Bickering, Discordant Tunes In Cross River After Persons With Disability Protest Over Diversion Of Palliatives

In Breaking News, Civic Space
The petition by the Cross River State APC Special Leader, Livinus Ebingha to Governor Bassey Otu over diverted palliatives

By Jonathan Ugbal

The protest by persons living with disabilities in Cross River State on Tuesday over the hoarding and diversion of palliatives allocated to them by the State Government has left more questions than answers, with two Commissioners engaging in a media war. 

Some members of the Joint National Association of People With Disabilities, JONAPWD staged a protest over the diversion of 47 out of 200 bags of rice and the cash allocated to its different clusters – visually impaired, speech impaired, albinism, and the physically challenged. 

It will be recalled that the Federal Government had, in August, announced a NGN5 billion palliative package for each State of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory. Governor Bassey Out of Cross River announced a committee for distribution in September, almost a month later. 

But, soon after, activists slammed the decision to distribute the palliatives on political party lines, an allegation initially denied and is now all, but confirmed with the protest by JONAPWD members on Tuesday. 

First, The Petition 

The Disability Leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC in Cross River, Mr. Livinus Ebingha had in a letter dated October 19, 2023, and addressed to the Governor, said he was aware some persons in the Ministry of Social Welfare and Community Development, collaborated with one Mr. Agbor Ojua to circumvent the intended distribution process of the rice palliatives meant for persons with disabilities across the state. 

Ebingha, who said he is “deeply troubled by the gross misconduct and disregard for the leadership within the disability community,” urged the Governor to intervene and direct those involved to provide explanations for their roles and actions. 

“Persons with disabilities in Cross River State deserve fair and equal access to the support that has been allocated for them, and we look to your leadership to ensure that their rights are upheld,” Ebingha wrote in the letter which copied two Commissioners and the Governor’s Chief of Staff. 

The petition by the Cross River State APC Special Leader, Livinus Ebingha to Governor Bassey Otu over diverted palliatives
The petition by the Cross River State APC Special Leader, Livinus Ebingha to Governor Bassey Otu over diverted palliatives
The petition by the Cross River State APC Special Leader, Livinus Ebingha to Governor Bassey Otu over diverted palliatives 2
The petition by the Cross River State APC Special Leader, Livinus Ebingha to Governor Bassey Otu over diverted palliatives 2

The Protest 

Following non-action on the letter, a protest was staged at the entrance to the building housing the Ministries of Social Welfare and Humanitarian Affairs in Calabar, a stone’s throw from the Governor’s office with the Humanitarian Affairs Commissioner, Dr. Helen Egodo addressing the members who said some Local Governments like Biase were yet to receive their palliatives. 

Dr. Egodo who said she was on her way to attend the Cross River State Digitalization Project (GRID) conference organized by the Ministry of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Relations expressed displeasure at the situation. 

She promised to investigate the matter and hold those responsible accountable, while emphasizing that people living with disabilities deserve equal access to resources and support, especially during times of crisis. 

Enters The Bickering 

Shortly after videos of the protest surfaced on social media, some supporters of the Commissioner of Social Welfare and Community Development, Dr. Margaret Ene-Ita responded with an unsigned statement, only utilized by CrossRiverWatch because a relative of Dr. Ene-Ita, Mr. Coby Ene-Ita shared same on several platforms, dated October 24, 2023. 

The statement accused Egodo of instigating the protest by a “faction of JONAPWD” whom they said had been sacked by a Court in Calabar. Ene-Ita’s statement said the protest was based on misinformation and personal agendas, not genuine concerns. They alleged that some members were told they were to receive NGN25,000 at the ministry but were shocked to find a different scenario. 

They said the Monitoring and Evaluation team of the Social Welfare ministry has since received reports of the distribution led by Mr. Agbor Ojua and averred that a phrase used by Dr. Egodo; “It should have been me,” is proof of their allegations. 

Egodo’s Clap Back 

In her response dated October 25th, Dr. Egodo, in an unsigned statement only utilized because her aides shared the same, questioned the motives of the Social Welfare Ministry, which allegedly distributed incomplete palliatives to the disabled community.  

The Commissioner challenged the relevance of the Court verdict that dissolved the leadership of JONAPWD and queried whether that stopped them from being members of the persons with disabilities association while demanding answers about the whereabouts of the diverted rice bags. She insisted that the protest was justified and not influenced by personal agenda. 

Egodo who said the protesters did no wrong by sending a copy of their petition to her, averred that; “Esteemed members of the public are expecting an apology or an explanation from the actors involved in such disdainful act, disappointedly, they are getting press releases of accusations and unnecessary spitefulness.” 

Furthermore, the statement said one Mr. Prosper, whom the Social Welfare ministry said was “observing the demonstration,” was, “one of the protesters who moved away when he noticed that they were on record.” The statement claimed that there is video evidence to that effect. 

Further Discordant Tunes 

In her reply to Dr. Egodo’s response, another unsigned statement issued by supporters of Dr. Ene-Ita raised concerns about the “it should have been me,” statement querying why she did not oversee the distribution if she claims authority to do so. 

They insisted that the absence of a copy of the petition to Dr. Ene-Ita also raises concerns and posed three questions; 

  1. Why did the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, and Chairperson of the Palliative Distribution Committee approve the collection pass for the disability group to the Commissioner of Social Welfare and Community Development if the Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs claimed, “It should have been me”?
  2. Why did the Director-General of the State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA release the palliatives to the Commissioner of Social Welfare and Community Development if the Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs believed she should have overseen the distribution? “ It should have been me”
  3. Where was the Commissioner of Humanitarian Affairs when the distribution of Palliative that was approved by Mr. Chairman?

IPAC Wades In 

On the same day as the protest, the Inter-Party Advisory Council, IPAC in Cross River State resolved to set up a standing committee to, “investigate the appropriation, procurement, and distribution of palliatives” which it said was in line with “the peer review policy initiated by the national leadership of the Inter-Party Advisory Council, Abuja.” 

Five party chairpersons were selected for the assignment and are expected to submit their report to the Council on or before December 1st, 2023, which will be forwarded to the National Palliative Committee as well as IPAC national headquarters, a statement issued by the Chairman, Anthony Bissong Attah, read. 

They are; 

  1. Dr. Ambo Ekpenyong (SDP)- Chairman
  2. Pastor Ntami Esege (APM)- Secretary
  3. Comrade Rose Atu (BP)- Member
  4. Amb. Ogar Osim (LP)- Member
  5. Surveyor Patrick Agbor (ADC)- Member

 

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