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Tinubu’s cabinet and agenda for incoming health minister

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Bola Tinubu

Last Updated on July 30, 2023 by Fellow Press

By Abujah Racheal, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

Last week, President Bola Tinubu submitted the list of his ministerial nominees to the Senate for confirmation.

Although the number of nominees, 28, falls short of the expected total number of ministerial position, from every indication, when cleared, this first batch of ministers will be posted to critical sectors as cabinet constitution process evolves.

Health sector will likely get a minister from among this first batch. For a sector that is faced with so many challenges, Nigerians expect so much from the incoming minister.

In Nigeria public health sector investment is not among the best globally; maternal and infant mortality remain among the highest in the world while brain drain is surging.

Also health emergency preparedness remains low, HV and AIDS remain of public health concern and Universal Health Coverage still low, the incoming minister already has the work cut out.

Dr Gabriel Adakole, a public health expert, says there is a toxic mix of problems including in accessible quality health care, poor hygiene, corruption and malnutrition.

According to him, there is also the challenge of access to safe drinking water, poor health infrastructure, fake drugs, insufficient financial investment, and lack of sufficient health personnel in the country.

“The new minister must prioritise the development and improvement of healthcare infrastructure, including the construction and renovation of hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities.

“This is crucial to ensure that citizens have access to quality healthcare services.

“He or she is expected to focus on improving the quality of healthcare services provided to the Nigerian population,” he said.

According to him, this may involve investing in training programmes for healthcare professionals, improving access to essential drugs, and ensuring the availability of necessary medical equipment.

He urged the incoming minister to work towards achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC); and ensure that all Nigerians have access to affordable and quality healthcare services regardless of their socio-economic status or location.

He said he expected whosoever becomes the new minister to prioritise diseases prevention and control, including communicable and communicable diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis diabetes, hypertension cancer and other infectious diseases

Dr Abigail Banji, a Health Economist, said achieving success in the sector would require the new minister to implement effective policies, promote vaccinations, and undertaking public health campaigns to raise awareness and educate the population.

Banji urged the new minister to develop and implement policies to expand health insurance coverage in the country in order to accommodate vulnerable populations.

“He or she should also work towards promoting accountability and transparency in the health sector, ensuring that funds allocated for healthcare are utilised effectively and efficiently,” she said.

She said this might involve measures such as auditing and monitoring healthcare facilities, and cracking down on corruption within the sector.

Mrs Lydia Dimka, a retired nurse, decried the manner in which registered nurses, midwives, doctors and other healthcare workers to leave the country for greener pastures and urged the incoming minister to stem the tide.

Dimka said the mass migration was affecting the nation’s healthcare system because many of those leaving are experienced healthcare providers who were supposed to mentor the younger ones.

“The new minister needs to enhance the working conditions, provide competitive salaries, and create more job opportunities that can incentivise skilled individuals to stay and contribute to their own country.

“He or she needs to develop a strong education system and invest in research and development to attract and retain talented individuals.

“This includes providing scholarships, grants, and other incentives for students and researchers to stay in the country,” she advised.

Ms Eunice Ali, an environmental health specialist, urged the incoming minister to foster partnerships with relevant stakeholders, including international organisations and non-governmental organisations.

Ali said this would enable the country to benefit from external expertise, funding, and resources to strengthen its healthcare system.

The Managing Director, Nigeria Health Watch, Mrs Vivianne Ihekweazu, quoted the World Health Organisation (WHO) as saying that Nigeria carries the burden of over 20 per cent of global maternal deaths, making it to rank second in the world.

According to Ihekweazu, ending preventable maternal death must remain the top priority of the new minister’s agenda.

She said urged the incoming minister to consider the private sector as crucial prrtners in the efforts to improve maternal healthcare.

According to her, as demonstrated by the success of the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) during Nigeria’s COVID-19 pandemic response, the new minister should integrate the private sector to improve the health outcomes of women.

Also, the Health Sector Reform Coalition (HSRC) said that the any person appointed as the minister of health should ensure that the National Assembly members prioritised UHC in constituency projects.

The Chika Offor, Chair of HSRC, was recently quoted by the media as saying the minister should encourage the organised private sector to allocate more of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) fund to health and vulnerable groups in the country.

He urged the incoming minister to ensure that the National Health Act was revised for its increased funding and streamlined implementation.

He tasked the incoming minister to ensure the Patient Bill of Rights as a demand-side initiative and all healthcare facilities came into operation.

The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) and the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) produced the document.

According to Mrs Jennifer Shoshan, the potential minister should ensure that Nigeria increased its vaccine production capacity.

Shoshan is a medical laboratory scientist with Innovative Biotech Limited, Karu, Nasarawa State.

