By Philip Agbese
The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq struck the apex of leadership limelight unexpectedly for many Nigerians. She previously served as Federal Commissioner, National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons ((NCFRMI)). And before her foray into partisan politics in 2010, she had a stint with the National Assembly Service Commission as a senior staff. Her experience in public service is therefore rich and stainless.
The services of the newly created ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development (HADM & SD) is at the heart of every Nigerian. In the age of countless disasters afflicting Nigeria, and the ensuing challenges, many Nigerians and international partners, applauded President Muhammadu Buhari for creating the ministry. It is structured as a coordinating hub for an array of other federal agencies offering humanitarian and crisis management functions.
The African Doctors for Africa (AfDA) was one of the bodies which commended President Buhari for the creation of the Ministry in a public statement signed by its Chairman, Board of Trustees, Dr. Ver-or Ngutor, released in Abuja.
And the pursuit of the Ministry’s agenda forms the swivel of assuaging public agonies, and enthroning reliefs, happiness, and comfort to distraught and traumatized people.The appointment of Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq is perceived in many quarters as a blend of experience and expertise on humanitarian affairs and crises management. She is often described as Buhari’s Minister on what former Imo state Governor, Sen. Rochas Okoroacha would euphemistically termed as the “Ministry of Happiness.”
And these past few months, the Minister has dispensed herself as the poster boy of Mr. President by demonstrating to Nigerians what Government and committed leadership embodies. The scope of HADM &SD is large and expansive. It has fused agencies like National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons ((NCFRMI), and, National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), subsumed under Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP), the North-East Development Commission (NEDC), the Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA), and other extended agencies.
Her mandate is understandably enormous and sensitive to general public social welfare and harmony. The job requires a heart that epitomizes the core values of humanity and compassion. Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq is a perfect match and blend of the human resources needed to discharge the mandate.
Her managerial ingenuity is not in doubt. And in the last few months, she has proved her mettle as a performer and leader who knows where the rage of tempestuous waters is hotter on humanitarian crises, social problems and where and when the ministry should pour its ceaseless torrents of interventions instantly.
Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq is imbued with a unbreakable passion, love, and kindness for humanity. She has a knack for commitment and hard work. Relatively unknown in the political and leadership ladder of Nigeria in spite of the previous sensitive offices she served, President Muhammadu Buhari took Nigerians by surprise when he fished out the Minister from an array of competitive choices to head the newly created Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.
On the appointment of Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, the African Doctors for Africa (AfDA) convinced by her past track records, rated her on the new assignment as the right person for the job. The body stated that “Having served as a Federal Commissioner of the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, the minister parades all that is required to discharge the duties of her office.”
Nigerians conversant with affairs of Nigeria would concede that the country has been swimming in serious multiple disasters and humanitarian crises for over a decade now. Whether natural, artificial or man-made, these disasters and humanitarian challenges have exalted strains on a nation eager to extricate herself from its fangs. The affected people have continued to yearn for salvation.
And President Buhari charged the Minister Umar Farouk to ensure that issues of fire and flood disaster, displaced victims, resettlements, refugees, and other humanitarian emergencies are effectively given prompt attention and resolved.
The Minister has properly understood her briefs as she disclosed while declaring open a three-day international workshop on improving civil-security cooperation (CISEC) in Humanitarian interventions in Maiduguri, Northeast Nigeria as she said, “The ministry has one of its mandates to develop Humanitarian policies and ensure effective coordination of national and international Humanitarian interventions in Nigeria.”
The new ministry has picked up the gauntlet of perfect utilization of funds; coordination of humanitarian/relief services and safety of emergency workers across the country. The Honourable Minister has impressively synergized with relevant agencies in providing answers to these challenges and the seemingly intractable problems.
As exemplary conduct, she personally appeared at the scene of the Onitsha fire incident, visited and condoled victims of the inferno within a day. She instantly directed relevant agencies under the Ministry to take immediate appropriate actions to provide succor to the victims.
The portrait of Nigeria on disasters and humanitarian crises pulsates the heart in numbing coldness. The Northeast states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe present the worse and protracted humanitarian crisis, aside other parts of the country. It is caused by the over 10 years insurgency in the region.
In 2018, a report of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), pegged the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria, to 2.24 million, with another 213,179 living as refugees in Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic.
UNICEF Nigeria Humanitarian Situation Report from 1-31 October 2019 disclosed that insurgency has cropped-up over 7.1 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, while there are 1.82 Internally displaced people in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. And added to the sorrow, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has placed Nigeria on fourth position among list of countries vulnerable to grave risk of humanitarian catastrophe in 2020 after Yemen, DRC and Syria.
The Minister is mindful of these realities and the projections. She has focused a sustained attention on the humanitarian crises in the Northeast where the clouds are darkest. Apart from improved supply of relief materials and medication to these victims of armed conflicts housed in IDPs camps, the Minister is already working at other solutions and modalities to surmount the challenges. By end of 2019 alone, the Ministry coordinated humanitarian assistance to over 4 million people in distress across Nigeria, according to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
And sighting and planning for the future, she has earnestly set in motion a machinery for a Road Map and Action Plan that will entrench a sustainable cooperation framework to enhance civil organizations and security agencies interactions in the Northeast. The aim is to define a common front and deepen synergy to tackle disasters and humanitarian crises.
The Minister recently said, “The structures that will emerge are expected to be enduring and mutually beneficial to all stakeholders as well as to the vulnerable groups whose succour is dependent on amicable working relationship between these major players in the Northeast.”
