Steve Oko,  Peter Duru, Emma Una, Haruna Aliyu, Rotimi Ojomoyela, Deola Badru, James Ogunnaike,  Ochuko Akuopha & Bashir Bello

 Steve Oko,  Peter Duru, Emma Una, Haruna Aliyu, Rotimi Ojomoyela, Deola Badru, James Ogunnaike,  Ochuko Akuopha & Bashir Bello

Amid reports that the Federal Government has authorised the release of grains to intervene in the current hardship in the country, states have lamented that their warehouses are empty.

They noted that apart from the palliatives received towards the end of last year, which were distributed, there’s currently nothing to distribute.

Government had approved N180 billion for the 36 states of the federation to procure grains and other items in August 2023.

The measure was to bring temporary solutions to the high cost of living arising from the removal of fuel subsidy.

Up until now, the distribution of the items  is a subject of controversy across the country as citizens complain of not receiving any.

With the prices of commodities on a steady rise and scarcity of food items spreading across the country, there are growing concerns over agitations among the populace, especially given the recent protests witnessed over cost of living.

To cushion the effect of hardship and possibly reduce the rising food prices, President Bola Tinubu authorised the release of grains to Nigerians at no cost.

But what many called mismanagement of the subsidy palliatives, has given rise to fears that the 42, 000 MT of grains may not be properly handled.

Findings by Sunday Vanguard across the states showed that while many states await the item, there are concerns that the process of distribution may not be transparent.

Further inquiries from the states’ ministries of agriculture showed that many states do not have strategic food reserves. The issue is worsened by current insecurity in the country, especially in states known for high production of crops. At the moment, the twin issues of insecurity and inflation occasioned by fuel subsidy removal has made more Nigerians unable to feed themselves.

As of 2023, the Food and Agricultural Organisation, FAO, projected that about 25.3 million people in Nigeria would face acute food insecurity.

A quarterly report released by the global organisation showed that the figure projected was higher than the 19.45 million forecasts in 2022.

Given the current situation in the country, more people now face acute food crises across the states.

In Abia, the state government told Sunday Vanguard it had not received any consignment of food from the federal government for distribution to residents.

Commissioner for Agriculture, Professor Monica Ironkwe, told Sunday Vanguard in Umuahia that the ministry’s  warehouse was still empty.

She promised that as soon as the state takes delivery of its portion of the federal largesse, it would be made public and commence distribution at once.

She said: “Once the federal government is ready, it will be shared in the state. When they give us our own share, we will share it with the people but for now, we have not received anything. As soon as we receive something, we will make it known”.

Prodded further to know whether the state had plans to distribute food to Abia residents, the Commissioner said there was no such plan at the moment.

“For now, I will say no. But if we go to EXCO next week, and it is discussed, then it will be made public,” she added.

Meanwhile, prices of commodities, especially food items, have continued to hit the roof top in Abia.

A bushel of rice at the local market, which sold for N15,000 shortly before last Christmas, now sells for between N26,000 and N27,000 depending on the quality.

A cup of garri goes for N150 while a sizable tuber of yam that can go for a family of five is sold for about N2000.

For now, there is nothing to show that the Anambra State government has started the distribution of grains.

It was, however, observed that there are large quantities of grains at stores waiting for distribution.

Over the years, distribution of similar items were done through the presidents of town unions going down the line to the ward chairmen. At the ward level, village heads are supplied with what is due to their people.

Officials of the state Ministry of Agriculture were not readily available with details of the quantity of available grains in the state meant for distribution to the citizenry.

However, it was gathered that what is available would go round to those who need them.

A ministry staff member who spoke unofficially said: “We have laid down a procedure for distributing whatever is meant for people and it has always been smooth. We have 326 political wards in the state and the PGs share whatever  is available through the wards.

“Politics does not come into it at all. In some communities, even people who are not on the ground get their allocations through their family members.”

He described as untrue the allegation that officials of the state government might be hoarding the grains for use during the governorship campaign, adding that there are no hidden conditions to be applied in the exercise.

Citing a previous exercise as an example, he said: “The state government recently distributed palm and coconut seedlings to people and every adult in the state received it. Even people residing outside the state received theirs through their family members. The same system will be applied in the distribution of grains when it starts.”

In Delta, the grains are being awaited as the state government has also initiated other measures aimed at addressing food insecurity. Speaking to Sunday Vanguard, Secretary of the Delta State Palliatives Committee, Olorogun Jaro Egbo said: “When the federal government removed the fuel subsidy, there was much hardship on the people, so government set up a food security committee.

“Here in Delta, the state government set up the palliative committee headed by the Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Kingsley Emu.

