How security guards of Abuja schools coped during COVID-19 pandemic

ARMED only with a cutlass, 52-year-old Yisa Burawa, a security guard at Unique International School located in the Bwari area of Abuja, once chased away an intruder who tried to gain access to the school premises through the back door. Even when the school is not in session, Burawa’s job requires keeping the school properties safe, and he has been doing this for the past  13 years.

Having lived in the area for many decades, Burawa’s competence as a security guard is in his knowledge of the environment and a fraternity with a network of guards, who share intelligence in cases of danger.

But when Nigeria recorded its first case of COVID-19 late February, Burawa who has three wives and 18 children found he couldn’t machete his way out of the hardship the pandemic presented and neither did his government provide much needed help.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus ushered a new, descriptively cruel reality for many globally.
In Nigeria, a developing country which has 40 percent of its estimated 200 million population living below the poverty line, according to a 2019 Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report, the situation was much more dire.

In March, lockdown orders imposed by the Federal Government in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus, prompted the shutting down of schools across the country.

With physical class sessions halted, teachers had to rethink methods to educate their students from home.

But as classroom education moved into homes, custodians of the school buildings known as security guards remained on the line of duty.

This group provides protection for both infrastructure and persons, and are the first line of defense incase of an attack, though they are classified as the lower echelon in any organizational structure, and the least income-earners.

In April, the Federal Government announced plans to distribute palliatives to targeted low-income earners across the country, to alleviate the negative effect of the pandemic on the economy.

We only heard about the palliatives, we never received anything

On April 8, the Federal Government announced that 77,000 metric tons of food will be distributed to vulnerable households affected by the lockdown in Lagos, Ogun, and Abuja. President Muhammadu Buhari also stated that at least 3.6 million households will benefit from the direct distribution of food and cash during the lockdown period but while stimulus packages were rolled out, many who needed it never received it. In fact, The ICIR found that most security guards who still had to work during the lockdown to guard school buildings were left out.

For Gumsi Sanni, a security guard at Stella Maris College located in the Life camp area of Abuja, news about palliatives rocked the airwaves and he developed hope that himself and his family would benefit from it. Living with his wife, five children and three of his siblings, Sanni already had it rough, only to hit rock bottom when the government imposed lockdown measures in the wake of the pandemic.

Gumsi Sanni – Security guard at Stellamaris college

“My wife had to stop her business because of the COVID-19 and it was really difficult for us. All we had was my salary and it wasn’t enough but we had no choice,” he said.

Sanni like many of his colleagues never got palliatives promised by the government. In fact, being a security guard and having to report to work during the lockdown worsened his situation. As a result of the movement restriction, getting transportation to his work place was most times impossible and he would spend twice the usual to report to his duty.

The reality is no different for Jumai Samuel, a female security guard at Sheikh Hamdan school located in Gwagwalada. Samuel lives several kilometers away from her workplace and during the lockdown period, she struggled commuting to work.
But beyond suffering the disadvantage of the movement restriction, Samuel also found it hard to put food on her table.

“It’s not easy for me. I’m the only female security in the school and during the lockdown, things were really bad,” she narrated.

Samuel who lives with her sibling complained of how the lockdown affected her sister’s hairdressing business. Stranded at home, Samuel’s sister would have been relieved if the promised palliative ever got to them but that never happened.

Jumai Samuel – Security guard at Sheikh Hamdan

“I did not get anything from the government. It wasn’t brought to my school or my house,” Samuel recalled, adding that although she was aware of the distribution, the palliative package which she heard contained 5kg of rice, beans and sachets of tomato paste would have only lasted her and her sibling a little over a week.

Dansuma Aminu, a security guard with Valid Crown School in Gwagwalada area of Abuja also heard about the distribution of palliatives in his area. Like Samuel, he confirmed the meagre items were distributed but recalled that only a few people got the items as he and his family never received anything from the government.

The same is repeated by the chief security officer of a private school in Kuje, who pleaded for anonymity. According to him, salaries were slashed during the lockdown period when schools were closed and while he heard of the distribution of palliatives, he never received anything.

“I don’t know if there is a government in Nigeria. Nothing got to me or my family or any of the security men in my school,” he said with a tone of disappointment.

These accounts put to question the statement of Sadiya Umar Farouq, the minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, who while accounting for the distribution of palliatives across the country said practically everyone in the country got the palliative.

