By Blessing Oladunjoye
As the Nigerian government takes stiffer measures to curtail the spread of the second wave of COVID-19 with the aim of averting another lockdown, Blessing Oladunjoye, who visited Osun State to ascertain how Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) fared during the first lockdown between March and May 2020, presents her findings.
Between April and September 2020, individual, corporate and government donors gave the Osun State Government almost N1.5billion, (specifically N1,406,992,424.13) to strengthen its response to COVID-19. Over N40million was generated from individual donors, almost N400million from corporate donors and N1billion from other government sources.
According to an audited COVID-19 cash flow statement signed by the Auditor General of the state, Folorunso Adesina, the state government spent N222,254,600.00 on purchasing food items between April and September 2020, to be distributed as COVID-19 palliatives to citizens.
Within this period, N140,650,000 was spent on the purchase of rice, N28,848,600 on beans, N39,156,000 on garri and N13,600,000 on noodles.
Of all the expenditure stated in the audited cash flow report, there was no disability disaggregated expenditure. Thus, no amount was set aside to provide palliatives specifically for persons with disabilities.
Director of Special Needs in the Osun State Ministry of Youths, Sports and Special Needs, Mrs. Taiwo Oladunjoye, said that although PWDs in the state were reached with food palliatives during the lockdown, she could not ascertain the specific worth of palliatives that they received.
Oladunjoye said there was no deliberate arrangement to reach PWDs, but the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD) — the umbrella body for all disability groups and clusters — was engaged.
“The information was shared through the chairman of JONAPWD to the cluster heads to the various chairmen of PWDs in all the local governments and the PWDs all went to their local governments to collect the palliatives,” she said.
“Whenever we had anything for PWDs in the state, we usually informed JONAPWD and at that time, the chairman of JONAPWD was involved. JONAPWD also has chairmen in each of the local government, so they gathered their members together and they got palliatives in all the various local governments.”
However, contrary to her claims, Kehinde Onitiju, Chairman of the Osun State Chapter of JONAPWD, revealed that there was no deliberate effort to distribute palliatives to PWDs in the state,. Instead, they were marginalised.
“There is no truth in the statement that JONAPWD was engaged in the distribution of palliatives,; we were not given palliatives directly,” he explained.
Onitiju said some PWDs got COVID-19 palliatives during lockdown by struggling like able-bodied persons, as there was no special arrangement by the government to reach out to them.
“When my people gave me feedback about the palliatives at their respective local governments, I saw that what they got was so small,” Onitiju added.
Corroborating this, Mr. Lukman Nafiu, Cluster head of People with Albinism, said: “There was no specific arrangement to distribute palliatives to PWDs during the lockdown and as such, the impact of the lockdown as a result of the pandemic was so intense on PWDs.
“Majority of us are unemployed, so when the lockdown came, the situation became worse. By the time palliatives were shared, there was no specific arrangement to get to us.
“We still have some of our people who got palliatives from one place or the other, maybe from private organizations or the government, but there was no specific channel to reach out to us during the lockdown.”
No Database for PWDs in Osun – JONAPWD
Making adequate provision for PWDs in Osun during the lockdown would have been seamless if there was an existing database for PWDs. But Onitiju said categorically that the state does not have any data for PWDs.
“The commissioner for Youths, Sports and Special needs requested for the database of our members and we submitted it to them; they didn’t have any data.
“The data was requested around September, after we explained that we didn’t get palliatives. Even after we submitted the data, nothing has come out of it. If they had our data, they could have used it or they wouldn’t have asked us.”
Onitiju said the Chief of Staff to the Governor had requested for the database during the lockdown but nothing came out of it.
“As an individual, I was part of the team of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) monitoring COVID-19 palliative distribution during the lockdown, through which I tried to make a case for PWDs but my pleas were not acknowledged,” he said.
“It was at that point that I met the Chief of Staff and I made our demands known to him. I told him we know our members and we can reach out to them if we were involved; he asked for our data and I submitted it to him but no result came out of it too,” he added.
The food relief report that was produced by the Ministry of Economy Planning and Budget stated that a social register was deployed to reach vulnerable persons in the state.
