How We Cope With MDGs Challenges – Gbeneol

How We Cope With MDGs Challenges – Gbeneol

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 10:51 am

As the global community winds down the efforts towards the Millennium Development Goals, countries’ efforts are coming under scrutiny. In this interview with OLUOKUN AYORINDE, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on the Millennium Development Goals, Dr. Precious Kalamba Gbeneol, gives insight into the progress so far recorded by the country and others

The goal on water, sanitation and environment sustainability is considered as one of the most challenging, with Nigeria perceived to the lagging. How are you tackling this?

Dr. Precious Gbeneol, SSAP-MDGs

Dr. Precious Gbeneol, SSAP-MDGs

Yes, Goal 7 is challenging but we are tackling it from all fronts and I must also say that this goal, especially the area of environmental sustainability, requires all hands on deck. For example, we have strongly advised against open defecation, which can lead to contamination of food and water, which is also a primary cause of diarrhoea – a disease like cholera – known to be a major source of infant mortality. The bid by the government to stop this habit has prompted the construction of the numerous VIP toilets across the country.

Nigerians must also imbibe the culture of protecting the environment for sustainability. With increasing global threats of climate change, drastic decline of biodiversity and the extreme vulnerability, Nigerians must challenge themselves to step up efforts to protect and preserve the eco system through usage of biodegradable and eco-friendly products as well as recycling of plastic products. We need concerted efforts towards addressing issues relating to the acceleration of biodiversity loss caused by climate change for the benefits of the society.

Particularly, OSSAP-MDGs has since 2007 supported the Federal Ministry of Environment in the establishment of Solid Waste Management Programme in some communities in Ogun, Borno, Bayelsa, Gombe and Kwara states. We have initiated a series of interventions aimed at expanding access to potable water for all Nigerians. Efforts in this direction have been channeled through the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, the Conditional Grants Scheme to States, the Quick-Wins programme and the MDGs Special Projects programme. Our interventions in provision of clean water have facilitated the construction of over 28 small earth dams, small water dams, 545 dykes in all the Senatorial Districts, 16 run-off water structures, 1,625 solar-powered boreholes, 1,820 motorised boreholes and 10,062 hand-pump boreholes. In the area of sanitation, OSSAP-MDGs has supported the construction of 7,297 VIP toilets and 120 flush toilets.

The implementation of the various water and sanitation projects is helping Nigeria to make progress in the achievement of MDG Goals 4 and 5 while lending greater and indirect support to the achievement of Goals 1, 2, 3 and 7. VIP toilets and flush toilets in the rural schools have not only led to healthy living amongst the pupils in the rural communities but have also encouraged high girl-child enrolment, especially in the northern part of the country.

As we count-down towards 2015, what are the other investments you look forward to in the area of reducing extreme poverty, especially bearing in mind it is the first MDGs’ target?

The fight against poverty in Nigeria is an on-going task and I can however confirm to you that a good percentage of the MDGs fund has gone into the fight against extreme poverty and we are still making more investments toward eradicating poverty in the country. These are evident in the projects executed and spread across the country. Also in addition to the direct intervention from the MDGs office, we have been supporting other sister agencies with funds aimed at reducing poverty.

Systematically, we have carried out comprehensive poverty mapping, needs assessment and baseline studies to tackle the problem of lack of statistics. This has given us an idea and the statistics of spread of poverty in each state in Nigeria, drilled down to local government and communities. We are using this Atlas of poverty to allocate MDGs resources for initiatives aimed at reducing poverty in order to obtain maximum impact.

In our bid to develop the agricultural sector, we have also taken steps to accelerate the growth of the economy through a stable macro-economic environment. As well as address infrastructural gaps and create an enabling environment necessary for a market-based, private sector-driven economy with policies that ensure pro-poor economic activities.

Growth recorded in Nigeria economy in the past 10 years, particularly in the agricultural sector, has led to a remarkable reduction in proportion of underweight children, from 35.7 per cent in 1990 to 27.4 per cent in 2012. Government at federal, state and local government levels havs continued in their efforts to develop agriculture and create jobs. This includes creating an enabling environment for agro-business, including building critical infrastructure, making regulatory services transparent and providing sustainable access to enterprise finance. We have deployed agriculture as a very important tool to gainfully engage a greater percentage of the populace as well as also help achieve Goal 1

Recently, we launched a value added initiative tagged: ‘MDGs Grants To Agric-based Cooperative Societies’, which involves a grant award to three agriculture-based co-operative societies in each of the participating 148 LGAs for group agricultural activities mainly for investment in enterprises along the agricultural value chain operated through a micro-credit finance process.

