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Nigeria at 58: Echoes of a nation through the 2018 Goalkeepers’ Report.

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By: Samuel Abiona

On this day in 1960, Nigeria became an independent nation. Before this day in 1960, Nigeria was under the “colonization” by the British. In any nation, such a day is always a day to remember and celebrate. And Nigeria is not an exception.

Remarkably, Nigeria has been described in different ways by different opinions. Expectedly, the descriptions are as diverse as the viewpoints expressed.

Some have spoken glowingly about Nigeria as a country that has seen it all in terms of assorted challenges, and yet firmly established on the path of growth.

And there are countless reasons to go with this school of thought. After all, there are many positive developments that have happened in the country since independence that call for celebration.

For example, and just to name a few, Nigeria has been able to establish herself as force to reckon with internationally when democracy becomes a subject for discussion. Consistently, since 1999, our democracy has become established, and we are using our current experience to shape it. Thus, we have left the days when our president was described as a “military junta”.

Our country is more wired, and now Nigeria can boast of telecommunication services that have evolved since inception.  Our economy has undergone changes and our banks have become stronger. Our film and television industry have come of age, and Nollywood remains one of the largest contributors to international film industry.

On individual level, many Nigerians are winning laurels both home and abroad. Indeed, there are many things that have changed positively since independence in 1960 that are worthy of mention.

Notwithstanding these achievements, there many other things that should not be, but still stare us in the face.

For instance, some have likened the country to a man at 58 years who is yet to find his footing. Some others believe that Nigeria is a man with children and grandchildren, that cannot fend for themselves and perpetually have to depend on the father, who himself, is facing many challenges. The children in this case are the 36 States of the federation and FCT, while the 774 local government areas are the grandchildren.

No doubt, it was never the dream of our founding fathers to be where Nigeria is today! They had lofty ideas. But the reality is that this is where we are today. And Nigeria may remain on this part if nothing is done to get out of the current narrative. At least the data say so.

The numbers are grim and alarming. When it comes to world statistics, Nigeria is at the lowest ebb of majority of the ills of the word.

Nigeria is among the countries of the world with worst maternal and child health indices; it is fast becoming the world headquarters of poverty and one of the most corrupt nations in the world, ranking 148 out 180 according to Transparency International 2017 corruption perception index. On top of these are other challenges relating to insecurity, education and other sectors of the nation’s economy.

Even more staggering and disappointing is the 2018 Goalkeepers Report by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The report for this year is titled: “The stories behind the data”. The Goalkeepers is an initiative of the Foundation to track governments progress towards the actualization of the Sustainable Development Goals  which “are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”Boldly written on the back of the report is: “Goalkeepers are leaders who take a stand on the issues they care about and innovate in their communities to achieve the Global Goals.”

In reviewing the aforesaid report, Bill and Melinda Gates in a message titled “Is poverty inevitable?”, revealed that 86% of the world’s extreme poor are projected to be living in Africa by 2050, a problem that will be compounded by the rapid population growth rate which is expected to double in the next 32 years.

According to Bill and Melinda, if the current trends continue, the number of poor people in the world may stop falling – and could even begin to rise. Regrettably, Nigeria may contribute 1 in every 5 of such individuals globally.

Hear them: “Ethiopia, once the global poster child for famine, is projected to almost eliminate extreme poverty by 2050. The challenge is that within Africa, poverty is concentrating in just a handful of very fast-growing countries. By 2050, for example, more than 40 percent of the extremely poor people in the world will live in just two countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria.”

This is staggering by all standards. It means that Nigeria may be home to 1 in 5 extreme poor people in the world, assuming Nigeria and Congo DR have a fair share in the poverty race! This no doubt should bother well-meaning Nigerians!

There are quite a number of factors that are racing Nigeria in the direction of this projection. Bill and Melinda continue: “Poverty in these areas is unique. It’s rooted in violence, political instability, gender inequality, severe climate change, and other deep-seated crises. It’s also tied to other problems, including high rates of child mortality and malnutrition”.

Unfortunately, Nigeria and many Nigerians are quick to denounce figures like this, especially when it brings us face-to-face with harsh realities. Sometimes, we even play it down altogether. For example, when Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) 2013 was concluded, it showed that Nigeria maternal mortality ratio (MMR) was worse than the preceding five years (545 per 100,00 live births in 2008 and 576 per 100,000 live births in 2013). It was said that findings were not “statistically significant”, meaning in lay man terms, that there is no true difference between the two values (MMR 2008 and 2013) – and by extension the country has not done badly.

This is from the key findings in the NDHS 2013 Report: “The maternal mortality ratio for Nigeria is 576 deaths per 100,000 live births. The 95% confidence interval for the 2013 maternal mortality ratio ranges from 500 to 652 deaths per 100,000 live births. The 2013 NDHS ratio is not significantly different from the 2008 NDHS ratio of 545 deaths per 100,000 live births.”

That was quite true. However, the implication was that, whether significant or not, for a period of 10 years (NDHS is carried out every five years), we had no improvement in our MMR despite improved funding. That it was not “statistically significant” therefore, played down on it seriousness. And for those looking for excuses to play it down, that conclusion may just be the way out.

It is important to remember also that Nigeria was one of the countries that did not go near the targets of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially for the health-related MDGs. Now, is the era of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And Goalkeepers are here to help us measure our progress and try to spur more of it, so we can stay on track right from the outset.

It is imperative therefore, that Nigeria does not treat the report with levity – or wish it away as the ranting of those who do not appreciate the efforts the government is putting into improving the welfare of Nigerians.

Consequently, it is chief at this time that Nigeria pays more than usual attention to the data – and act fast. It is a moment of self-reflection. A realistic evaluation of one’s achievements and failures is indeed a giant step to higher heights. And no one should be deceived, it is our collective responsibility.

Interestingly, Goalkeepers did not leave us without a direction: “The conclusion is clear: “…investing in young people. Specifically, it means investing in their health and education, or what economists call “human capital.” “

This is aptly so. While investing in young people is not a panacea, there abound series of evidence that it has worked in similar scenarios as Nigeria’s. “Investing in young people’s health and education is the best way for a country to unlock productivity and innovation, cut poverty, create opportunities, and generate prosperity. Human capital is not a magic bullet, but it has played a pivotal role in the success of emerging economies around the world,” Bill and Melinda say.

Hence, as we celebrate the 58thyear of Nigeria’s independence, let us know that, as a country, this is also a time for sober reflections; a time to critically reflect on the Goalkeepers report and see how best we can harness the enormous potentials of our young people to drive our country to reverse the negative forecasts in the 2018 Goalkeepers report.

Even though it is our collective responsibility, first it requires political commitment across all levels of government: federal, state and local. Government at all levels must be unswerving in investing in health and education, and indeed, other sectors of the economy – in ways that positively engage the young minds of the nation.

Thereafter, strong legislations to make the system accountable and engender public participation must be put in place. The government must be willing to convert to advantage the youthful population in Nigeria.

And this goes beyond ethnic, party and religious affiliations, if truly our nation must be independent in the true sense of the word!

Happy Celebrations Nigeria!

Samuel Abiona is a Public Health Practitioner. He writes in from femi.samuel@zoho.com