Controversy has erupted in Akwa Ibom State after a senior government official was found apparently diverting food aid donated nationwide to cushion the impact of the COVID-19, and later handing them out as Christmas gifts.
Critics said Ephraim Inyangeyen, the chief of staff to Governor Udom Emmanuel, distributed the food items mostly to political supporters of the government.
Mr Inyangeyen, a relative of the governor and one of the most influential members of the government, admitted distributing the food items from his personal property in Onna local government area, where he and the governor hail from. He, however, claimed the materials were not the so-called CACOVID “palliatives”, a claim contradicted by photographs.
He told PREMIUM TIMES the photos were an attempt to “blackmail” him, and denied distribution of COVID-19 relief packages were ongoing in the state.
That claim too was debunked by a statement by the government, scrambled after PREMIUM TIMES contacted officials there early Friday.
In the statement, the Commissioner for Information, Ini Ememobong, said the state had commenced the distribution of another round of COVID-19 palliatives, “following the arrival of a full consignment.”
The COVID-19 food supplies were donated at the peak of the COVID lockdown in April to the federal and state governments, to cushion the impact of the crisis on citizens.
Large amounts of supplies were donated under CACOVID, a coalition of businesses and individuals that included Africa’s richest, Aliko Dangote.
In April, PREMIUMTIMES reported that the food supplies in Akwa Ibom were insufficient compared to the population of the oil-rich Niger Delta state.
The chairman of Civil Liberty Organisation in the state, Franklyn Isong, criticised the composition of the state’s palliative committee on COVID-19 and the modality adopted for the distribution of the items, saying it did not target poor.
Charles Udoh, the chairman of the Palliative Distribution Committee for Uyo LGA while performing the official handing over of 5,696 assorted food items donated by the State Government to the 76 villages of Uyo LGA through their village heads and other representatives of the Uyo LGA, said the sharing formula would ensure that the items trickle down to the targeted beneficiaries as identified by the various community leaders.
It became clear in October during the #ENDSARS protests that many states diverted or hoarded the supplies. At the peak of the demonstrations, hoodlums seized the opportunity of the chaos and raided warehouses where food items were kept by state governments. Such raid did not happen in Akwa Ibom.
Several photos showed that the items distributed at Mr Inyangeyen’s private residence bore the clear label of CACOVID. They included rice, spaghetti, noodles and garri.
“This is a blackmail. They are not CACOVID materials,” he told PREMIUM TIMES Friday morning nonetheless. “It was the same that was shared in all the local government as Christmas gifts from the Governor. All the 31 local government areas.”
“It was given in Onna. The only difference is that I added goats. I told them to bring the one for Onna to my compound to share as a former commissioner and Chief of Staff to the Governor,” he added.
Contrary to Mr Inyangeyen’s claim that sharing of COVID-19 items had ended in the state, the statement by Mr Ememobong, the commissioner for information, said otherwise.
“The structure for the distribution of these palliatives at the LGA level is very inclusive, having representation from people living with disabilities, women, youths, religious organizations, professional bodies and opposition parties under the platform of the Inter-Party Advisory Committee,” it said.
“This committee supervises the distribution of these palliatives to the people passing through the intermediary ward distribution structure. The distribution, which is largely decentralized to conform with COVID-19 protocols, has started and is ongoing.
“The focus of this batch of palliative distribution apart from the LGAs are media, orphanage homes, medical workers, security personnel, traders, Labour, entertainers and students.”
Mr Ememobong said the distribution of palliative was different from the usual end of year goodwill gift of rice to different categories of people.
He was however silent on the distribution that took place in Mr Inyangeyen’s private residence.
Amidst hardship in the state and at a time the government has yet to pay workers despite the festive season, the development has caused anger in the state.
Inibehe Effiong, a human rights lawyer, on Thursday accused Mr Inyang and the Akwa Ibom state government of hoarding the palliatives in the face of hunger. He said the “Christmas gifts” were given to loyalists of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). PREMIUM TIMES could not independently verify that claim.
“These are COVID-19 palliatives that were meant to be distributed to the less privileged in Akwa Ibom State, but the criminals masquerading as leaders decided to hoard them; even in the face of ravaging hunger in the State,” Mr Effiong wrote on Facebook.
“The arrogant Chief of Staff to governor Udom Emmanuel, Mr Ephraim Inyangeyen, finally brought out the hoarded palliatives and deceitfully shared them to people in his local government, Onna, (where the governor also hails from) based on political partisanship as Christmas gifts.”
“Why should palliatives be distributed to so-called party faithfuls? Is it the PDP that bought them? Has PDP ever raised a Kobo for the poor? These palliatives were reportedly donated by the federal government. They are not supposed to be shared based on partisan loyalty or tribe. It is insane to do so. There should be no favouritism in the distribution of food.”
Another commentator, Imaobong Uboh, said the development was “so shameful”.
“This is the kind of leadership we experience in Akwa Ibom State. So pathetic,” she said.
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