Shoshan said the country’s vaccine manufacturing sub-sector faces various challenges, including inadequate infrastructure, limited funding, and inadequate technological expertise.

“Developing local vaccine manufacturing capabilities could potentially reduce the cost of vaccines, making them more affordable and accessible to the Nigerians.

“It would also create jobs and contribute to economic growth. It can also foster the development of skilled workforce and stimulate technological advancements,” she said.

She said that building vaccine manufacturing capabilities aligns with the broader goal of achieving self-sufficiency in healthcare.

Shoshan said it would strengthen the country’s healthcare system, reduce reliance on imports, and enhance local research and development capabilities.

Nigerian is among the countries where consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has constituted a major health challenge.

Some stakeholders say addressing the consumption of such beverages would mean improved wellbeing for many Nigerians.

The National Action on Sugar Reduction Coalition,(NASR) urged the incoming minister to ensure the increase of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSB), tax to 20 per cent, noting that the country’s current tax on SSBs was only 6.7 per cent.

“We need a higher tax rate to have a significant impact on health. The money collected from SSB taxes should be allocated to supplement the health budget and provide nutrition for those who are at risk of malnutrition.

“The incoming minister should ensure that the government considers SSBs as a sin tax and include it in a comprehensive excise duty bill.

“This approach has been taken by Ghana, which recently introduced a 20 per cent tax on SSBs to address their public health crisis,” said the National Action on Sugar Reduction Coalition, (NASR).

This is contained in one-day regional stakeholders forum on SSBs organised by the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa and the National Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax Coalition

Nigerians expect Tinubu administration to deliver on this critical. Life expectancy in Nigeria is estimated at 53.8 per cent in 2023 as against 64.1 per cent in Ghana in 2020 and 62.8 per cent in Kenya in the same 2020.

The resoluteness and character of the incoming minister will, no doubt, go a long way in changing the face of Nigeria’s health sector for the better.

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Dollar is now the underground currency of Nigeria’s economy – Peter Obi

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Last Updated on October 2, 2023 by Gift Oyekunmi

Businessman and presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 general elections, Peter Obi, has lamented the ‘dollarisation’ of the Nigerian economy.

According to Peter Obi, the naira has faded in significance as the use of the dollar in the country has led to unproductivity.

“Dollar has become the underground currency of our economy. It shouldn’t be. We have a currency called the naira. All the things people use dollars to do that are not productive should be removed.’ Obi told Arise TV on Monday, October 2.

“I can assure you that when you remove it, it can strengthen the currency. Today, even when you want to do party primaries, people share dollars. That is not our currency.

“There should be a stiff penalty in dealing with the issue. If people earn dollars legitimately, let them spend it the way they want. However, it has now become a means of corruption and criminality in our system.”

Peter Obi added that the country should work more on exports to strengthen the currency.

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Can women be allowed breathing space in Nigerian politics?

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Last Updated on August 19, 2023 by Fellow Press

A news analysis by Emmanuel Oloniruha, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

Women have continued to play leading roles in the history and economic life of Nigeria since the pre-colonial period till today. They have been contributing immensely not only to the continuous growth and shaping of the family and the society, but also the nation in general.

During the struggle for independence from the British government, several women made a footprint in the annals of the successful freedom of Nigeria. Their contributions did not only define how Nigerians stood up to the colonialists, they also led several active political and socio-economic movements that culminated into Nigeria’s independence.

The circumstance, however, played out differently when the contributions of nationalists such as Anthony Enahoro, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Remi Fani-Kayode were acknowledged. The names of women like Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Hajia Gambo Sawaba, and Margaret Ekpo among others were conveniently relegated to the back stage.

Today, while most developed political systems in the world place a premium on women in their political affairs, Nigerian woman have continued to witness low participation in governance, even under democratic governance, a system of government expected to bridge the gap.

In the 10th National Assembly inaugurated on June 13, the numbers of women in both chamber of the Senate and House of Representative mirrored the dwindling level of their participation in politics.

In the Senate, out of the 109 senators only three are female, which was a reduction from the seven in the 9th Assembly. In the House of Representatives with 360 lawmakers, 16 women were sworn in, representing a slight increase when compared to 13 of them that made it to previous House.

The female lawmakers are from Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Borno, Delta, Imo, Ogun, Plateau, Lagos, Yobe and Oyo.

In the recent ministerial nomination by President Bola Tinubu, only seven women made the list. They are Hannatu Musawa, Betta Edu, Doris Aniche Uzoka, Nkiru Onyeojiocha, Stella Okotete, Uju Kennedy Ohaneye, and Imaan Ibrahim. This to some stakeholders is short of the affirmative action quota for women in politics.

