Ayade: Battling to Make History with Shit

Ben Ayade, the ambitious governor of Cross River State is battling to make history. On Tuesday, his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administration reaffirmed their commitment to the Water Supply Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme, and to also ensure that the state becomes the first in Nigeria to attain the Open Defecation Free status.

Governor Ayade made the commitment when he received a delegation from UNICEF led by Dr. Ibrahim Khalil Conteh, Chief of UNICEF Field Office. He enumerated the benefits of portable water, sanitation and hygiene in Africa, pointing out, ‘’we gave a commitment on a global stage Mandela 100, where Cross River made a commitment that we will provide the sum of $3.00 million annually for the next five years, in support of the WASH  programme.

‘’That commitment was audacious, it was driven by a very strong philosophy because we know the relevance of water. Water is life, and therefore if you can fix water you have fixed life, if you fix water you have fixed health, if you fix health you have fixed productivity, if you fix productivity you have fixed the economy. And I’m making again another good commitment that we will be the first state in the Nigeria that will have 100 percent Open Defecation Free status. It’s a commitment that I am giving now, and I will uphold it with every fibre of my being. In making this commitment I am conscious of the financial implication.

‘’It is against that arrogance of faith that we have signed and have made available a set aside sum of N500 million, also a sum of N200 million was set aside in RUWASA in commitment to the WASH programme. So, approximately $2.00 million out of three million dollars has been committed in line with our declaration.

‘’Let me thank you for all the various successes you’ve achieved in this water, sanitation and hygiene sector. Eighty percent of diseases in Africa are water related. Of these diseases, the greatest and the most implicated source of disease are as a result of indiscriminate defecation in bush, and around the neighbourhood. Which is accelerated if there’s a massive rain fall and leads to erosion taking all of these faeces to the nearby water source.

‘’Sadly, the African institution is so bad that at the head stream is a source of defecation and at the downstream is a source of drinking water. This is the characteristic story of most of the African settlements. And therefore the choice of UNICEF, World Bank and all the funding agencies focusing on water and sanitation as a critical issue in Africa, it’s upright, it’s obvious it’s necessary, it’s a life saving notion.’’

The Chief of UNICEF Field Office, Enugu, Dr. Ibrahim Khalil Conteh, had said that the United Nations agency will soon be wrapping up its Water and Sanitation Sector Reform Programme in the state, adding, ‘’UNICEF has been working with the EU on water and sanitation sector reform programme which started way back in 2006. Since that time, there has been a global outcry on the supply of water, that Nigeria has stand out strongly. As we are going to be wrapping up this sector reform programme.

‘’We believe that we still have a lot of opportunity to continue supporting, because the gaps are still there in a lot of communities. On the reform programme, we believe we have to put hands together in making a framework so that the gains we have already made will continue bearing fruits.’’

Interestingly, Governor Ayade is battling to make history with shit and pumping in $5.00 million to realize the ambition at a time the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to end extreme poverty by 2030 is unlikely to be met in Nigeria.

Nigeria since overtook India as the country with the most extreme poor people in the world. India has a population seven times larger than Nigeria’s. Without the doubt, the struggle to lift more citizens out of extreme poverty is an indictment on leaders like Ayade who are mismanaging the country’s vast oil riches through seeming incompetence and corruption.

Around 100 million Nigerians of the estimated 180 million population are now living in extreme poverty represents. Yet, the country is said to be facing a major population boomthat will make her the world’s third largest country by 2050.Those who know better say it is a problem that will likely worsen.

It seems civil unrest has been contributing to the adoption of populist policy measures which have only been working in the short-run, but impeding poverty alleviation efforts.

For instance, since the inception of civil rule in 1999, insurgents from religious and ethnic groups have become markedly more violent. While the Boko Haram and the Niger Delta uprisings have their roots in poverty and economic competition, the economic and human damages these crises throw up further escalate the problems of poverty. Ethnic unrest and the displeasure to local communities with oil corporations has contributed to the conflict over oil trade in the Niger Delta, which often threatens the productivity of oil trade.

