In 2005, the Federal Government of Nigeria secured debt relief from the Paris Club creating a savings of One Billion US Dollars for Nigeria every year. The conditions of the debt forgiveness stipulated that the Debt Relief Gains (DRG) were to be spent on pro-poor projects and programs. This resulted in ten Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) receiving resources from the DRG for additional spend on pro-poor projects and programmes.
States were assisted to develop plans and the DRG was allocated to the states with credible plans as Conditional Grants to implement pro-poor programmes. In order to ensure that the House Committee on MDGs was equipped to carryout its oversight function OSSAT-MDGs organized a study tour to the United States of America and India to understudy pro-poor budgeting.
In November 2008, NSF was engaged by the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Millennium Development Goals (OSSAP-MDGs) to design a study tour with the specific objective of strengthening the capacity of Legislators to carry out oversight functions and ensure that adequate resources are allocated for MDGs related programmes. The study tour was implemented following a three-prong approach. The first approach was on internal briefing of Members on the activities of OSSAP-MDGs and the objectives of the study tour. The second part was a visit to Pampaida Millennium Village in Zaria, Kaduna State to understand the workings of the Millennium Village and the third part was the visit to the USA and India.
Visit to the Millennium Village: On November 24 and 25 2008, the Chair of the House Committee on MDGs, Honorable Saudatu Sani led a Delegate of: eighteen Members of the House of Representatives; two technical staff of the House Committee (for technical backstopping); and two members of staff from the OSSAP-MDGs (for institutional memory) and 2 representatives of NSF Developments Limited (who facilitated the tour) visited the Pampaida in Zaria, Kaduna State. The aim of the visit was to highlight the success and challenges of implementing the MDGs at the local level in Nigeria and set the context for the next phases of the study tour. This also was a good avenue to acquaint the Honourable Members with the Millennium Village Project (MVP).
The MVI (Millennium Village Initiative) is a community-level initiative that was designed to demonstrate that by empowering communities with necessities and adequate resources, people in the poorest communities can lift themselves out of extreme poverty in a few years. MVI is an initiative of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. The Millennium Village piloted using the recommended investment of $110 per capita per year over 10 years to implement poverty reduction activities in the village. The $110 was made up of $10 contribution from the village, $30 from the State Government, and $70 from the international community. At the time of the visit there were 79 Millennium villages located in 10 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa: Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Nigeria was home to two MVIs, Ondo State and Pampaida, Zaria -Kaduna State.
Delegates at the MVI Pampaida - Zaria, Kaduna State.
The Delegates were treated to a poster presentation and a documentary, followed by exhibition of various projects on health, agriculture, education infrastructure and empowerment implemented by women and youth in the village.
Upon their return Abuja, the Committee Members convened at the residence of the Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Shri Mahesh K Sachdev who hosted a dinner in their honour. The High Commissioner assured the Honourable Members of his country’s willingness to host them. He also used the avenue to express his interest in collaborating with the Members and sensitized them on what to expect while in India.
Dinner at the Residence of the Indian High Commissioner
Visit to the United Stated of America: The Committee Members arrived in Washington DC on November 30th, 2008. On Monday, 1st of December 2008, the Delegates visited the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) where they were briefed on the oversight functions of Congress and then they moved to the Congressional Research Services (CRS). Members met with the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute at John Hopkins University and discussions centered on: Investing in the Millennium Development Goalsi; Meeting the MDGs through Improving Adolescent Health; Investing in Family Planning to Achieve the MDG’s and The Role of Communication.
On Tuesday, 2nd December, the Committee Members met with representatives of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and on Wednesday 3rd of December, a visit was paid to the Centre for Budget and Policy Analysis in Washington DC before Members departure to New York City.
At the NDI Office
While in New York the Committee Members visited the Earth Institute at Columbia University where they met with the Institute’s Director, Professor Jeffery D. Sachs and his team. The Committee was briefed on the history of the programme, how funding was obtained for the Millennium Villages Projects in Kaduna and Ondo States in Nigeria and upcoming projects for the following year.
Professor Jeffery D. Sachs
On Thursday 4th of December, the Delegates paid a visit to the Millennium Campaign for a clearer understanding of the demands of the civil society in the attainment of the MDSs at country level. They were also briefed on the advocacy initiatives of the Millennium Campaign. Later the Delegates visited the Officer of the United Nations Children’s Fund where they were welcomed by Mr Saad Houry the Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF. He emphasized that all eight MDGs had children at their center. During the meeting, three papers were presented, focusing on budgeting, statistics and advocating for children. The first was by Dan Roman on the role of parliamentarians. The second paper was on statistics by Holly Newby titled Tracking Nigeria’s Progress on MDGs and the third paper was on Budgeting for Children and the MDGs by Ian Thorpe.
Meeting at the UNICEF office
The Chair House Committee on MDGs, Honourable Saudatu Sani had a radio appearance on Voice of America where she discussed the purpose and objectives of their visit, the roles of the Committee and how Nigeria is implementing MDGs. Some Committee Members also engaged in meetings in the high-ranking Members of the US Congress such as Senator Russell D. Feingold.
At the end of the tour, the Nigerian Permanent Representative to the United Nation, Dr. Joy Ogwu hosted members to a dinner. Members reflected on the lessons from the tour and noted that the technical content of the tour was extremely beneficial. They expressed their commitment to sharing the outcome of the tour with other colleagues at the National Assembly. They agreed to work with OSSAP-MDGs to develop sets of materials and provide support for staff to strengthen their capacity for research and drafting of bills and draw up action-plan for communicating MDGs.
There were several lessons to which Members of the House Committee on MDGs underscored during this program. The first is the institutional arrangement where agencies of the Legislature provide support for budget oversight, research for evidence-based law-making and timely analysis needed for economic and budget decisions. Secondly, the need to have highly trained legislative aides to support the legislators in research and drafting of legislation. The team learned that Senators had up to thirty personal aides while Members of Congress have fifteen highly trained support staff.
Thirdly, the need for the legislature to partner with the community on the budget preparation process, communication and tracking to ensure effective budget utilization. Unless citizens understand the budget, they cannot hold the Executive accountable. The delegates departed for Abuja on Saturday, 6th December 2008.