By David Onmeje
“She’s a strong cup of black coffee in a world that is drunk on the cheap wine of shallow love.” – J.M Storm
Much regrettably, Nigeria has become a perpetual host to disasters and emergencies, which induce humanitarian interventions very constantly. From floods, insurgencies, epidemics, fire outbreaks, communal skirmishes to oil/gas pipeline explosions, Nigeria is always faced with emergencies and humanitarian situations to manage.
Therefore, the need to have a ministry to centrally co-ordinate government relief efforts, packages and assistance to distressed Nigerians in an orderly and accountable manner became imperative.
So, through an executive pronouncement, President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR created the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development (MHADM & SD) on August 21, 2019 mainly to oversee the exercise of basic human benevolence for Nigerians thrown into trauma and distress by these sudden artificial or natural disasters.
But what loudly elicited generous excitement among Nigerians was the appointment of a woman of virtue, core humanist and epitome of compassion, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq as MHADM & SD’s pioneer Minister. She is not a newcomer to the peculiar humanitarian issues of Nigerians and what it takes to make government benevolence, social welfare and poverty alleviation packages reach the doorstep of the poorest Nigerians.
Her previous experience as federal commissioner of the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons ((NCFRMI)) as well as her stint as staff of the National Assembly Service Commission (NAC) adequately equipped her for the elevation and new assignment.
Author Jane Austen said in “Sense and Sensibility” that “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do,” the Minister has demonstrated in less than one year on the saddle her competence and thorough grasp of the briefs of her office. She has unwittingly marketed herself as a caring, loving and compassionate mother, sister and Aunt to children, the aged, the poor and indeed all Nigerians in times of need.
The latest intervention of the MHADM & SD on a national emergency is the unexpected Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and its concomitant lockdown to curb the spread of the deadly disease. Hunger came knocking in all corners and the burning desire for survival of the poor or less privileged Nigerian was not only the concern of President Buhari; but a responsibility and assignment Minister Sadiya is discharging excellently.
Novelist Isadora Duncan cautioned in this wit that “Work hard at being the best version of yourself.” The Hon. Minister is constantly reminded of this wisdom and has handled this very difficult national assignment with calm, diligence and admiration, ensuring the targets and priorities she set for the ministry were achieved.
Following President Muhammadu Buhari’s pronouncement on March 29, 2020, wherein he ordered a total lockdown of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, Lagos and Ogun state to curtail the spread of coronavirus, the Minister was also tasked to undertake the continuation of School Feeding Programme.
The President’s words; “Furthermore, although schools are closed, I have instructed the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to work with State Governments in developing a strategy on how to sustain the school feeding programme during this period without compromising our social distancing policies.”
Initial skepticism greeted the decision as most Nigerians questioned the workability of a palliative on School Feeding Programme based on the prevailing circumstances. The cynics put the ingenuity of the Hon. Minister to doubts. But as she mapped out her strategies and commenced work in response to the Presidential directive, it vacated all the misgivings.
Minister Sadiya Umar-Farouq, Minister did not only modify the scheme, but also stoutly defended the government’s action as doable at the official launch of the modified scheme in Abuja.
She trusted in her capacity and competence to conveniently and neatly execute the President’s vision, with a strong conviction that “Hunger is a serious by-product of this pandemic, which is why from the onset the ministry has been evolving strategies to facilitate humanitarian intervention. This is a globally accepted means of supporting children to continue to have access to nutrient-rich foods despite disruptions to the traditional channels of school feeding.”
And she proved her worth when the Ministry flagged off the programme on May 14, 2020 at Kuje Primary School in Abuja. She involved a wide net of actors and stakeholders in the implementation of the modified School Feeding programme, which she kick-started its pilot phase in schools in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the states of Lagos and Ogun where the impact of Covid-19 was tremendous before it would be expanded to other states of the country.
She adopted the model obtainable in the United States of America and the United Kingdom and tapped richly from the alliance with the World Food Programme (WFP). The Ministry also got State Governors of the respective states, PTAs, CSOs, EFCC, ICPC, Police and community leaders, including clerics and the teachers of the pupils involved in the implementation and extra-layer monitoring of the scheme.
She led the supervision to ensure the targeted 3.1 million households nationwide actually benefit from the scheme. She explained that “The Ministry in consultation and collaboration with state governments identified the distribution of Take-Home Rations (THR) to the households of the children on the programme as a feasible method of achieving this directive after exploring several options.
And Minister Sadiya simplified the complex process by issuing vouchers to the parents of participating children from households already registered in the National Social Register under the Ministry.
“The parent takes the voucher for verification by NYSC members at the school where the pupil is fed. After confirmation of all the relevant facts, the parent is issued the packaged food ration for their child or children. The parents go home with the raw foodstuff to cook for the child, which should last for four weeks.”
Philosopher R. H. Sin once stated that “Give a woman pain and she’ll turn it into power. Give that woman chaos and she’ll create peace.” Therefore, The Hon. Minister seized the opportunity of the modified School Feeding Programme to draw other benefits.
She revealed, “The ministry is using the opportunity of this modified program to collate and verify data with the support of CSOs and NGOs such as ActionAid, BudgIT, Tracka, and CMDA”.
The effective implementation of the programme excited the national body of Parents-Teacher Association (PTA) which publicly indicated their support of it. Minister Sadiya accomplished her targets; in the same manner and ease she conducted the payment of two months conditional cash transfers to the beneficiaries and deployment or relief materials to residents of satellite and commuter towns/communities around Lagos and Abuja in the period of Covid-19 lockdown in these areas.
In other spheres of the Ministry, the Minister has not failed either and as a foresighted leader thinks ahead of time. When the world celebrated the last International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Hajiya Sadiya Farouq inaugurated the Nigeria People’s Disability Parliament.
The theme; “Promoting the Participation of Persons with Disabilities and their Leadership: Taking Action on the 2030 Development Agenda,” was captivating and it pulsated the initiative of the parliament in her order to “…enhance their visibility in the scheme of affairs in the country and a voice to air their thoughts.”
Feminist poet, Audrey Hepburn envisaged Minister Sadiya in mind in the poem, “The beauty of a woman.” Some verses in it says; “The beauty of a woman/isn’t in the clothes she wears/The figure that she carries,/or the way she combs her hair./ But true beauty in a woman,/ is reflected by her soul./ It’s the caring that she cares to give,/the passion that she shows;/And the beauty of a woman with passing years only grows.”
Minister Sadiya Umar Farouq is an embodiment of the true beauty of a woman in actions and care for the needy, the poor, the vulnerable and the passion burns eternally in her. President Buhari has again proven through her appointment that another patriotic Nigerian whose obsession with selfless public service is infectious. She is a square peg in a square hole.
Critics can vent their spleen, but the Minister is neither deterred nor distracted. And like world famous author and Afro-American poet, dancer, singer, activist, and scholar, Maya Angelou echoed in the poem “Still I Rise,” “You may write me down in history/With your bitter, twisted lies,/You may trod me in the very dirt/
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.” Nothing can deviate Minister Sadiya’s attention from excellently performing her duties. She is indisputably a “strong cup of black coffee in a world that is drunk on the cheap wine of shallow love.”
Onmeje is a public affairs analyst and contributed this piece from the United Kingdom.