• Monday, May 20, 2024
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We are fighting poverty head-on, says SSA on MDGs

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Q:What is your vision for the country in general and the MDGs specifically?

A:Well, my vision is to ensure that the country is able to achieve the goal targeted in the MDGs between when I came into office and in 2015 in tandem with the country’s objectives of what they signed into when the country participated in being one of the signatory to the objectives of the Millennium declaration which eventually became the Millennium Development Goals.

That is to ensure that we carry out the activities that will encourage and enhance the coming out of poverty. This is because when you look at all the MDGs targets holistically, all of it is just about moving people out of poverty.

If people are not poor, they will send their children to school, and there won’t be gender disparities in schools, women will be empowered, children will die less because they will be able to get basic amenities and all that is required to live better; women will access healthcare.

Similarly, HIV/AIDS prevalence will reduce because HIV/AIDS is also the face of poverty. The rich man gets HIV/AIDS and walks about with it but the poor man gets it and dies with it because he cannot access medical care.

Even when you talk of water and sanitation, the rich man puts bore hole in his compound and enjoys clean water. It is the poor that goes to the stream in search of water and in the process may contact diarrhea and other water born diseases. The rich can access global partners to improve his business, which the poor man cannot. So, the MDGs are out to bring people out of poverty and my vision and my driving aim is to bring people out of poverty.

I tell myself that the best thing is to pursue goal one with vigor. That is why I am working with SMEDAN, NDE, and do the social safety net, giving money to a family; that is why we collaborate with states. If I get goal one right, all other goals will not be too much of a problem.

To get these things done, I adopted a collective kind of leadership style that focuses on team work. I do not know it all and do not forget that I am a medical doctor. It is not like I am born to be an MDGs Coordinator. God has blessed us with people with the requisite skills and knowledge in other areas which I must harness to succeed.

How has the MDGs impacted on the Nigerian Economy?

Thank you very much. I am sure that the MDGs as I had elaborated earlier, has impacted positively on the economy of this country to a very great extent. Take the issue of the poverty eradication which is goal one. A lot more people need to be reached under this goal.

In goal two, the National Demographic Survey found out that we have been able to significantly improve net attendance in the school to about 96% and I am sure it would have been better if the security situation in the North were not there. The school attendance rate has improved from what it was at the baseline of 86%. We are now talking of about 96.5% and that is of people who start and complete full basic education.

Then in goal three, which is gender equality and women empowerment, they found out that the gender disparity has been wiped out. For every 100 girls, you have 100 boys. The girls are even doing better in secondary school enrollment that we have 102 girls in relations to 100 boys.

Then in goal four, which is reducing under-five mortality, the findings were that we have even done much better in the reduction of under-five mortality. The under-five mortality, according to the National Bureau of Statistics figure was 94 deaths per 1,000 live births as against the previous national health demographic survey of 2008 results of 157/1000. The infant mortality equally fell to 64 per 1,000 live births.

For goal five, we had remarkable improvement. They found that we had 350 deaths per 100,000 live births as against the previous 545 per 100,000 live births. Similar survey of 1990 had revealed 1,000 per 100,000 live births. The results mean that we have done very well as a nation in reducing maternal mortality. Our target is to get to 250 per 100,000 live births, because the target says reduce by three-quarter (3/4) the number of deaths between 1990 and 2015 from the initial 1,000.

This means that our target is 250. There are however differences across the regions. South-West for example has 165 per 100,000 live births. South-West can even be said to have achieved the MDG target in this area because the target is 250 per 100,000.

Goal six talks about halting the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Recent findings by the National Agency for the control of HIV/AIDS, NACA, it was discovered that the country has reduced the prevalence from 5.8% to 4.1%.

So, country prevalence is 4.1 %. Some states may have higher results, but this is the national average. There are regional differences. And that is not to say that there are no states with lower results, because there are.

In goal seven, which is ensuring environmental sustainability, in the area of sanitation, after a tour, they presented a report of 39% of the population having access to basic sanitation. Here, we need to do a lot more work on goal seven. The number of persons having access to clean water also needs to go up. This was discovered to be about 57% of the nation’s population.

And finally, goal eight which is global partnership is very important also. But core goals that affect the country are goals one to seven.

We need to do more work in goals one and seven because we have done reasonably well in the other five goals.

President Jonathan has in conjunction with the Norwegian President, embarked on the Saving the One Million Lives Scheme. So, a lot more work needs to be done to push down the mortality death indices very soon. So if we are not where we need to be by 2015, we will not be too far from it for goals four and five. Goal six, I can declare it has been met.

We know that you are making very good efforts. So what are the likely issues or if you like, the challenges?

Thank you. We need to reduce extreme poverty to ensure that more of our people have access to water and clean sanitation.

