From Okwe Obi, Abuja
Since President Muhammadu Buhari established the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development in 2019, and appointed Sadiya Umar Farouq as minister, the parastatal has been inundated with appalling and applauding assessments.
While some social critics have contended that its creation was a mere replica of existing ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), others maintained that it would complement and solidify the activities of those MDAs and as such be given the benefit of the doubt.
But the knocks heightened during the #EndSARS protests, where warehouses were pulled down and palliatives pillaged, and the feeding of schoolchildren during the lockdown caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, the national coordinator of the Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Emmanuel Onwubiko, on two occasions, challenged the minister, Sahdiya Umar Farouq, to a public debate for her to give account of billions of naira spent allegedly without commensurate results.
Onwubiko said: “HURIWA is by this media communication inviting the minister for a publicly covered debate this Wednesday with HURIWA so Nigerians can be told what amount this government spent feeding schoolchildren who were dispersed and on holidays during the lockdown.
“HURIWA wants to show Nigerians that the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs may have fed ghosts and claimed to have fed real children.
“This minister should be bold enough to accept this invitation for a public debate, which we will host at a good venue. We are alleging that the ministry is a cash-guzzling machine and a financial disaster.”
Regardless of the wave of attacks, Umar Farouq, has maintained her stance that, through the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), over 10 million Nigerians have been lifted out of extreme poverty.
The NSIP comprises of the N-power, National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP), Government Enterprises and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) and the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT). It was initiated by President Buhari, to assuage the plight of citizens and boost school enrollment.
The Borno State politician, at a virtual meeting, categorically stated that “the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has successfully empowered more than 10 million people out of extreme poverty through the many initiatives of government, including the National Social Investment Programme.”
Umar Farouq disclosed that, since she came on board two years ago, more than 9.5 million pupils across the 36 states now benefit, with more than 100,000 smallholder farmers participating in the value chain and 100,000 cooks employed.
Harping on GEEP, she claimed that, in the last four years, the scheme has provided incremental loans of between N10,000 and N300,000 to about 2.3 million beneficiaries who are traders, artisans, enterprising youth, agricultural workers and other micro-service providers, under its flagship programmes TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni.
The minister added that beneficiaries receive N50,000 – TraderMoni, N50,000 – MarketMoni, and N300,000 – FarmerMoni.
“It is also proposed here that all beneficiaries of the GEEP 2.0 key into cooperative groups/societies in order to have an easy identification of beneficiaries and seamless distribution and recovery of loans.
“It is hereby proposed that each of the three schemes have a separate sharing/scoring formula that best fits the direction of the scheme,” she added.
While providing more details on the commencement of the N-Power Batch C, 1, she noted that the stream would have three core segments: N-Power Volunteer Corps, which is the graduate programme N-Power Build, non-graduate programme, N-Power Knowledge, which is also a non-graduate programme and embodies the N-Tech Hardware, N-Tech Software and the N-Creative training programmes.
She explained further that “the graduate programme is further sub-divided into N-Teach, where volunteers are trained to be volunteer teachers in primary schools that they are attached as teaching assistants.
“N-Agro volunteers support farmers with knowledge on how to obtain the best results on their farms and produce, while N-Health volunteers are trained to work as public health assistants.
“They teach preventive healthcare to community members, including pregnant women, children, families and individuals.
“They are also trained to provide basic diagnostic services in the primary health care development centres.
“The non-graduate programme targets beneficiaries with at least a secondary school education and seeks to deliver accelerated training and certification (skills to job/enterprise) to young Nigerians in the age bracket of 18 to 35.
“They are trained, tooled and transitioned to take up jobs as electrical installation technicians, plumbing and pipe-fitting installers, masons, carpentry and joinery experts, automobile technicians, agric technicians and hospitality experts.
“N-Power Tech (Hardware, Software and Creative) is also a non-graduate programme and has a three-month training of beneficiaries to develop their foundational, vocational, life and entrepreneurial skills, and six months apprenticeship.
