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Nigeria: holding leaders to account

I subscribed to an alert service that provides daily SMS on current happenings in Nigeria, from news of a pastor facing legal action for slapping a lady during church service, to updates on currency at the foreign exchange.

I was reading about the appointment of our president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, as the co-chair of the UN Commission on Life-saving Commodities, when I read that the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Iweala, was also named by the UN Secretary-General, as a member of the newly established body to tackle child malnutrition.

I kept asking myself, what does this mean for Nigeria? Will the appointment make the president appreciate the enormity of maternal and child mortality in Nigeria and make him take the necessary steps for ensuring access to basic health care?

Will it make him sign the Health Bill, which has been sitting on his table for the past 11 months and by so doing, guarantee sustainable, equitable, accessible and qualitative healthcare for all Nigerians?

Endless potential

The potential good that our own president could do by heading the commission on commodities for women and children is endless.

The same goes for Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, beyond improving her résumé, how do we ensure that her involvement in malnutrition translates into reversing the 2.4 million Nigerian children estimated to become physically and mentally stunted over the next 15 years, if no action is taken to promote food security?

According to global statistics, nearly one in five chronically malnourished children in Africa live in Nigeria, while over 40% of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Nigeria has the third highest number of stunted children, making malnutrition one of the biggest obstacles to achieving education and health-related Millennium Development Goals.

The power of 50 million

I remember that between these two alerts, I read one about a former governor being convicted for stealing 50 million pounds, and how I kept asking myself, what does 50 million mean?

To me, fifty million pounds means any of these:

• antenatal care for 13.1 million pregnant women

• health services for 3.8 million children

• basic healthcare for 2.6 million people

I don’t know how much is lost to lack of accountability every year in Nigeria, but what I do know is that we pay a bigger price when leaders are not held accountable.

Nigeria is one of the richest countries in sub-Saharan Africa and one of the most influential political players on the continent, yet 41% of its children under five are stunted, 32% of them are malnourished and 14% of are acutely malnourished.

No celebration yet

We should applaud both appointments for being worthy, but we should not celebrate them yet; as celebration will only come at the end of their tenures and will be based on the differences that they have made to the lives of those they were meant to serve.

Our role as development partners is to help them articulate a clear and strategic focus. We should outline performance indicators of what we hope to see in Nigeria first, and then the rest of Africa and the world at large.

Politically motivated speeches are not what we need, what we want to see is increased budgeting for health activities. But beyond that, it’s important we track their progress and hold them accountable.

Who knows, perhaps these two appointments will help ensure better access to much needed supplies that could improve the health of women, children and young people in Nigeria?

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