To mark this year’s World Humanitarian Day, the minister of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, hosted a press conference online during which she restated Nigeria’s commitment to ensuring a coordinated approach to humanitarian response. During the WHD activities, which coincided with the first anniversary of the creation of the ministry, she had a long list of achievements to show. Among them were the ministry’s interventions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic (distribution of palliatives to the most vulnerable including refugees and IDPs, the elderly, the physically challenged, trafficked persons, orphans, petty traders and helpless widows) in some states, putting up structures to ensure appropriate manning of units and departments, doubling of the number of Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) beneficiaries since its relocation to the ministry, and collaborations with CSOs, NGOs, development partners and the private sector.

Did a seer advise the Buhari administration to create the ministry at the time it did? Three months after, Covid-19 came to torment not just Nigerians but almost the entire human population. At the ministry’s first anniversary (August 21), Covid-19 was not gone; its trail of humanitarian disaster, social dislocation and mass impoverishment still showed splendidly.

While we do not hold brief for the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development or for Farouq, we recognize their limitations in the face of insufficient funding. The buzz especially on social media has been quite instructive: some claim she was given more than N600billion to “share”. That is a figment of the imagination, for the ministry was not given money for Covid-19 interventions; it received items only. The Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP), now “Modified HGSFP”, has also been contentious. As the social media warriors claim, schoolchildren could not be fed from home since schools were closed due to Covid-19. But it was President Buhari who directed the ministry to liaise with state governments to continue the HGSFP even during the lockdown, and the governors agreed to a plan to use the existing structures of the programme. What happens is that dry portions of food are given to the parents of children enrolled in the programme at designated places. It costs just N70 to feed a child per day. Of course, not every Nigerian kid gets the rations. Only three states were involved at first, however. And that is perhaps why people in need in the rest 33 states have kept crying over reports of food items or cash doled out to the starving and the destitute. We are aware that pioneer minister Farouq has been making statements to clear the air, but many have not been listening. Indeed, “a hungry man is an angry man”.

Attention has shifted from what the presidency or state governors are doing to how the minister is “sharing” money. But what are the facts? Every impartial observer knows that the ministry’s mandate is overwhelming:   “developing humanitarian policies and providing effective coordination of national and international humanitarian interventions; ensuring strategic disaster mitigation, preparedness and response; and managing the formulation and implementation of fair, focused social inclusion and protection programmes in Nigeria.” Yes, it has not catered to every one of 200million Nigerians, but it certainly has provided relief to millions of Nigerians. It has supported N-Power beneficiaries, saved starving compatriots and ensured the safety of aid workers. Under its supervision are agencies such as the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI), National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), North East Development Commission (NEDC), Office of the Senior Special Assistant on Sustainable Development Goals, and Social Investment Programme (SIP).

Even as the ministry provides leadership and direction for these agencies, every Nigerian should be realistic enough to know that Minister Farouq and her team can only scratch the surface of the mountain of problems facing the country. Covid-19 is a different kettle of fish. But what about the unemployed? Conservative estimates put the number of jobless Nigerians at 40—60million, and almost 2million young people enter the labour market each year. Add the state of the nation’s economy to the mix and you have a monster.

N-Power, HGSFP, Government Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programme (under which Tradermoni, Marketmoni and Farmermoni and the CCT are captured) are all under the SIP. The most attention has been focused on N-Power, obviously because its beneficiaries are university graduates who are active on social media. As Minister Farouq revealed recently, 500, 000 of them have benefitted from N-Power since 2016, and 109, 823 have gone ahead to set up businesses in their communities. For these 500, 000 youth, the programme has ended – each batch exits after two years, so there have been two batches since 2016 – and over 5million were registered for Batch C between June 26 and August 9, this year.

The ministry was created just a year ago, yet it looks old already. The question now is no longer about its relevance but how to strengthen it. And it all boils down to funding. The nation itself is facing economic challenges and therefore cannot gather the funds direly needed to help the “poorest of the poor”, much less the rest of Nigerians. That evokes a possibility of the new ministry becoming the target of unfair criticisms, as it inevitably would not be able to meet the people’s mounting expectations. Considering the teething problems a new ministry must experience – and the pervasive effects of Covid-19 – we have no difficulty in awarding the ministry 85% pass mark in its first year.

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