Nigeria and the MDGs: Beyond the question of funds

It is telling enough that five months after President Umaru Yar’Adua reportedly announced that Nigeria could not possibly meet some of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals, his Senior Special Assistant on the MDGs, Mrs. Amina Ibrahim, penultimate week, disclosed, instead, that four trillion Naira was required annually, between now and 2015, to implement the initiatives in the country. The Nigeria MDG Report 2004 had even posited that “based on available information, it is unlikely that the country will be able to meet most of the goals by 2015 especially the goals related to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, reducing child and maternal mortality and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases”. Nothing has changed since. How such weighty contradictory statements could emanate from such quarters beggars belief. Analysts, however, aver that it is this lack of coordination, among other things, as evidenced by such double-speak at the highest level of government, that has hobbled Nigeria’s efforts at achieving the MDGs.

What is more, it is believed by many that the Federal Government seemed to have arrived at the realisation rather too belatedly, almost half way into the terminal date of the global undertaking, thus suggesting that it had set out ab initio to implement the MDGs without a faint idea of what it entailed in terms of cost, capacity and structure. This further helped raise questions as to why and how, in particular, it waited so late before it could put a figure on the financial implications of achieving the MDGs in the country.

The SSAP had reportedly stressed, while outlining the outcome of the second and third quarterly meeting of the Presidential Committee on the MDGs, recently, that the “projected N4 trillion expenditure would be sourced from federal, state and local governments’ budgets as well as contributions from public/private partnerships and international donor community”.

Indeed, it speaks volumes that about four years after the Federal Government commenced the implementation of MDGs-related programmes and projects across the country, with over N321 billion so far spent between 2006 and 2008 alone, and nine years after the initiative itself was kickstarted by the world under the supervision of the United Nations, in 2000, the country was just being told what it could cost to adequately finance and implement the MDGs!

Nigeria was reputed to have “taken both policy and institutional steps” towards achieving the MDGs when it launched, in 2004, the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS), a comprehensive socio-economic reform compact aimed at poverty eradication through job creation and the growing of local small and medium enterprises”. Given, however, that the NEEDS economic policy framework could not achieve its many fundamental objectives, notable among which is that of job creation as a mechanism for poverty eradication, Nigeria could also not record any meaningful effort towards achieving the MDGs initially.

Consequently, it was only in late 2005, following the debt relief secured by the country from the Paris Club of Creditors, that Nigeria took a bold and practical step towards meeting the MDGs when it established the Virtual Poverty Fund (VPF), where the proceeds of the debt relief gains (DRG), totaling over N100 billion, were earmarked in the 2006 Federal Budget, dedicated to MDGs-related projects in 10 ministries through the Oversight of Public Expenditure in Needs (OPEN) in health, education, water and sanitation, environment, energy, housing, among others.

It is instructive that while the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo could set up a Presidential Committee on the MDGs as well as establish the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on the MDGs in 2005, to provide secretariat support to the committee, all at the federal level, nothing was being done at the state and local government levels to mobilize and galvanise critical support, input and resources extant thereon towards achieving the MDGs. Till date, it is unclear if any state government has a dedicated structure on ground for this purpose. This lacuna presented, and still do, enormous challenges to the implementation of the MDGs in the country. More significantly, as it now appeared, the federal architecture, domiciled in the Office of the Senior Special Assistant on MDGs, which dispensed and managed the Debt Relief Gains, channeled through the annual federal budgets, did not, at inception, posses any budgetary outlay and/or financial projection, and as a result lacked the capacity to ensure its utilisation.

Over the years, the country had acted as if achieving the MDGs was solely the responsibility of the Federal Government through an instrumentality that, as noted earlier, barely possesses the required capacity. This essentially explains why the huge sum thus far expended on MDGs from the debt relief gains cannot be evidenced anywhere as the country has fared very poorly over the years in almost all measurable human development indicators, with the poverty rate, for instance, still peaked at 70 per cent of the population, according recent UNDP statistics.

If indeed the sum of N4 trillion is what is required annually, between now and 2015, to implement the MDGs in the country, the pertinent questions to ask include: How did the Federal Government arrive at this figure? Was it a result of a Top-Down or Bottom-Up costing research? And, considering that, as Amina Ibrahim herself admitted, “68 per cent of the budget (of N321 billion between 2006 and 2008) was expended while the remaining 32 per cent was returned to the treasury”, what is the guarantee that the N4 trillion, if eventually sourced and allocated, could be spent on the targeted projects as budgeted?

Besides, was there any base-line research as well as a situational analysis conducted to ascertain the gaps that needed to be filled and have been filled so far in view of the extant challenge of accurate, reliable, credible and verifiable statistics? And, how can a country whose governmental ministries, departments and agencies have consistently failed to, and still lack the capacity to, execute annual budgets of lesser sums since 1999 suddenly expend a bigger sum? Or, has the factors that engendered the recurrence of non-spending of MDGs and the annual budgets been isolated and redressed?

Be that as it may, it is needful to point out that Nigeria cannot merely achieve the MDGs just by increasing its budgetary outlay, though essential, without putting in place the required mechanisms to ensure effective utilisation of funds released and expended thereto. In the absence of a needs-assessment as well as a participatory and inclusive framework, involving the local communities expected to benefit from the MDGs projects, it is not difficult to know why so much has been spent with little to show across the country.

It bears repeating that the achievement of the MDGs depends on, among others, effective anti-corruption safeguards, functional institutional collaboration, strong political commitment and good governance, elements the government of President Yar’Adua does not have a surfeit of.

However, as Otive Igbuzor asserted in his seminal paper, The Millennium Development Goals: Can Nigeria Meet the Goals in 2015?, Nigeria has sufficient resources to meet the MDGs…But for this to happen, the country will have to change course in the conceptualisation and implementation of policies and programmes.

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