accounted for why the SEMA Executive Secretary wasted no time in throwing open the doors of all government warehouses to the public and journalists to ascertain that nothing was left in them when some misinformed persons attempted to mislead some gullible youths into believing that palliative was still left in the warehouses.