Professor Seiyefa Birisibe is the Dean, Faculty of Clinical Services, Niger Delta University, Bayelsa State. Between 2012 and 2015, he was the Nigerian Head of Conditional Grant Scheme, CGS, of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs.
In this interview, he speaks on Nigeria’s involvement in the MDGs and how some goals were attained by some states in the country within the same period.
BY CHARLES KUMOLU, Deputy Features Editor
The Conditional Grant Scheme, CGS, is one of the programmes created to fight poverty. Having headed the scheme, could you explain how it worked in Nigeria?
I prefer not to evaluate my performance because the targets we achieved were from collective efforts. Prior to these attainments, there were myriads of project failures such that incomplete project rates were as high as 67 and 80 percent in some states. To stem that tide, we introduced a monitoring, supervision, and data collation scheme.
It ensured that project failure rates fell to as low as 15 percent. We adopted an effective due process that ensured that the states put in their counterpart funds before that of the Federal Government, which brought a measure of equity and trust into the system. We also progressively ensured that participation among the states improved as well.
States that did well were encouraged. These included Anambra, Rivers, Kebbi, Bayelsa, Abia, Taraba, Gombe, and Jigawa states, which have strong institutional frameworks. We also worked closely with some development partners to strengthen the institution rather than the individual. That really helped us and made me feel fulfilled that we did well.
Some of the targets we achieved included reduction of hunger level to 15 percent in 2015, for which the World Food Organisation, WFO, commended Nigeria, stemming the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and reduction in maternal and infant mortality rates. We reduced the former from 500 per 10,000 live-births in 2012 to 230 per 10,000 live-births in 2015.
We could have done better but for some challenges. These included inadequate funding for the scheme, and the issue of some States not providing counterpart funds among others.
Having visited all the states while in office, how would you rate their performances?
We had a good scoring system. The World Bank, UNDP, and Department For International Development, DFID, also supported us. And we supported some states. Generally, at the time, more than 50 percent of the states did well. We encouraged states that streamlined the MDGs into their budgeting system and development agenda.
They include Anambra State under Mr. Peter Obi, Jigawa, Bayelsa, Gombe, and Taraba. They made very good progress because they used the MDG framework in their mid-term and long-term development strategies. In fact, Anambra, Gombe and Jigawa States integrated the MDGs into their policy documents.
A former Vice-Chancellor of Christ Embassy University, Professor Gideon Omuta, and Professor Stella Okunna among others, have expressed divergent views on the MDGs in Nigeria. While Omuta attributed the MDG failure to politics, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur observed that it failed because the private sector was not involved. Professor Okunna also said it was a success. How do you harmonise the three opinions?
Professor Chinyere Stella Okunna was one of the best brains in the project. She was involved in the process and I think I will support her evaluation. However, other opinions are also valid. There were issues of politics that crept into development. The government peer review mechanism was based on the platform of politics.
We tried to work on the issue of private partnership, but that did not come through very well. The involvement of the private sector could have been a means to enhance public-private partnership. While we were in office, we stressed the need to ensure that the corporate social responsibility of corporate organisations like Shell and MTN should be channeled towards the MDGs.
At a time, we even approached the House of Representatives Committee on MDGs, to come up with a legislative framework that will attract corporate organisations to key into MDGs-related issues.
We also put the machinery in place to combat corruption. First, we developed a monitoring, supervision, and data collection scheme so well that pricing and procurement went through due process. Project monitoring was conducted thrice in the life-cycle of the projects to reduce corruption and failure rates.
I am always elated, even after leaving office, to see MDGs projects across the country. I am grateful to God for giving me the opportunity to have worked there. For improved performance of the SDG targets, there is a lot to be done in terms of reducing corruption, getting private sector involvement and checking politicisation of the programme.
People often talk about MDGs during the administration of Peter Obi in Anambra State. How do you react to that?
As I mentioned earlier, I worked closely with Anambra State like others in the country. The state had a novel approach where its development framework was designed to align with the MDGs. It was known as Anambra State Integrated Development Strategy, ANIDS, which enhanced the ability of that administration to achieve targets in several sectors and sub-sectors simultaneously.
With this framework, monitoring was good, wastage reduced, and 100 percent project completion was achieved. Rather than contractor-based, the procurement system was mainly community enabled, which also enhanced ownership and completion of work.
They mobilised the community for the public good in terms of project accomplishment. We set up MDGs project committees to check project abandonment and ensure facility maintenance. Anambra State fully implemented the formula to keep the projects running.
It was no surprise to other states that Anambra was declared the best in the achievement of MDGs targets in the South, while Kebbi was named the best in the North.
Primary health care centre
My joy is that I feel inspired when I visit a primary health care centre. I recall how I used my pen and paper to tell the world how such communities needed such projects and today we have health care facilities and improved access. If I see people who have potable water, it gives me joy. I know I will do more if I have the opportunity.
My regret is in not achieving 100 percent implementation of projects before I left office. I thought we should have been able to achieve project completion fully. I also have regrets in the inability of some states to access funds and the difficulties in achieving target projects in violence-torn areas. I regret not witnessing continuity in the CGS and the momentum we developed during my tenure.
I have had the opportunity to work with people. I was inspired by the actions of Peter Obi. I was also motivated by the Senate of Brazil, which in 2010, was able to legislate on wealth creation and poverty reduction that moved 30 million Brazilians out of poverty. With a sound legislative framework and as a development expert, I think what we need is a strong legislative framework that will bring people out of poverty and increase wealth creation.
If we had people like Peter Obi, Sule Lamido of Jigawa State and Dan Kwambo of Gombe State, who have a strong passion for MDGs and development, Nigeria would make sustainable progress.
I am particular about Mr. Peter Obi because as an administrator, he demonstrated very high ability to manage people and resources. On a personal level, his philosophy about life gave me some ideas that I still cherish. This is a man I want to be associated with. He touched millions of lives positively. If he was given the opportunity for higher office, I believe he will make a tremendous impact in turning around our fortunes for the better.
My aspirations in life are that every person should be able to have access to health care, live out of poverty and have wealth. One should be free to express themselves and conflicts should be resolved peacefully