“We started with rice distribution and we are done with that and now we are doing maize distribution; after this, we are going into the distribution of fertilizers to address the challenges being faced by crop farmers.

“But with the galloping inflation and cost of living crisis, the President again has said that they will release more grains to the people. We believe that when they are ready, when they have done the arithmetic as to how many bags should get to each state, they will contact us.”

On how they arrived at the beneficiaries of the rice earlier distributed by the committees, Egbo said: “We had a state committee comprising labour unions, those of us in government, religious organisations, NGOs and even security agencies were involved.

“We had another structure at the LGA level consisting of the leadership of the LGAs and all that. From the LGA we moved to the wards and then to the units who drew up the beneficiaries, so it was clear that the rice got to the people and there were no complaints.”

He said 388 tonnes of maize were distributed to poultry farmers while 369 and 151 tonnes went to fish and pig farmers respectively. We kept 10 percent of the grains for those who do not belong to any association,” he added.

On whether there is a strategic food reserve in the state, Egbo said: “We are trying to build our capacity. You can see that Governor Sheriff Oborevwori has taken agriculture as a centerpiece of his administration, that is why he just released N2 billion for rice farming.

“If we have our own rice farm, it means that we can have in stock and we are also growing tomatoes and we are also growing other crops.”

Findings across the state showed that rising cost of living is negatively impacting residents. There is lamentation among the populace whose income and savings have been wiped out by inflation. As of this moment, the Bauchi State government was yet to receive any food grain from the federal government.

KEBBI:

Kebbi State government said it hadn’t received grains  from the federal government.

The Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Alhaji Ahmed Idris, disclosed this to Sunday Vanguard in Birnin Kebbi.

He added that the state is waiting for the allocation from the federal government to arrive, saying Governor Idris has concluded arrangements on how the disbursement will take place.

He said: “We are just waiting for the federal government grain allocation. We will add ours to reach the poor like we did before and it got to everyone in the state.”

Ahmed explained that the last distribution was done by a committee, saying it was successful.

His words: “Therefore, the same pattern would be used to reach every indigent person in the state.

“The organised labour would be the channel to follow to reach all categories of civil servants, while associations and groups will get theirs from their leaders. There will also be a house- to-house distribution.”

Director-General of the State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, James Anam, told Sunday Vanguard that the state has not received  directives  on the quantity of grains it would get and  the category of people expected to benefit from the distribution.

His words: “There is a grain silos where excess grains are stored  in the northern part of the state but grains from there are usually distributed among the South-South and South-East regions during emergencies. We have not been told yet when the grain supply or distribution would take place and the quantity coming to our state and who to share it to but be assured that once the supply comes, we will do a good job and will keep the public updated.”

The Commissioner for Agriculture, John Ebokpo, said he had no information on the grain distribution exercise yet.

“SEMA is usually the body that handles such things. Find out from them,” he told Sunday

Taraba State government is yet to commence the distribution of a new set of grains.

Sunday Vanguard  confirmed that no new tranche of grains has been received.

However, a senior government official said the grains are still being awaited.

He noted the government has instituted measures to ensure that if there would be any distribution, it would be shared equally across the state. However,  in the third quarter of 2023, the state inaugurated a Palliative Care Committee to ensure the equitable distribution of government welfare packages to alleviate suffering.

The committee, headed by Saleh Saad, will oversee the government’s disbursements of grains and other commodities across the 16 local government areas of the state.

Measures for seamless sharing, including the identification of beneficiaries, have been put in place, and the template will be used going forward. The committee had, in the last quarter of 2023, disbursed grains and other food items  as palliatives.

In a chat with Sunday Vanguard, Ekiti State Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation, Mr Taiwo Olatunbosun, said the state has commenced the distribution of grains received from the  federal government.

Olatunbosun said: “Yes, I am a member of the palliative distributions committee in Ekiti State. We commenced the distributions last week. We distributed  maize to livestock farmers to boost their livestock farming and production. We did that  in view of the current economic situation in the country. The development, apart from ameliorating the plights of those in the sector,  will also contribute to food production.

“Palliatives go beyond just sharing of foods alone, there are a lot of measures in place. Palliatives, to us, go beyond immediate food that may not necessarily be available to the entire people.

Let me say this, what government is doing in terms of cluster farming is to also support food production, because government is about starting the clearing of lands for our farmers. Across the state, we have taken requests from interested communities with large landmarks and forests, and we will clear all those places and allocate them to farmers. We are equally supporting our farmers with developed seedlings.”

On the 42,000 metric tonnes of maize, he said: “We  have shared the maize. It is part of grains as well. It is a continuous exercise as I have said. What we did last week was to share with livestock farmers.

