By Rafiq Raji, PhD
In mid-November, I covered the launch of the “Nigeria Humanitarian Fund – Private Sector Initiative” (NHF PSI) in Lagos for London-based African Business magazine. Edward Kallon, the United Nations (UN) resident/humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, calls it a “global first” and says it “provides a blueprint for private sector engagement in humanitarian action through a country-based pooled fund set up and managed by the United Nations.” The NHF PSI is primarily aimed at funding the relief efforts in northeast Nigeria, where over 7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Having already secured more than $70 million in contributions from 17 countries, the launch in Lagos was to get private sector actors to contribute their quota.
In attendance were representatives of numerous non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in the region, chief executives of banks and oil firms, ambassadors, politicians, and so on. I struck conversations with at least three of the NGO-types in the room. A major point that kept coming up was corruption. There have been quite a lot of money from donors towards helping the victims of the violence in the northeast. Not nearly enough, of course. Sadly, an ample portion of the little that there is never gets to the actual people in need.
The lower house of the federal legislature recently raised concerns about the seeming pilferage of humanitarian assistance for the northeast. Their focus was on government expenditure via the emergency agency, however. And while the motive of their investigations was likely also political, there is genuine concern. Those who have visited the internally-displaced persons (IDPs) in their camps express shock at their plight. They wonder how after so much resources were supposedly put towards assisting IDPs, they could still be in such deplorable circumstances.
There has not been similar controversy around the humanitarian efforts of NGOs, private-sector actors and multilateral organisations. What they have in transparency and efficiency, they lack in scale, however. In other words, while the NHF PSI is likely to avoid some of the problems found to be associated with the government’s efforts, it would require much more heft to have a huge impact.
Thankfully, there were generous pledges by the many deep pockets at the launch of the NHF PSI. I am also aware that the Lagos Business School Alumni Association (LBSAA), the governing council of which I am a member, plans to help out in the northeast as well. As do many other similarly-minded bodies in the country.
Still, you do not have to be wealthy to help out. Every raised voice in advocacy for more relief efforts in the region matters. And the ubiquity of social media means almost everyone can add their voice to the cause relatively cheaply.
Voices must also be raised about the welfare of our men and women in uniform. If they are not able to secure the region, there can be no meaningful humanitarian assistance to the displaced. The recent killing of soldiers by terrorists in the region should be a wake-up call to the government not to become complacent. Our soldiers should be well-equipped and kitted to perform their patriotic duty. Their salaries and welfare packages must be paid in full and on time.
Another set of people I had a chat with at the launch were some young medics. It was not long before they started bemoaning the state of the country. I was a little bemused. After all, they were employed. Naturally, they want more. And they were convinced their chances would be better abroad. England, America and Canada were top choices. Having travelled a bit myself, I tried to convince them that things are not as rosy over there as they think. Silence would have been golden.
Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays).