Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Ikanade Agba, said that President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the release of 70,000 tonnes (2,333 trucks) of grains from the Strategic Grains Reserve for distribution to states at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Agba stated that the distribution was carried out through the state governments and not through ministers or members of the National Assembly.
He made the clarifications during his on-going constituency engagements with diverse stakeholders across the three senatorial zones in Edo State.
The engagement, which started on Wednesday with a courtesy visit to the palace of the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, was consequent upon President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to ministers to return home to assist state governments in achieving peace and harmony countrywide in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests.
Agba said that the peaceful protests by the #EndSARS movement were legitimate as attested to by President Buhari in his disbandment of SARS and acceptance of the five-point demands of the youth.
“However, due to the distrust between government and its citizens, which had grown over the past 40 years, this acceptance was met with skepticism and our youths understandably continued the peaceful #EndSRAS protests.
“Unfortunately, this presented an avenue for mischievous individuals to attempt to hijack the protests for selfish reasons, which led to destruction and the loss of lives,” he stated.
The minister, in the course of his engagements, further clarified that the #EndSARS protesters were different from the individuals causing unrest and destruction, and as such “these acts (of destruction) should not be attributed to the peaceful protesters.”
He also pointed out that the youths were not calling for an end to policing in Nigeria but rather for a reform that would see the general populace as beneficiaries, especially the “honourable men and women of the Police Force, by ensuring they are adequately compensated for protecting the lives and property of citizens.”
Agba took the opportunity of the occasion to express his “wholehearted grief for and sympathy with the friends and families of all those who have lost their lives or have been victims of police brutality over the years.”
“I also commiserate with the peaceful protesters that lost their lives across the country, with bystanders and members of the law enforcement agency who also lost their lives, property, or have been injured during these past few historical weeks.
“The loss of any Nigerian life is a sad dent in the future of our country, regardless of the title attached to these lives, be it ‘ordinary citizen’, ‘military’, ‘police’, ‘thug’, or ‘hoodlum’. Every Nigerian life is equally important and as such the government is currently investigating the reported loss of lives and abuses; once all is fully uncovered, the findings of the investigation will be made public for all to know,” he stated.
The minister, who noted that Nigeria was currently experiencing a moment of calm and peace, appreciated, on behalf of President Buhari, the governor of Edo State, traditional rulers, religious leaders, community leaders, youth leaders, professional organisations, interest groups and youths alike, whose appeals for calm had helped in no small way in restoring peace to Edo State and Nigeria.
Agba assured all Nigerians, particularly, the youths of Edo State that “we have not forgotten your voices and sacrifices”, adding, “your frustrations have been seen and your demands accepted.”
He appealed to them: “Please, do not take this as defeat, because if the battle was lost, the loser would be Nigeria. As we forge ahead in reforming the police, be assured of a meticulous approach; this is an important issue and the desired result cannot be achieved through ‘patchwork’. Although, this approach requires patience, much to our frustrations, it will yield a long-lasting solution we can all be proud of.
“To this end, the work on reform had already started even before the protest, as we signed into law, the Police Act 2020 in September; you will find that there are a lot of earlier raised issues addressed in it.
“I also encourage the youths to continue to engage with your Senators and Representatives to help further finetune this Act for the betterment of all Nigerians. We have to foster more engagement to promote mutual understanding so as to achieve the Nigeria we all desire; these are just the first important steps in that process.”