• From controversial flood report to the alleged smuggled N206bn
Sadiya Umar Farouq, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, has been in the eyes of the storm lately. Farouq came under fire about three weeks ago for her comments on the 2022 flood situation in the country. Her stance instantly drew condemnation from individuals and groups, including elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark and the Niger Delta caucus in the House of Representatives amid several others who outrightly called for her resignation from office. She had during a weekly Ministerial Briefing few weeks ago said Jigawa is ranked as the most affected state in the country while Bayelsa State was not even among the ten worst affected states. Her statement was perceived as attempts to downplay the crushing effect of the flood. Expectedly, Bayelsa state government got infuriated and lambasted her for excluding the state from the list of 10 Most Flooded Nigerian States. The United Nations position and the immediate charitable community offer by wives of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates to victims of the State’s flood catastrophe made matters worse for the Minister.
While communities and indeed the entire state were submerged, with critical infrastructure and people’s sources of livelihood destroyed, the federal government was yet to organise any meaningful relief exercise for the people. While UN described the flood disaster in Bayelsa State as a crisis of major proportion that deserves attention, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, wife of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential candidate, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in company of Hajiya Fatima Shettima, wife of the Vice Presidential candidate of the APC, Kashim Shettima, visited some Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in the state and donated N50 million. Speaking at Oxbow Lake camp, Senator Tinubu emphasised that the visit was strictly on humanitarian grounds to personally empathise with Bayelsans over the devastation brought by the floods and to extend a helping hand. Apart from N50million, they also donated drugs and medical equipment, food, wrappers and other relief items. Tinubu explained that the money was for 1,000 affected individuals receiving N50,000 each as a post-flood intervention, saying that the process would be managed by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva. The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria and Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Matthias Schmale, had led a delegation comprising officials of the global body, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Federal Ministry of Water Resources on a courtesy visit on Governor Douye Diri in Government House, Yenagoa. A statement by the governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Daniel Alabrah, quoted Schmale as likening the Bayelsa situation to the Pakistani floods that attracted global attention. Schmale stated that the UN will advocate and mobilise resources for the recovery phase to enable victims to return to their normal lives.
Hon. Ayiba Duba, Bayelsa State Commissioner for Information, Orientation and Strategy queried, “Is it not curious that since the devastation occasioned by the flood occurred a month ago, no representative of the federal government has visited our state to assess the situation? “The federal government has not shown the minutest of empathy since this monumental devastation hit our state. And we are asking, is Bayelsa State still part of Nigeria? Are we only important when it is time to exploit the resources in our land? “The slow response to the humanitarian crisis arising from the flood despite the President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive for her to come to the aid of the state is indeed a confirmation of our believe that the federal ministry and its agencies have abandoned their responsibility and are not interested in managing the disaster.” “How can a state up North, Jigawa, be worst impacted when indeed Bayelsa State has the unfortunate responsibility of receiving the flood water that ran through more than 15 states? “The data used by the ministry to arrive at the conclusion is suspect and erroneous. How was it arrived at? By sitting in an office and conjuring figures? By the reality on the ground, over 300 communities were impacted by the flood and almost a million people were displaced from their homes, many of them losing their means of livelihood, in Bayelsa State. And no other state in the federation is so impacted,” he explained. In same vein, Senator Henry Seriake Dickson, a former governor of the state and Senator representing Bayelsa West in the National Assembly, condemned in strong terms the unscientific assessment of the devastating effect of the 2022 flood in the state. Also, a former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Yekini Nabena, faulted Farouq over her comments. The controversy raged on until she visited Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital over a week ago. She empathised with victims of the recent flood disaster armed with necessary steps to support the various state governments and individuals to bring succour to the embattled people.
The dust of the controversial flood report has barely settled when the issue of her inability to explain the allocation of N206 billion inserted into the 2023 budget of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster budget paddling reared its head. Barely a week after she was in for another trouble. The Minister was at the National Assembly to defend her ministry’s 2023 budget before the Senate Committee on Special Duties when this latest controversy cropped up. She claimed that the Ministry requested for some projects for the North East Development Commission (NEDC) and the National Social Safety Net Project in the 2022 budget which was not released. Farouq, however, expressed surprise that the money inserted, was now ten times of the 2023 proposed budget of the Ministry. One of the Committee members, Senator Elisha Abbo fired the first shot at the Minister to explain the N206 billion in her Ministry’s budget. The minister who was visibly shocked said, “Yes, we made mention of the projects for 2022 which was not released and part of it was for the NEDC.
“The money was not released and now we have seen it recurring by almost 10 folds and we are also going to clarify from the Ministry of Finance to know why this increase, despite the fact that the previous year, the money was not even released for the project. So we will get the details then send to you on that. “On upscaling of the National Social Safety Net Project. These projects under the National Social Safety Net, the condition cash transfer, the updating of the national social register and the rapid response register as well to cushion the effect of inflation. “This is all I can say for this. I cannot really give full details of how this amount is going to be utilised because it is something that was negotiated between the Ministry of Finance and World Bank.” Members of the Senate Committee on Special Duties were taken aback by the Minister’s response. Senator Abboh fired back that the country would not continue to borrow money and be plunged into debt.
He said, “This is serious. We cannot continue to borrow money and plunge this country into debt for our children to come and pay without investing in what they will see.” Senator Yusuf Yusuf, Chairman of the Committee, consequently moved a motion to summon Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, to come and give explanation about the N206 billion inserted in the ministry’s budget. Yusuf said, “I want to move a motion that the Minister of Finance should appear before this committee to furnish this committee with details of what they intend to do with N206 billion in 2023 budget. “Now that the Minister has said that she is not in charge of negotiation, of course she is not, the Minister of Finance is responsible.” The Senate has since summoned the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, to explain an allocation of N206 billion inserted into the 2023 budget of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. The Senate, through its committee on Special Duties, has asked that Ms Ahmed appear before it with details and plans for the allocation made, despite the country’s dwindling revenue and struggling economy. About two years ago, the Humanitarian Minister suffered a scandal that N2.6 billion worth of school feeding funds were misappropriated. There is no doubt that Honourable Minister Sadiya Farouq has recorded some achievements, especially in the humanitarian sector of bringing succour to Nigerian citizens but her tenure so far has been dogged by controversies.