September 12, 2021
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To cushion the effect of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Government rolled out a survival scheme for transport workers comprising motorists, motorcycle operators, also known as okada riders, and others in Ekiti State, YOMI AYELESO reports that would-be beneficiaries, rather than commending the initiative, are complaining that they have been left out of it.

On Saturday July 17, the Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President on Media and Publicity, Mr Laolu Akande, said most of the beneficiaries of the government’s COVID-19 package under the Economic Sustainable Plan (ESP) in the transportation sector were selected through their relevant unions and associations with support from the state governments.

He was referring to the ‘Transport Track’, one of the ESP schemes targeted at 4,505 transport workers in each state across the country. The beneficiaries will receive a one-off sum of N30,000 each, according to the plan.

The scheme, which gulped about N5 billion, according to the government, was to revive the economy and support the beneficiaries whose means of livelihood were significantly affected during the lockdown declared in the aftermath of the pandemic last year.

Speaking on a Channels TV programme monitored by Sunday Tribune, Akande maintained that the implementation of the plan was largely successful with claims that the stipends got to the targeted transporters.

However, investigations revealed that the programme left a wide inequality gap in Ekiti State as many transport workers were not captured under the scheme. Some of those captured also, did not benefit from the palliative. In fact, fewer than 2,000 transporters benefitted from the scheme in the state, according to data released by the state government.

This reporter visited communities across the three senatorial districts in the state to get firsthand accounts of how the survival fund was distributed to motorcyclists and drivers.

It was gathered that while some workers, especially those in the major towns, got wind of and received the fund, many were given forms but got nothing.

Against the plan of the federal government, the Ekiti State government said it shared the 4,000 slots amongst other residents in the informal sector, including artisans.

Unsavoury tales

James Opeyemi, a driver who operates in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti Central Senatorial District, was saddled with the responsibility of collating names of drivers in his area to the state secretariat of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW).

Eventually, a few of the names submitted eventually received the money, but many others, including himself, got nothing.

“As a driver in this town, I heard about the scheme through our leadership and we were given forms to fill but it is only a few people that were paid among us and I am not one of them.”

Opeyemi, however, expressed hope that there would be a second batch of the distribution from which he and others would benefit.

Like Opeyemi, Victor Ogware, another motorcycle operator in Ikere-Ekiti, in the Southern Senatorial district of the state, was excluded from the scheme.

The 35-year-old Delta State – born registered his displeasure over the method deployed to select the beneficiaries which he said was not transparent and fair.

“Officials of the state government should be held responsible for the failure of the majority of us to receive the money. Nobody knows the data sent to the federal government for payment and I am sure you know how people play politics here,” Ogware stated.

The okada rider said he had anticipated the skewed distribution of the fund, which he attributed to be the usual practice with government’s disbursements.

According to him, this could have been averted if there was a portal dedicated for registration, rather than the paper forms distributed.

“The moment the federal government said the beneficiaries will be chosen through their unions and state government, I knew it will end like this; that they will only select those they know are loyal to them.

“I can tell you that from what I heard from my colleagues, that is the situation of Okada riders in relation to the survival fund. The government ought to have designed a platform where every transporter will register and they will be selected by the federal government themselves without them knowing anybody. The essence of the fund, we were told, is to relieve us from the loss suffered during the lockdown last year,” he said.

Angered by his inability to receive the survival fund, Kunle Abisoye from Oye-Ekiti, in Ekiti North Senatorial District, said he had not been a beneficiary of government welfare programme in the last 20 years, while faulting the selection process of the beneficiaries of the scheme in the state.

Thought he commended the federal government for coming up with the plan, he however, suggested that a better and more transparent method should be used in the future to reach out to people in the sector.

He said; “the plan is good and the government should be commended for remembering people in the sector after we have suffered a lot during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Agreed that not everybody will be given the money but we should have more of us among the beneficiaries and that is not so.  That tells you something is wrong somewhere.”

Corroborating the accounts of his colleagues, a motorist from Iyin-Ekiti, Irepodun/Ifelodun Local Government Area, Alabi Ayodele, said he was surprised that nothing happened after he filled the mandatory form.

“This is not good enough,” he said, insisting that officials of the state government who coordinated the selection process might have compromised it by drafting in their relatives and friends who are not transporters.

In Ijero-Ekiti, Peter Patrick, a motorist disclosed that he did not benefit from the survival fund because no information was given to him about the scheme, while Adeniyi Sunday, also a motorist noted that hopes were raised when the information came about the plans for the transporters.

“We were told about the plan sometime ago and my hope was so high that I will be receiving it (welfare support) from the government for the first time but that was not to be because we are still waiting for the alert,” Sunday narrated.

He insisted that his correct account details and BVN were submitted alongside his other data, claiming that he could not have made a mistake in the information provided that could have prevented him from receiving the survival fund.

A driver from Awo-Ekiti, Abdulganiyu Taiwo, noted that those in the smaller communities were not captured and that no driver benefitted from the fund in his community.

His hometown (Awo-Ekiti), according to the 65-year-old man, was completely shortchanged in the whole selection process. He explained that forms were given to the transport operators by the leadership of their union which was submitted with the correct bank details, but he regretted that he did not receive the fund.

“You can imagine that the whole thing was so badly managed that nobody received it from the community; we only heard about it here but no money was sent to us,” the sexagenarian lamented.

On his part, a 27-year-old driver from Ode-Ekiti, Godwin Ifeanyi said he had since stopped attending the activities of the union in the state due to its handling of the COVID-19 survival fund distribution.

