Nigeria: Assembly mobilises support for MDGs

The Nigerian Tribune Online The House of Representatives is billed to hold a public hearing on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) this week, as part of efforts aimed at reviewing its progress. Idowu Samuel, examines the unaddressed issues of MDGs by the legislature. At the break of the present millennium in 2000, one major fear that reverberated in the considerations of world leaders was the imminence of a heavy pang of poverty likely to lead the world to doom sooner than expected. It was imperative that they should act quickly to prevent poverty from spreading uncontrollably.

For that reason, not less than 189 world leaders gathered at the United Nations (UN) summit on the eve of 2000 to brainstorm on the necessity for reducing poverty on the surface of the earth. The UN Summit, thereafter, produced what is  now  known as  s   the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs.)

The target of the MDGs was to ensure the reduction of poverty across the globe by half on or before 2015.

In this regard, the heads of state and government at the Millennium Summit identified eight goals to be achieved in the conscious fight against poverty. These include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, attainment of universal primary education, promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women and reduction of child mortality.

Others include improvement in maternal health, fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, attainment of environmental sustainability and the development of Global Partnership for Development.

The world leaders then made a declaration on MDGs, imposing on themselves a pattern of implementation meant to take effect from 2000. Nigeria was part of the summit, and, hence, signed the MDGs declaration for which it set up a special department.

Indeed, the setting up of MDGs committees in both the Senate and the House of Representatives is a testament to the level of enthusiasm that Nigeria attached to the implementation of the goals. More importantly, each states of the federation are supposed to respond by opening offices specifically saddled with the task of implementing the  MDGs.

Close to 10 years after the world leaders made the MDGs Declaration, the pertinent question is, how far has Nigeria gone with the level of implementation?

Available statistics are indicating that Nigeria has not been fairing well in this regard. The government of the country is expected to vote sufficient fund for the MDGs projects, but the snag has always been the attention it has been placing on foreign grants to fast-track implementation. Yet, the UN only made 50 billion naira available for poorer countries of the world as a grant for implementing the MDGs.

The need to galvanise support for the MDGs in Nigeria is the sole task of the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Millennium Development Goals. By next week, the office will appear before the House of Representatives Committee on Millennium Development Goals to give an account of its stewardship within the past and present fiscal year.

Previously, the MDGs appeared to be gaining momentum in Nigeria with the apparent direct involvement of the National Assembly in the project. Apart from approving a national budget for the initiative, members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives are assigned quick-win MDGs projects by the Federal Government, which are to be located in their senatorial districts and federal constituencies. It is the responsibility of each lawmaker to ensure that the quick-win MDGs projects in his or her constituency get implemented within the stipulated time, and according to plan.

In the 2008 budget, for instance, the MDGs funding came from the Paris Club Relief Gains, while the sum of N25.3 billion was budgeted. As programmed, the objectives were to improve economic activity and encourage the active presence of the Federal Government in all senatorial and federal constituencies in Nigeria. To fast-track the implementation, senators and representatives were asked to determine the project types and locations, and they were expected to liaise with the MDGs office in the presidency to ensure full implementation.

For senators and House of Representatives members, the areas of project interventions tend to be more on health, education and water supply. There are many other things that the government padded into the main sectors for senatorial districts and federal constituencies.

In the health sector for instance, two emergency maternal obstetric care units were to be constructed in two locations in the country, including the construction of units of primary health care centres in 81 locations; supply of medical equipment to every unit of maternal obstetric care in two locations; supply of basic drugs and supply of medical equipment to 189 primary health care units; supply of baisc drugs to 265 areas and rehabilitation of primary health care centres in two locations in the country. The budget estimated for all these ran into N 3.6 billion.

In the education sector, three classroom blocks, libraries and computer centres were to have been constructed in 838 locations across the country, with the supply of school/libraries/computer centres to be made in 1,336 locations, supply of books to schools and libraries in 658 locations, and supply of computer cccessories and library/computer centres in 56 locations. The total funds for MDGs project in the educations sector stood at N10, 482, 360, 665, 94 in 2008.

