Palliatives of death plus Ambivalence over state police, by Zainab Suleiman Okino

Zainab Suleiman Okino

Sharing of palliatives to cushion the effect of extreme deprivation and hunger is Nigerian government’s answer to their self-created hardships engendered by subsidy removal, devaluation of the Naira and the effect of existential security challenge. However, in place of food and other essentials, death and maiming of citizens have trailed the exercise.

Palliative sharing is not sustainable; it is ad hoc and a stop-gap measure that can never replace the permanent needs of individuals – three square meals and other essential provisions. The bureaucracy and logistics involved in buying, stocking, planning, and arranging such palliatives alone are herculean. Yet, sharing foodstuff in an environment of desperation, misery, impatience, and organizational deficit is not only tragic but also leaves potential beneficiaries with the hard choice between death and hunger.

It all began in Lagos. As part of the government’s knee-jerk reaction to the reality of hunger in the land, the Nigerian Customs Service was directed last month to distribute 20,000 seized bags of rice and other grains to the public. Individuals were required to show their NIN and purchase a 25kg bag of rice for N10,000, whereas previously, a 50kg bag of rice sold for N70,000. However, due to the lack of proper planning and structural support, a stampede occurred, resulting in the loss of seven lives – all over rice.

 The dust was yet to settle on the Lagos incident when news filtered in that two students lost their lives, again while struggling to get palliatives at the Nasarawa State University in Keffi penultimate week. Governor Abdullah Sule initiated the distribution of 7.5 kg bag of rice and N5,000 to each student in what ordinarily would have been a good gesture. However, the chaos and stampede that accompanied the distribution led to deaths and injuries to at least 23 others.

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Elsewhere in Bauchi state, during the distribution of Zakat of N10,000 by a philanthropist during the Ramadan, seven people also died. Palliative sharing is clearly not working and not enough to stem the tide of massive deprivation in the country. There is something wrong with our society when it comes to sharing and distribution of anything. We simply lack decorum and orderliness, and either out of desperation or the need to outsmart others, confusions often arise from such efforts no matter how noble.

With regards to palliatives being shared by governments at all levels, which is becoming a jamboree, there should be other means of reducing burdens than queuing to collect food that cannot even last a week for a modest family. And if it must, governments should have a formal structure to be applied such as random picking of numbers to be spread over days. Once you bring a mass of people together, it is human to witness confusion and chaos. Without rules and regulations and systematic planning, any gathering for food in this difficult time is a disaster waiting to happen.

Meanwhile, we need to interrogate how we got to a situation requiring the distribution of palliatives. How is palliative an answer to food insecurity and hunger? How can a hungry man patiently queue for food without losing his head over the slightest provocation? What is this nonsense called palliatives anyway? How is it a substitute for provision or availability of food? Palliatives are supposed to be temporary measures, so how did it become a “national policy” that governors are falling heads over heels to show the biggest pyramid of grain palliatives? How sustainable is it as panacea for food insecurity occasioned by banditry, abduction, farmers deserting their farms and government’s insensitive anti-people policies?

While we should self-regulate and learn lessons in patience and orderliness, governments need to implement the right policies to make palliatives unnecessary. Eight years ago, rice was N7,500 and eight months ago, it was between N30,000 to N40,000. At between N70,000 and N80,000, why won’t people scramble, fight, and “kill” one another to get it 70 percent cheaper. It is a failure of the government to prioritize palliatives over the welfare of the people. Doing so is akin to abdicating constitutional responsibility. Nigerians demand permanent solutions to this food crisis. Moreover, queuing for food is not elegant; it dehumanises, more so in peace time and when everything ideally should be available and affordable or at least commensurate with earnings. 

Another aspect of this palliative issue is the sheer size, volume, and red tape involved. Billions will end up in the hands of contractors in this poorly handled tokenism, which is what palliative is all about. It will serve as another sad reminder of Sadiya Farouq’s era as Humanitarian Affairs Minister, where millions were spent on school feeding during the Covid lockdown. Specific examples are spending 500 million Naira on school feeding for children in Ogun, Lagos and FCT during the Covid lockdown and “over N2 billion expended by the federal government in Adamawa under the National Home-grown School Feeding Programme”.

Ambivalence over state police

Considering the high level of security threats everywhere in the country, it is safe to say that state police is an idea whose time has come. In over 25 years of civil rule since 1999, it has been a routine for every National Assembly to review the constitution under the deputy senate president as chairman of the committee, to which billions have gone down the drain. According to the Guardian, “endless reviews and amendments have cost the National Assembly N1 billion every year for 30 alterations at a cumulative cost of N24.8 billion in 24 years”, yet each of these sessions was met with comprehensive failure because our constitution is yet to change significantly. 

Altering the Nigerian constitution requires the imprimatur of at least 24 out of the 36 states. However, in the current attempt, only 16 states have submitted reports on the issue as revealed during the last NEC meeting presided over by VP Kashim Shettima. 

While we hope more states will support and submit their report promptly, one sticky part of that stagnancy is state police: to be or not to be. The concentration of everything in Abuja means that even the remotest part of this country will have to look unto Abuja when it comes under attack as we have seen in recent time in Zamfara, Kaduna, Sokoto states etc. This is no longer feasible. 

Although state police is one of two key issues being considered for amendment this time, with the reluctance of some state governors to support the idea, it appears we may once again run into hitches. Governor of Kebbi state, Dr Nasir Idris, revealed recently that state police would be a burden on governors. Pray, what is leadership without burdens? With this mindset, there is a risk that the state police issue will become another lofty amendment to the constitution that never materializes, despite consuming billions of Naira.

Zainab Suleiman Okino is a syndicated columnist. She can be reached via

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