“It has three tracks: Hardware training; Software Training; and Creative (animation and scriptwriting). The three-month training is delivered at selected locations in each geo-political zone of the country followed by a six-month apprenticeship in the respective states of residence of the trainees.
“N-Power Volunteer (graduates) are entitled to a monthly stipend of N30,000 for a period of one year.
“The non-graduate beneficiaries are entitled to N10,000 monthly stipends in addition to their starter packs, which they will use to continue their life growth in their chosen trades.”
Elucidating further, the Ondo State team lead, Kemisola Olasetemi, said government had spent N1.8 billion in three years with 108,842 primary school pupils benefiting from the NHGSFP.
In spite of the achievements recorded, one of the vendors who pleaded to be anonymous in order not to be victimised, called on the Federal Government to review the cost of food items, warning that the scheme would suffer greatly, should it ignore the advise.
“Well, we are happy that the programme is still alive. It is not dying, which is a very good thing for us the vendors. But we want to use this avenue to air our complaint, because we have a lot of complaints.
“The payment is very small. We are managing. We are ‘stressing’ on this work because of the things happening in our country today. Look at the prices of food items, they are very high; what we were buying N200 last year is now N900 to N1,000.
“They should, at least, add something. N142,000 to feed children for a month is too small. So, the minister, President and everybody involved should do something.
“All the vendors, everybody is complaining but we are happy about the programme; but something should be done,” she pleaded.
In addition, the executive assistant to Plateau State governor and the NSIPs focal person, Sumaye Fadimatu Hamza, complained about the N70 earmarked for a meal, adding that government should increase it because of the high cost of foodstuff.
Hamza, however, countered claims that insecurity was hampering the smooth operation of the programme, especially in Plateau State.
She said: “The high cost of foodstuff is no doubt over-stretching the cooks. The N70 per meal is grossly inadequate. We had worked out cost of a balanced meal per child to be N180 to N200 per meal. Fortunately, there is no disruption of school feeding due to insecurity.”
Political pundits stressed that, with the N2.69 billion earmarked for the food feeding and N26. 97 billion, which form part of the 2021 budgetary allocation of N60.04 billion, government should monitor the activities of the scheme to ensure that Nigerians benefit from it.
Technical assistant to the minister, Aisha Digil, in an exclusive chat with the Daily Sun, assured Nigerians that through the Federal Government and the full support of the states the cost of food items would be reviewed and implemented.
Digil stated that, with the completion of the enumeration exercise across the country, it would help government come up with sustainable plans to reach out to everybody, depending on the category they fall into.
“We have been looking at how to address this issue. The N70 was a decision from the Federal Government at a time. So, it is not a one-man decision to look at how to increase it.
“The honourable minister cannot just decide to increase the fund; there are so many other stakeholders that involved in it.
“And, most importantly, we are trying to have conversations with the state governments to see how they can also supplement what is needed, based on the menu.
“This programme is supposed to be a home-grown programme. So, all the ingredients that go to the menu need to be locally produced. So, we are looking at how that is happening so that the resources available can be utilised better.
“Like I said, it is very important question and we are taking it very seriously and efforts are being made to address it.
“It is an ongoing matter; I do not have a timeline for you. But we can reconnect in a few weeks and see where we are and see if I can have any update for you. But for now, we are still discussing how best to address it. We have over nine million pupils benefiting from the programme.
“We have been working on how to verify that data so that we can have a sustainable way of achieving Mr. President’s directives to add additional five million pupils to the register of the school feeding programme.”
On the verification exercise, she said: “This is not the first time for the ministry of humanitarian affairs. When the programme came to us, we first looked at the area that needed improvement and one of the areas was the data. We needed to improve our data capturing but, unfortunately, COVID-19 delayed it a lot.
“So, what you are seeing now is that we are actually going out to verify this number now. Once we do that, we will be updating as we go.
“As school enrollment is rising, we anticipate that we are going to have additional people on the programme.”