President Tinubu’s Palliatives to Nigerians: The Edo State Rice Controversy

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By Sebastine Ebhuomhan

A big, potential damaging controversy broke out in Edo State this week. The debate that stirred the media and social media spaces surrounds the intentional effort of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to graciously assist Nigerians with rice as Christmas and New Year food palliative for distribution by lawmakers of federal constituencies and districts in the country to cushion against hunger and hardship.

Apart from the food and agric chain sector, the presidential announcement had also impacted a few other critical sectors. For example, the government extended the gesture into the transportation sector, where citizens were directed to pay 50 percent of transport fares at selected private transportation companies as against the Nigerian Railway Corporation that was directed to run free transportation for a specific period. However, owing to the non-verification and lack of understanding of the rice supply directive, many residents in Edo State went to bed days ago with the belief that some federal lawmakers of the state have stolen their potions, secretly kept them or converted same from the knowledge of the constituencies and districts.

A short, two-minute video, posted from Dallas, United States of America, by a social critic, MegaComrade Eranomigho, reposted, forwarded and shared severally on the social space with endless negative comments, questions, allegations, abuses and threats fuelled the controversy. In the video, the lawmaker representing Etsako Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Anamero Sunday Dekeri, alias Danco, an All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship aspirant, personally showed some carefully warehoused 50-kilogram bags as he thanked Mr. President and the Federal Government (FG) for supplying four trailers of rice totalling about 2,400 bags to his constituency. Although the lawmaker didn’t make any inference to any other constituency, lawmaker, or the National Assembly (NASS), his appreciation became, however, a weapon in the hands of his supporters, other aspirants’ supporters and many residents, who have axes to grind against federal lawmakers, especially those with governorship aspiration, believed to be ahead of the others in the race to Dennis Osadebey Avenue.

As the controversy was raging with anger, two fellow APC federal lawmakers and frontline governorship aspirants formally cleared the air. They vehemently denied receiving any supply of rice. They said they neither received nor were aware of any rice distribution because the paperwork on the presidential gesture was still undergoing processing.

The lawmaker that represents Edo Central District in the Senate, Senator Monday Okpebholo, alias Akpakomiza, replying through a legislative aide stated that the rice and other gifts he distributed to his district during yuletide were purchased from his personal allowance. Akpakomiza, whose belief, selflessness, empathy, philanthropy, and doggedness ensured his senatorial election victory that ended the traditional dominance of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Esan Land is a strong bet to clinch APC’s governorship ticket next month. He urged Edo people to do verification on any rumour before vilification. He promised to deliver to his district as presidentially directed any palliative from the FG.

In another rejoinder, the lawmaker representing Ovia Federal Consituency in the House of Reps, an APC frontline governorship aspirant, too, Rt. Hon. Dennis Idahosa, alias Denco, rubbished the rumour as spurious and misleading.

In a disclaimer he personally signed, he stated that the FG made provisions for N100 million each to the 360 members of the House of Representatives for constituency palliative and development. The award letter, he stated, was released on December 15, 2023. “The analysis of the N100 million is that N50 million is for the purchase of Rice and the other N50 million for solar street lights.”

Mr. Idahosa stated that the procurement processes which include the Bill of Quantities (BOQ) to ascertain the number of bags of rice and solar street light poles to be supplied has not been issued to the contractor who won the bid for the supply. “As of today, this has not been concluded by the awarding ministry.”

Idahosa concluded: “I will also in the spirit of transparency and forthright service, call on the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Civil Society Organizations, Concerned Citizens of Edo and the Inspector General of Police to investigate the purported supply of 2,400 bags of rice to me for distributions to my constituents.”

Denco, a young politician, is greatly loved by the youth and elderly of Edo South for emphatically burying PDP stronghold of Ovia Federal Constituency since 1999 in 2019, when he overwhelmingly defeated the Esama of Benin’s daughter, Ms. Omosede Igbinedion. Since he announced his aspiration, he has remained a frontline threat to the other APC aspirants in spite of the growing agitation for a fair and just power shift to Edo Central District in 2024.

In yet another response, the lawmaker representing Esan North-East and Esan South-East Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Prince Odi Okogie, also denied receiving any rice supply for his constituency.

The swift clarification by these leaders is commendable. Their response has dislodged the plan of the opposition and enemies that were circling like vultures to make a carcass before the forthcoming election. For the avoidance of doubt, their rejoinders are similar. It strongly suggests that they were holding to the facts that were available at the material time.

Whatever doubt may still persist in the mind of some people was rested in a clarifying five-minute video Mr. Dekeri personally released on Friday. In his second video, the lawmaker clarified that he purchased the warehoused bags of rice from his “pocket expenses” as he normally does at every end of year. He added that he habitually thanked President Tinubu because of the awaited promised palliative.

The Senate has since denied the same rumour that each of its 109 members has received rice and other palliatives worth N200 million. While admitting that is indeed a provision, the Chairman of Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Yemi Adaramodu, said no Senator has received the palliatives.

At this juncture, it becomes clear as daylight that there was a communication breakdown, which would have clarified any doubt and prevented the controversy beforehand. A critical analysis reveals that those who purchased and displayed bags of rice and those who are yet to procure or choose not to display any are nevertheless patriotic, truthful, and honest. Both are working in the interest of their constituents. For this reason, Edo residents are enjoined to always look before they leap in order to save themselves from needless anger that raises blood pressure.

While there is no need to flog this dead horse further, there is a need, however, for all the 12 federal lawmakers of Edo State to forge a closer tie, communicate constantly, work together, exchange notes, share ideas and proffer solutions to minimise controversies in the future.

Sequel to the above, this writer would like to suggest the immediate establishment of a virile *Forum of Edo State NASS Lawmakers* where issues like this can be considered with light hearts for a common position before anyone goes public in the future. While the forum should be chaired by one of the 12 lawmakers, it can be administered by an appointed coordinator or manager who will be located at either the Abuja office or constituency office of the chairman or both.

If this novel suggestion is positively considered, it will considerably deepen trust, enrich governance, build participation, inform accurately and foster unity on the basis of win-win to the lawmakers, their constituents and districts as well as the people of Edo State.

Sebastine EBHUOMHAN is an award-winning journalist from Edo State. He lives in Abuja and can be reached on [email protected] or 08037204620.

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