By Chimezie Godfrey
The announcement of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria on 27th February, 2020, marked the beginning of untold hardship by citizens, especially the poor and vulnerable members of the society, followed by lockdown to curtail the spread of the virus.
The impact of the lockdown on the Nigerian economy, families and individuals has been devastating, resulting in hunger and starvation mostly suffered by the poor and vulnerable, which some have termed as ‘Hunger Virus’ or ‘Hunger Pandemic’ as another challenge that Nigerians are equally contending with.
Most Nigerians, especially during the lockdown in some parts of the country including the FCT, Lagos, and Ogun state, have blamed the government for their predicament. Some opine that government is not doing enough to mitigate the devastating effect of the lockdown on citizens.
However, insinuations such as this, should be seen as natural expression of citizens in reaction to the socio-economic hardship imposed on them by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the criticisms might be politically motivated to down play the efforts of government in assisting the citizens to cope with the present realities.
Government can not reach out to all citizens with palliatives and individuals that are putting their efforts to reach out to citizens, deserve commendation, even for putting themselves at the risk of contracting the deadly coronavirus disease.
The truth therefore is that government has been doing a lot in mitigating the adverse impact of the pandemic, especially through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. Since the creation of the Ministry on August 21st 2020, even before the present pandemic, it has not relented in its efforts to provide relief and succour to Nigerians who have suffered in one form of insurgency, banditry, and cattle rustling, and other natural disasters.
The Ministry under the leadership of its pioneer Minister, Sadiya Umar Farouq provided various interventions to ensure that Nigerian citizens are supported in diverse ways and at various times,especially at this difficult time of the COVID-19.
From the onset of the pandemic, the Federal government adopted an approach to confront what has now become both a health emergency and humanitarian crisis.
The ministry, realising that the impact of this pandemic goes well beyond health, is looking at addressing the social dimension to the crisis, including food insecurity, loss of income and economic breakdown, from which the poor and vulnerable are worst hit.
It subsequently constituted a Technical Working Group compromising of agencies including National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, NAPTIP, SDGs, NASSP and NSIP, to coordinate social interventions for the poor and vulnerable to pull resources together, rapidly scale existing programmes, in order to reach the poor and vulnerable quickly with relief. These interventions are directed to complement the efforts of the PTF and Economic Sustainability Committee with a focus on IDPs, Persons Living With Disabilities; the elderly; petty traders and hawkers, laborers and blue-collar workers, homeless, and low-skilled traders.
In the short term, the interventions are aimed at mitigating the potential adverse social and economic impact, through the provision of shock responsive social safety nets, to manage the emerging humanitarian crisis as a result of the multifaceted consequences of the pandemic.
Highlighting the efforts of the Ministry to reach Nigerians with immediate relief, at the onset of the pandemic, the National Social Register (NSR) contained data of over 2.6 million poor and vulnerable households (with over 11 million individuals) across 34 states and the FCT. With the accelerated registration and rapid expansion, the register has grown to 3.2 million households (equivalent to 13.8 million individuals), across 36 State and the FCT. Data collection is still ongoing, and they are also developing the rapid response register that will target the urban poor.
From the existing Cash Transfer Programme, the President directed the payment of 1,028,416 poor and vulnerable households in 32 states an advance of their monthly stipend in addition to current payment circle of N20,000 each as lump sum.
On In-kind/Food distribution, the Ministry has distributed 129 trucks of rice and condiments to 35 states and the FCT from the Nigerian Customs Service. Till date, NEMA, the ministry’s lead agency in disaster response, has deployed 14,910 metric tons of grains to 4 states in the frontline of the epidemic whose livelihoods will be affected by the lockdown.
Similarly, the Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP), will provide Take Home Food Rations to 3.1 million households of school children from poor homes at designated centres, using existing structure across the states and LGAs, which sensitisation has commenced for the FCT.
Also, the Ministry in collaboration with the World Food Programme, WFP, convened a Zero Hunger roundtable with over 30 high level participants of the private sector to map a coherent and strategic response for the hunger pandemic occasioned by COVID-19 in Nigeria. The relief component of the social interventions included a moratorium of loan obligations. For instance, the TraderMoni is a N10,000 loan to traders that depend on daily income, while the N5,000 MarketMoni is for providers of essential services, including shoemakers and vulcanisers, and an additional loan to 500,000 traders.
The Ministry-led humanitarian subcommittee has been engaging with the existing state coordination mechanisms, to ensure a specific COVID-19 outbreak readiness and response plan for each camp, including UN OCHA, IOM and Borno State. These efforts not only show clearly why the Federal government created the Ministry, but also highlights the lack of Shock Responsive Social Safety Nets for the country to address vulnerability as a result of shocks like this.
These are just a few initiatives that have been rolled out, aside from other emerging transitional and recovery opportunities, to which the Ministry is providing strategic leadership, including the restructured social investment program, which provides linkages that optimises efficiency and sustainability.
The restructured program features the N-Power plus premised on skills acquisition with behavioural change communication, including leadership and peacebuilding skills for the youth. The restructured social investment program critically looks at the demographical trends in attempt to harness the demographic dividends for the country.
The Minister in one of her address revealed that the Ministry’s priority is to develop a strong social protection program and coordination, which is the key instrument to support the most vulnerable population, by providing the requisite leadership.
To this end, the Ministry will be inaugurating the Social Protection Council to provide strategic leadership aligned with the coordinating mandate of the Ministry and with the support of EU, World Bank, UNICEF, WFP, ILO and DFID and other partners to institutionalise these structures and framework.
Through the support of the leadership of the World Bank, it has built the National Social Register and the conditional cash transfer under the NASSP, which can be quickly scaled up to reach even more poor and vulnerable with cash transfer at this time and beyond.
The Ministry is working with the EU and ILO to respond to the recent EU-ILO call for proposal to scale up social protection system in response to the crisis, which will be complimented by another proposal for the basket fund. “As we navigate this unchartered territory and adapt to our new reality, these interventions will strengthen existing structures, capture lessons learnt from managing this crisis for a post-pandemic humanitarian strategy and build resilient structures.”
It is also working to provide relief in the immediate to millions of the country’s poor and vulnerable; as well as on putting in place, a clear economic recovery program, unified data and a stronger social protection system to build Nigeria’s resilience to mitigate future emergencies of this nature.