Sadiya Umar Farouq and the Primacy of Proof

Sadiya Umar Farouq

Dapo Bruce, a teacher, commends the self-scrutiny method adopted by Sadiya Umar Farouq, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to address allegations against her

There is a latin maxim which every lawyer worth his salt must be familiar with. It goes thus – “semper necessitas probandi incumbit ei qui agit” and when translated to English would approximate to “the necessity of proof always lies with the person who lays charges.”

To use the more common and clichéd term: “he who alleges must show proof.”

This saying came to mind on Monday August 3, 2020 as I watched the proceedings of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.

When her turn came to address the media, Sadiya Umar Farouq, Honourable Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development did something many government officials never do except compelled to by the EFCC or a parliamentary hearing.

Standing tall with a serious mien, the soft spoken public servant said she wanted to address the “rumours and innuendos and speculations around one of our key interventions; the Home Grown School Feeding Programme which was modified and implemented in three states following a March 29th Presidential directive.”

And with that Sadiya Umar Farouq undertook a public audit of one of her ministry’s flagship programmes.

Launched in June 2016 by the Buhari administration and domiciled in the office of the Vice President, the Home Grown School Feeding Programme is one of the Federal Government’s National Social Investment Programmes targeted at providing nutrition for primary school children with the aim of boosting physical and mental health while encouraging attendance and discouraging absenteeism with free meals as incentive to attend class.

Speaking at the launch, VP Yemi Osinbajo noted that “Today we lay an important building block in securing our future by mapping out the implementation plan to ensure that even the most disadvantaged children are free from malnutrition.”

The programme’s target of feeding 24 million school children marked it out as the largest school feeding programme in Africa.

School feeding programmes are globally recognized interventions, promoted and supported across the globe by the United Nation’s World Food Programme and it is not limited to poor or 3rd world countries.

Indigent school children in the United Kingdom receive free school meals and a few months ago, footballer Marcus Rashford was in the news after calling on the Prime Minister to reverse a decision not to extend food vouchers to those school children in the summer period. His campaign garnered wide support and led to the Prime Minister agreeing to provide food vouchers to children on lockdown during school term and also during the summer months.

According to Boris Johnson in a Downing Street briefing – “Clearly free school meals should generally apply in term time…but we have to understand the pressure that families are under right now.”

What Boris Johnson was forced to see by Marcus Rashford was what President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR saw as far back as March when he directed the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to evolve strategies for feeding school children while at home during the lockdown.

In response to that presidential directive, the ministry consulted with state governors under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and all parties resolved that Take Home Rations remained the best and most viable option.

Take Home Rations, each valued at N4,200, were subsequently procured and distributed according to the Honourable Minister to 29,609 households in Abuja as well as 37,589 and 60,391 households respectively in Lagos and Ogun states thus bringing the total of impacted households to 124,589.

Sadiya Umar Farouq noted that taking the cost of one food ration and multiplying it by the number of impacted families the total spend would be N523,273,800 for the three pilot states over a staggered period covering May 14 – July 6, 2020.

She said the clarification was being made in order to “help puncture the tissue of lies being peddled in the public space.” Speaking further the Honourable Minister informed the press that allegations of daily expense running into millions and billions of naira were mere fake news disseminated by rumour mongers intent on distracting the ministry from achieving its mandate of providing “humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable, help with the mitigation of disasters while establishing social safety nets that help us build resilience for the future.”

Her clarification has been well reported both online and offline but it requires some context in order for us not to see this as another government official playing to the gallery or trying to deflect public opinion.

Sadiya Umar Faraouq has always shown a readiness to place herself under scrutiny which is why her ministry “invited the EFCC, CCB, ICPC, DSS and a host of NGOs to monitor the process” in what she described as a high level of “self-imposed scrutiny.”

This is another clear example where facts and figures have trumped fallacies.