Recently, the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development marked one year of its creation. The ministry was one of the changes introduced by President Muhammadu Buhari at the start of his second term in office. Before 2019, what existed was an array of agencies each running their briefs with disparate goals and little or no coordination, let alone cooperation.
Public good was sacrificed on the slab of inter-agency rivalry among the departments which comprised the National Emergency Management Agency, National Commission for Refugees and Migrants, National Agency for Trafficking in Persons, North-East Development Commission, Sustainable Development Goals, and the National Social Investments Programme.
Bundling these agencies under one supervisory authority not only makes for better coordination but also brings to bear the government’s social welfare inclinations. In terms of social welfare, the Buhari administration has risen head and shoulders above its predecessors in policy and implementation of social safety nets and investment programmes in an increasingly capitalist and cut-throat economy.
Wielding a careful, caregiver’s hand over the ministry is the hitherto relatively unknown Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq. With quiet dedication and seemingly oblivious of the tirade of public disdain and negative media reportage, she has kept her head low but raised the banner high with a resolute commitment to achieving the enormous responsibilities placed on her shoulders. With such commitment to social welfare, a lot more can be achieved to alleviate the suffering and poverty of a huge population that has been abandoned to their own devices over many decades.
Events across the world since January 2020 have not only proven the relevance of the ministry but underscores the foresight and commitment to social security and welfare for vulnerable and marginalized Nigerians. Social strife caused by bandits and insurgents as well as by communal conflicts and disasters have increasingly subjected many people to displacement and destitution in different parts of the country. Added to this is the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic which took the world by storm and deprived many of even their previous marginal means of subsistence.
In one year, the social security ministry has put up a show of resilience with an impressive scorecard against the tide of financial, logistic and demographic challenges confronting a new public establishment in a typical Nigerian setting. It has provided interventions and palliatives for the needy across the country. Some of these include the consolidation and expansion of social investment programmes which are aimed at creating employment, lifting young people out of poverty through social and financial support to drive their own enterprises and small business ventures. Specifically, the N-Power scheme has empowered 500,000 young Nigerians in the two batches of trainees who exited the scheme; out of them, 109, 823 have become business owners in their locales. More than five million others have applied for registration and selection for inclusion/participation in the expanded phase of the programme, which is ongoing.
Also, the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) seeks to resolve the challenge of credit and financial inclusion for more than 37 million citizens in active commercial activity but who lack access to loans. The scheme provides incremental loans ranging from N10, 000 to N300, 000 for traders, farmers, small enterprise and micro business owners under the now popular flagships of TraderMoni, FarmerMoni and MarketMoni. Conceived and run since 2016 under the office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the GEEP has come under the social development ministry offering interest-free loans to about 2.3 million small businesses across Nigeria. The GEEP has been continentally recognized as the largest global micro-credit scheme and most impactful micro-credit programme in Africa.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the president issued a directive for the conditional transfer of N5, 000 per month to the very poor and vulnerable households to provide financial relief and support against the hardships occasioned by the global lockdown. Four-month stipends totalling N20, 000 were transferred to beneficiaries upfront to enable them establish self-support schemes that not only support them through the pandemic but help graduate them out of abject poverty.
It is also to the credit of the ministry that the National Social Register, which comprised 2.6 million households prior to the Covid-19 era, has been expanded to 3.7 million households made up of about 15.5 million individuals on the average. Interventions and palliatives have not been limited to cash and financial incentives, but also food rations distributed across the country and the FCT.
Vulnerable people including the internally displaced, people with disabilities, the aged, victims of trafficking, orphans and the extremely poor can look up with hope for a more socially inclusive society and a better future. It is worthy of note that the ministry championed the establishment of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities and a centre for senior citizens.
We commend the foresight of the federal government in running this very ambitious social welfare programmes even in the face of dwindling financial resources. We also commend the ministry for its determined effort at alleviating the sufferings of Nigerians.