Agenda for the new Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, By Jide Ojo

To many discerning observers of Nigeria’s humanitarian crisis, it is heartwarming that President Muhammadu Buhari deemed it fit to create a Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, headed by Hajia Sadiya Umar-Farouq.  This is a brand new ministry which is meant to provide solutions to the plight of millions of Internally Displaced Persons(IDPs)  as well as coordinate humanitarian affairs and social development in the country.

Truth be told, having a ministry in charge of the aforementioned areas is long overdue. The country, in the last 10 years, has been in the throes of insurgency in the North-East, especially in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. This insurgency has created a lot of social dislocation and millions of IDPs. According to an August 2019 report from Médecins Sans Frontières, (Doctors without Borders), “It is estimated that about 35,000 people have been killed since 2009, 1.8 million people are internally displaced, and 7.1 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance across the northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. Around 230,000 people have fled to the neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon”.

This is not much different from the report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs better known as OCHA which says that, “As of 2019, 1.8 million Nigerians have fled from their homes and are internally displaced, the majority in Borno State – the epicentre of the crisis. 80 per cent of internally displaced people are women and children, and one in four is under the age of five.”

Prior to the advent of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2009, Nigeria had witnessed a lot of IDP cases in the Bakassi area of Cross River State as well as due to sectarian crises and natural disasters across the country. Even now, banditry in the North-West, especially in Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto and Kaduna states has led to the creation of hundreds of thousands of the IDPs. The situation is similar to what is happening in the North-Central region of the country, especially in Plateau, Benue and Nasarawa states where several thousands of people have been displaced as a result of herders/ farmers’ clashes.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre report, “In 2018, 541,000 new displacements were recorded in Nigeria, 200,000 of which took place in the Middle Belt region and the rest as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East. About 2.2 million people remained displaced due to these conflicts as of the end of the year. Flooding affected 80 per cent of the country last year and triggered most of the 613,000 new displacements recorded.”

What all these statistics revealed is that having a ministry to take care of disaster management and humanitarian affairs is very desirable. There is so much work to be done for the pioneer minister. Luckily, Farouq has prior experience in managing these issues as a former Federal Commissioner of the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, a post she held from September 26, 2016 to July 2019 when she was nominated as a minister.

I am of the considered opinion that being from Zamfara State, one of the states in the jugular of banditry, she already knows what it means to have humanitarian needs. Thus, she should be able to do all in her power to ameliorate the sufferings of the IDPs.

My agenda for her is to see to the full implementation of the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa otherwise known as the Kampala Convention. This convention came into being in 2009. According to a February 2018 report from HelpAge International,” By adopting the Convention, the AU member states took a vital step to strengthen the protection of the rights of some of the most vulnerable people on the continent. The Kampala Convention puts in place an African legal framework to prevent internal displacement, to protect and assist people during displacement, and to provide durable solutions for displaced people. It came into force in December 2012”.

It is shameful that the country does not have a robust national policy on the IDPs as the Federal Government only in January this year pledged to adopt a national policy on internal displacement. This is long overdue. A national policy on the IDPs will articulate a proper response on rights and privileges of this vulnerable group while in the camp as well as process of resettlement.

I also expect that with the advent of this new ministry, there will be better coordination of humanitarian services in Nigeria. Right now, hundreds of national and international Non-Governmental Organisations are working to provide relief services to victims of insurgency and natural disasters across the country. However, their efforts are not well-coordinated while some of them have been accused of corrupt practices.  I should expect that all the local and international humanitarian agencies will be registered by this ministry for proper monitoring and evaluation of their activities.

I do also hope that the safety and security of organisations providing humanitarian services across the country will be enhanced with the coming into existence of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. Recall that a total of 37 aid workers have been killed in Nigerian’s volatile northeast region since the crisis there began a decade ago. That is according to the United Nations on Tuesday, August 20, 2019. Scores of other aid workers have also been abducted while providing humanitarian services. Six of them working with an international humanitarian group were reportedly abducted on July 18 by Boko Haram insurgents in Borno State.

The minister owes the country a blueprint or road map on national disaster management. Incidentally, the country does not have one yet, to the best of my knowledge. It will therefore be important to draft one with the technical assistance from  international partners. When done, it should be religiously implemented.

Hopefully, with the coming into existence of this vital ministry, the National Emergency Management Agency, Victims Support Fund, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other agencies that will be under the supervision of the ministry will perform better. Now that social development has been carved out of the Ministry of Women Affairs, it is my prayer that issues regarding Persons with Disabilities hitherto being handled by Ministry of Women Affairs will receive a prime attention in the new ministry. One sure way to start for the minister is to see to full implementation of the Disability Act signed into law on January 23, 2019 by President Muhammadu Buhari. One of the key highlights of that Act is the establishment of a National Disability Commission. This should be set up without further delay.

The immediate challenge the new ministry may face is that of funding since it is new and was not budgeted for in the 2019 Appropriation Act. However, it is my hope that it will be well-funded in the 2020 budget currently being prepared for submission to National Assembly next month or thereabout. I charge the minister to prudently manage the resources of the ministry and curb the sharp practices allegedly being perpetrated by government officials involved in disaster management and humanitarian services.

Follow me on Twitter @jideojong

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