The social register, according to the report, is the data of poor and vulnerable households in the state collected through Community Based Targeting (CBT).
According to the report, “the vulnerable people in the social register are: the physically disabled, deaf and dumb, blind, elderly, poor widows and orphans.”
It also revealed that a total of 21,695 households from the social register were reached across the 31 LGAs in the state.
Information gathered from the Osun State Ministry of Economy Planning and Budget revealed that the social register was adopted in the distribution of palliatives because it contains the list of vulnerable persons in the state.
The social register was developed in 2014 with support from the World Bank and UK-DFID (now FCDO) and it is being updated annually to ensure that the details of vulnerable persons in the state are adequately captured.
Oladunjoye affirmed that there is no disability database in the state but noted that the Ministry is working towards developing a robust database for them, with the aim of designing adequate programmes to PWDs in the state.
“Heads of local governments used their discretion to distribute the palliatives; there was no percentage,” she said.
“A percentage was allotted to vulnerable groups, which included PWDs, elderly, women etc. and PWD is just one of such categories. So, there was no percentage for PWDs but officials at the local governments used their discretion during the distribution.”
An FOI request which was earlier submitted to the office of the Secretary to the State Government to ascertain the existence of a database of PWDs in the state was not honoured.
Our Exclusion Started Immediately We Were Not Part of the COVID-19 Committee – JONAPWD
According to Onitiju, the exclusion of PWDs started immediately the Food and Relief Committee in Osun, the committee set up by the government to handle the covid-19 intervention programme, was constituted without the inclusion of any PWD.
He said JONAPWD’s exclusion from such a committee proves that there was no deliberate effort to reach out to PWDs in the state.
“We struggled to be a part of the committee,; we were not involved in any way and there was no specific consideration for PWDs to get palliatives that were distributed by the government,” he said.
“The palliatives were distributed at the local government level and when JONAPWD chairmen in each LGA went to their LGA chairmen to ask for palliatives, they were told that there were no palliatives for them, that they should go to the state government.”
Onitiju alleged that the distribution of palliatives became political, as “the palliatives were distributed through political leaders (such as special advisers and commissioners) in their constituencies”.
When probed further, Onitiju said he couldn’t ascertain if the political leaders sponsored the palliatives by themselves or they were given by the state government, but he was certain the distribution was politicized.
How Some PWDs Struggled To Receive Palliatives during Lockdown
While JONAPWD insists it didn’t secure any palliative for its members during the lockdown, some PWDs across the state have confirmed receipt of palliatives. However, some were not from the state government.
Onitiju explained that PWDs who got palliatives through various sources across the state were not more than 3% of over 25,000 registered members of the association.
He also disclosed that the wife of the governor, Alhaja Kafayat Oyetola gave food items and mobility aids to PWDs after the COVID-19 lockdown.
“When the state government gave food to each LGA, we went to Olorunda LGA and we got 15 bags of food items,” said Lateef Adetiba, Secretary, National Association of Persons with Physical Disability, NAPWPD, Osun State.
“Each bag consists of rice, beans, garri, noodles, sachets of tea, sugar, salt, and groundnut oil.”
According to Adetiba, NAPWPD, the umbrella body for persons with physical disabilities and a cluster group under JONAPWD, has about 15,000 members in the state, as its members constitute about 55% of PWDs in the state.
He however said the association could not provide for its members during the lockdown.
“We had to open the bags, re-package the food items in smaller quantities and share among all those who were present at our meeting centre in Testing Ground,” he said.
“Each bag was supposed to be for one person but we had just 15 bags and there were about 50 people who were able to make it to the meeting centre with the expectation of getting palliatives.
“At the end of the day, everybody went home with something but it was quite ridiculous. Some could only part with just two sachets of noodles or one ‘congo’, which is equivalent to 10 milk cups, of garri which could barely sustain them, and it was more difficult for those who have families.
“How else could we have shared the food items for 15 persons among fifty people that it would go round? We believed it’s better for us to take a little each and manage, than letting some people go home empty-handed.”
Adetiba expressed that the food items that PWDs in Olorunda LGA got was grossly inadequate. He was however grateful that they got a little compared to other locations where PWDs got nothing.