He stated that the leadership mobilised him and others to the state secretariat of their union for capturing of their data, including bank details, with the message that the money would get to them.

The plight of the transport workers in Ikole-Ekiti is not different from those in other areas.

A motorcyclist, Bimbo Adeolu, who did not receive the fund, also faulted the selection method adopted, describing it as clear injustice against the hapless transporters.

“How do you explain that the federal government gave the sole power to coordinate and select the beneficiaries to the state government and associations?” Adeolu probed.

According to him, “I knew from the beginning that this is how it will end because people in authority will not follow the due process as put forward by the federal government.

“Anytime people see anything involving money from the government, they perceive it as free gift and their own share of the ‘national cake’. I don’t expect people in charge to be fair when they have girlfriends, family members and others that can benefit.”

On the claims that he might have missed out from the fund due to incorrect account details or BVN, he said, “those in charge of it ought to have got back to us if at all there were issues with account details; I don’t believe that though. I supplied my correct details and I don’t have any issues with my account details, I was expecting the money but I did not receive it.”

A few of the motorists who got the money also shared their experiences

Mr Ayinla Afisu, a 49-year-old driver, from Ado-Ekiti, the state capital, said he received the N30,000 fund in April through his bank account.

Asked how he was selected for the scheme, he explained that a form was given to him by the leadership of the drivers’ union, which he filled, including his bank details.

“Our leadership in the union called and said that there was a form to be filled in order to be able to access the fund from the federal government. Officials from the government came to collect our data and take our photographs. They said we should be expecting a bank alert of the N30,000.

“We were assured that the scheme was genuine and that we will receive the money. After about a month, I eventually got the alert in April this year. The money is said to be a palliative following our inability to work during the lockdown declared by the government to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic,” he stated.

A motorcyclist in Ijan-Ekiti, Gbonyin Local Government Area, Busola Olayemi, confirmed receipt of the N30,000 survival fund after the leadership of the union, through the officials of the state government, collected his data, including bank details.

“Our chairman asked us to come to the office for capturing in order to be able to receive the money earmarked by the federal government. After a month of collecting our personal details, I received the alert but not all my friends got it,” he said.

In Ido-Ekiti, a motorcyclist, Ibrahim Muhammed, said he was fortunate to have received the fund, explaining that none of his colleagues was that lucky even after submitting bank details and other documents.

More findings by Sunday Tribune showed that fewer than half of the transport workers in the state received the fund out of the over 4,000 spaces allocated to the state.

A highly placed government official, who was part of the process but spoke on the condition of anonymity, said not only transporters were captured as beneficiaries of the survival fund. He noted that for political considerations, some other persons from different sectors were included.

“You know how we play our politics here when it comes to sharing things supplied by the government; that was what happened in this case. The money was not given to transporters alone, that is it.”

  • Transport unions, government officials react

The state chairman of the Okada Riders Association of Nigeria, Mr Kunle Ashaolu, confirmed that members of the union benefited from the scheme, explaining that about 1,000 okada riders received the N30,000 across the 16 local governments of the state.

“I want to commend the federal government for the gesture. The state government officials notified us about the scheme and we quickly gathered the riders for capturing which I can say was a largely successful process.

“My people received the alert in the state and I think it is highly commendable. I am not aware that people who are not members got the money, I can’t say much on that because we are not the one that selected the eventual beneficiaries.”

On his part, the state chairman of NURTW, Mr Osho Farotimi, lamented that majority of his members were left out, saying the development has contributed negatively to the union’s activities. He explained that over 1,000 members were captured and had their account details taken but not up to 400 persons were paid.

He told Sunday Tribune that all complaints to state officials about the skewed distribution fell on deaf ears.

“We heard about it but what we were given in terms of the number of our members who benefitted is nothing to write home about. Unfortunately, most of them see it as if we were the ones who removed their names (from the list) and because of that, they have stayed away from activities here, it is really a difficult situation.

“I want to plead with the federal government to look into this matter and ensure that the real drivers are captured and receive the survival fund, it is very important.”

The Special Assistant to Governor Kayode Fayemi on the Informal Sector, Prince Adedeji Aladeloye, denied allegations that most of the beneficiaries were friends, relatives and supporters of the government.

Aladeloye, who coordinated the process on behalf of the government, said the scheme was devoid of partisanship or any other unwholesome consideration, insisting that only the right persons were captured for the fund.

He, however, confirmed that over 4,000 slots given to Ekiti State were shared between the transporters and other categories of people in the informal sector in the state. The governor’s aide disclosed that only about 1,900 slots were given to the transport sector.

Aside the drivers, motorcyclists, tricyclists and others in the sector, Aladeloye added that artisans, associations and trade unions were also included in the survival fund on the directive of the governor.

Giving the breakdown for those in the transport sector, he said, “considering their numerical strength, the okada riders got 1,000 forms, drivers were offered 650, others shared 250 forms making it 1900 slots for the transport sector.

“I must, however, tell you that not all those that were captured received the alert because of issues resulting from incorrect account details including BVN, names and the rest.

“It is difficult to know the actual beneficiaries because our people are not coming out to confirm receipt of the fund; that is the challenge.

“Let me quickly add that in the wisdom of our governor, artisans, associations, and the private sector were also included to fill up the little over 4,000 slots allocated to the state. There was no political consideration in the whole arrangement. It was purely for the people and they got the money because they have been coming to our office to appreciate us and the governor,” he said.

To support his claims, the governor’s aide provided Sunday Tribune with  a list, which contained how the government distributed the slots among the transporters and other members of the informal sector in the state.

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