Debt Relief and MDGs in Nigeria: Progress Achieved by the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on MDGs
Six years after Nigeria gained her independence from her British colonial masters, the first coup d'état took place in 1966. This event was to set the stage for successive military rule with its attendant colossal waste, underdevelopment and accumulation of external debts, which at the dawn of democracy in 1999 became a major stumbling block to Nigeria national development.
In the year 2000, world leaders met in New York at the millennium summit to sign the millennium declaration which underpins the eight millennium development goals. Though Nigeria was a signatory to that document, however, not much was achieved by way of a concerted effort towards achieving the millennium development goals until the year 2005 when Nigeria was able to secure debt relief from her Paris club of creditors with the able leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo and support from Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the then minister of finance of Nigeria and others.
Managing debt relief in Nigeria: the institutional structure
The debt relief came with its own conditionalities that were to guide the use of the gains from that gesture till date. One billion dollars became available to the government of Nigeria annually to be plunged directly into developmental processes in Nigeria, thus bringing a massive boost in financing for the MDGs.To manage the savings from the debt forgiveness by the Paris club of creditors, president Olusegun Obasanjo set up the Office of the senior special Assistant to the President on MDGs (OSSAP-MDGs), an office with status equivalent to that of a junior minister, headed by the senior special assistant to the president on MDGs who reports directly to the president. This office has driven development throughout the entire country as it relates to MDGs not only in terms of direct funding from the debt relief gains (DRGs) but also in terms of stimulating partnership between the three tiers of government (local, state and federal) towards the realization of the MDGs.
The conditional grants scheme, a flagship program of the OSSAP-MDGs has attracted international recognition for its ability to stimulate investment in the MDGs by the various tiers of government. In this scheme, DRG funds are made available to states and local governments who are willing to match same with equal amount of funds to execute specific MDGs oriented programs and projects as approved by the office after fulfilling specific requirements. The community health insurance scheme providing healthcare for over six hundred thousand women and children in various states of the country is a good example of how the conditional grants scheme work. Financing for such insurance cover is shared by both the state government and the federal government through the DRG funds.
Earlier on, a national needs assessment and baseline facility inventory has been done in order to direct scarce resources to areas where they are most needed. States and local governments requests for funds are evaluated based on the needs assessment and compliance with public finance management structure.The OSSAP-MDGs also work with the federal ministries, departments and agencies by making funds available to them and tracking the use of such funds.
Building an efficient monitoring and evaluation framework
A cornerstone for the success so far recorded by the OSSAP-MDGs is the effective monitoring and evaluation framework. This sets the office apart from the traditional government style that is froth with several bottlenecks. The MDGs monitoring and evaluation system engages private monitoring and evaluation firms as well as registered civil society organizations to ensure value for money in the expenditure of the DRG funds.
Some of the areas of investment of the DRG funds include the following: health, education and basic infrastructure. The recruitment and training of midwives, for example, under the midwives service scheme, has brought about a dent in the maternal mortality ratio in Nigeria. The Routine immunization program against vaccine preventable childhood killer diseases countrywide has been largely funded by the debt relief gains over the past seven years through the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency and the Federal Ministry of Health. Several hundred thousand children have been saved through this program.
Concerning education, following the needs assessment carried out in the country, it was observed that a critical factor militating against the attainment of universal basic education in Nigeria is the dearth of qualified teachers. To bridge this gap, the OSSAP-MDGs has invested the DRG funds in the past few years to recruit and train teachers to fill the existing human resource gap. This and other investment in educational infrastructure has improved enrollment amongst school-aged children.
Funds derived from DRGs transferred to sub- national entities, which are counterpart funded, have been invested in basic infrastructural development in the area of education, primary health care, provision of portable and safe water supply, small-scale agriculture, social safety nets and entrepreneurial development.
From the fore going, it can be deduced that debt relief has worked greatly for Nigeria as a country, the lives of the poor and vulnerable have been touched in many positive ways. Though reports suggest that Nigeria is among the countries that are least likely to meet the millennium development goals come 2015, the country has recorded significant achievements in the direction of the goals. This modest achievement is directly linked to the debt relief granted Nigeria by the Paris Club of creditors and the judicious administration of the DRG funds.
Dr . Christopher U. Otabor is Head of the Special Projects Unit in the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on MDGs.
This article was published in Great Insights Volume 2, Issue 1 (January 2013)