“It’s very important we must speak on facts, so, I don’t want to be frivolous but as soon as I have the authority of facts and figures as we tend to upscale and advance continuous government plan, I will communicate them appropriately.”

The Chief Press Secretary to Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, Mr. Sulaimon Olanrewaju, said  the state is yet to receive any grains from the federal government.

He expressed concern over the impact of the food crisis on the state, urging the federal government to prioritise the state in its distribution of grains.

“We have not yet received any grains from the federal government. As soon as we receive the grains, we will begin distribution. We are doing everything in our power to ensure that the grains are distributed fairly and equitably.

“The state government is working with local farmers and distributors to ensure that the grains are distributed in a timely and efficient manner when finally received,” he added.

Ogun State government has said that it is awaiting the arrival of grains from the federal government.

Special Adviser on Media and Strategy to Ogun State governor, Mr. Kayode Akinmade, said this  while speaking on measures taken by the state government to ease the hardship.

Akinmade said the state government has put in place necessary steps to ensure that the grains get to the targeted people when they eventually arrive.

His words: “Though, the federal government said it will release grains to the state government for distribution to citizens to cushion the effects of high cost of food and inflation, but as we speak, the state has not received anything from the federal government. I want to assure you that once it arrives, justice will be done, to ensure that such gets to target beneficiaries.”

Speaking to Sunday Vanguard in Akure, Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Ebenezer Adeniyan, said: “We’ve not received grains from the federal government. The state government hasn’t received any grain from the federal government, but once they’re released and it gets to the state, we would commence its distribution to ease the hardship facing our people.

“Aside from the grains that some National Assembly members bought and distributed during the last festive season, the state hasn’t received any grain from the federal government.

“We want to assure our people that once the grain gets to us in the state, they will be distributed immediately.”

In Kano, the Kano State government is yet to receive any palliative. But the Kano State governor, Abba Kabir Yusuf, has set up a committee to procure some essential commodities for onward distribution to people of the state ahead of Ramadan.

According to the governor, “we have taken some drastic measures to ease hardship faced by the people. We convened a meeting with the business community in the state. We met with Aliko Dangote, Aminu Dantata and they promised to support us. We are looking forward to inviting Abdussamad Isiyaku Rabiu.

“Aside from this, we wrote a letter to Mr. President, Bola Tinubu, asking the  government to intervene and ameliorate the suffering of the people.

“We have resolved to continue to procure essential commodities to assist the people. We have set up a committee under the leadership of the Secretary of State Government, and the Commissioner of Agriculture as Secretary of the committee.

“They are to come up with modalities to procure some essential commodities for onward distribution to the people as the month of Ramadan approaches.”

In a related development, the Kano State Public Compliant and Anti-Corruption Commission, PCACC, bursted some warehouses in connection with alleged hoarding as part of measures to ameliorate the sufferings of the people.

The Chairman of the anti-graft agency, Muhuyi Rimingado, however, sealed off the warehouses stocked with essential commodities such as grains, millets, sugar and spaghetti among others

Meanwhile, the intervention by the anti-graft agency has recorded some form of impact as traders have slashed their prices.

Despite the announcement, Benue is yet to benefit from the initiative. Though government owns a silo in the Terwase Agbado area of Makurdi town where grains are stored, findings indicate none of the grains have been doled out.

A resident of Makurdi town, James Ukpa, who could not hide his anger over the delay in releasing the grains said: “it could be another political statement. They plunged this country into this unbearable poverty and hunger while their families are living in affluence, yet they still find it difficult to implement a directive that will save the poor masses from dying of hunger.

“We all brought this upon ourselves in this country by our wrong choices. Today, even small neighouring countries are making jest of Nigerians because of bad leadership.

“Given the state of hunger in the land and the uncontrolled rising prices of food, what is delaying the release of the grains to Nigerians. We know for certain that God will not abandoned the sufferng poor masses.”

Also, a civil servant, Maria Kusu, said government was insincere with the promise stressing that “it’s another political talk. They don’t care about the poor masses. Look at how we are suffering. Is this what they told us when they were campaigning? They have made life unbearable for Nigerians and they don’t care. Nigerians are pained because we were scammed by these politicians.”

Reacting, the Benue State Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Prof. Moses Ogbaji, said the state was yet to receive any grains from the federal government as promised.

He said: “As of yesterday (Thursday), we did not receive any grains from the federal government. We have not seen any so far.”

On his part, the acting Executive Secretary of Benue State Emergency Management Agency, BSEMA,  James Iorpuu, said the agency has yet to receive information on the grains.

He said: “I am not aware of that .I have not received information about that and we have not received any grains from the federal government.”