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The First 100 days of Nigeria’s Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management & Social Development

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The term “first 100 days” was coined by Mr. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the
United States during a radio broadcast about 86 years ago (precisely on July 24, 1933).

Roosevelt never knew at the time that the first 100 days will take on symbolic significance and be considered a benchmark to measure the early success of a leader.

The creation of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development (FMHDSD) by the Nigerian President on 21st August 2019, and the appointment of Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq as the minister were significant developments for thecountry and among the best decisions made by the government. Given that the ministry was conceived and born at a time of severe humanitarian crises and complex threats by extreme climatic events, an appraisal of how it has fared in its first 100 days is essential.

There are several reasons why the new ministry meant so much to Nigerians. For instance, due to increased number and intensity of attacks by Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs), the conflict in Nigeria’s Northeast continues to be one of the largest and widespread protection crises, negatively impacting the lives of millions of people, particularly women and children (Danish Refugee Council, 2019).

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – OCHA (2019) estimated that 7.1 million Nigerians remain in need of humanitarian assistance in what is now known in the humanitarian parlance as BAY states i.e. Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe.

The UN agency (OCHA) noted in its ‘Nigeria: 2019-2021 Humanitarian Response Strategy (January 2019 – December 2021)’ that out of the 7.1million, “2.3 million are girls, 1.9 million boys, 1.6 million women and 1.3 million men.” OCHA equally indicated that the UN and partners, in support of the Governments of Nigeria and of countries hosting Nigerian refugees simultaneously launched the strategy as well as the Regional Refugee Response Plan, respectively seeking “$848 million and $135 million to continue providing food, water, shelter and protection to the most vulnerable people in Nigeria and neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.”

The conflict has generated large population movements with current displacement figure standing at almost 2 million individuals. This number does not include displacements and humanitarian crises resulting from herdsmen-farmers conflict or banditry in certain parts of Nigeria, as well as another 800,000 people in areas that are inaccessible to international humanitarian actors in the northeast.

The fate of those 800,000 men, women, and children should be a reminder that we have a collective responsibility towards ending the conflict in what ever way we can, as they have the same right to life like any of us. At the same time, Nigeria like some countries of the world is threatened by disaster from naturalforces.

For instance, the 2012 floods in the country caused nearly US$17 billion in damages and losses. President Buhari declared a national disaster in the states affected by another flood in 2018. Combination of the humanitarian crises resulting from conflict and disaster as well as the challenge posed by extreme
poverty affecting almost 90 million Nigerians made the new ministry a welcome development.

It is not necessarily all bad news as the humanitarian community provided life-saving assistance to almost 5.6 million affected people in 2017, another 5.5 million in 2018, and 4 million as at October 2019 and helped stabilised living conditions for millions of affected people (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2019).

The crisis, which once affected six states, is now contained to the BAY states. An appreciable progress has been made, but as the conflict continues, significant humanitarian needs remain.

Nigeria’s minister of FMHDSD Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq sent an important message on the 19th of October when she appeared at the scene of a truck fire disaster in the Southeast city of Onitsha within 24 hours of the incident that caused damages costing millions of naira.

This uncommon attitude is a good omen for a new Nigeria. Having a sitting minister appearing at such scene without necessarily
sending a representative shows a high sense of professionalism and concern for lives and properties.

While it is not expected that the minister visits all disaster scenes in Nigeria to demonstrate that the government cares, her action sends an important message to all persons in position of authority in Nigeria especially those that deal with emergencies that it is not going to be business as usual.On the 6th of November 2019, there was a dialogue between the Nigerian Government and the Humanitarian Community in the Northeast of Nigeria under the leadership of the Minister of FMHDSD in
what is now known as the Civil-Security Cooperation in Humanitarian Interventions in the Northeast Workshop.

In his opening remark at the workshop, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in
Nigeria Mr. Edward Kallon noted 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 examine the humanitarian challenges in the Northeast, with a view to “prioritizing prevention always, development
wherever possible and humanitarian action when necessary”.

That it has to take the creation of a new
ministry and a minister to call such an important workshop involving all the relevant actors, speaks to the coordinating role of the ministry. This is an area where the minister deserves commendation given the
fact that collaboration is crucial to finding a lasting solution to a conflict that has killed over 27,000 people, created thousands of widows, widowers, orphans, and abduction of thousands of women and girls, as well as over USD8 billion worth of damages to infrastructure (UNDP, 2018; OCHA, 2019).

