Understanding the synergy between ministry of humanitarian affairs and NEMA

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

By Michael Jimoh

Trawling through Twitter, this writer came across a tweet – HM @sadiya_farouq on an official visit to @nemanigeria. The DG updated the Hon. Minister @sadiya_farouq and the perm sec Jalal Arabi on the activities, interventions and responses of @nemanigeria with respect to the #COVID 19 pandemic.

A comment caught my eye – “What is this woman @sadiya_farouq doing again with NEMA?”

My first instinct was to consider the question, what is the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development doing with NEMA? But the moment I considered the question, the answer popped up almost immediately. The ministry’s mandate under – Disaster Management is completely aligned with the mandate of NEMA.

NEMA, short for National Emergency Management Agency, was established via Act 12 as amended by Act 50 of 1999, to manage disasters in Nigeria with a clearly defined objective – tackle disaster related issues through the establishment of concrete structures.

Its mission, as spelt out on its website, is to “coordinate resource towards efficient and effective disaster prevention, preparation, mitigation and response in Nigeria” while its vision is “to build a culture of preparedness, prevention, response and community resilience to disaster in Nigeria.”

The Ministry on the other hand established in 2019 with a mandate to develop humanitarian policies and provide effective coordination of national and international humanitarian interventions, ensure strategic disaster mitigation, preparedness and response, while managing the formulation and implementation of equity focused social inclusion and protection programmes in Nigeria.

A close reading will show that there are several points at which the raison d’ etre of NEMA intersects with that of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. But before we consider those points of intersection and alignment, let us take a quick trip to America.

Even the most cursory look at NEMA vis a vis its name, mission and vision will leave no one in doubt that the spirit and the letter came from America’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In America, FEMA is responsible for coordinating the federal government’s response to natural and man-made disasters. Its mission statement is simple and speaks to proactiveness – “helping people before, during and after disasters.”

FEMA was established in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter via Executive Order 12127. The executive order merged many of the disparate disaster-related responsibilities into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Upon its establishment, FEMA absorbed the following: The Federal Insurance Administration, The National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, The National Weather Service Community Preparedness Program, The Federal Preparedness Agency of the General Services Administration as well as the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration activities from Housing and Urban Development while Civil defence responsibilities were also transferred to the new agency from the Défense Department’s Défense Civil Preparedness Agency.

FEMA enjoyed autonomy for all of 24 years before it was subsumed under the newly created Department of Homeland Security in 2003, two years after the 9/11 bombing of 2001, America’s biggest man-made disaster. The Department was set up ostensibly to “better coordinate among the different federal agencies that deal with law enforcement, disaster preparedness and recovery, border protection and civil defence.”

In subsuming FEMA under the Department of Homeland Security and providing it with cabinet level oversight, the President George W. Bush administration noted that though effective, FEMA had over its 24 year existence carried out its mandate in concert with other disparate federal and state agencies and they all had failed to present a single, unifying and wide ranging strategy to meet the nation’s disaster preparedness and management.

Seventeen years later, FEMA is a larger and much strengthened agency reporting to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Twenty years after NEMA was created in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari created the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. The overarching intention was to create a ministry that would facilitate and oversee the preparedness and management of the nation’s humanitarian programmes, disaster management activities as well as social investment programmes.

Such a ministry has become imperative in a country where the North East has been devastated by over a decade of insurgency which has taken unprecedented human and infrastructural toll on the nation; personal and forced migrations have become topical issues that dot our newspaper headlines; the term IDP has become part of our daily lingo due to internal displacements precipitated by sundry crises; incidents of flooding have been on the increase no thanks to climate change and environmental degradation while the death toll continues to rise from incidents of fire disasters, pipeline explosions as well as other man-made disasters that continue to exert pressure on the government and populace.

These exigencies made it imperative for a ministry that would provide oversight as well as a single, unifying and comprehensive strategy to meet the humanitarian, disaster management and social development needs of a country like Nigeria.

A few months after its creation, the ministry was put through its paces when it facilitated the return of over 130 Nigerians who were stuck in Cameroun. Many who knew the Minister’s antecedents did not find that particularly newsworthy because they saw her doing what she had always done because prior to her appointment as Minister, Sadiya Umar Farouq had acquitted herself creditably as the Honourable Federal Commissioner of the National Commission for Refugee, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI).

Because it was her quick interventions and leadership from the front in the wake of two devastating incidents that finally put her in the bull’s eye of the press and public.

Boko Haram’s attack on Auno in crisis plagued Borno state left one score and ten people dead while a pipeline explosion in the Abule Edo area of Lagos led to over 20 fatalities. Sadiya Umar Farouq was quick to carry out on-the-spot assessments which were followed by the provision of relief materials and medical supplies.

Under her sway, the North East Development Commission (NEDC) has become more engaged and only recently announced the construction of a 14-bed and 21-bed facility, each close to a large IDP Camp in Maiduguri using pre-fabrication technology to serve as COVID-19 Isolation Centres in the North-East.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Honourable Minister Sadiya Umar Farouq and the ministry she superintends have suddenly been thrust into the forefront of the battle against Covid-19. Today, the major bodies in the vanguard of attack are clearly the Presidential Task Force (PTF), the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

The Ministry, to give impetus to its interventions, inaugurated a Technical Working Group (TWG) on March 27th, 2020 to complement the efforts of the PTF in providing humanitarian and social interventions as Covid-19 rages. The TWG is comprised of all the Agencies and programs under the supervision of the Ministry; which have been pooled to operationalize the Ministry-led response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ministry is providing, in a single, unified and comprehensive manner, humanitarian assistance to the poor and vulnerable, awareness and sensitization to persons of concern as well as relief and palliatives as social impact interventions during this crisis.

These interventions are more comprehensive and wide ranging and clearly beyond the remit of a disaster management agency like NEMA. So, like Bush did with FEMA, Buhari has done with NEMA, bringing the agency under the away of a broader and more strategic ministry for the good of the larger majority.

Now, we know what that woman @sadiya_farouq is doing with NEMA.

  • Jimoh, a communications analyst, writes from Lagos