We have taken steps to improve food security, increasing support to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as a show of our commitment to the Government’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda.

There is also the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) scheme, which entails the provision of grants to targeted poor households on the condition of investment in human capital development and it consists of two main components of payment: the Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) and the Poverty Reduction Accelerator Investment (PRAI).

In terms of our future investment, we are looking at consolidating on our poverty reduction efforts such as strengthening our CCT mechanism, scaling up CCT to include many more households beyond our current reach of 56,500 households in 2012. In 2013, we were reaching 113,000 households and so on until 2015 and beyond, ensuring more investment in agricultural skills and infrastructure through the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. We are scaling up the conditional grants scheme to more local government areas, hoping to cover the entire 774 LGAs before the 2015 deadline.

A suite of financial services is provided to beneficiaries, including a savings account automatically opened at no cost for each recipient and access to credit of up to N100,000 at the end of the 12-month cycle, to supplement the N100,000 cash transfer they are to receive during their enrolment.

Beneficiaries were given Sim cards and mobile phones after undergoing e-registration and are consequently issued ID card with which they withdraw money from the system. Each selected household has also been registered electronically to ensure that adequate baseline data of each household is kept for subsequent evaluation.

Overall, Nigeria’s CCT programme has helped increase school enrolment and retention while at the same time increasing household food consumption with improved living conditions of those concerned. CCT has also helped in the improvement of gender parity since they provide funds to girls incentivising them to stay in school. Nigeria’s investment in CCT is expected to lead to significant changes in women empowerment and increased socio-economic inclusion for vulnerable groups.

OSSAP- MDGs projected that all the 36 states of the federation including FCT would soon be benefitting from the CCT under the Conditional Grants Scheme. This milestone will immensely go a long way to further reduce poverty and social exclusion currently evident in many parts of the country.

How do you assess Nigeria’s progress towards the attainment of the MDGs?

Firstly, let me say that Nigeria has demonstrated so much zeal and is unflinchingly committed to the attainment of the MDGs even though we did not join the train of implementation of the goals until about six years after the millennium declaration was signed by world leaders in 2000.

Nigeria has made huge progress in the quest to attain the MDGs although we have our challenges. For instance, far ahead of the 2015 deadline, Nigeria has achieved key targets of MDGs 1, 3, and 6. We are on track to attain Goals 2, 4, 5, and 8. Efforts have been stepped up to address the challenges hampering progress on Goal 7. With less than 1,000 days to the deadline of the MDGs framework, efforts are being made to sustain the progress that has been achieved across all of the MDGs. There is the need for partnerships and synergies throughout society to ensure we continue to deliver high-impact interventions to the poor and vulnerable in society.

You will recall that following Nigeria’s negotiation of the Paris Club debt relief, a huge burden of US$19,293,207,575 was wiped off Nigeria’s debt profile. That left the country with a debt relief gain of $1billion. The savings that accrued to the federal and state levels of government are in the proportions of 75 per cent and 25 per cent of the DRG respectively.

The deal hence presented a significant opportunity to invest further in the country’s reforms. Nigeria had committed that the savings the country would make from not having to pay for debts owed to the Paris Club would be directed towards pro-poor projects and programmes that would assist Nigeria in attaining the MDGs. Consequently, in moving forward the commitment of the Nigerian government to the attainment of the MDGs, it became obvious that the deliberate policy of setting aside the Debt Relief Gains, DRGs, to implement the MDGs projects added visibility and due emphasis to the execution of MDGs programmes.

The Debt Relief Grant is appropriated in the annual budget to scale-up existing high-impact MDG-related interventions. It is meant to supplement capital expenditure, not to pay debts, salaries or other recurrent expenditure. A robust mechanism for executing this initiative was therefore put in place with the establishment of the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on MDGs.

You recently launched three million free exercise books to indigent pupils. Has this actually been impacting the MDGs positively?

Yes. Significant progress has been made in the drive to attain the MDGs. The untiring effort of government in the educational sector has been yielding positive results. The target is to ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary education. The National Bureau of Statistics survey report of 2013 reveals that in 2012, primary school net attendance ratio was 71.0 per cent, which represents about 10.0 per cent improvement in comparison to 2008. Of this, about 83.9 per cent was in the urban area, while 63.4 per cent was in the rural area.

Secondary school net attendance ratio was about 54.8 per cent with the urban area accounting for 70.5 per cent, while the rural area accounted for 46.2 per cent. Grade 6 (six) completion rate was about 87.7 per cent, representing about 5.7 per cent increase compared with the 2004 figure and 12.3 per cent lower than the MDG benchmark. A further breakdown of the figure shows that completion rate was about 81.5 per cent in the urban area and 90.5 cent in the rural area.

