Opinion: Before the 2nd wave: Humanitarian ministry and Nigeria’s Covid-19 response – By DAPO BRUCE
As the year draws to a close with ministries and MDAs auditing past performance and defending their 2021 draft budgets it has become expedient to look at how effective the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development was in its covid-19 response vis a vis its presidential charge as well as its unique position as Nigeria’s midwife of social safety nets for building resilience among the poor and vulnerable.
Nigeria’s Corona Virus index case was discovered on February 27, 2020 about three months after the emergence of what scientists called the novel Coronavirus in Wuhan China.
The news was made public the next day on February 28th 2020 and since that time the country has not been the same. The index case was an Italian man who arrived the country on a Turkish airways flight on February 27th. With the disease in-country and no thanks to its viral nature and ease of infection, the disease soon grew legs among the Nigerian populace.
A day after the announcement by the honourable Minister of Health, worldwide infection figures, according to data sourced from the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), the country’s apex public health body, stood at 85,403 confirmed cases with 95.5% of those in China. 2,924 deaths had been recorded. By that time, the disease had affected just 49 countries and three of those countries were in Africa: namely Egypt, Algeria and Nigeria.
Nine months later on November 17, 2020, confirmed cases on the global scale now stand at 54,558,120 with 1,320,148 confirmed fatalities according to data reported by WHO.
The novel Coronavirus was given an official name Covid-19 on February 11, 2020 then upgraded to a pandemic on March 11, 2020 by the WHO.
Unlike with the Ebola outbreak during which the Federal Government was caught largely flat footed with the Lagos state government of Babatunde Raji Fashola taking charge, the Covid-19 response has been better coordinated with four major players driving the actions: the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development and The Presidential Task Force, an adhoc task force set up to coordinate.
The PTF, which was set up on March 9, 2020 by the president, had an express mandate to coordinate a multi-stakeholder response to the pandemic by providing technical and material support at the national and sub national levels in order to manage the outbreak. It was also charged with advising and recommending actions to the president on threat levels while providing updates to the media and general public. Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) was named chairman while Sani Aliyu was appointed national coordinator.
In 2016 when the Ebola crisis ravaged the world, the NCDC as well as the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development did not exist. The Bill for an Act to establish NCDC was signed into law in November 2018, by President Muhammadu Buhari while the ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development was established on August 21, 2019 as a special intervention ministry for humanitarian affairs, management of disasters and social interventions.
So, when Covid-19 hit, the government was well prepared on the levels of strategy and execution to respond to the pandemic. Following advice from the PTF, the president imposed a lockdown on Lagos, Ogun and Kano states on March 30, 2020. The lockdown was soon extended and other measures taken. They included shut down of schools, offices and recreational facilities as well as bans on interstate travel and sporting activities.
While the PTF focused on its coordinating function, the NCDC and Ministry of Health were the arrow heads of the health based response. The ministry of Humanitarian Affairs was tasked with implementing many non-health and non-pharmaceutical interventions and palliative measures across the country.
The president was clear in his charge to the Humanitarian ministry – extend a 3 month repayment moratorium on Trader Moni, Farmer Moni and Market Moni loans; pay 2 months Conditional Cash Transfer in advance to help the most vulnerable while IDPs would get 2 months food rations in advance. The president also directed that the Ministry, working with state governments, should evolve strategies on how to sustain the school feeding programme for children while at home during the lockdown.
How well did the Sadiya Umar Farouq ministry carry out the president’s directive?
To concentrate efforts in tackling Covid-19, the ministry inaugurated its Technical Working Group (TWG) on the 27th March, 2020. The TWG was set up to complement efforts of the PTF. The mandate of the TWG was 4 fold – Social Interventions, Humanitarian Interventions, Advocacy and Sensitisation, as well as Monitoring & Evaluation.
The TWG has worked in close alignment with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to implement the National Response plan and provide leadership on the PTF- Covid 19 Security, Logistics and Mass care.
In compliance with the Presidential directive, the ministry facilitated a 3-month moratorium to 1,794,633 Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) beneficiaries while 12,000 beneficiaries in Abuja and Lagos received Trader Moni and Market Moni loans. The minister also initiated the Conditional Cash Transfer to 453,744 poor and vulnerable households in 24 states plus the FCT beginning April 1, 2020.
In further compliance, the ministry expanded the National Social Register from 2.6 to 3.6m and using the extant Register, made up of 2,644,495 poor and vulnerable households the ministry impacted in excess of 11,045,537 individuals.
Under the modified home grown school feeding programme, the ministry working with state governments impacted 127,589 families in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states who received Take Home Rations valued at N4,200 and made up of 5 kg Bag of Rice, 5 kg Bag of Beans, 500 ml Vegetable Oil, 750 ml Palm Oil, 500 mg Salt, 15 pcs of eggs, 140gm Tomato Paste.
With the eggs sourced from local poultry farmers, the intervention provided much needed income to farmers from whom the ministry bought over 46,979,565 eggs to implement the programme.
In line with its humanitarian mandate the ministry convened the Zero Hunger roundtable in conjunction with the World Food Programme and leading lights of the organized private sector. Aligned with SDG 2, the roundtable is to come up with short, medium and long terms solutions during and post Covid-19.
Following the FG’s approval of the release of 70,000 metric tons of grain from the Strategic Grains Reserve, the ministry facilitated the deployment of the grains to 13 front line states based on reported cases of COVID 19, population and density using the existing structure provided by NEMA. Recipient states include Lagos, Abuja, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Kano, Cross River, Enugu, Borno, Edo, Bauchi, FCT and Adamawa.
The Nigerian Customs Service also released 112 trucks of rice (67,200 bags of rice) to the Ministry. The rice has been distributed to 35 states and the FCT except Rivers.
Working with the NEDC, the ministry constructed both a 14-bed and 21-bed facility, each close to a large IDP Camp in Maiduguri to serve as COVID–19 Isolation Centres in the North-East using pre-fabrication technology.
It has also impacted on the poor, the elderly, the disabled as well as women and children with the provision of sundry food items as well as masks, Personal Protective Equipment, ventilators, masks, infra-red thermometer, hand gloves & sanitisers in its continuing effort to help cushion the effects of the pandemic and build resilience for the future.
Dapo Bruce, a public commentator writes from Ogun state