The ministry needs help to get along. But issues of transparency should be addressed

To mark this year’s World Humanitarian Day, the minister of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar-Farouq, hosted a virtual press conference during which she restated Nigeria’s commitment to ensuring a coordinated approach to humanitarian response. The minister used the event which coincided with the first anniversary of the creation of the ministry to crow about her successful interventions. She said the ministry is providing some safety nets for the poor and vulnerable of our society.

Not everybody agrees with that. Many Nigerians hold the view that the humanitarian resources provided the ministry are not being effectively deployed for their intended purposes. The leadership of the National Assembly had, for instance, during the total lockdown due to Covid-19 in April, expressed dissatisfaction with the manner the Social Investment Programme was being run, arguing that many of the “poorest of the poor” were left out by the guidelines set by the ministry. But this was even mild vis-a-vis accusations of its skirting the boundaries of transparency and accountability. Others were critical of the verification and the skewed distribution pattern of the palliatives meant to cushion the impact of the lockdown particularly on societal poor. And like the leadership of the National Assembly, many responded with furrowed brows when the minister said that any Nigerian that recharges phone with more than N100 airtime “cannot be said to be poor”.

However, in spite of the daunting task and the increasing hazardous environment, the ministry, in its little way, is providing leadership and direction to many of its agencies in services of the poor and needy. Through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the N-Power, Home Grown School Feeding, and the Conditional Cash Transfer and others, the ministry is attending to the needs of the vulnerable groups within the resources available to it.

The N- Power, for instance, has impacted on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Nigerians by providing employment and creating wealth for a critical mass of young Nigerians. Umar-Farouq said recently that some 500,000 graduates have benefitted from the programme since 2016, while about 100,000 beneficiaries have gone on to set up businesses in their communities. The Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) has continued to provide incremental loans to traders, artisans, agricultural workers and others under TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni. In the reckoning of the special assistant to the High Commissioner for the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI), Sadiq Abdullateef, the ministry had done well in meeting humanitarian needs.

Even as the ministry tries to provide leadership and direction on humanitarian crisis, Farouq and her team could only scratch the surface of the mountain of problems. But the question now is no longer about the relevance of the ministry, but how to strengthen it to cope with the ever-increasing responsibilities heaped on it. Only last week, the United Nations Mission in Nigeria warned that over 10.6 million people in the North-eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe are in dire need of humanitarian assistance as they risk hunger and destitution due to fallouts of the Covid-19 pandemic. That is another call to duty. For all that and more, the ministry needs all the help. But the issues of transparency and accountability are of utmost importance. That is one area the minister must address quickly.