*Queries feeding of pupils at home
*Wants NASS, State Govts coopted into Presidential Taskforce
Director-General of the Progressive Governors Forum PGF, Salihu Mohammed Lukman has asked the Federal Government to change its disbursement strategy in relation to the various palliatives it has put in place to ameliorate the sufferings of Nigerians who are locked down as part of emergency measures to contain the spread of the Novel Coronavirus in the country.
He said, in the interim, there is no need to continuing with the school feeding programme when pupils are at home.
Lukman in a statement on Saturday x-raying the issues and factors hindering the success of the fight against the pandemic asked the Presidential Taskforce PTF to expand its membership to include the National Assembly and State Governments in order to get the buy-in of all Nigerians.
“Once the PTF is able to configure itself this way, the issue of palliatives and how to administer it can be easily handled. It is important that both the PTF and the Presidency are able to correct problems of trust and ensure that it is able to minimise all distractive debates around administering palliative.
“For instance, once schools are closed, there is no need talking of school feeding. This does not mean, the resources for the school feeding cannot be directed to support the families of the schoolchildren for the duration of the fight against COVID-19.
“It is simply a matter of redirecting how it is disbursed. In any case, whether we recognise that or not, so long as schools are closed, the method of feeding those children have to change.
“On the whole, we need to appeal to both the PTF and Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs to try and assist the government to refocus national conversations around the fight against the spread of COVID-19 in the country away from issues of management of the palliative.
“In some ways, the palliatives that should be the subject of national debate should not be the ones under the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP). Important as the NSIP is, the PTF should be able to deliberate on nature and scope of the palliatives and decide on how best it should be handled in order to succeed in this critical fight against Covid-19.
“While considerations can be given to utilising some of the resources domiciled in the NSIP, as much as possible government and the PTF need to avoid a situation whereby the debate is reduced to academic exercise.
“It is important that everyone in government and the PTF is reminded about the fact that this is a fight that must succeed. In fact, it is a fight that required that we adopt the Machiavellian logic of the end justify the means, which should imply that any approach that should save the lives of Nigerians should be welcome.
“In particular, members of the PTF should bear in mind that they have the overriding burden to support President Muhammadu Buhari to succeed. Given that President Buhari’s disposition is one of non-interference once he delegates a responsibility, allowing factors of distractions to dominate national conversations instead of the sacrifice members of the PTF and government officials will be making could potentially undermine government.
“On the whole, deciding on the question of palliatives, in whatever way the PTF wants to approach it, it should not be about being defensive. The best approach should be to quietly change the approach. Part of the problem associated with the current practice is that it undermines social distancing including the lockout.
“This has to change. One of the recommended considerations could be to ensure that traditional, religious and community leaders commit themselves to mobilise citizens to observe social distancing and lockdown. In other words, is it possible to get them to participate in the process of disbursement?
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“One of the expected criticisms could be that non-governmental leaders may embezzle the resources. Interestingly, this is also what is being alleged against government management of the resources.
“Shouldn’t it therefore be better for government to transfer the burden of disbursement to other non-governmental leaders and seek to strengthen accountability through combinations of sanction and incentives? For instance, wouldn’t it be possible to structure disbursement of the palliatives based on some specific executions of activities to enforce social distancing?
“Through this, compliance with suspension of Muslim and Christian congregations, wedding, naming and burial ceremonies and practices could be the focus, such that qualification for disbursement in a particular community is based on level of compliance.
“Other incentives such as community recognition, which should confer access to some facilities including targeted incentives to citizens in that community and provision of some infrastructure may also be added.
The point is that there has to be some new approaches to entice citizens to support all government measures towards ensuring success in the fight against the spread of Covid-19. Deployment of strategies to win the support of citizens through active involvement of leaders across all strata of Nigerian society will be very important”, he advocated.
“It is good to have all senior federal government functionaries driving the process and consulting other arms of governments – National Assembly and Governors. This however can be strengthened by going beyond consultations. The reality is that consultations alone, will hardly produce the needed ownership and synergy of initiatives even within governmental structures.
“In fact, one can argue that some of the critical observations of the leadership of the National Assembly from the session with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and more recently with the PTF on Thursday, April 9, 2020 is a confirmation of the limitations of consultations.
“What is required is that, depending on the terms of reference of the PTF as given by the President, the PTF should consider co-opting members of the National Assembly to join the Committee.
“Similarly, is the issue of coordinating with states. The PTF Chairman, Mr. Boss Mustapha, has reported at least in two of its daily media briefing sessions that they have had teleconferencing with Governors.
“The reality of ensuring successful containment of the spread of Covid-19 will however be hinged on the effectiveness of states to enforce measures around social distancing including lockdown.
“Although, it is true that the Federal Government exercises jurisdiction over agencies of law enforcement, the truth is that in our context law enforcement alone will not guarantee success. Some of the factors that account for this include the fact that our law enforcement agencies are already overstretched with all the problems of insecurity in the country.
“In addition, enforcement shouldn’t be simply about compelling citizens but more about securing citizens’ consent to abide by government instructions. If state governments are to play their roles, there will be the need to configure the PTF in such a way that it is able to accommodate the participation of state governments.
“This could lead to the issue of possibly organising the PTF into sub-teams deployed to each geo-political zone based on which Secretaries to State Governments and other nominees can also be coopted into the PTF.
“Accordingly, instead of working from one location in the zone they could be mobile across states in the zones. It may even be possible that each of the zonal teams can further be sub-divided into state teams and expanded to have more membership.
“For instance, all Senators, House of Representatives and State Assembly members can be part of a state team and their membership should not add to the financial cost of the state team. In fact, the cost of state teams may even be mobilised by the state governments independently”, he suggested.