As some of us see it, the Ayade quest for an open shit free status will make more meaning if predicated on crushing poverty in the state. Does it not worry Governor Ayade that for a country with massive wealth and a huge population to support commerce, a well-developed economy, and plenty of natural resources, the level of our poverty cannot be accepted?

There are more rural poor than urban poor. Informed sources say this is correlated with differential access to infrastructure and amenities. Arguably, this tends to result from the composition of the country’s economy, especially the petroleum and agriculture sectors. Oil exports contribute significantly to the government revenues; contributing 9% to the GDP, and employing only a fraction of the population. On the other hand, agriculture contributes about 17% of GDP, and employs around 30% of the exploding population.

Analysts say this incongruence is compounded by the fact that oil revenue is poorly distributed among the population, with higher government spending in urban areas than rurally. High unemployment rates have render personal incomes even more divergent. In the Niger Delta area, the process of oil extraction has resulted in significant pollution, which further harms their agricultural sector.

Rather than focus on the menace of open shit, Governor Atade and his other 35 brother governors should vigorously tackle the prescriptions of the World Economic Forum on achieving the first of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – to end poverty:

1. Invest in girls’ education

Nigeria is home to over 10 million out-of-school children, around half of whom are girls – and it is hardly coincidental that the country with the world’s highest number of out-of-school children is home to the highest number of people living in extreme poverty. Two-thirds of this population are concentrated in Nigeria’s highly populated north west and north-eastern regions, both of which have been ravaged by the terror group, Boko Haram, resulting in an educational emergency affecting about 2.8 million children.

The 2018 Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative best presents this picture. The poorest parts of Nigeria had the worst education indicators (school attendance and years of schooling) and these constitute the biggest percentage contribution to the MPI, followed by nutrition and child mortality – all issues that affect women the most.

Educating girls is proven to have both economic returns and intergenerational impact. For Nigeria to improve on this front, it must increase its investment in education.

My state, Kaduna – where I oversee the organization with the mandate of planning and fiscal resource allocation – has consistently increased its education budget over the past decade. As a result, enrolment figures have doubled from 1.1 million students in 2015 to 2.1 million students in school today. The state now ranks the highest in the northern region, recording the highest score in the senior school certificate examinations.

2. Invest in health and wellbeing

Increased investment in healthcare is linked to economic growth, and consequently to reducing poverty. Nigeria is battling with a number of crushing health indicators including malaria, tuberculosis and infant and maternal mortality, all of which have a sweeping impact on productivity.

In order to end poverty, we must harness the demographic dividends through investment in health, education and livelihoods – especially for our young people. In remarks he made on October 2017, International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the late Professor Babatunde Osotimehin – former executive secretary of the United Nations Population Fund – argued that “when countries’ age structures change favourably, meaning that they have more people of working age than dependents, they can see a boost to development, known as a demographic dividend, provided that they empower, educate and employ their young people.”

 3. Expand economic opportunities and embrace technology

Ending poverty in Nigeria will entail improving the country’s economic productivity and opportunities for its citizens. This will mean investing in human capital potential and creating jobs for women and young people, increasing financial access and opportunities these groups in rural communities, and advancing technological innovation.

Nigeria ranks 152 out of 157 countries on the World Bank’s Human Capital Index. One of the low-hanging fruits would be to embrace educational reforms that focus on developing new skills through robust and well-funded technical and vocational education and training programmes for those millions of Nigerians outside the formal school system, or who possess only a primary education. Unlocking private-sector partnerships through incentives and social impact bonds as well as boosting entrepreneurial ecosystems (with strong emphasis on apprenticeships) are key ways the government can help to spur growth, as has been proven in other countries.

Also – and notwithstanding its limitations – access to microfinance has been proven to reduce poverty around the world. While there are valid arguments for the use of grants and other social safety payouts to people living in poverty, it is important to bring people into the financial system as this could help governments better plan and integrate services for the poorest of the poor.

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