The assurances of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua notwithstanding, an indication of the possibility of Nigeria not achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was given recently when the Senior Special Assistant to the President on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Hajia Amina Az-Zubair, disclosed that with the appalling indices from across the country available to her office, it would be an uphill task for Nigeria to achieve the desired success before the target year of 2015.
Among the number of challenges said to have hobbled the programme, the most significant was, according to her, that of lack of functional collaboration among the various tiers of government in the country as well as “poor funding”. Yet, the President never ceases to regale whoever that comes his way that the country is on track to effecting the needed change that could engender the achievement of the lofty goals.
The Governor of Niger State, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, visibly worried by the grim reality evident in his state, ordered the probe of all the contracts awarded under the MDGs in the state since 2006. According to him, inspite of the huge sum totaling N3.7bn “claimed to have been spent” by the Federal Government on MDGs- related projects in Niger state, “there was nothing on ground to show that such amount was committed to development projects in the state at all”.
The governor, who subsequently set up a seven-member panel to undertake the arduous task of probing the MDGs projects in the state, lamented further that it was regrettable that “the Federal Government projects were being executed in states and local government areas of the country without state governments knowing about them.”
He enjoined the probe panel to identify the contractors saddled with the projects, the extent of the execution of the projects and the amount paid so far. If reports from across the country are anything to go by, it is obvious that such probe panels would be required, not just in Niger but in all the states of the federation, to ascertain why inspite of the huge expenditure, which according to Az-Zubair amounted to N320b, so far from the Debt Relief Gains (DRG), a Virtual Poverty Fund established in 2005 where monies released from the debt relief would be channeled towards initiatives to reduce poverty, human development indicators in Nigeria are still deplorable.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on MDGs, who was on a courtesy visit to the state to assess the MDG related projects, in her response, emphasized the need for proper collaboration among governments at all levels for the success of the MDGs programme in the country.
Interestingly, that essentially is where the country’s flight of fancy towards achieving the MDGs is rooted. And, this explains why the funds thus far deployed by the Federal Government from the Debt Relief Gains, (DRG) between 2006 and 2008 towards financing MDGs-related projects across the country, notably in education, health, water, and power sectors, did not translate to anything as there is nothing on ground to show that such colossal public funds was utilized.
This reality is, unfortunately, evident in all the states of the federation, and not just in Niger State. During a recent advocacy visit to a top official of the Lagos State government with an international NGO engaged in monitoring the utilisation of the DRG funds towards poverty eradication in the country, the delegation was shocked to discover that the state government was almost in the dark about the various MDGs-related projects financed in some council areas by the Federal Government. As a result, NGOs involved in the monitoring project had to rely on the Office of the SSAP on MDGs for vital data on the identities of the projects, location of project, names of contractors and contract value among others. This, it must be pointed out, was one Herculean task, and greatly constrained the monitoring exercise.
It was therefore not uncommon to find out, as many monitors observed, that at the same location or locality, same type of projects, say primary healthcare centres, were sited and funded both by the Federal Government and states as well as multilateral donor agencies, with attendant cost implications, at a time when with proper coordination and institutional collaboration, this duplication would have been avoided and eliminated.
But, beside the extant lack of collaboration among the various tiers of government is the subsisting absence of needs- assessment by the implementing agency, this time the Federal Government, before contracts were awarded. The resultant effect of this development is that projects were sited in localities where they were not needed by the beneficiary communities. This was the case because the projects were designed, conceptualized and contracts awarded in Abuja, without the input, and/or taking cognisance of the peculiar needs, of the supposed beneficiaries at the local levels. For instance, in a community where a primary health centre was needed, a water project was instead awarded and sited.
And, because the project sited was not the need of the community, the project, even when completed, suffered from poor patronage thereby leading to wastage of funds. The worst case scenario, however, being when some unscrupulous elements vandalized or refused to engage in the supervision of the project in their community because there was no buy-in by the people at the stage of project conceptaulisation.
In many other cases, contractors mobilized on site without the knowledge of the critical stakeholders in the communities resulting in needless altercations and frictions. With an authority paper from the centre, theirs was to site the projects that had been awarded by the Federal Government and smile to the banks not bothered if the project executed added value to the community.
Another major challenge towards the achievement of the MDGs in Nigeria is the corruption that is said to have defined the spending of the DRG funds. Across the states, there are reports of contracts for projects that were not executed, leading to the discovery of no projects during site visits. Yet, the contractors were fully mobilized. In other instances, contracts were awarded for the supply and distribution of drugs when there were no health facilities available for the drugs. A visit to Amuwo Odofin Health Centre, in Festac Lagos as well as that in Agege is revealing enough.
Sadly enough, in spite of the deluge of complaints that trailed the expenditure towards the MDGs so far, no audit of the expenditure has been undertaken by government, much less finding and prosecuting contractors and agencies that might have fleeced the nation.
Strangely, these sad developments notwithstanding, an analysis of government posturing tend to show that its emphasis seems not to be on the evaluation of the impact of the DRG spending on the targeted communities, leading to the achievement of the MDGs, as it is on the quantum of funds disbursed. It is high time government began to factor value-for-money in its public financial management. Reeling out statistics of funds released when there is nothing on ground to show for such expenditure is not a sure way of achieving the MDGs.