By Oloniruha Emmanuel
By most accounts, the availability of health services and the equitable access of citizens to the services are some of the key indicators of good governance.
Experts, however, insist that the people’s health and welfare, at all ages, are vital to sustainable development.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “improved health is central to human happiness and well-being; it also makes an important contribution to economic progress, as healthy populations live longer and are more productive.’’
As part of efforts to promote the citizens’ well-being, particularly at the grassroots level, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) has entered into collaboration with some development partners.
NGF is a non-partisan association of the country’s 36 state governors, which seeks to promote unity, good governance, better understanding and cooperation among the states.
The forum, which was established in 1999, seeks to ensure a robust and beneficial relationship between state governments and the other two tiers of government.
NGF is working with some development partners such as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and with United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The collaboration largely aims at fast-tracking Nigeria’s attainment of a polio free status, developing ways of combating malnutrition as well as reducing maternal and child deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases that are prevalent in certain parts of the country.
The forum says that the support of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for “Nigeria Governors’ Immunisation Leadership Challenge’’, which was launched in January 2012, facilitated the success of the campaign against polio in the country.
Nigeria was de-listed from the list of polio-endemic countries and officially declared a polio-free country by WHO in 2015 after no single case of the crippling disease was recorded nationwide in 15 months.
In its commitment to good governance and primary health care delivery, the NGF in December 2016 signed a new partnership, involving a two million U.S.-dollar (about N630 million) grant, with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Mr Mark Suzman, President, Global and Advocacy, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who announced the partnership, said that the grant was given to boost states’ Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
He said that the funding, which also aimed at improving primary health care in Nigeria, would be spread over three years, from 2017 to 2019, to be specific.
Suzman said that the grant would primarily focus on addressing domestic revenue challenges, with the aim of strengthening public financing for social programmes which benefited the indigent members of the society.
“Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recognises how critical state leadership is to development in Nigeria.
“We are pleased to be supporting the critical work of the NGF, as it facilitates better information exchange, collaboration on policy and the work of executive governors in determining how best to ensure that federal and state policies work for Nigeria’s poorest citizens,” he said.
Suzman, who is also the Chief Strategy Officer of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said that the grant would assist NGF in tackling two primary challenges facing the states.
He identified the challenges as insufficient IGR to support health and development initiatives, as well as inadequate investment, policies and political will to boost the country’s primary health care system.
He observed that two-thirds of social spending in Nigeria occurred mainly at the sub-national level.
Suzman, who expressed joy at the success of the Foundation’s previous partnership with the NGF, particularly on polio eradication, emphasised that Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, under the new partnership, hoped to build upon the feats of the earlier partnership.
“Our previous grant was specifically targeted and successful in elevating polio as a standing NGF agenda item.
“Nigeria is once again locked in a serious fight against polio, and it will not be successful without the support of the country’s executive governors.
“Some of the governors are doing a stellar job of regularly reviewing progress on polio and routine immunisation, which are themselves the backbone of a primary health care system that brings benefits to all Nigerians.
“But more still needs to be done to keep polio and immunisation at the top of the country’s health agenda.
“We hope our new partnership, focused on financing challenges like health, continues to complement the work of the governors and other stakeholders at this critical juncture when we have the opportunity to end polio in Nigeria forever.’’
The Chairman of NGF, Gov. Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara, commended Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the partnership and expressed optimism that it would boost the states’ capacity to improve their IGR and health care delivery.
Yari, who was represented by Gov. Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, pledged that the funding would be judiciously used for the purpose it was meant for.
“On our part as governors, we are committed to doing our utmost best in any endeavour related to NGF, and this will not be an exception,” he said.
Also speaking, Mr Asishana Okauru, the Director-General of the NGF Secretariat, bemoaned the re-emergence of polio in Nigeria, after the country had been declared polio-free in 2015.
Okauru attributed the re-emergence of the polio virus to the occupation of a few local government areas of Borno State by Boko Haram insurgents.
“The council areas have been reclaimed and concerted efforts are underway to return polio immunisation to the necessary level and once again, return Nigeria to its polio-free status.
“NGF Secretariat is committed to pushing for better performance among governors in Nigeria so as to meet acknowledged global best practices and enhance service delivery in all sectors, not just in the health and economy sectors.
“We are pleased to be partnering with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the specific areas of revenue and financial policy and tracking, as well as primary health care specifically.
“The core areas of the focus of NGF Secretariat include, but not in any way exclusive to, education, economic development, agriculture, public financial management, security, infrastructure and the environment.
“We hope to learn important lessons that will benefit all these areas from our work with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,’’ he added.
Okauru said that the secretariat looked forward to more and greater partnerships with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other development partners in its efforts to fast-track the country’s development in a pragmatic way.