AMINU Yahaya, 45, was among those displaced during the 2004 ethnic clashes that engulfed Shendam Local Government Area in Plateau State. He left for Bauchi State with his two wives and seven children, having lost his herds of cattle to the conflict. Since he had no idea what to do or how to start his life again, he resorted to riding Okada (commercial motorcycle).
Few months into the new business, he was able to save enough money to enroll two of his seven children in primary school.
Unfortunately, the outbreak of Covid-19 in January 2020 crippled his financial independence. The introduction of the partial lockdown in Bauchi State, where Governor Bala Mohammed activated an executive Order 10, altered Yahaya’s continued stay in his Okada business.
“I had no idea what to do, and there was no alternative for my family and me. That moment was like the end of the world for me; I was literarily waiting for the final whistle to blow so that we will all submit to the superior powers of God,” Yahaya said.
For him, battling to feed his two wives and children was a bigger pandemic than the real covid-19 pandemic, “such that my younger wife had to file a divorce complaint before our village head that she could no longer bear the brunt staying with hunger most of the times.”
In the last quarter of 2020, when Yahaya heard that the federal government, as part of its implementation of the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP), had launched the Transport Track Covid-19 Survival Fund, which was meant to support transporters, artisans and owners of Micro-small and Medium Enterprises, he signed up.
The disbursements of funds, which commenced on November 17, 2020, targeted a total of 333,000 artisans and transport business operators nationwide. The transporters are expected to get one-time operations grant of N30,000 per beneficiary to reduce the effects of income loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The breakdown shows that there will be 4,505 beneficiaries under the transport scheme, while the remaining 4,504 will be artisan beneficiaries, putting the total number of beneficiaries at 9,009.
Bauchi was among the 24 states covered in Streams 1 & 2. Others were FCT, Lagos, Ekiti, Kaduna, Borno, Kano, Anambra, Abia, Rivers, Plateau, Delta, Taraba, Adamawa, Bayelsa, Edo, Ogun, Ondo, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Enugu, Ebonyi.
The scheme is estimated to save not fewer than 1.3 million jobs across the country and produce an impact on over 35,000 individuals in each state, including the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
“I was the first person to call our chairman and notified him about the radio broadcast I heard, which detailed the plan to give us palliative to ease our sufferings,” Yahaya told WikkiTimes.
But little did he know that his hope would soon be dashed, for, despite undergoing all the rigours of the screening, Yahaya got nothing in the end.
WikkiTimes’ investigations revealed that Yahaya’s experience is similar to many others.
“We were all deceived in the end,” said Mal Idris Inuwa, unit chairman of Okada Riders’ Association Abubakar Tatari Ali Polytechnic, (ATAP) Chapter.
Idris, a father of eight children recalled that during the lockdown, “I was compelled to look for other menial jobs in order to get ends meet.”
He said of the 31 registered members of Tatari Ali Polytechnic, chapter, none of them got the N30,000. “We are 31 in number from ATAP Chapter, not a single one of us got the grant.
“We all expected that the government was serious about the support they wanted giving us, but till date, no one got a single kobo among all my members”, Idris Inuwa said.
The secretary of the ATAP Chapter of the association, Mallam Ishaku Musa also corroborated the opinion of the Chairman. “We didn’t get anything. No one gave us a dime as covid-19 palliatives during the lockdown.”
Ishaku said although they have all applied to get the grant, which would have gone a long way in reducing the wrath they encountered during the lockdown, “we are still anticipating to get the money, but as of today, no one received anything”, he added.
At the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University where Abdu Baba, 65 years old was riding his commercial motorcycle, the story remains the same. “I have not gotten anything; In fact, I have no idea of anyone who got the money.”
Halliru Sa’idu, the Chairman of the branch says of the 60 registered Okada riders in his branch, none got the federal government’s survival funds, a claim his secretary Haladu Sale corroborated.
“None of us got the survival funds despite filling the forms. But we are still hopeful, maybe they will make the payment someday”, he said.
It was the same experience among many okada and Keke riders in Bauchi metropolis.
“We didn’t get any N30,000. Even if it was awarded, some middlemen might have cornered the resources. My appeal to the government is that, if they had actually budgeted money to support us, then let them investigate the whereabouts of the money because it has not gotten to our hands”, said Abdussalam Yahuza, Keke driver in Bauchi metropolis.
According to Hassan Muhammed Hazo, the state deputy secretary of Road Transport Employers’ Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) Bauchi State chapter, only two persons benefited from the transport funds out of the 500 slots allocated to RTEAN members in Bauchi State.
“It was only the chairman and the treasurer that saw the alert; none of us got it apart from these two people,” he said.
Hazo said that despite the stress he experienced compiling the list of members of RTEAN who were shortlisted to benefit from the transport scheme, he got nothing.
He said RTEAN in the state has complained to the officials of the scheme who were mandated to make payments, “but our complaints fell on deaf ears; although we’re still hopeful and waiting.”
Ismail Abubakar is the Bauchi State chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers. When this reporter inquired about the actual number of beneficiaries of the transport scheme under his watch, he deflected; instead, he appreciated the “FG’s gesture” that did not benefit the majority of his members.
