Grema Ali: The Face of Humanitarian Service in the Country, by Abdullahi D. Mohammed

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Accountability, trust and selflessness are some virtues of prudent leadership. Conversely, some of these inherent attributes are hitherto what is missing within the crux of leadership in the country. Such unique traits, were visible amongst first generation leadership the country produced. However, accountability  is a rarity in contemporary leadership discourse in the country, which, could be ubiquitously linked with most challenges we are faced with as a nation, today.

For Grema Alhaji Ali, who epitomizes the new face of selfless leadership, has raised the bar in that regard. The charitable and courteous gentleman has redefined leadership, and taken it a notch higher — an unusual trend in Nigeria’s Civil service, where he is Director, Humanitarian affairs, at the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.


Mr Grema is not your regular, or stereotypical civil servant. He is in a class of his own. The Maiduguri-born political science graduate is a man of many things — faith, prudence, administrator, family man with a conservatively urbane disposition. The prodigious career civil servant, has traversed many ministries, in the course of his duties. And, wherever he went, he left behind a trajectory of enviable records, and a legacy of excellence.


Before moving to the recently established Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, he had worked in different capacities at NAPEP, Ministries of Health, Water Resources and, office of the Head of Service of the Federation.


Intelligibly, the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry was created,  ostensibly in response to the emerging threats arising from years of insurgency, and prevalence of man-made and natural disasters. Activities of non-state actors had created a humongous refugee crisis, especially in the Northeast. Millions displaced needed succour. Households were destroyed, intergroup relations disrupted, livelihood altered. These emerging challenges, was almost overwhelming for the government, hence the need to respond critically, and proactively to tame the situation.


The COVID-19 pandemic was one of such unforseen emergencies, which, almost plunged world economies into the abyss. Apparently, the need for medical and social responses to such challenge, became exigent. Medical solutions, in form of vaccines and preventive gears — while the socio-economic challenges were enormous, given the damage on both government’s activities and citizens.


In Nigeria, such gigantic task, falls squarely on the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, and, the Director, Humanitarian affairs Grema Alhaji Ali, rightly due to his expertise, humility and years of experience as a prudent administrator. For instance, when the Federal Government inaugurated a 27-man National Humanitarian Coordination Technical Working Group, (NHCTWG), back in September, 2020, to provide technical support to the National Humanitarian Coordination Committee, (NHCC), which was constituted by the President, (NHCTWG), which comprised of critical stakeholders, donor agencies, development partners within and outside the country including representatives of EU, USAID, UNOCHA, it was headed by the self-effacing, yet prudent Grema Alhaji Ali.

It takes courage, perseverance and hardwork to succeed in such technical and tricky tasks, at least, within the context of Nigeria’s reality. The onerous and burdensome task, or challenge remains, identifying, locating and genuinely vetting those who needed interventions and the type, and also ensure it reached the targeted person(s)


Another formidable challenge is, political clientelism, courtiers, cronyism and quid pro quo. These are some grim, and extant realities which shape politics, policies and governance in the country. Any public official, dealing with suchlike, and yet attempting to surmount it, shows how dexterous they could be. This aptly captures the Grema Alhaji Ali scenario. At some point, he was the Director, overseeing the office of the Permanent Secretary, in that capacity, he was Acting- PS, seemingly taking statutory roles, and ensuring seamless implementation of policies and programs.


Teamwork, is indeed the bedrock of any formidable organization. Transparency, even makes it better, leveraging on individual’s capacity to manage assigned tasks, effortlessly.  With individuals like Grema Alhaji Ali, whose credibility has never been in doubt, directing the humanitarian affairs, apparently gives more credibility to the entire process. Some include, seamless implementation of wide range interventions in response to humanitarian challenges in the country, such as, N-power, where over a million Nigerian youths were engaged. Most beneficiaries had successfully set up their businesses, which is the core mandate of the scheme. The Government Enterprise & Empowerment Program (GEEP), was another laudable effort, supervised by the Directorate of Humanitarian affairs where, artisans and small business owners had access to soft loans ranging from 10k to 300k.


An area whose impact remains the loudest and profound, so far, is unarguably the National Homegrown School Feeding Program. Over 9 million school children were enrolled, which saw an upsurge, or  increase in school enrollment. Children, of school-age were increasingly motivated back to school as a result of the program. The current number of out-of-school children would have been staggeringly higher, had the program not been implemented.


These successes were made possible through collective responsibility — everyone at the Ministry, especially, the Honourable Minister for identifying excellence, and assigning critically strategic tasks to a critical Directorate, headed by a reformer with astute leadership prowess.


A major challenge, which forms the basis for criticism of the Ministry is, the unavailability of comprehensive database of Nigerians, and beneficiaries. But, the National Bureau of Statistics, (NBS) has been helpful, hence setting a template for improvement.


The likes of Grema Alhaji Ali, the Ministry’s Humanitarian Affairs Director, whose office is under the spotlight for doling out humanitarian interventions, remains the face of Humanitarian service in the country. Himself a selfless leader, unassuming and charitable, is the kind of personality to change the perception on leadership, politics and governance in the country. He is a mentor and a moral compass to many, especially youths, aspiring to take up leadership positions. With his disposition, we could look up to a better civil service and governance if his characters are emulated.


As time ticks away, edging him closer to retirement, a lifelong lessons could be drawn, from precedents he set, in betterment of a country we all wish for.
Happy new year and compliment of the season!

Abdullahi D Mohammed is with the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the Ahmadu Bello University-Zaria.
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