By Abubakar Jimoh
Recently, as part of their efforts to ensure workable and sustainable implementation of funded developmental and capacity building projects aimed at promoting maternal health, Bill & Melinda Gates and Mac Arthur Foundations organized a two-day Stakeholders Forum convening various non-governmental organisations pushing for maternal accountability across the country.
In her keynote address, the Country Director of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Mairo Mandara said the Forum was convened primarily to: “Help identify best practices in Nigeria’s advocacy efforts; Share an understanding of the implications of the upcoming Nigerian elections on the advocacy context in the country; and Identify opportunities for coordination and collaboration amongst practitioners.”
The African Director of Mac Arthur Foundation, Kole A. Shettima, observed that one of the major challenges is making policy work in the country. “Stakeholders must think exhaustively on how policy frameworks are made and how ideas are generated into policy in the country. It is much easier to work with the executive than legislative arm of government. It has become imperative to show the policy makers the way out. Civil society must avoid facing policy makers with problems without recommendations”, he urged.
While speaking at the meeting, the Executive Director of AdvocacyNigeria, Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf noted that worldwide, about 529,000 women between the ages of 15 and 49 die every year as a result of complications arising from pregnancy and childbirth.
She said: “Nigeria contributes 1.7% of the global population yet it accounts for 10% of maternal deaths annually. This translates to at least 52,000 women dying annually, the equivalent of 10 jumbo jets crashing every month and one 737 jet every day. One woman dies every 10 to 15 minutes.”
For every woman who loses her life, approximately. 20 more will suffer short and long term disabilities, such as: Chronic anaemia, Maternal exhaustion or physical weakness, Vesico-vaginal or Recto-vaginal fistulae, Stress Incontinence, Chronic pelvic pain, PID, Infertility, Ectopic Pregnancy, Emotional Depression etc.,” Hajiya Yusuf lamented.
As part of the strategies to hold policy makers accountable for their responsibilities toward to maternal health, Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Mr. Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) reminded the participants that effective legislative advocacy towards maternal health requires understanding the legislative process, identifying influential power blocs in the National/ State Assembly, intricacies of political party dynamics in parliament.
“It should aim at building relationships on legislators who: sit on the committee that will hear our bill, have shown interest in our cause, have seniority or a position of leadership, have demonstrated some traits of influence and can readily identify with the issue we advocate for”, he said.
Rafsanjani charged the participants on well-grounded research, communications, networking, negotiation and mobilization skills towards realizable legislative advocacy on maternal health.
Also the Legal Officer of Africa Programme, Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), Mr. Maxwell Kadiri, saw Freedom of Information Act as a workable strategy to be adopted in the push for maternal health by various organisations.
“Secure the support of key individuals in government to provide leadership for the process. Ensure that such leadership/support is spread out across, party lines. Building the knowledge base of such leaders on the key issues involved in the advocacy. Being discrete with the information they avail you, based on the vantage position they occupy in Government, which enables them to have confidence in you.
“Avoiding taking short-cuts that appear enticing at first, but which could later hunt you in the near future, as the process unfolds. Constantly door-stepping Parliament and Executive on the issue until you are able to secure the requisite support needed. Engaging your foes in government on their fears & concerns, rather than always avoiding or castigating them publicly. Being self-effacing when circumstances demand it”, he advised.