Also, in the area of water supply, the government voted the sum of N24 billion to cover construction of motorised boreholes in 452 locations, construction of solar-powered boreholes in 69 locations and construction of hand pump boreholes in 2,254. In all, with building construction in the MDGs project, a total of 923 contracts were awarded, 168 for supply of medical equipment, while 77 contracts were awarded for general supply of medical drugs; 509 contracts for supply of education furniture and books/teaching aides, and contracts for boreholes totalled 919.

To  sum up, the 2008 MDGs quickwin projects were done in 6,504 locations across Nigeria, with a total of 2,596 contracts awarded for projects in 36 states of the federation.

From available records, the implementations of MDGs quick-win projects followed a similar pattern in 2009, although, this time, it was the Federal Government which made provisions for funds in the 2009 Appropriation. With the sum of N21 billion on ground, the Senate was allocated the sum of N5.4 billion for projects, while the House of Representatives got the sum of N11.5 billion. Additional consultancy services gulped the sum of N3.9 billion.

For that fiscal year, building construction took an overall 1, 0151 contracts, while supply of medical equipment took 22 contracts, as 13 contracts were awarded for supply of medical drugs and 735 for the supply of education furniture and books/teaching aids., while 619 contracts went into construction of boreholes . On the whole, the 2009 MDGs quick-win Projects intervened in 5,732 locations with a total of 2, 404 contracts.

The constituency projects allotted to the House of Representatives and the Senate were not all the MDGs projects in Nigeria. Nigerian women, too, have been enjoying special considerations in the budget. For instance, since one of the cardinal objectives of the MDGs hangs on promotion of gender equality and empowerment, the planners have been harping on the need to eliminate gender disparities in schools  at all levels in Nigeria by 2015.

Against this background, the government of Nigeria is attempting to muster the political will to place women at the centre of development agenda, by way of ensuring gender budgeting, gender mainstreaming, and through institutional structures and processes.

Given the aggression that the presidency has been putting into the execution of the MDGs initiatives in the country, Nigeria may well be on the verge of fulfilling the goal of poverty reduction by a considerable margin. But all may not be well with policy makers, given the challenges that they have been encountering in the process of executing projects.

The first of such challenges is the adoption of innovative procurement process. This is occasioned by late confirmation of funding for the MDGs quick-win projects for every budget. It had necessitated a combination of the use of roll-over contractors and direct allocation of contracts. The process often times runs into hitches in the face of the challenges posed by the Public Procurement Act, and the need for the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) to approve contracts at every stage. More of such challenges were reportedly encountered in the 2008 budget, for instance.

End of the year mopping up of funds is another challenge confronting implementation of the MDGs. This is best captured by a report which says: “Advanced payment to contractors commenced in December, 2008. Many contractors received their cheques just before the end of the year and they were affected by the mopping up of funds at year end. The contractors had to wait till the release of funds in 2009 before they could cash their cheques and return to sites.

The Niger Delta crisis is another major challenge standing in the way of MDGs in Nigeria. A report by the MDGs office captures this adequately: “Performance of MDGs quick-win projects in nine Niger Delta states have been relatively poor. The poor performance is largely due to unattractive cost of the contracts occasioned by the grave environmental, community and security challenges in the area. The main challenges of the riverine locations are transport logistics, access difficulty, community interference, high cost of labour and security.

Most riverine locations cannot be reached by road transport. Contractors, therefore, have to travel by motor boats or by ferries. These challenges made the costing adopted for projects generally unattractive to contractors. The consequence of the above was a high rate of project abandonment and general poor performance.’’

Much as the programme on MDGs enjoys the acceptance of  members of the National Assembly, some of them have also been identified as being part of the challenges of project implementation. Members had been accused of changing the location of projects sites at will, while insisting that the changes were adhered to.

The challenges are part of the issues that the public hearing by the House of Representatives Committee on Millennium Development Goals, headed by Honourable Sadatu Sani, will be addressing this week when stakeholders, mostly from the constituencies and the representatives of states and the Federal Government, meet to chart a new course for the MDG Programme in the century.

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