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Nigeria’s Questionable $10B MDGs Funds By Sonala Olumhense

The following article is intended to be read as an extension of, an addendum to, Femi Falana’s “How Nigeria Can Raise U.S.$200 Billion From Withheld, Looted Funds,” (Here is unedited text available on SaharaReporters.

As a contribution to finding the funds to move Nigeria forward, it is also to be interpreted as a follow-up to my previous comments concerning repatriated Sani Abacha loot.  

Prologue: In the decade since Nigeria’s debt relief deal with the Paris Club, and as a part of that agreement, the country has saved $1 billion per year the government swore to spend on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), notably poverty-reduction.

Subsequent to the agreement, some government officials said the money ($10 billion by now, and $20 billion by 2026), would also go into health, infrastructure, and other capital spending.   

Keep in mind that these are the same bottomless pits that governments during the same time frame have insisted that repatriated Abacha loot has been emptied into.

The Abacha funds are a large sum of money, but they are only a few billion dollars, and therefore a fraction of the debt relief savings of $10 billion made by Nigeria so far.  The legend is that the funds have in the past 10 years been deployed into key areas of our economy, or into rescuing our people from poverty.  

Following the debt deal, in 2005, President Olusegun Obasanjo established an Office of the Senior Special Adviser to the President on MDGs (OSSAP-MDGs), into which he appointed Amina Az-Zubair, to supervise the vast funds to help Nigeria meet the MDGs targets.  She served for six years, until 2011.

Ms. Az-Zubair, now Mohammed, is currently Nigeria’s Minister for the Environment, which should make the present easier to reconcile with the past.  As the pioneer OSSAP-MDGs, she was diligent enough to establish a Monitoring and Evaluation (M & E) unit, charged with ensuring accountability.  

It is on record that the M&E team found out subsequently that between 2006 and 2008 alone, various government units “mismanaged” most of the N320billion allocated to them.

That is a whopping average of N180 billion per annum in mismanagement.  Not long ago, a Premium Times investigation reported that the Ministry of Health, by itself, squandered most of the N54billion it received during that period alone.  

On the substantive front, during Ms. Mohammed’s six-year-six-billion-dollar first stint in the federal government, she dove into the task of “ending poverty” in Nigeria by joining Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sach’s Millennium Villages (MV) bandwagon.

“Unlike most economists, Mr. Sachs can put other people's money where his mouth is,” The Economist sneered in 2011.  “He set up the “millennium village project”, taking [80] places in rural Africa with about 500,000 people and, since 2006, making them the subjects of a $150m project run by his university and African governments.”

Actually, Sachs—apparently mistaking politics for policy, and enthusiasm for wisdom—in 2006 announced that his magic wand would yield 1,000 MVs within three years, with much more to follow.  

In December 2011, The Economist, citing independent studies of the Nauri MV project in Kenya, declared that Sachs’ scheme had provided little evidence that “big push” development was better than gradual, step-by-step changes to remove specific barriers to growth.  

In March 2012, the magazine followed up on the entire scheme with the ‘F’ word, failure: “The Millennium Villages are a failure—at least judged by its failure to scale up across Africa,” it pronounced. 

Ms. Mohammed, who had by then, left the government, bristled at such a suggestion.  In an article published in Huffington Post, she wondered how The Economist could have failed to consult with her before making such a pronouncement.   

She asserted that after Nigeria had launched two MV sites, reaching about 45,000 people, she worked with local government leaders to develop a project known as the Conditional Grant Scheme for Local Government Areas (CGS-LGA). 

The evidence shows that one of the two MVs in reference was the Pampaida Millennium Village Project in Kaduna State.  The project involved the Kaduna State Government, the United Nations Development Programme, the Pampaida community, the Ikara local government, and such donors as Millennium Promise and the Japanese Government.

“The government of Nigeria was inspired to go beyond just those sites and to scale up the MVP model to tens of millions more, by working through a local government context…We not only achieved the robust design of an ambitious program in 113 local governments covering 20 million Nigerian poor but have also inspired our parliament to invest more resources to reach all 774 local governments in our country by 2015.”

In other words, as of 2011—on the basis of $6 billion spent—the MVs were present in 113 local governments in “tens of millions more”, and were poised to reach the entire country in the following four years (parliament-permitting).  

“The government of Nigeria is using the billion dollars per annum that it receives in debt relief to take this project to scale,” Ms. Mohammed asserted.  “We believe it is the right model to help achieve the MDGs for our poorest people.”

It was unclear at the time exactly what was meant, or achieved.  One billion dollars per annum; $5 billion as of that time.  

There certainly seems to have been some project-pushing activity in parts of the country inspired by the OSSAP-MDGs.  But we are now talking about $10 billion dollars’ worth.  If we spent this money on the MDGs, why did Nigeria do so poorly in the end, and what did we achieve?

As I have said in the past, there is nowhere in Nigeria where $1 million diligently spent will not broadcast itself.  That is why it is a matter of continuing and considerable concern that $2-$4 billion in Abacha funds, said to have been spent on similar projects, have yet to be noticed.

But if Abacha’s repatriated funds falls into the category of found money, the debt relief funds were practically massive lottery winnings, given that Nigeria was committed to the MDGs whether we had the deal with the Paris Club or not.  

Epilogue: Where are Nigeria’s Millennium Villages, and where are the CGS-LGs success stories?  

“Let’s hope The Economist gets this story right and commits itself to doing a better job of telling the story about how Africans themselves are leading the fight against poverty — taking the best practices from the best projects and using their own funds to meet the Millennium Goals,” Ms. Mohammed challenged that magazine four years ago.  “It’s a story worth telling, after all.”

I absolutely agree, particularly given that Nigeria appears poised to use the questionable MDGs sub-structure to prosecute the Sustainable Development Goals, to which President Buhari committed at the United Nations last September.  

But if we do not know what happened to the MDGs and its acres of funds, how can we prosecute the SDGs successfully?

Before Nigeria throws away the SDGs and the next $10 billion, the first assignment is to look closely at the last 10 years, and that first $10 billion.  Help us, Amina!

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Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense