Onyema Dike: X-raying the ministry of humanitarian affairs under Covid-19

Sadiya Umar Farouq Minister of Humanitarian Affairs Disaster Management and Social Development

Ten months ago, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development did not exist. But then 10 months ago if you said Corona, young people would think of a beer brand while older folks would think of an old car model, Toyota Corona. The Coronavirus, also, did not exist.

But times have changed and today with the world on lockdown from Minna to Minneapolis and Lagos to Lisbon, the word de jour is Covid-19, a disease caused by the novel Coronavirus.

Total global infections now stand at over 2.8m with a total fatality rate of almost 200,000 which is well over 5%. Of the global number of infections, 808,024 people have recovered. Figures are based on statistics available on April 25, 2020.

Nigeria with 1,095 confirmed cases and 32 deaths is fast closing the gap against Ghana which has 1,279 confirmed cases and 10 fatalities as well as South Africa which has reported 4,220 cases with 79 fatalities.

Prognostications from the Nigeria Centre of Disease Control (NCDC) are dire with the figures expected to rise further in the coming days as more tests are carried out.

The global pandemic has impacted the world in horrible ways. The global economy is in tatters, the airline and travel industry may never recover, the Olympics has been cancelled, football leagues abandoned, blockbuster movie releases pushed back, terminal examinations postponed indefinitely while oil prices are in negative territory, having dropped below $1. Medical facilities and personnel are stretched thin even in highly developed countries like Germany, France, Canada and Japan.

While a few countries like Sweden, Czech and Georgia seem to have seen the worst of it, most of the world has been impacted so negatively it will take decades for full recovery to occur.

The Covid-19 pandemic can only be likened to a sneak guerrilla attack with no warning and scant preparation. The world was left flat footed as can be seen from the debacle unfolding daily.

Wrong advice and faux pas have become the order of the day as we see world leaders, who, overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster and drowning in the muck are reaching for any strand of hope to cling to.

The innate ability to keep your head in moments of crisis has long been recognized as a defining attribute of leadership and the Covid-19 pandemic is showing up leaders across the world as either inept or made of stellar stuff because desperate times call for unique insights and perspectives.

In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari was accused, at the beginning of the crisis, of not addressing the nation but the president in his own inimitable style chose to observe and analyse the situation before making a broadcast. Two broadcasts later, he has defined the strategy and affirmed clearly that the fight against Covid-19 “is not a joke. It is a matter of life and death.”

In his March 29th broadcast, the president announced a lockdown of the frontline states of Lagos, Ogun and Abuja beginning April 1, 2020 and it was no April Fool’s. The lock down was extended 13 days later for another two weeks and in his second address, the president acknowledged the toll the lock down was taking and would take on the nation – “we made this very difficult decision knowing fully well it will severely disrupt your livelihoods and bring undue hardship to you, your loved ones and your communities.”

With the second lockdown by the Federal Government set to elapse on April 28th, 2020, the Governor’s Forum has announced a cessation of all interstate movement from next week. These actions, though pragmatic and proactive, are taking a huge toll on people especially in a country where many are subsistent income earners, depending on daily wages and income to survive.

The president acknowledged the fact in that same broadcast when he noted that “No country can afford the full impact of a sustained restriction of movement on its economy. I am fully aware of the great difficulties experienced especially by those who earn a daily wage such as traders, day-workers, artisans and manual workers.”

To assuage the impact of the lock down, the president announced a series of palliatives comprised of food distribution, cash transfers and loans repayment waivers as well as an expansion of the current social register from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households in the next two weeks.

The implementation of those palliative is the remit of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development led by Honourable Minister Sadiya Umar Farouq. Created in August 2019, the ministry’s mandate is to develop humanitarian policies and provide effective coordination of national and international humanitarian interventions, ensure strategic disaster mitigation, preparedness and response, and manage the formulation and implementation of equity focused social inclusion and protection programmes in Nigeria.

The Ministry seems created for the moment and Emma Agu, a public commentator writing under the caption, Sadiya Farouq and the Burden of Expectation, has suggested that the president might actually have been clairvoyant in creating a ministry charged with such an expansive mandate a mere four months before the scourge.

Sadiya Umar Farouq has become the face of the federal government’s social intervention efforts as it concerns the humanitarian aspect of the fight against Covid-19. She is charged with turning the federal government’s resolve into action.

Her ministry has submitted the implementation plan for the identification of an additional 1 million poor and vulnerable households to the Economic Sustainability Committee to expand the social register from 2.6m to 3.6m in line with Mr. President’s directive while 1,794,633 Loan beneficiaries under the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) beneficiaries have been granted 3 months moratorium.

 453,744 poor and vulnerable households in 24 states and the FCT have been impacted under the Conditional cash Transfer programme while 12,000 beneficiaries have received Trader Moni loans and Market moni loans in Lagos and FCT as at April 20th.

Following the federal government’s approval of the release of 70,000 metric tons of grain from the Strategic Grains Reserve, the ministry has facilitated the deployment to 13 states based on reported cases of COVID-19, population and density using the existing structure provided by NEMA. 5,820 metric tons have already been delivered to Lagos, Ogun, and FCT, whilst 2,550 are in transit as the remaining grains are being bagged and transferred.

Despite logistical challenges in the North East, the ministry working with the North East Development Commission (NEDC has commenced construction of both a 14-bed and 21-bed facility, each close to a large IDP Camp in Maiduguri to serve as COVID-19 Isolation Centres. The Ministry has provided, through the NEDC, 11,000 Personal Protective Equipment, 12 ventilators, 6,000 surgical masks, 3,000 ordinary masks, 192 infra-red thermometer, 2,400 hand gloves & 2,500 hand sanitisers to 6 states in the North East.

The 65 trucks of rice released to the Ministry by the Nigerian Customs Service rice have been distributed to Imo, Ogun, Lagos, Kano, Ondo, Oyo, Kwara, Osun, Ekiti, Kogi, Jigawa, Katsina, Ebonyi, Adamawa, Kebbi and FCT, with distribution ongoing to other States.

In collaboration with National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI) and National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficked Persons (NAPTIP), the Ministry is leading the implementation of interventions which will assist in providing social protection for the vulnerable. To this end Covid-19 advocacy and sensitization campaigns are ongoing in shelters while sensitization and distribution of palliatives have commenced in 3 states in collaboration with UN OCHA.

Last week, the minister met with the executives of the Coalition of Disability Organisations (CODO) to align strategies for sustainable interventions. CODO acknowledged the Minister’s proactive commitment in appointing a Special Assistant (Special Needs) immediately upon assumption of office.

Over 30 trucks of food items were also handed over as palliatives to the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory as well as the Kogi state government during the week.

And in all these, Sadiya Umar Farouq has been lauded by colleagues and partners for her insistence on measurement and evaluation not just of interventions but impact. Working with NGOs and CSOs her ministry is employing the M & E Field Activity Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to monitor and evaluate all social, humanitarian, advocacy and sensitization interventions, within the framework of Covid-19 emergency response across all 774 LGAs nationwide.

Watching and listening to the soft spoken Sadiya Umar Farouq speak during a recent interview on Channel’s TV what became immediately obvious was that leadership and responsibility are not consistent with physical stature. You don’t have to be big to be effective.

It is also fair to say that former prime minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher was unto something when she averred that “the best man for the job is a woman.”

Dike, a public analyst, wrote from Lagos