“There’s hardly anyone in Nigeria who didn’t receive the Federal Government palliative care during the COVID-19 pandemic period. All the tribes in Nigeria received the palliative. In fact, it was evenly distributed,” she said before she later retracted the statement and said: “it is impossible to give palliatives to all Nigerians.”

Indeed, only 1.2 percent of Nigerians received any form of the Federal Government’s palliatives, according to research done by SBM, a geopolitical intelligence platform, which carried out surveys in 18 states across Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to determine the effectiveness of the government’s response in handling the COVID-19.

It found that less than 2 percent of the surveyed population admitted to having received some form of support from the government during the peak of the pandemic.

We spent N3.5 trillion on COVID-19 palliatives – Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)

How CBN disbursed N3.5 trillion for COVID-19 Palliatives

While many Nigerians lamented not getting any support from the government, the CBN said it disbursed N3.5 trillion to cushion the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country’s economy.

“… in response to COVID-19, we are strengthening the Nigerian economy by providing a combined stimulus package of about N3.5 trillion in targeted measures to households, businesses, manufacturers and healthcare providers,” the apex bank disclosed in a communique published on the bank’s website, signed by Godwin Emefiele, the governor of CBN.

Though the CBN’s interventions were reportedly injected in different sectors of the country’s economy including providing direct support to households, there has been no disclosure of beneficiaries of the direct food and cash stimulus packages despite calls by a consortium of anti-corruption organisations demanding transparency.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), a non-governmental organization in its report noted that only a fraction of Nigerians gained from the direct distribution of cash set up by the government. On April 1, the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry began paying 20,000 Naira (about $52) to families registered in the National Social Register of Poor and Vulnerable Households, according to Farouq.

The minister had revealed that the National Social Register included 11,045,537 people from 2,644,493 households, figures that HRW described as ‘few’ given the fact that over 90 million Nigerians are estimated to live in extreme poverty.

Aside from the distribution of cash, the government had also said it was targeting dispersal of food items to the ‘most vulnerable in the society’ but modalities of the distribution have remained unclear, casting doubt on the impact of the support initiative set up by the Federal Government.

Palliatives discovered in state-owned warehouses

The government announced its plan to begin distribution of COVID-19 palliatives in April but as of October, many Nigerians still reported not having received any form of support.

It was later discovered that COVID-19 palliatives donated by the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID), a group consisting of Nigerian businesspersons and corporate organisations, were locked up in warehouses in several states across Nigeria.

CACOVID, in an attempt to alleviate the effect of the pandemic on the most vulnerable citizens, donated billions of naira but the support provided by the group never got to the intended recipients.

In October, reports of Nigerians looting COVID-19 palliatives purportedly hidden in state-owned warehouses crowded social media. In Lagos, Osun, Kwara, Cross River, Kaduna, and Plateau, video clips of people breaking into warehouses and hoarding food items which were clearly marked ‘CACOVID’ became evidence that stimulus packages never touched the hands of those in need of it.

In defense, Nwanosiobi Osita, who doubles as the Central Bank of Nigeria’s acting Director, Corporate Communications and spokesperson of the coalition, said in a statement that the relief items were to be delivered to about 2 million most vulnerable families in 774 LGAs across the country but for number to be catered for was large, causing bottlenecks.

“The very large size of the order, and the production cycle required to meet the demand caused delays in delivering the food items to the states in an expeditious manner; hence, the resultant delay in delivery of the food palliatives by the state governors.

“Although various states and the FCT had commenced flag-off of the distribution of the food items since early August, some could not conclude the distribution as they were yet to receive complete deliveries of the items allotted to them,” he said.

    What happened to government-provided palliatives?

    According to the Farouq, vulnerable groups in the FCT were targeted as foremost beneficiaries of the palliatives. In an interview with The ICIR, the minister through her aide, Nneka Eze, said stimulus packages were shared to different vulnerable groups numbering over 1,500 households.

    She however noted that the ministry didn’t participate in the distribution process but handed the palliatives over to local area councils and Non-governmental organisations to share among the vulnerable groups.

    For states distribution, the minister said it gave out palliatives to state government for onward distribution to the targeted beneficiaries and maintained that it didn’t directly give out the palliatives to the intended beneficiaries.

    Seun Durojaiye is a journalist with International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).

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