I must confess that attaining this feat has not been easy. My office, in conjunction with other stakeholders has, since 2006, deployed part of the Debt Relief Gains to sponsor programmes targeted at helping Nigeria achieve MDGs education targets and addressing some of the challenges in the sector peculiar to Nigeria. Essentially, OSSAP-MDGs has initiated programmes aimed at helping Nigeria achieve Universal Basic Education with focus on the issues of quality, capacity, access and relevance. OSSAP-MDGs has made available over N113.75bn of debt relief to the Federal Ministry of Education from 2006 to date to implement various programmes and projects bordering on girl-child education programme, National Programme on Almajiri, Support to the National Teachers Institute and Support to UBEC for the Federal Teachers Scheme, FTS. OSSAP-MDGs has also procured instructional materials for distribution to primary and junior secondary schools and embarked on rehabilitation of education facilities across the country.

Through the support to the National Teachers Institute and UBEC for the FTS, we have been able to train and re-train an average of 120,000 teachers annually from 2006 to date. The scheme seeks to continuously give teachers the requisite skills they need to have a competitive advantage and be able to impart same knowledge to their students. So far, a total of 672,135 primary school teachers have been trained from 2006 to date.

Similarly, about 40,000 teachers and 5,000 science teachers are recruited every two years under the FTS and are then posted to states according to need. The Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on MDGs pays the salaries of these teachers for two years until they are absorbed by host states. Once absorbed by host states, the teachers’ remuneration is taken over by the states. The Federal Teachers Scheme’s objective is to alleviate the dearth and distribution of qualified teachers in the basic education sub-sector. The scheme is a two-year programme for unemployed qualified graduates which serves as a period of internship preparatory to formal absorption of the participants into the core teaching profession.

We have through the CGS constructed and renovated 3,136 classroom blocks. To address the dearth of quality books and trained teachers in schools, 2,807,208 books were distributed while more than 1,130 education extension workers were engaged. We have also attempted to tackle the challenges of attaining the education goal by incentivising the demand for educational facilities, through the provision of cash transfers to targeted households.

So far, about 96,067 households have benefited from the Conditional Cash Transfer since the decision to strengthen the implementation of the scheme was taken in 2012. The Conditional Cash Transfer seeks to address the essential ingredients required for Nigeria to ensure social inclusion and progression. It is designed primarily to help fast-track progress in the health and education sectors. The programme seeks to stimulate an increase in the rate of enrolment and access to healthcare through the provision of cash grants to extreme poor households as a form of investment in human capital development.

The health goals, spread across three goals (4-6), constitute a major plank in the framework. How has the country fared so far?

Nigeria has made remarkable progress in the health goals though we might not be where we want to be. My office, though collaboration with other MDAs, is implementing programmes such as the Midwives Services Scheme, Community Health Extension Workers Initiative, the Village Health Workers Scheme, the Saving One Million Lives Initiative and the United Nations MDGs Acceleration Framework (MAF), among others.

These are interventions designed to improve human capacity and make the health sector more resilient. In addition, the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency continues to derive funding from my office to fund primary healthcare in Nigeria including immunization activities.

The National Bureau of Statistics showed evidence of progress and impact of these interventions as demonstrated by the outcomes of their survey conducted in 2012. The under-five mortality rate has declined from 157 deaths per 1,000 live births of 2008 to 94 deaths in 2012. This trend is similar for infant mortality rate. The infant mortality rate of 61 per 1,000 live births. This still needs to reduce, however, by 50 per cent in order to meet the 2015 target.

In addition, the Maternal Mortality Ratio of 1,000 deaths per 100,000 live births of 1990 has reduced significantly to 350. Progress has been driven in a major part by the introduction of the Midwife Services Scheme, among others, which has seen the reversal of the previously negative trend in the percentage of skilled health personnel attending births. As the 2015 deadline approaches, the government is implementing MAF 5 to further reduce the rate of maternal mortality. Furthermore, there is continuation in the fall of HIV prevalence from figures as high as 5.8 to 4.1 in 2012. This falling trend satisfies the criteria for the attainment of Target 6.A.

As a result of the collaboration with Ministries, Departments and Agencies, we have recorded numerous achievements among which are the provision of polio vaccination for about 30 million children; immunization of six million children with the pentavalent vaccine; training of about 68,430 health workers (Including midwives and CHEWs) to provide the much-needed skilled health service at the grassroots, carrying out of cerebro Spinal Meningitis vaccination for 15 million people and provision of free maternal and child health care through DRGs-funded insurance scheme in 24 states.

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