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(Special Report) Is Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs for one particular region?

A fear is gradually brewing amongst the entire three geopolitical regions of the southern half of Nigeria following the apparent northern focus of the new Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development created by President Muhammadu Buhari on August 21, 2019.

Experts say the ministry was conceived and born at a time of severe humanitarian crises and complex threats of violence plus extreme climate change crisis in terms of erosion, flooding, desertification and other critical challenges beyond states capabilities.

Though the ministry was created to give succour to every part of the federation that is hurt by violence or climatic factor, recorded official activities of the ministry since creation have shown strong affinity to the entire northern Nigeria as if it is created as a special ministry for the northern humanitarian crisis leaving other constituting regions of the country.

Even though the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in its, ‘Nigeria: 2019-2021 Humanitarian Response Strategy (January 2019 – December 2021)’, estimated that 7.1 million Nigerians remained in need of humanitarian assistance in what is now known in the humanitarian parlance as BAY states i.e. Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe, there are still other states in parts of the three southern states in need of humanitarian support.

Granted the fact that the Boko Haram conflict has generated large population movements with current displacement figure standing at almost two million individuals, it is important that not only the BAY states that bear the brunt after all.

Southern states of Lagos, Rivers and parts of Anambra all have volumes of refugees who are there fending for their lives in several menial jobs including Okada jobs. No doubt, these states also need the assistance of the new ministry because the multiplier effects of the crisis are further affecting the normal lives of people leaving in the states ahead of their forced relocation.

Whereas analysts hail the intelligence of the minister, who strategically sent an important message on October 19 when she appeared at the scene of a truck fire disaster in Onitsha within 24 hours of the incident that caused loss costing millions of naira, observers want her ministry to always attend to disaster and humanitarian issues across the country and not only facing the north as if the ministry is specifically created to cater for the three regions of the north along.

We recall that on November 6, 2019, there was a dialogue between the Federal Government and the humanitarian community in the North-East under the leadership of the minister in what is now known as the Civil-Security Cooperation in Humanitarian Interventions in the North-East Workshop.

Just as she has held the North-East Workshop, there is need for the ministry to begin as early as possible in sensitising residents of states that are flood prone ahead of the rains this year especially in the south east and south-south.

r In his opening remark at the workshop, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon, noted, “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 $8bn worth of damage to infrastructure.

A closer look at the National Emergency Management Policy document in response to the United Nations Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), now under the presidency and not even the ministry, there is need for a review so as to accommodate disaster challenges of the southern half of Nigeria.

Fact checks showed that the framework adopted by member states about four years ago listed targets and priorities for action to prevent new and reduce existing disaster risks. There are 25 targets related to disaster risk reduction in 10 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, firmly establishing the role of disaster risk reduction as a core development strategy for the FMHDSD and its minister.

No doubt, whereas it has become very clear that many times, state governments have continued to shift their humanitarian and disaster management responsibilities to the Federal Government and its agencies, it is pertinent to always seek to balance budgetary care across the 36 states and Abuja by the new ministry to avoid the thinking that apart from the North East Development Commission (NEDC), the ministry is also the birthright of the region.

This is important because going through the statement delivered by the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Ms Anetu-Anne Aliu at the global refugees’ forum held in Geneva between December 17 and 18, 2019, the entire pages showed that every attention of the ministry is facing the north only.

Another key duty of the new ministry is to begin to develop the disaster management capacity and capabilities of states because state governments must do their part without necessarily running to the federal ministry 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 by periodically meeting with relevant states’ agencies to train, retrain, build capacity and exchange ideas on latest disaster management strategies.

There are several government agencies and departments engaged in humanitarian support in specific or special ways. They include National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) under The Presidency, National Commission for Refugees, the Presidential Committee on North-East Initiative (PCNI) and the Victims Support Fund, headed by General Theophilus Danjuma (rtd).

It is important to streamline the activities of these agencies in such a way that the come under the umbrella of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. This will help to provide focus in dealing with humanitarian crises instead of having different agencies attempting to tackle the same problems using diverse means.

For the minister, there is an urgent need for a composite data on displaced persons, indicating where they are, where they come from, their temporary abodes and other needs.

This is vital for planning and management. In this vein, we call on the minister to ensure that those in so-called ‘illegal’ IDP camps are properly documented, accounted and catered for. Under no circumstances should a Nigerian who is displaced be ignored and abandoned when he is a victim of violence. Government has to declassify where they stay as living in ‘illegal’ camps and, instead, recognize their locations, provide better abodes for them and find a way of catering for them. With proper documentation, it is possible to know the needs of the people, estimate the money needed to take care of them and properly apply such financial allocations. Government has challenged this ministry with the task of preventing some of these besetting crises and to handle erosion, kidnapping, fire disasters, etc.

These are quite many, but Hajiya Umar Farouq, who was a Commissioner at the Refugees Commission, should be able rise to the occasion.

Again, she should find out the truth in the trending and widely publicized corrupt practices in some of these interventionist agencies both indigenous and foreign players in the disaster management business especially in the BAY states.

However, the fact remains that the new ministry must wake up to the challenge that it is a national ministry in charge of responding and managing humanitarian crisis anywhere in the country and therefore, must show national spread in its humanitarian activities.