As the workshop was ending, an agency of the new ministry i.e. the National Emergency
Management Agency on the 15th of November 2019 launched its National Emergency Management Policy document in response to the United Nations Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. It is unfortunate that many Nigerians appear not to understand the significance of that important event. The framework adopted by member states about four years ago listed targets and priorities for action to prevent new and reduce existing disaster risk.

There are 25 targets related to disaster risk reduction in 10 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations, 2015), firmly establishing the role of disaster risk reduction as a core development strategy for the FMHDSD and its minister. The overall essence of the document is to build safer and more resilient communities. Nigerians at all levels must begin to take steps towards preventing new and reducing existing disaster risks as echoed by Mr. Mustapha Maihaja
the Director General of NEMA.

On the international day for disaster risk reduction (13th October 2019), the minister re-stated the commitment of her ministry to not only support recovery from disaster, but equally committed to disaster risk reduction, while urging Nigerians to do the same. The minister’s position aligns with the UN secretary General Mr. António Guterres’ declaration that reducing disaster risk is a good investment, and the right thing to do. For every dollar invested, six dollars can be saved.

The minister by her action so far has demonstrated the five practices of exemplary leadership by Kouzes and Posner (2003). She Modelled the Way, and Inspired a Shared Vision of a government that values the lives of its citizens. Hajiya Umar-Farouq Challenged the Process whereby disaster impacted
victims were often been directed by their state governments to wait on NEMA. Unfortunately, many times, state governments have continued to shift their responsibilities to the federal government and it agencies.

The Minister’s directive to relevant agencies to immediately swing into action while providing
the enabling environment and resources demonstrated her commitment to Enabling Others to Act. Her presence to personally empathize with the victims and reminding them that they were not alone speaks to her understanding of what it takes to Encourage the Heart.While the minister’s response to the truck fire disaster in Onitsha will be remembered with gratitude for a long time, the role of local governments and states in disaster management in Nigeria
needs to be revisited with a view to developing their capacities.

Of Nigeria’s 36 states, less than 30 percent are familiar with disaster risk reduction strategies. It is heartwarming to note the minister’s body language and positive belief in a Nigeria that will develop solution to disaster related challenges and become a reference point someday. That is the right mindset. Over reliance of state governments on the federal government to intervene in times of disaster is not in the best interest of the country. It is a deviation from the strategic thinking behind the United Nations Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Headlines of wealthy Nigerians donating relief materials to disaster impacted citizens in
different states often abound, but gaps exist in the activities of state governments towards reducing disaster risk.

While Lagos, the federal capital territory Abuja, and few states have done amazing job in this area, over reliance of 180 million Nigerian’s on the federal government especially NEMA and the FMHDSD for help in times of disaster is not sustainable. NEMA has tried since its creation in 1999.

The agency has a well-developed capacity but alone it cannot address all challenges associated with disaster in the 21st century. State governments must do their part without necessarily running to the agency at the smallest of disasters. With states not doing much, it is difficult to blame local government areas some of whose administrators are not sure of what to do before, during, and after a disaster.

This is an area that the new minister needs to look into. If NEMA has been unable in the past 20 years to compel state governments to act, a ministerial dialogue might make a difference. Presidential powers might be needed to make this work. That there are states without structures on ground to address the four phases of emergency management (i.e. mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery) in the 21st century calls for sober reflection especially at a time when headlines from across the world are indicating that no country is immune to disaster.

In his nationwide broadcast of 1st October 2019, the Nigerian President acknowledged the
poverty challenge in the country and noted that the USD500 billion social investment program of the administration is part of his strategy for addressing it. While the decision to bring the social investment office under the minister of FMHDSD was a right step in the right direction for better coordination, it is an area where Nigerians will be expecting results.

It is important that it remains among the minister’s important priorities given that almost half of the country’s population are facing different forms of poverty. In three months, the expectation is that a brand-new ministry especially in a developing country like Nigeria will still be sorting out issues relating to office space, organogram, structure, staffing, budget, and other logistics.

However, the steps Hajiya Umar Farouq has taken so far shows that she is ready for business. It shows that Nigerians can look up to her to change the narrative. But Nigerians must be ready and willing to support her as communication, cooperation, collaboration, and coordination are fundamental in addressing the humanitarian challenges facing the country. No single individual acting alone can solve the problem.

The minister’s steps so far are commendable. It shows that she can make a positive difference. Of course, she needs to make a positive difference so that posterity can be kind to her.

Dr. Marcus Edino, Humanitarian and Disaster Management Professional, Alberta, Canada.

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