By Nkiruka Nnorom
Walking through Tungbo, a little community in the hinterland of Bayelsa State, was Tarila Solomon, a pregnant woman in her early thirties. She looked pensive and oblivious of the noise around the neighbourhood.
After two stillbirths and narrowly escaping death on both occasions, she is well into her third trimester and lives in fear. If she travels to be attended by qualified health professionals, she and her husband cannot afford the hospital bill.
Her elder sister died five years ago from childbirth complications, and so did three of her neighbours. It’s the reality of women in rural communities in Nigeria.
Many maternal deaths could be avoided if some of the monies that are illegally taken out of the country were channelled to critical sectors of the economy like health, according to Mr Gabriel Okeowo, Principal Lead, BudgIT Foundation.
“Illicit financial flows remain a menace in Nigeria. This affects revenue availability to fund critical sectors of the budget that impact on human development. Over $100 billion has been lost to illicit financial flows,” said Okeowo. “These are funds that would have been used to boost the economy and build infrastructures in, possibly, health and education sector,”
“Though some of these funds have been repatriated to the country, it will account for why Nigeria’s foreign reserves have dwindled to an all-time low, why the country was plunged into recession in 2016 before it struggled out and why it is today, the poverty capital of the world.”
67,000 deaths at childbirth
In 2017 alone, 67,000 women died in Nigeria from child-birth related causes, a 15 per cent increase from 2015, accounting for 23 per cent of the global total of maternal deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The most recent figure on Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) indicates that Nigeria ranks number 10 globally on the IFF ladder, losing an estimated USD15.7 billion annually, according to Global Financial Integrity (GFI) Group.
One such case is the Malabu Oil deal involving a former oil minister, Dan Etete, under General Sanni Abacha’s military junta. Malabu Oil and Gas was set up by Etete using a false identity and granted the rights to a lucrative oil block, for which he paid only $2 million of the $20 million price tag.
He facilitated a payment of $1.1 billion to Malabu from oil companies Shell and Eni. This case is still being investigated by the Nigerian and Italian governments. Abacha also laundered public funds out of the country, some of which are still in the process of being repatriated.
Lost Revenue, Gold and Oil
The latest Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) 2015 Oil and Gas Industry Audit report estimates that commercial transactions via mis-invoicing and transfer pricing account for about 50 per cent of IFF in Nigeria.
In July 2018, an investigation was ordered by Nigeria’s House of Representatives over the alleged loss of over $50 billion in gold tax revenue between 2013 and 2018 as a result of illegal mining and exportation of gold.
Tax experts and civil society groups fear the majority of the country’s gold resources are transacted underground and smuggled to other countries.
Dr Victoria Enape, protem president, Chartered Institute of Forensic and Investigative Professional of Nigeria (CIFIPN) said illicit financial flows empty the nation’s treasury and deny sectors like health the resources needed to provide adequate services.
She emphasised the need for the country to embrace forensic investigation and auditing in order to change the illicit financial flow trend.
BudgIT’s Okeowo also pointed to the health sector’s low budget allocation as a contributing factor to maternal mortality.
“About 50 per cent of maternal deaths in Nigeria are said to result from pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, obstetric haemorrhage and complications from unsafe abortions,” he said.
“Over the last 20 years, Nigeria’s annual budget has grown more than 20 times and yet, it has consistently failed to address critical issues like maternal health … largely because of illicit financial flows and massive corruption,” he added.
Records show that on average, 6.2 per cent of the national budget, which amounts to N31.54 trillion, has been allocated to health in the last four years. Over the same period, defence and security have enjoyed an average annual budget of 14.9 per cent.
Chioma Kanu, Programme Manager, Health, Human Development and Social Inclusion at Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, said health budgets are not sufficient to address the challenges.
“Nigeria has one of the least budgets when it comes to health,” she said. “We have never been able to meet the African Union requirements for health which is at least 15 per cent of the national budget. At the federal level, the health budget has never been more than six per cent.”
Compared with other African countries, Nigeria lags in terms of health budget allocation. South Africa, for instance, has maintained over 12 per cent allocation to health in the last three years, though it has not been able to meet the 15 per cent African Union target set in Abuja in 2001.
However, Kenya has met and surpassed the target, allocating an average of 25.2 per cent of its national budget to health from 2017 to 2019.
*This story was produced by Vanguard Media Limited. It was written as part of Wealth of Nations, a media skills development programme run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in collaboration with the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism. More information at www.wealth-of-nations.org. The content is the sole responsibility of the author and the publisher.