Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Challenges Before Buhari’s Ministers

With the clearing of some ministerial nominees by the Senate yesterday, a full component of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ‘Change’ team is almost ready.
Expectedly, if the Senate ends the screening tomorrow, the President would have no hitches in swearing-in the ministers immediately or at the most next week, to accelerate the change agenda.

Indeed, the incoming ministers have a number of challenges waiting for them in the areas of healthcare, power, education, insecurity, poverty alleviation, economy, job creation, agriculture and provision of basic amenities and infrastructure among others.

Power supply challenge

The power challenge is a thorny one. Nigeria is still far away from becoming self-sufficient in electricity. The country’s epileptic power supply has taken a turn for the worse in recent months. Despite investing over $30 billion in the sector in the past 15 years, the total electricity supply as at today is about 5000 megawatts (MW) for a country of over 170 million people. While about 200,000MW is needed to meet our current energy demands, the government is still planning to increase power generation to 6,000 MW by December.

Poor power supply is one of the factors hindering rapid industrialisation and growth of small-scale enterprises, which in turn has led to rising rate of unemployment and worsening poverty among the citizenry.

Rising poverty, unemployment
President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari addresses the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly September 28, 2015 at the United Nations in New York. AFP

FILE PHOTO: President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari addresses the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly September 28, 2015 at the United Nations in New York. AFP

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, nearly two-thirds of Nigeria’s population live below the poverty line, which means over 100 million people live in absolute poverty, surviving on less than one dollar (about N200) a day.

The NBS said that the number of poor is rising; in 2004, 55 percent of people were living in absolute poverty and by 2010, this had risen to 61 per cent.

The situation is particularly bad in northern states where over three-quarters of the population live in absolute poverty. With widespread poverty, particularly in the North, over a quarter of young children (under five) are underweight in Nigeria, while around two-fifths are stunted, the World Health Organisation, WHO, said in its 2000–2009 assessment.

With little development and few social welfare programmes, extremist groups in the North are easily able to recruit poor and desperate young men to their cause.

The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, in June 2014 said that 80 per cent of the Nigerian youth are jobless.

The population of youth aged between 15 and 35 years in Nigeria is estimated to be 64 million.

CBN Special Assistant on Sustainable Banking, Dr. Aisha Mahmood, while delivering a paper on Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principle during the 2014 World Environment Day programme organised by the Federal Ministry of Environment in Abuja, said that unemployment remains a severe threat to Nigeria’s economy.

Severe threat

“As the population is growing, the resources that we all depend on, the food, energy, water, is declining. The demand for these resources will rise exponentially by the year 2030, with the world needing about 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water.

“In Nigeria, there is the issue of youth and employment. 70 per cent of the 80 million youth in Nigeria are either unemployed or underemployed. We are all witness to what happened recently during the immigration recruitment exercise and this is simply because 80 per cent of the Nigerian youth are unemployed,” she said.

Insecurity: Currently, the country is facing major security challenges in all zones of the country. The Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East geo-political zone, which has claimed about 8000 lives since 2009 is still raging. And since April 2014, over 200 Chibok school girls who were abducted by the insurgents have not been rescued. The problem of clashes between local farmers and Fulani herdsmen in the North-Central has so defied measures so also are the problems of armed robbery and kidnapping in the South-East and South-Western parts of the country.

Can the ministers boost efforts to check these breaches? They are expected to do so with discernible results!

Health: Nigeria’s health sector is another area that needs urgent action especially in primary and secondary healthcare. Statistics from the Save the Children organisation, an international non-profit group, has revealed that almost 800,000 Nigerian children die every year before their fifth birthday, making Nigeria the country with the highest number of new born deaths in Africa.

The group said recently that majority of children deaths under age five, particularly in the northern part of the country, are due to treatable and preventable diseases. This is worsened by recurring industrial disputes with doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers always at daggers drawn with the governments over salary and monetisation benefits.

It is therefore not surprising that Nigeria accounts for 13 per cent global maternal mortality rates with an estimated 36,000 women dying in pregnancy or at child birth each year. At least 5500 of these deaths are among teenage mothers.

MinistersNigeria also has about 260,000 neonatal deaths annually, 13 percent of which can be prevented with live saving interventions such as provision of required maternal health medicines and supplies.

Around 3.3 million Nigerians are living with HIV, which equates to 3.6 per cent of the adult population (UNAIDS 2009 data). This compares to 0.2 per cent of adults in the UK.

Data made available by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) however, noted that over the last 20 years, Nigeria has made significant progress in reducing the maternal mortality ratio.

Concerted effort

It also added that Nigeria has to make concerted efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goal of 300 per 100,000 (or under 20,000 annual deaths) by 2015.

Education: Again, the ministers must do something about the falling standard of education in the country. Currently, no Nigerian university is among the world’s top 1,000 list.

The United States alone has eight universities in the top 10, the ranking done by the Centre for World University Rankings show.

The highest ranked university in Africa was the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, which ranked 149th  followed by Mansoura University in Egypt which emerged 988th.

In an earlier ranking done by Journals Consortium, only one Nigerian university made it to the list of top 10 African universities. The University of Ibadan came a distant eighth on that list, beaten by six South African schools. This is a far cry from what it used to be given that as recently as in the late 90s many African nationals especially South Africans and Cameroonians attended Nigerian universities. Today, the reverse is the case with many Nigerian students headed for Ghana, South Africa and Benin Republic among others.

Can the ministers halt this trend? Nigerians are hopeful and optimistic.