When President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in for a second term last May, he hinted at plans to strengthen his administration’s response to surging poverty and various humanitarian crises afflicting the country.
On August 21, last year, Mr Buhari created the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development and nominated Sadiya Farouq to head it.
Part of the Ministry’s responsibilities is to coordinate the administration’s Special Intervention Programmes (SIPs), and superinted over the humanitarian policies of the government.
In the ministry are subsumed six federal agencies, namely: the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Person (NCFRMI),; North East Development Commission; National Emergency Management Agency; Social Investment Program; Sustainable Development Goals and the National Agency For Prohibition And Trafficking In Persons.
Ms Farouq, 46, is a political ally of Mr Buhari since the days of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) where she served as the national treasurer of the party and later national treasurer of the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC).
She hails from Zurmi Local Government Area in Zamfara state.
Before her appointment, she was a member of the National Assembly Service Commission. She once headed NCFRMI, too.
A brief of her positives and negatives:
There is no doubt that the Minister has recorded some achievements especially in the humanitarian sector bringing succour to Nigerian citizens stranded abroad and the distribution of relief materials to communities and IDPs – arising from communal conflicts, insurgency, natural disaster, and insecurity in the country.
For instance, during the COVID-19 induced lockdown, Ms Farouq personally monitored the distribution of food items and cash to beneficiaries who were majorly internally displaced persons and other vulnerable Nigerians to cushion the pernicious impacts of the pandemic on them.
But she has also faced a lot of criticisms and controversies on the job. For example, there is this persistent allegation of corruption especially in her handling of the N500 billion yearly funded Social Investment Programmes with many of its beneficiaries across social media calling for her resignation from office over delay or non-payment of their monthly allowances.
She has also been accused of nepotism over her distribution of federal government grants during the COVID-19 lockdown across Nigeria, a development that led to the leadership of the National Assembly calling for a total review of the process of distribution.
In December 2019, Ms Farouk was reportedly queried by the office of the President for exercising powers beyond her official briefs after she employed more aides than officially approved and for also delaying the payment of the monthly stipend of N-Power volunteers.
PREMIUM TIMES takes a look at the Minister’s performance .
Social Investment Programmes
The SIPs are Mr Buhari’s measures to help poor Nigerians especially unemployed youth and other vulnerable citizens alike to cushion the effects of poverty on them through cash transfers, cash-for-work, N-Power, and national school feeding program for primary school pupils.
The scheme was domiciled in the office of the Vice president, Yemi Osinbanjo during Mr Buhari’s first term in office. It has since been moved to the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry at the inception of the President’s second term in office
In December 2019,shortly after the scheme was moved to the minister, controversies sprung up involving the Presidential Special Adviser on Social Investment, Maryam Uwais, about the exit package for disengaged N-Power volunteers as each party traded blames on who was responsible for the delay in disengaging the beneficiaries.
The minister had blamed the National Social Investment Office (NSIO) under Mrs Uwais for having no viable plan for the exit of the beneficiaries. In reaction, Mrs Uwais said her team had made ”exit plans” which had not been implemented before the program was moved to Ms Farouq’s ministry. She also said she briefed Ms Farouq on those plans.
However, in its first few months as custodian of the SIPs, the ministry’s assessment was that it was faced with a lot of irregularities – transcending to a staggered payment of its monthly stipend to beneficiaries – with the school feeding, cash transfer, TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni initiatives all on standstill.
Sources at the presidency informed this newspaper that the minister was taking her time to study what the program really entailed; a move that slowed down the scheme with many of the beneficiaries calling her resignation, saying that the delay in monthly payments since she took over the control of the social programme had caused them untold hardship.
The program came back to life under the ministry – after the President’s national broadcast speech in March, instructing the minister to pay a three-month moratorium on loans to all TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni beneficiaries and kick-off the school feeding as relief efforts to buffer the Covid-19 impact on Nigerians who affected by the pandemic.
For the N-Power Programme, the humanitarian ministry did not pay October 2019 stipend until November 2019. And November was paid on the 11th December 2019. Fortunately, December stipends were paid in the same month.
Also, January stipend was paid around 23 and 24 February, while the February stipend was paid in March and March stipends paid in April while April was paid in May; and May was paid in the same month. Payment for June was paid in August and July is yet to be paid, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
Although the minister admitted the hiccups in the payment, she explained that her ministry encountered issues with the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) which caused the delay in payment to the beneficiaries.
In addressing the issues of non-payment, in July, the ministry fished out about 14,020 N-Power beneficiaries who had existing accounts details in other Ministries, Departments, and Agencies MDAs, an action that violates the N-Power Programme which is basically for unemployed graduates and undergraduates.
Before that, the ministry had in June declared open the disengagement plans of both Batch A and B graduates enrolled in the N-Power scheme, opening a new portal for fresh intakes of volunteers that have seen a record of over five million people that so far applied.
Ms Farouq also said her ministry would ensure the existing beneficiaries are absorbed into government entrepreneurship schemes after completion of psychometric assessment to determine competence and placement into various opportunities.
However, there were reports that some members of the National Assembly fraudulently received slots of about 50,000 out of the 400,000 beneficiaries willing to partake in the scheme – from the minister, Ms Farouq.
According to a report published in Sahara Reporters, the forms were allegedly distributed by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and three other Nigerian politicians to their wards and supporters.
But, in separate statements reported by PREMIUM TIMES, both Mr Lawan’s spokesperson, Ola Awoniyi, and Senate spokesperson, Ajibola Bashir, denied the allegations, describing them as false and a fairy tale.
Assessment: With all efforts by the ministry in streamlining the N-Power programme for better efficiency and transparency, the minister is yet to solve the issues of incessant delay in payment to beneficiaries.
Many beneficiaries who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES complained of hardship since she became head of the scheme. Also, nothing substantial has been heard for the exit package for the outgoing beneficiaries, aside from media promises.
School feeding programme:
As earlier stated, there was no school feeding in the first few months after the minister assumed duty. The ministry, therefore, resolved to modify the program by providing vouchers to the beneficiaries with “uncooked” food items to children in primary 1 to 3 in public schools already participating in the feeding programme.
The minister said 3.1 million households in Lagos, Ogun and the FCT were targeted to benefit from the Covid-19 palliatives in the country, amid lockdown.
On August 4, Ms Farouq during the Presidential Task-force briefing on COVID-19 in Abuja claimed that her ministry spent about N523.3 million feeding the pupils during the coronavirus induced lockdown. She said the disclosure was against the backdrop of allegations of corruption in the social intervention programs.
While the initiative is considered laudable despite the pandemic induced- lockdown, the ministry failed to provide adequate transparency in respect to identifying the pupils and their respective homes that benefited from the palliatives thus making the whole process prone to corruption.
“My only issue is how they (ministry) modified the programme and how it was able to identify the homes of the children, because some of these children stay as far as 5-10km away from schools, and many of the school house masters do not even know where the children are staying. Hamzat Lawal, director, advocacy group ‘’Follow the Money’’ Connected Development CODE, said in a phone interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
After Mr Buhari’s directive in March, the minister immediately kick-started the disbursement of N20,000 cash to 5,000 beneficiaries in Abuja Kwali Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
The initiative was piloted in three states Lagos, Ogun, and extended to other states like; Anambra, Imo Nasarawa, Jigawa, Kano and Katsina.
Ms Farouq also announced that the social grant could only reach 25 per cent out of the over three million poor Nigerian captured in the Federal Government World Bank assisted National Social Register (NSR) amid the economic hardship caused by COVID-19.
The NSR is an initiative under the National Safety Net coordinating office, NASSCO in collaboration with the Youth Employment and Support Operation (YESSO), a World Bank assisted programme. It identifies the poorest households in given communities across 34 states of the federation.
Meanwhile, the Conditional Cash Transfer(CCT) , as a federal government project, sources funds from the 2017 agreement with Switzerland on the return and monitoring of the $322m Abacha loot.
The FG also obtained $500 million credit from the World Bank to run the initiative for six years between 2016 and 2022. An additional source of the fund comes from the N500 billion for NSIP, captured in Federal Government budgets since 2016.
Despite the aims of the program targeting Nigerians who are considered to be the most affected from the COVID-19 induced lockdown, experts say the scheme lacked adequate mechanisms to keep track of the beneficiaries. Tunde Ajileye, a financial expert and partner at Lagos-based research firm, SBM Intelligence, said,
”There’s essentially no real way to track what is said to be disbursed/spent on these schemes to actual recipients and therefore audit to say exactly how much is spent was really spent.”
”Once such a scenario is the case, it gives room for those that simply want to declare money spent without spending it to do so,” Mr Ajileye said.
Mr Lawal of CODE also said the ministry lost the opportunity at financially integrating people through the CCT initiative.
”When you look at this conditional cash transfer when you call it transfer, it is supposed to move from the CBN or federal government account to a private individual account who have been captured in the NSR.
”So when you withdraw this money and pay by hand you make it open for corruption, this is also contradictory to the federal government cashless policy,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the heat of the widespread controversies and criticism around the identification and selection of vulnerable persons in the NSR, the minister bowed to pressure by handing over the relief materials to the state governors for proper distribution, and as well ‘digitisation’ the cash transfers and other programmes under the NSIP.
She also engaged the Code of Conduct Bureau, anti-graft agencies, EFCC, ICPC and security agencies such as State Security Service(SSS) and others for monitoring.
She also terminated the contracts of two payment service providers (PSP) for delaying the CCT to beneficiaries in four states of the federation.
MarketMoni, TraderMoni, FarmersMoni:
Nothing was done on these projects, perhaps because of the lockdown and restriction of movement across the country. Some say the projects will only come on board when it is election time again as seen during the 2019 campaigns.
The ministry played a significant role in the evacuation of 256 Nigerians from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on May 6 by the federal government as the first batch of Nigerians stranded abroad, as well as the return of 198 Nigerians that were stranded in Lebanon due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Equally, the ministry ensured through the tripartite agreement in August 2019 for the Voluntary Repatriation of 133 Nigerian refugees living in Cameroon. In March 2019, the Nigerian government allocated resources for the repatriation of another 4,000 refugees.
In a pipeline explosion in March that occurred around Abule Ado in Amuwo Odofin local government area of Lagos state, the ministry was able to align with other federal agencies; National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), activated the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) and other local emergency services at the scene, with a view to rendering any assistance and disaster management expertise that may be required.
Similarly, the ministry, in its humanitarian duties, visited and delivered relief items to victims of the February killing of 30 persons in the militant Islamists raid in Auno town on a major highway in Borno State.
The UN estimates that violent attacks by non-state armed groups in parts of the North-East have displaced over 240,000 Nigerians, with Borno State being the most affected.
Also, 7.1 million people (2.3 million girls, 1.9 million boys, 1.6 million women, and 1.3 million men) in the North-East rely on humanitarian aid this year.
December 2019, the minister also inaugurated the Nigerian People’s Disability Parliament that aims at addressing issues relating to inclusiveness and the need to be given a chance to contribute to society.
”I believe this is one year, and the government still has three years to go, there’s a lot of potential and opportunity to take a step back to reflect, to review and to get key feedback from Nigerian people.
”Most importantly, she needs to convey critical stakeholders’ meetings that inform her policy and decisions. And also provide data that would inform Nigerians particularly at the grassroots,” Mr Lawal said.