He told WikkiTimes that he could not give an account as to how many of his members befitted from the scheme; adding “if my branches compile a comprehensive report, we will discuss it when you come next time.”
He said the NURTW, which has over “one million registered members” across 126 branches in the state with several subunits across LGAs, was initially given 500 slots for its members.
However, our reporter counted over 700 members who were shortlisted on a list posted on the wall of the NURTW office.
Abubakar’s appreciation of the Buhari government contradicts the disposition of many of his members who could not hide their disappointment for “wasting” their time to submit names and account details.
Survival Funds: a tale of false claims across the three senatorial zones of Bauchi State
Several people interviewed by WikiTimes who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the transport survival funds across the three senatorial zones are either unaware of the funds or are excluded from the scheme. Many of them said they had sold or return the vehicles to their owners for lack of patronage.
“The pandemic has altered everything as you know it; we felt the impact more than any group in my opinion because I sold my motorcycle to be able to feed my family during the lockdown”, said Modibo Yakubu, who now rides his neighbour’s motorcycle.
He said at no point did they receive any support from the federal or the state government.
“This survival fund you are talking about, I’m hearing it for the first time from you”, he said.
When our reporter visited Azare, 156 kilometres, from Bauchi, the state capital, it was the same story. Many drivers, commercial motorcyclists and other eligible transporters did not benefit from the intervention.
Usman Muhammed and Abdulrasheed Dahiru, Okada riders from Azare, the second biggest town in Bauchi State also said despite enrolling to get the covid-19 palliatives, it eluded them in the end.
“Few of us were screened from this zone to benefit from the Covid-19 palliatives, but we are yet to get anything”, said Usman.
Dahiru also said, “We were asked to fill the forms, we all did in this branch, but I don’t know of anyone who got the money.”
For Alkaseem Idris, Abdullahi Salisu and Adamu Babayo, all members of the Keke Riders’ Association in Azare, filling the survival funds forms was a waste of time. “We just wasted our time and resources to fill the forms. Had I know that I will not be successful, I wouldn’t have wasted my time”, said Idris.
“For me, I filled the form because I thought the grant will be justly distributed”, opined Salisu. Babayo echoed the same lamentation, describing the program as “a scam.”
Few payments made to NURTW members in some LGAs
Findings by WikkiTimes revealed that few members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, received the payment in some branches in the state. Of the 15 slots allocated for Tafawa Balewa LGA, five drivers of the union received the payment, according to John Baba Sabo, the branch chairman.
“I myself, my secretary and three other people from this branch actually received the survival funds”, he said.
In Bauchi LGA, a few members confirmed to our reporter that they were credited with N30,000.
Abdullahi Salihu Abdul, a driver in Bauchi said he did.
“I also learned that about three other people in Bauchi also got the grant. But I can tell you that only a few people received the N30,000 across different branches in the state”, he added.
Both leaders of the NURTW and the Road Transport Employers’ Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) Bauchi State chapter said, only a few people benefited from the federal government’s survival funds.
For instance, Hassan Muhammed Hazo, the state deputy secretary of RTEAN, who spoke on behalf of the chairman, said only two persons benefited from the transport funds out of the 500 slots allocated to RTEAN members in Bauchi State.
He said only the chairman and the treasurer got the FG’s alert, “none of us got it apart from these two people,” he said.
Similarly, Ismail Abubakar, the Bauchi State chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers said although he could not give an account as to how many of his members befitted from the scheme, he conceded that a few people benefited.
“If my branches compile a comprehensive report, we will discuss it when you come next time.”
We’re not involved; we can’t account for the programme—Bauchi government officials
Officials of the Bauchi State government say they were not involved in implementing the programme, therefore cannot account for its shortcoming.
The Information Officer in the office of the Special Adviser to the Governor on Social Investment Program, Aishatu Idris Bamai, told WikkiTimes that the survival fund grant was facilitated directly from Abuja and “There is no involvement of any form from the state government.”
“A portal was created, and members of the union were asked to fill in their details, and they are being credited directly, I think,” she said.
“With that, we cannot account for any success or failure of the programme since we were not involved,” she added.
The strategy of the programme as designed by the federal government is that there would be state focal persons, project field officers and enumerators who were appointed to work alongside the Medium and Small Scale Enterprises (MSME) Survival Fund Project Delivery Office.
Their work, among other things, includes; identifying and ensuring that members of the respective associations are paid. Findings by WikkiTimes revealed that none of these officials was in Bauchi State.
Trade Ministry, VP’s Office Ignore WikkiTimes’ FOI Request
A freedom of information request sent to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment by this medium, dated 24th July 2021 and a subsequent reminder was ignored as at press time.
WikkiTimes, in the FOI request, asked the ministry to provide payment records of shortlisted beneficiaries in Bauchi, the number of beneficiaries, phone numbers, account details and evidence of payment.
This medium also sought clarification from the office of the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Repeated calls and text messages to Mr Laolu Akande, the Vice President’s media aide, was also ignored.
*This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.