You just stated that about 57% of Nigerians have access to water. I do not know how they came about these figures because across the nation everywhere you go, you see people facing great challenges to access clean water. Having identified areas you said you want to work on, what modalities do you have in place to ensure that you achieve your targets?

Just as you are not a statistician, I am equally not one. There is only one body in this country with the responsibility of providing accurate statistics and that is the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS. If they say this is what they have found, we cannot doubt them, especially in the absence of better information.

On what we have put in place to get out results and ensure that we hit our targets, we have been working and we are still working on all the goals. But as I took over office, I sat with the people I met and looked at the various departments to look at what they are doing and what they had done. We have what we call the Quick Wins. Using that Quick Wins, a lot of boreholes were produced.

The boreholes under the Quick Wins are the constituency projects of members of the National Assembly. A lot of them are not functioning presently which may have accounted for the reduced access to clean water. We have decided to get the consultants that supervised these projects from 2008 to 2011. We now have the data of each states and the number of non-functional boreholes.

During my last advocacy visit, I spoke with all the stakeholders. We want to partner with them on equal basis. Once we get the costs, we will share with the state government to ensure that those non- functional boreholes are revamped. We also have the conditional grants scheme in which state governments come up with their projects and we partner with them to ensure that more communities have access to clean water through boreholes.

We did a lot of these in 2012 with members of the National Assembly in their constituencies. We are also partnering with the Ministry of Water Resources to provide water for the people. We are going to work more between now and 2014, so that by 2014 we can go round and take the statistics again to see the level of improvement.

How involved are states and the local governments in the MDGS projects?

They are very much involved. In fact, they are a major stakeholder because of their proximity to the rural people. We try as much as possible to make the people own projects located in their communities.

Now, in 2005 when funds were made available, $1billion was freed and made available and the government gave the entire funds to the office of the MDGs. Again in 2006, when the conditional grant schemes took off, states brought 50% of the funds and the federal government also gave 50%.

So, states and the local governments are fully involved. Every year, they bring in their projects to us and we sit with our development partners, i.e. the UNDP, UNICEF, etc and their projects are always analysed and funded based on funds availability. They tell us what they want to do and we fund them after doing the baseline analysis.

In 2011, we flagged off the programme to directly involve the local governments. We started with 113 of the local governments across the country under the conditional grant scheme. Each got N100million and they also put in their own counterpart fund of N100million; in 2012, we increased to 148 local governments, making a total of 261 Local Governments across the country that are presently on board the scheme.

For 2013, we are going to take 250 Local governments once I get the approval for the year and this will bring the number to over 500 Local governments, we will take another in 2014 and then wrap up in 2015.

What is the position of Nigeria on the MDGs global implementation scale?

Globally, Nigeria has archived goals seven on the global index. Education however is still a problem, same for the eradication of poverty. The maternal mortality is falling, same for the under-five mortality. With the introduction of the ant-retro viral free drugs, the issues of HIV/AIDS are coming down as a lot more people get educated. They are now aware of how to engage in protected sex.

So, I can say that on the global scale, Nigeria has not fared badly. You can click on the global statistics and you will get your findings. You can get what the UN system is saying. When I look at the global statistics, I can tell you that Nigeria is not faring badly. We are doing better than most countries.

Despite our challenges, we have been able to achieve this much. We are now giving more incentives to women up North as we focus more on our weakest link in the country. I am not saying that all is well but the federal government is doing more now.

On the impact of the MDGs projects, I would not want to blow my trumpet so much but I think I have made a lot of progress. Take the issue of poverty reduction for instance; it is on the front burner to me. Presently, on a very large scale, more than MDG has not been able to do before now, the President has approved that I start the conditional cash transfer to the people to be able to reduce the poverty level further.

In 2012, he approved the release of N5billion and this is counterpart funded by another N5billion by the state governments. This fund is meant to reduce poverty and it is expected to go round 56,500 households across 24 states in the six geo-political zones. It is my desire that this gets done because it is something new that I have been able to put on the table. It gave me the opportunity to visit both Brazil and China to learn how they were able to use the social safety net to reduce poverty among their citizens.

In the 2013 budget, the amount has been increased to N10billion by President Jonathan and this will also be counterpart funded by another N10billion by the states to make it N20billion. So, my money, instead of just being N10billion, is rising to N20billion.

The states are the ones spending the money. We give the money to the states and, say for instance Niger State, do the selection of the extremely poor households within the selected local governments. You know local government in states also differ in terms of resource ability.

So, they pick the five worst local governments and in each of these, they are expected to pick the five worst wards that are considered to be the poorest. They in turn pick five households in each of the wards. We give consideration to females.

The condition is that if you have school age children, put them in school and get N5,000 per month for the period of one year. We also teach these selected people agricultural skills. So it is the states that are implementing this funding and we monitor.