The Ministry is also focused in 2020 on the resettlement of IDPs in the Northeast; IDPs enrolment into the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), rent or renovation of houses for IDPs across the states; drilling of boreholes for water supplies; securing of land for relocation and reintegration of IDPs in Abuja and Nasarawa States; identified 2,200 families of IDPs targeted for cash assistance in the Northeast and the resettlement of Bakassi Peninsula returnees in Southern Nigeria.
The Ministry is also in discussions with the United States Government which had pledged humanitarian assistance to Nigeria in 2020 worth US$40million. These are lofty packages that will cushion the effect of hardships imposed on victims of disasters and armed conflicts.
Furthermore, there are over 90 million Nigerians in a country of 198 million population who are living in gross poverty. The indices are scary and dreary! These are heavy burdens the new Ministry plans to discharge. However, the Ministry has planned to uplift about 90 million Nigerians out of poverty in the 2020 fiscal year.
Therefore, the Minister also attended the US-Nigeria Bi-national Commission in Washington DC, America, where she fine-tuned partnership with USAID and the World Bank to fund an elaborate programme for persons with disabilities and women empowerment in Nigeria.
In a cheering news, the Minister said; “The Ministry and the World Bank Mission in Nigeria will convene a meeting to discuss modalities and areas to reallocate funds within the International Development Association (IDA) to focus on programmes for disability and women empowerment.”
The Minister also held fruitful meetings with USAID, World Bank and US Institute for Peace (USIP). These organizations and the Ministry are exploring areas of mutual collaboration and support to the Ministry in Year 2020 to aid in prosecuting its programmes.
In continuation of the Minister’s efforts to render improved services to the people, she has continued to source for international assistance. The Ministry facilitated the first official trip outside Europe, of EU’s European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, accompanied by the Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon, UN agencies and other stakeholders who met with President Buhari.
The EU officials proceeded to undertake a two-day trip to Nigeria’s Northeast; assessed EU-funded relief projects, visited IDPs camps and got firsthand knowledge of the threatening humanitarian crises in the region.
Lenarčič declared after the visit that: “I saw first-hand today the suffering that conflict has brought to people’s lives and how crucial humanitarian aid is to people’s survival. What matters most is that humanitarian organizations can reach all the people in need, without restrictions, including in areas under the influence of non-state armed groups. It is vital that all States and parties to armed conflicts respect their obligation to allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief.” He promised that European Union will allocate an another €26.5 million in humanitarian aid to Nigeria.
Under the Minister’s supervision, NEMA launched the unimplemented and forgotten National Emergency Management Policy document in conformity and compliance with the United Nations Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction declaration. The framework as designed and domesticated targets and prioritize actions to prevent fresh humanitarian disasters and diminish existing disaster risks to erect safer and resilient strength in communities susceptible to humanitarian setbacks.
Also, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq with the approval of Mr. President temporary lifted the suspension slammed on Action Against Hunger (AAH) and the Mercy Corps, (MCps), the two international Non-Governmental Organizations, working in Northeast Nigeria, but the Nigerian Military accused of supporting Boko Haram terrorists.
“The suspension of the two International Humanitarian Organizations namely Action Against Hunger and Mercy Corps, is temporarily lifted. The concerns and recommendations of the Board of Inquiry (BOI) will continue to receive attention and scrutiny to address the issues raised and comply,” the Minister disclosed.
Consequently, the Minister took it a notch higher by adopting and refining the 7-point agenda streamlined by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator to encourage coordination and partnership between the humanitarian community and the Government of Nigeria in the Northeast.
It worked and approved operational guidelines for the humanitarian community operating in the Northeast such as establishment of a high-level Policy forum on humanitarian assistance; vetting/due diligence of all humanitarian vendors before engagement by humanitarian actors; and clearance and registration of all NGOs by the FGN before engagement in any assignment;
Other approved procedures included; transportation and allocation of fuel and other sensitive humanitarian commodities etc in the field by only Government approved vendors/providers; submission of monthly reports on humanitarian activities including funding received and source of funding, development and approval of a cash transfer policy for humanitarian assistance in Northeast Nigeria in accordance with the Laws of the Government of Nigeria etc.
As part of the Minister’s determination to reposition the operations of the Ministry for rewarding performance, in November 2019, she spearheaded a parley between the Federal Government and the humanitarian community in the Northeast dubbed Civil-Security Cooperation in Humanitarian Interventions in the Northeast by anchoring a Workshop.
The assemblage brainstormed on issues affecting effective discharge of humanitarian services, ironed out differences and cemented ties. An elated UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon, attested to the change in leadership by remarking that, “It was the first time that civil authorities, the military, and humanitarian actors from national and international levels were meeting under one roof…to prioritizing prevention always, development wherever possible and humanitarian action when necessary.”
The presence of Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq as head of the new Ministry has given President Buhari more confidence that Nigeria will overcome her humanitarian and disasters challenges, no matter how long it takes. And the Minister is justifying the public trust by her diligent, focused and result-oriented discharge of her official duties.
President Buhari asserted, when he played host to Mr. Janez Lenarcic, European Union (EU) Commissioner for Crisis Management that “Our priorities in the next level is to ensure that Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, are rehabilitated so that livelihood should be established and the children should not lose the opportunity to go back to school, which is very important for the future of that area and Nigeria generally.”
Even at the risk of flattery, one would assert that Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq is the much awaited benevolent spirit, which IDPs across the country have excitedly yearned to oversee their fate and ensure that they rapidly get back on their feet. It’s a perfect combination that whereas Gen TY Buratai and troops are sending the terrorists away from their hideouts, the Minister is complementing the efforts to see that those who have been liberated have a reason to return home joyfully. Her job is indeed one that only a woman and a mother endowed with a compassionate heart can undertake and deliver excellently.
Agbese is a researcher in human rights and international humanitarian law and wrote from Abuja.