By Zayyad I. Muhammad
As Nigeria continues to battle the sweeping impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, all eyes are on Sadiya Umar Farouk, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. This is so, because, Sadiya is now the ‘link’ between the President Muhammadu Buhari government and the masses, in particular, the vulnerable ones. Sadiya’s Ministry has a mandate to develop humanitarian policies and to provide effective coordination of national and international humanitarian interventions; ensure strategic disaster mitigation, preparedness, and response; and manage the formulation and implementation of fair focused social inclusion and protection programs in Nigeria.
Presently, Minister Sadiya is faced with the effective, efficient and transparent distribution of the Buhari government’s palliatives to cushion the effect of the COVID-19 lockdown. The big question is, is the Minister achieving the goal to reach the most vulnerable Nigerians? Critics of the Minister who are invariably the critics of the President are criticizing the implementation of the palliative programmes. While some have valid points, others are just playing politics. Nonetheless, Minister Sadiya and her team have continued to implement the programme, the way they think is most efficient and impactful.
On May 7, 2020 Minister Sadiya handed over a truck of rice, 50 bags of Sugar, 200 cartoons of macaroni & 3 bales of wrappers to the Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, for distribution to vulnerable women. On April 28, the ministry delivered 110 Trucks of food items to the people of Kano.
On April 24, three trucks of rice and one truck of vegetable oil was delivered to the Kogi State Government. On April 22, 10 trucks of rice, 2 trucks of vegetable oil and grains, was handed to FCT administration to be distributed to the poor, vulnerable and people living with disabilities. On April 22, Adamawa state received 4 trucks of food items. While on April 11, over 11,000 vulnerable citizens who are already faced with humanitarian crisis in Gajiganna Town, of Borno state received food items. On April 18, Katsina state received 3 truckloads of rice. On April 8, Imo and Ebonyi states took delivery of some COVID-19 relief food items. On April 7, Minister Sadiya handed over 6,000 bags of 50kg rice and two trucks of vegetable oil to the Lagos State government. Ogun and Oyo state also received the palliatives. Minister Sadiya have also launched a scheme to visit People With Disabilities (PWD) in their communities and clusters U all over the country that shall be visiting to provide them with Covid-19 food palliatives including hygiene kits.
Distributing palliative to Nigeria’s large poor pupation is an intricate task. In fact, reaching the poor of the poorest is a challenge globally – recently thousands of people formed a 4km-long queue for food parcels amid a COVID-19 lockdown in the South African city of Centurion. Nigeria’s state governors have requested that they are allowed to oversee the distribution of the palliatives. Public scrutiny will now be directed at them. Giving the state control of final distribution of the food commodities is a good move. However, state governors must realize that the palliatives are meant for the poor of the poorest.
The distribution should be free from needless politics and poverty-induced-corruption. But what should the governors do to ensure that the palliatives reach intended targets? Governors should design a locally feasible and adaptable sharing mechanism devoid of politicians’ control and interference. Ward heads and community leaders -notwithstanding their political affiliations- should be co-opted into the sharing mechanism. This will guarantee effective community participation and monitoring. Some aspects of the distribution such as logistics, delivery and transportation should be handled by specialized local couriers and logistics firms including the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO). This will ensure speedy and efficient tracking while also reaching the target.
Critics of the food palliative programme would continue to express their opinion. Minister Sadiya and team may have done their best to implement the programmes to the letter. The ball is now in the courts of state governors, who will do the final distribution. However, it can only be successful when it is free from politics and knowledge-based approaches are applied.
Zayyad I. Muhammad writes from Jimeta, Adamawa state