By Chioma Blessing Kanu
As part of its efforts to advocate for maternal and child mortality-free environment, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) with support from MacArthur Foundation, recently organized two-days Town Hall Meeting focusing on: Strengthening Existing MDGs Committee and Understanding Legislative Oversight Functions on Maternal Health both with Katsina and Kaduna State Houses of Assembly.
Strengthening Existing MDGs Committee
The Town Hall Meetings on Strengthening Existing MDGs Committee held in Katsina and Kaduna States aimed at brainstorming exhaustively on the possibility of achieving effective maternal and child health by 2015 and review the legislative oversight functions toward the Millennium Development Goals (Goal 4 & 5).
In his keynote address, the Executive Director of CISLAC, Mr. Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) represented by Chioma Blessing Kanu of CISLAC, noted that maternal and child health (Goal 4 & 5) were declared, primarily to give practical effect to basic woman and child rights’ to life.
He said: “The MDGs are eight global time-bound targets for reducing all manifestations of extreme poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter and exclusion and promoting gender equality and fostering partnership, by the year 2015.
“The MDGs programme presents us with opportunity for our nations to move towards greater equity and for women and children to achieve greater prosperity and fulfillment in maternal and child health. We meet here today just 17 months to the end of MDGs. As elected representatives of the people, legislators provide the link between the electorate and the government and are therefore change agents through representational, oversight and other legislative functions.”
The Chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Katsina State, Mr. Abdullahi Izma Yamade revealed that Katsina State like any other neighbouring countries has its own challenges. “The major problem started from Nigeria being regarded as big brother Africa with illegal immigrants trooping into the country from neighbouring communities. There is no policy that can succeed in this country without first of all addressing border insecurity. Most of our health and education facilities are overstretched by illegal immigrants.
“About 80 health facilities were constructed by the State government, but the problem we are facing is inadequate manpower. I would like to call on the legislators present to help compel the Local Governments to employ more medical personnel to cater maternal and child health.
“Our problem started from the inception of the country, Nigeria. We have adopted unfavourable foreign policies that allow us to accommodate various Africa various countries across the continent. For instance, 70%-80% of beggars in Nigeria are from neighbouring countries; as a result, our medical and education facilities are overstretched,” he lamented.
In Kaduna State, a paper titled “The Role of Legislature in accelerating the Attainment of the MDGs” presented by Chioma Blessing Kanu of CISLAC noted that it is essential for legislature to engage with MDGs for the fact that as representative body inclusive of various geographical areas and different social or ethnic groups, the Legislature is the voice of the people at state and national levels and can be catalysts for accelerating progress.
She mentioned as part of the challenges facing MDGs in Nigeria lack of reliable and consistent baseline data, huge funding gaps, human capacity challenges, weak governance and accountability environment, poor coordination between the tiers of government, weak parliamentary oversight on MDGs, and overlapping mandates between federal and state agencies on particular goals.
Similarly, participants at the Forum identified some threats to achieving effective maternal health in the State, these include: unethical attitude and inadequate capacity of some health personnel and continuous migration of health workers from the State; and poor coordination of inter-ministerial activities on MDGs resulting in poor implementation of budgetary allocation to maternal health related infrastructure in Kaduna State.
Also, in Kaduna State, a paper titled “Exploring opportunities towards effective maternal health” presented by Mr. Abel Adejo lamented that for every maternal death, there are approximately 20 other women who suffer pregnancy-related disability. “He said: “This is equivalent to an estimated 10 million women annually year who survive pregnancy, yet experience some type of severe negative health consequence. Despite the progress made in many countries on increasing the availability of maternal healthcare, the majority of women across Africa remain without full access to this care.
“Community health workers can improve on cost effective maternal health and cater for populace demands if given the proper tools. Providing means of communication to health personnel can improve access for those in need of care. Phones allow pregnant women to ask questions of health workers and alert them when they are going into labour. Additionally, phones allow health workers to communicate data to health facilities.”
Legislative Oversight Functions on Maternal Health
In Katsina State, a paper titled “Enhancing Legislative Oversight and Exploring Opportunities for Effective Maternal Health in Katsina State” presented by Mr. Dalhatu Sani Yola observed that maternal mortality is a reality that occurs in everyday of life. “Women die during labour, prenatal and postnatal periods specifically in the communities and general hospital. Infrastructural facilities in the State are inadequate to tackle maternal mortality. Rather than being a matter of joy and pride, pregnancy and delivery have become sources of worry and serious concern. Such situation reflects negatively upon a community and its leaders. Public opinion is certain to pass unfavourable verdict on current political leadership,” he lamented.
He advised Katsina State Legislature on effective oversight to achieve an enabling environment where women no longer die as a result of pregnancy an
d child birth related complications, as well as increase access and patronage to affordable and qualitative Emergency Obstetric Care (EOC).
In Kaduna State, a paper titled “Enhancing legislative oversight capacity on maternal health” presented by Mr. Abel Adejor highlighted some responsibilities of the legislature toward effective oversight functions on maternal health to cover such issues as: “legislating to ensure universal access to essential care; holding the executive accountable for implementing policies and achieving intended results; budgeting adequate resources for women’s and children’s health; and representing women and children by advocating for the resolution of issues which affect their health; and ensuring transparency in decision-making and use of resources.
“Strong legislature perform six functions including representation, constituency service, passing laws, policy making, exercising oversight of the executive (policy implementation), and political recruitment,” he added.
Furthermore, various observations by participants revealed inadequate individuals’ awareness to understand their roles and responsibility to demand accountability; weak working relationship between the State’s legislators and legislative aides; inadequate legislative-CSOs working collaboration and discouraging attitudes of the State’s legislators toward civil society.