Fundamentally, poverty alleviation and productive youth engagement remain major challenges of modern economies around the world today. Nigeria is no exception. To cage a poor enterprise culture and mainstream poverty alleviation, a full-blown ministry under the Muhammadu Buhari administration was birthed and carefully designed poverty alleviation programmes and skills acquisition projects became major drivers of change, despite the extreme challenges of the period.
Then named the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, ably led by the Honourable Minister, Hajiya Sadiya Umar-Farouq, it is now rechristened Ministry for Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation led by Betty Edu. Today, it has been tweaked by the Bola Ahmed Tinubu presidency; the successor regime to Buhari’s.
Just recently, some online news and social media platforms went into a feeding frenzy over spurious, alleged links of the former Minister, Sadiya Umar-Farouq with the activities of a certain Mr. James Okwete reportedly being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged financial improprieties.
Reports of this foggy linkage are clearly products of mischief makers who take delight in defamation, especially from some temporary positions of authority. Sadiya Umar-Farouq is proud to have served her country as Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with every sense of responsibility and would defend her actions, stewardship and programmes during her tenure whenever called upon to do so.
Hajiya Sadiya Umar-Farouq is not in any way linked with the activities of Okwete who is reportedly being investigated by the EFCC over alleged financial misdemeanours. She does not know the said Okwete nor has he ever represented her in any way whatsoever. Therefore, linking her with him in whatever guise is most inappropriate and verges on mischief.
This makes it a major puzzle why suddenly some online media platforms are stridently trying to smear the lady’s image. It can then only be seen as a funded agenda by shadowy crisis entrepreneurs.
No wonder, the recourse to diminishing the impact of Sadiya Umar-Farouq appears logical and a fair game. But a more rigorous, logical analysis of poverty alleviation dynamics in a stuttering national economy suggests this is totally wrong and unfair.
Cut to the bone, these unmerited, obviously paid-for and scurrilous attacks represent deliberate weaponisation of misinformation for untoward ends. Sources close to the ex-minister have stated she is not familiar with the said Okwete.
Even under a new political dispensation, an analysis of Sadiya Umar-Farouq stewardship and legacies over some of the most challenging years of the national journey including two recessions, the seismic Covid-19 pandemic and global disruptions seeded by the new nationalism that swept Europe and North America will certainly not diminish but highlight her tenure’s positives.
The agencies under the supervision of the humanitarian ministry under reference whose financial activities attracted the attention of the anti-graft agency had their budgets independently and exclusively administered by them as long as expenditures do not exceed the threshold envisioned in the Public Procurement Act, of 2007, as amended. Extant service regulations have clearly defined these procedures.
If proposed expenditures go above the threshold, the agencies would revert to the higher authorities for ministerial, or other approvals. However, the agencies, in their judgment, ensured that expenditures for contracts were below ministerial or other approvals. So the agencies, as learnt, did not need to seek ministerial approvals. These are basic, if routine facts, the ex-Minister would explain when she honours EFCC’s invitation.
Not one to back away from clarifying needful positions, the ex-minister has acknowledged the huge responsibilities she bore while in office, requiring the supervision of the nation’s poverty mitigation programmes. The figures involved often sound enormous, because of the nation’s huge poverty level, against the background of government determination to alleviate the people’s plight.
Adroitly navigating under former President Buhari’s broad and often controversial development vision, the then Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development fundamentally impacted the dynamics of that intervention niche through specific innovative measures that touched many lives.
Tracking back, not many would’ve forgotten that, conceived in 2016, the Buhari administration’s carefully designed poverty alleviation programmes and skills acquisition projects assumed a multi-dimensional footing cutting across all facets of age groups, educational strata and geographies. These were the N-Power Programme and other National Social Investment Programmes (NSIPs) – job creation and empowerment initiatives.
The N-Power was designed for both young graduates and non-graduates. It was the flagship component of the federal government’s Social Investment Programme (SIP). Others are the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme, Government Enterprise and Entrprenuership Programme (GEEP) under which Tradermoni, Marketmoni and Farmermoni are captured and the Conditional Cash Transfer.
Fundamentally, the N-Power was a job creation and empowerment initiative. It was designed for both young graduates and non-graduates in order to harness their skills for innovation, entrepreneurship and productivity. The targeted sectors are in the nation’s critical areas of needs in education, agriculture, health, technology, creative industry, construction and artisanal industries.
It is hardly disputable that the driving forces of economic growth and social development pivot around skills and knowledge. Notwithstanding the current high level of unemployment, harnessing the nation’s young demography through appropriate skill development efforts provides an opportunity to simultaneously achieve national inclusion and productivity. Not surprisingly, large-scale skill development is the main policy thrust of the N-Power Programme.
The key N-Power Programmes include: N-Power Agro, N-Power Tax, N-Power Build, N-Power Creative, N-Power Health, N-Power Teach, N-Power Tech Hardware and N-Power Tech Software. N-Power is also linked to the Federal Government’s policies in the economic, empowerment and social development arenas
The programme addressed the challenge of youth unemployment by providing a structure for large scale and relevant work skills acquisition and development while linking its core and outcomes to fixing inadequate public services and stimulating the larger economy.
The modular programmes under N-Power ensured that each participant learns and practices most of what is necessary to find or create work. The N-Power Volunteer Corp involved a massive deployment of 500,000 trained graduates who will assist to improve the inadequacies in the public services in education, health and civic education. Some of these graduates will also help in actualising Nigeria’s economic and strategic aspirations of achieving food security and self-sufficiency.
Good a thing Sadiya Umar-Farouq’s lawyer, Sir Oladipo Okpeseyi, SAN, has stepped in to clarify matters so that her detractors would be logically hobbled and denied the pleasures of their failed smear project.
Read him: “She did not shun the invitation extended to her by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). She was eager to make herself available to offer clarifications to operatives of the anti-graft agency who were looking into the books of two financially independent agencies under the ministry, including the National Social Investment Programme Agency (NSIPA).
“I was at the headquarters of the Commission on Tuesday to submit a letter to that effect and to seek an extension of time (a shift in date) to enable my client, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, to make herself available at another opportune time to offer clarifications about activities of some agencies under the ministry she superintended in the immediate past administration.
“Although the EFCC has yet to send me a formal reply, the leadership availed us of its understanding, which resulted in parties amicably agreeing to have the interview originally scheduled for Wednesday (January 3, 2024) postponed to a time that the Commission would subsequently fix after looking through its schedules.”
This couldn’t have been more succinctly delivered. In effect, once the coast is clear and a new date is fixed by the Commission, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, his client, would be available to answer questions and offer clarifications on the areas of her stewardship that are not clear to the Commission.
Hence, according to Sir Oladipo Okpeseyi, SAN, “the impression created in a section of the media that my client was being invited for alleged misappropriation of funds is false. That is not the case in this circumstance. She has been invited to clarify certain expenditures by some agencies under her ministry. That is all.”
Strengthening the economic recovery process in Nigeria is clearly not a picnic. As it is, when the project was or is being guided by patriots who genuinely believe in Nigeria, who have unflinching faith in the ingenuity of Nigerians and who hold dear, the promise of the nation’s shared future, they should be honoured, not reviled.
Hajiya Sadiya Umar-Farouq is one such patriot and certainly does not deserve the weaponisation of misinformation against her person.
● Achi, a development journalist, contributed this piece from Abuja.