Meanwhile, in its food relief report, the state government had reported that 704 households in Olorunda benefited from the distribution.
Simeon Babawale Obasanjo, a man with hearing challenge in Ejigbo, got a bag of food palliative, which was made available by Hon. Israel Adekunle Oyekunle, a lawmaker representing Ejigbo constituency at the Osun State House of Assembly.
Obasanjo confirmed that he received one measure each of beans and garri and had to support his family by farming and building labour.
Olayisade Adeola, a 40-year-old single mother of one, was one of those who got palliatives shared by NAPWPD in Olorunda LGA, she explained that the food she got barely served her and her son for one week.
“It was a terrible period and what I could call survival of the fittest,” she said.
“The food I got was shared among other members at our centre; it couldn’t serve everyone but we had to share and make do with what was available. Many people who had high hopes before going to the centre were disappointed as they went away with almost nothing.”
Explaining her ordeal as a single mother without any source of income during the lockdown, Olayisade said: “I faced a whole lot and the only thing I can say is thatit was God that sustained me. There was nowhere to go to for support; every other person had things to sort out for themselves too.”
Adebolu Eluwade, a 38-year-old-man with physical disability who resides in Ile-Ife, confirmed that he got one ‘congo’ of rice and beans, which served him for one week.
Eluwade, who is an author, explained that the palliatives distributed to PWDs by JONAPWD in Ife-East Local Government were made available by the Adeleke family and Ife Development Board.
“I am an ex-officio of JONAPWD in Ife-East LGA and I learnt that the Adeleke family and the Ife Development Board gave palliatives to PWDs. These were collated and shared among all PWDs in the LGA,” he said.
“The palliatives were distributed at the City Hall, Enuwa, close to the palace and we gathered to pick our share whenever the lockdown was relaxed. Since I got that palliative in May, which served me for barely one week, I’ve not gotten another one and I’ve only depended on support from my siblings and friends.”
Adeosun Bose, a 30-year-old wheelchair user in Esuyare, Modakeke-Ife, didn’t get palliative from the state but she knew other PWDs who got palliatives from the Adeleke family.
“During the lockdown, I was informed by the JOANPWD chairman in Modakeke, Ife-East Area Office, that there was a bag of rice for members to share and that it was donated by the Adeleke family,” adeosun said.
“We were asked to converge on our meeting centre in Itasin, which is about 20minutes drive to my house, but I couldn’t go because of how to access the area. It was difficult moving around during the lockdown; even on the days we were allowed to move, it wasn’t easy getting transportation, so, I couldn’t go.
“Eventually, I found out people got half a measure, which is about 5 cups of rice. So, if I’d gone there, it wouldn’t have been worth it. Not going there was not because I had enough to eat; I can say things were really difficult at that time.”
Without making a mockery of those who donated the palliatives, Adeosun said: “The Adeleke family did their best by giving food items to PWDs. What about the government that didn’t acknowledge our existence or make any provision for us? I’m certain if the government had distributed palliatives for us and we shared everything together, it would have gone a long way.”
Despite Exclusion From Palliatives, PWDs Also Excluded From COVID-19 Survival Funds Scheme
Some PWDs in the state have complained about not receiving the post-COVID-19 survival fund despite being captured. They believe that if they couldn’t get the palliatives, they should be able to get the survival fund, which would help them recover from the adverse economic impacts of the pandemic.
“We were told about the post-COVID survival funds and 50 PWDs were selected to be part of the programme where we would receive N500,000 loan but none of us has received a penny,” Onitiju said.
“They opened UBA account for us and asked us to pay N1000 each for ‘Omoluabi card’ before we could get the fund. No single person within the disability community has received the fund but some people without disabilities are already receiving the funds. We shouldn’t be excluded at this stage again; the government should ensure that we get the loan.”
Oladunjoye however claimed the first batch had received the survival fund and that a few PWDs received from the first batch.
“It is at the federal level that the payment will be done but the capturing was done by the banks here in Osun,” she said. “Very soon, they will start receiving money through the accounts that were opened for them.”
This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Free to share project.
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