News Alerts and Accountability in Nigeria
By Hadiza Aminu, Save the Children & WRA Nigeria Board Member
I subscribed to an alert service that provides daily SMS on current happenings in Nigeria. From news of a pastor facing legal action for slapping a lady during church service, to updates on every appreciation of our currency at the foreign exchange, I find myself pondering on the pros and cons of social media, but that is an interesting debate for another day.
I was still going over one I got on the appointment of the ourPresident, Dr Goodluck Jonathan as the co chair of the UN Commission on lifesaving commodities, when I read that the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Iweala, was also named by the UN Secretary-General, as a member of the newly established body to tackle child malnutrition.
I kept asking myself, what does this mean for Nigeria? Will the appointment make the President appreciate the enormity of maternal and child mortality in Nigeria and make him take necessary steps for ensuring access to basic health care? Will it make him to sign the Health Bill which has been sitting on his table for the past 11 months and by so doing, guarantee sustainable, equitable, accessible and qualitative healthcare for all Nigerians? The potential good that our own President is heading the commission on Commodities for Life-Saving Commodities was endless.
The same goes for Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, beyond improving her resume, how do we ensure that her involvement in malnutrition translates into reversing the 2.4 million Nigerian children that are estimated to become physically and mentally stunted over the next 15 years, if no action is taken to promote food security?
According to global statistics, nearly one out of five chronically malnourished children in Africa live in Nigeria, while over 40% of children under the age of five in Nigeria suffer from chronic malnutrition. Nigeria has the 3rd highest absolute number of stunted children, making malnutrition one of the biggest obstacles to achieving education and health related Millennium Development Goals in Nigeria.
I remember that in between these two alerts, I read one about a former governor being convicted for stealing 50 million pounds, and how I kept asking myself, what does £50million mean? In the end, I was able to explain it the best way i could understand it. To me, fifty million pounds means any of these:
- Antenatal care for 13.1 million pregnant women based on the costed National Strategic Health Development Plan (NSHPD)
- Complete package of Child Health Services for 3.8 million children based on the costed NSHDP
- Basic health care package for 2.6 million people based on WHO costed minimum package for achievement of MDGs
- One year’s premium for 1.25 million people based on computed health insurance contribution rates for voluntary enrolees
I do not know how much is lost to lack of accountability every year in Nigeria, but what I do know is that we pay a bigger price when leaders are not held accountable. Nigeria is one of the richest countries in sub-Saharan Africa and one of the most influential political players in the continent, yet according to the National Demographic Health Survey of 2008, 41% of its children between the ages of 0 and five are stunted, 32% of them are malnourished and 14% of them are wasted.
On the two appointments, I concluded that we should applaud them both for being credible and worthy, but we should not celebrate them yet; as celebration will only come at the end of their tenures and it will be based on the differences that they have made to the lives of those they were meant to serve.
Our role as development partners is to help them articulate a clear and strategic focus that guides their tenures. We should outline performance indicators of what we hope to see in Nigeria first and then the rest of Africa and the world at large. The occasional politically motivated speeches are not what we need, what we want to see is increased budgeting and efficient fund release for equitable health activities. But beyond that, it is important that we track their progress and hold them accountable for their stewardship. Who knows, perhaps these two appointments will help ensure better access to much needed supplies that could improve the health of women, children and young people and move Nigeria out of its current deplorable state.