By its nomenclature alone, newly created Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development should be appealing to almost every Nigerian. Who doesn’t need one form of humanitarian assistance or the other these days? At least 75% of the country’s population does. And they’re not just those displaced by insurgency and natural disasters; they include the poor, the destitute, and the physically and mentally challenged. The unemployed would certainly cherish social development, as would everyone else that desires a higher standard of living. Almost every Nigerian is threatened by social disorders such as illiteracy, ignorance, armed robbery, drug addiction, kidnapping and terrorism – these are the usual causes of man-made humanitarian crises.

I have no difficulty, then, in describing the new creation as a catchall ministry. There is no other ministry or agency of the government whose duties the catchall ministry would not encroach upon. In fact, government as a whole exists to provide humanitarian assistance and social development for the people. The famous chapter II of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) – Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy – states clearly in section 14 (b) that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.

If I regarded the pioneer minister of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, as a prime minister, I won’t be far off the mark. Upon her head now rests most of the country’s burden. Is she equal to the challenge? She was a federal commissioner at the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI) before this appointment. But I hope someone won’t try to make her the fall guy (or fall gal)! The federal government’s annual budget, N9—10trillion, won’t be enough for the new ministry alone, if it attempted to find genuine solutions to the country’s intractable humanitarian and development challenges.

Perhaps I’m jumping the gun, since the mandate of the ministry has not been made public. But its supposed responsibilities have been betrayed by its name. For it to collaborate with some existing agencies, the laws setting them up – agencies like the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the Ecological Fund, the NCFRMI, and possibly the Social Investment Programmes – will need to be reviewed to reflect their supervising ministry. How fast would the 9th National Assembly do this? Will it take them a few weeks or months to enact the enabling legislations?

As I’ve stated, however, it’s an important ministry that deserves to be given attention. I’m told that South Sudan, China, Niger and Rwanda have similar ministries. Nigeria now faces even more humanitarian and development challenges than these other nations. Nevertheless, we’ve been lucky. In this part of the world, disasters like cyclones, hurricanes, landslides, tsunamis, earthquakes and tremors are non-existent. Until recently, stories of the damage done by terrorism, disease epidemics, drought, wildfires and flooding were associated only with foreign lands. Erosion problems that afflict mostly southeast states and flooding in coastal areas are insignificant in comparison.

If I were Minister Farouq, I would engage the several U. N. agencies and other international NGOs such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent. I would engage the local NGOs to help in preventing disasters by giving me timely and accurate information, for prevention is still better than cure. What plans, for instance, have been made to curtail the disasters that the last rains of the year will certainly generate? In just a few weeks, we’re likely to start hearing that thousands have been forced from their homes in Lokoja. About this time last year, those of us that drove past the confluence town were stupefied by horrible sights: houses submerged, streets abandoned, and canoes plying former residential areas. Each year for the past decade, coastal towns or towns bordering the two great rivers Niger and Benue have faced disasters at this time. I remember reading about lofty plans to dredge the river at Baro, Onitsha and Lokoja. There was talk of constructing more dams to swallow excess water. To date, nothing concrete has been done; we’re waiting for the next catastrophe.

The warning occasionally issued by NEMA is for people residing in flood-prone areas to relocate. Is it easy to move out of one’s home to a tent on a mountain or to a primary school or to an abandoned building? Well, it’s a matter of life and death. In one recent year, hundreds of people perished and items of property worth billions of naira got lost due to flooding. Most victims did not or have not enjoyed any succor; never mind the tales about relief materials and grass-cutting and contracts.

Help from government is always limited. I don’t bother about claims made on radio and television anymore, because I know many of our compatriots pass through hell. We’re not yet talking about the effects of the war on terror and some 3million people displaced in the northeast, or the millions more who have abandoned their homes and farms due to the activities of armed bandits in other parts of Nigeria. Already, the armed forces are overwhelmed. Millions of our compatriots have become refugees or, more appropriately, internally displaced persons in their own country, and are daily facing real threats of death from malnutrition, diseases and starvation.

The third ministerial title, “social development”, is likely to present the greatest challenge to Hajiya Farouq.  Humanitarian disasters are themselves offshoots of social disorders that have to be managed. Social development is a process – it is about solving people’s economic problems. How, for instance, can poverty in the country be eradicated so most Nigerians can live better and eat better? It’s not about cheap talk or about bureaucracies meant to give “jobs to the boys”. The poor should be empowered to fend for themselves – they don’t need to be given fish; they need to be taught how to fish. And when the majority are lifted out of the poverty hole, everyone benefits. When corruption is fought with honesty, the people value productivity, ostracise criminals and strive to contribute positively to society’s development. That’s how cohesive societies and institutions are built. It’s not by preaching or propaganda.  Economic development will inevitably trigger social development.

Nigeria is already a basket case. But Chapter II of the constitution yet again provides a clue to a solution. Section 16 (d):  “The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring: (a) the promotion of a planned and balanced economic development; (b) that the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good; (c) that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of a few individuals or of a group; and (d) that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.”

Thus says the country’s supreme document. Is the constitution followed in practice? Not really. Today it is “privatize NEPA”, tomorrow it is “take over DISCOs and GENCOs”. We commit $16billion of our scarce resources to generate darkness, and we celebrate the attainment of 4, 000MW in a nation of 200million people. But no nation can develop without adequate and regular electricity. QED! Upon power lies the solutions to poverty, unemployment and economic misery.

President Buhari has done well by creating this ministry at the beginning of his second term. Great things are expected to happen there. I wish Minister Farouq well in her new assignment.

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