In the face of economic turmoil, governments often step in to provide relief to their citizens in the form of palliatives. These measures are meant to ease financial burdens, particularly for the vulnerable segments of society. However, there are instances where government palliatives seem less like aid and more like abuse, inadvertently undermining the dignity and autonomy of the very citizens they are intended to help.
In the mid-1970s the term “palliative care” emerged in Canada, initially as a medical specialty serving primarily cancer patients in hospitals. In course of time, the scope expanded to include all people living with life-limiting situations. In that clime, palliative care aims to reduce suffering and improve the quality of life for people living in such conditions. Palliative aims to address pain and symptoms. It also provides psychological, social, emotional, spiritual, and practical supports.
It is on record that when the World War II ended in 1945, Europe lay in ruins. Its cities were shattered. Its economies were devastated and its people faced famine. In the two years after the war, the Soviet Union’s control of Eastern Europe and the vulnerability of Western European countries to Soviet expansionism heightened the sense of crisis.
To meet the emergency, the Congress of the United States, which overwhelmingly passed the Economic Cooperation Act of 1948, provided economic aid to Europe. That Act signed by President Harry Truman became known as the Marshall Plan. Over the next four years, the Congress appropriated $13.3bn for Europe’s recovery. This aid provided much needed capital and materials that enabled Europeans to rebuild the continent’s economy.
In the US, many forms of subsidies are given out by the government. Two of the most common types of individual subsidies are welfare payments and unemployment benefits. The objective of these types of subsidies is to help people who are temporarily suffering economically. Also, the American food supply is significantly influenced by the federal agriculture policy and subsidies. Various payment and revenue supports have shaped what and how much American farmers grow.
How do these illustrations concern us in Nigeria, one may ask? The coming to power of President Bola Tinubu and the sudden withdrawal of subsidy on PMS without a thought-out plan on how to deal with fallouts threw much confusion in the land and pushed many more people below the poverty line. The palliative measures his government has tried to throw at the masses have since turned to be insulting.
A viral video some weeks ago showed that Kwara State received and distributed 1,200 bags of rice from the Federal Government for palliative. The rice was distributed to the 16 LGs which comprised 12 Wards each. One ward received eight bags. Each bag contains 36 bowls. Half of a bag was shared by three streets. One bowl was given to an entire street. Does this in any way reflect the sincerity that guides the spirit behind the palliative measures?
Palliative is meant to be people-centred. Thoughts and voices of the recipients are supposed to be solicited and respected; their values and wishes well considered. How could a street share a mudu of rice? Who would get and who would not? How long would a share even last a household? For a government that ought to care for its citizens, how does this palliative align with the kind of palliatives in the form of “prayers” that the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, sent to the “mails” of his colleagues for them to be able to enjoy their holiday? With a congo of rice to an entire street in Kwara, can the occupants of the street actually enjoy themselves? Is there really a holiday for the masses?
Within the short time of this administration, governments have rolled out programmes that are touted as comprehensive and well-intentioned measures to assist those in need. Yet, beneath the glossy exterior, many of these programmes fail to address the root causes of poverty and instead merely provide temporary, superficial relief. These “palliatives” to me are akin to placing a bandage on a deep wound while ignoring the systemic issues that perpetuate economic inequalities.
One of the most common criticisms to the government approach is that these palliatives, though inconsequential in value, lack sustainability and longevity. Instead of empowering individuals to break free from the cycle of poverty, they inadvertently aggravated the problems bedevilling the nation. This, also, strips the citizens of the ability to strive to reverse their woes, and reinforces a narrative that they are incapable of improving their own circumstances, eroding their self-esteem and drive to achieve meaningful progress.
Is it not an irony for people to hear the government say that by removing the fuel subsidy on PMS and allowing the market forces to determine the price that the price of the product would fall when the product continued to be imported? How would the common man believe that he would someday buy PMS cheap to run his small business knowing that the same story was told to take kerosine and diesel off the subsidy list? Their prices rose and have never come down.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the ill-conceived palliative programmes is the inherent message they convey to the recipients, which tend to say that the well-being of the people is not a priority and their dignity is of little or no concern. By providing insufficient aid or implementing programmes that are clearly inadequate, governments inadvertently communicate that the lives and aspirations of the poor are of less value. This is a grave disservice to the principles of equality, human rights, and social contract.
In this contract, the government ought to be outright to think about the good and well-being of the people in their policies. Therefore, would it not have made better sense if the government had rolled out clear-cut plans to revitalise the moribund refineries and declare a state of emergence in the power sector with the palliative funds, rather than the mockery of the paltry cash gifts and the less-than-the-prison-measure of plates of rice for households? Would not making committed interventions in this sector not give the economy the right push for the leap all dream about?
While I think of the government’s consideration of cash gifting to the “poor of the poorest,” I could struggle to wrap my head around the obvious bureaucratic hurdles that many must navigate to access the palliative. I could visualise the clogs that would be imminent due to corrupt officials and agents, lengthy application processes, cumbersome documentation requirements, arbitrary eligibility criteria, etc. These would only add insult to injury. These obstacles can be overwhelming, especially for those who lack education, proper information, or resources, leading many deserving individuals to be excluded from the assistance.
I strongly think that the misguided palliatives would do more than just harm the dignity of the supposed recipients. They are likely to perpetuate the vicious cycle of poverty. By failing to address systemic issues such as education, food security, employment opportunities, and healthcare access, governments inadvertently contribute to the continuation of generational poverty. Without proper investment in long-term solutions, every effort will end up creating a cycle that benefits no one in the long run.
It is imperative, therefore, for governments to realise that true support extends beyond monetary assistance and the piecemeal of rice, like the case of Kwara. Meaningful change requires a multi-faceted approach that involves structural reforms, investment in education and skills development, and the creation of sustainable job opportunities. Governments should prioritise policies that empower individuals and communities, fostering a sense of self-worth and dignity that extends far beyond the reach of short-term palliative measures.
While the intention behind government palliatives is often rooted in goodwill, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Ill-conceived and inadequately implemented palliatives, thus, can easily become an insult to the poor citizens they are meant to help, perpetuating cycles of dependency and undermining individual dignity. It is high time for governments to shift their focus from short-term relief to long-term empowerment, ensuring that every citizen is treated with the respect and fairness they deserve. Also, the Federal Government should work at giving the vital aspects of the economy an urgent and deserving attention. Doing so would relieve the poor to really breathe again.
Agbai writes via [email protected]