The low number of women in both the elective and appointive political positions has continued to be a thing of growing concern which many analysts attributed to lack of political will among the men to accord women their rightful place as contained in several national and global declarations.

Some efforts, however, have been put to improve women participation in politics. In Nigeria, the extant National Gender Policy (NGP) recommends 35 per cent affirmative action and sought for a more inclusive representation of women in both elective political and appointive public service positions.

Analysts said the under representation of women in political participation gained root due to the patriarchal practice inherent in our society. However, the re-introduction of democratic governance in 1999 has witnessed once again an increase in women political participation.

The national average of women’s political participation in Nigeria has remained 6.7 per cent in elective and appointive positions, which is far below the Global Average of 22.5 per cent, Africa Regional Average of 23.4 per cent and West African Sub Regional Average of 15 per cent. Even with her 15 years uninterrupted democratic governance (1999-2015), Nigeria is yet to produce a female governor in any of the 36 states of the federation.

Other efforts to address the low representation of women in elective and appointive positions in Nigeria includes the establishment of Women Political empowerment office, Nigeria Women Trust Funds, Women Lobby Group, the institution of an INEC gender policy, the national multi stakeholder dialogue, initiation of several interventions to actualise affirmative action, and the convening of the Nigeria Women Strategy Conference.

Notably, Non-Governmental Organisations also played significant roles towards addressing the shortage of women participation in politics. All political parties now have the office of women leaders who play key roles in mobilising women during elections as well as propagate the relevance of women after the elections.

Similarly, fora and workshops are now common place to sensitise both the women and government/parties to make adequate representation of women a priority in governance.

The Goodluck Jonathan Foundation (GJF) is one of such NGOs advocating increase in women participation in politics. As a non-profit organisation, the GJF has been engaged in several advocacy for improved democracy, good governance and credible election in Nigeria, West Africa and at the continental level. One of its active bodies is the West African Elders Forum.

Over the years since its establishment, GJF has successfully implemented projects in Nigeria and various African countries targeted at building democratic accountability, strengthening governance and building leadership, as well as ensuring transparent and peaceful transition of power.

As parts of efforts to advance democratic consolidation on Africa continent, especially in West Africa, GJF instituted a home-grown, credible platform called the West African Elders Forum.

The forum, officially inaugurated on March 4, 2021, consists of former leaders and statesmen to provide mediation and interlocutory roles in addressing electoral and democratic conflicts in the region including the current disruptions occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a workshop tagged ‘’Democracy and the Voice of Women,’’ the GJF questioned the many obstacles hindering the participation of women in politics. The Executive Director of GJF, Ann Iyonu, posited that women occupy less than 10 per cent of leadership positions worldwide.

Iyonu said it has become imperative to interrogate the gender bias with the aim of finding a solution to the challenge.

‘’We need to seek a just society where women have access to justice and can participate equally in the democratic process like their male counterparts.

‘’According to the UN, at this rate, gender equality will not be reached until 2150, that’s another 130 years, unless drastic actions are taken by all stakeholders.

‘’Women hold about 21 per cent of ministerial positions globally. Only three countries have 50 per cent or more female representation in parliament and 22 countries are led by women. Closing this gap is crucial to our activities as a foundation.

“The call for gender equality and women’s participation should not be seen as an agenda against men, but a call for inclusivity and collective responsibility for a peaceful and prosperous society,’’ she said.

Also at the workshop, Hon. Mulikat Akande-Adeola, former member of the House of Representative, said that international institutions were still paying lip service to the issue of gender inclusion and women’s participation in politics.

Akande-Adeola is a lawyer and politician. She was elected to the House of Representatives on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party representing Ogbomoso North, South and Orire Constituency in the year 2007. She was re-elected in 2011.

‘’There are other aspects of society where international institutions have actually made a difference, so why can’t they prioritise this issue?” she asked.

Akande-Adeola added that much could not be achieved without the participation and buy-in of men.

‘’We must be willing to carry women along and they too must be ready to participate in the process that will lead to women’s participation and gender inclusion.

“If we leave more than 50 per cent of the global population out of political participation, we cannot achieve anything.

‘’Also, women must have the appetite to be change makers and reject no for an answer,” she said.

Akande-Adeola added that the more women participate, the more the likelihood of their inclusion in the process.

“We have to move beyond being mere voters to challengers for positions of leadership,” she added.

To Dr Onyinye Onwuka, democracy is a system that allows full participation of persons in the political and decision making of the society at all times, irrespective of gender.

Onwuka is the Head of the Political Affairs and International Cooperation Division, Directorate of Political Affairs, Department of Political Affairs, Peace and Security, the ECOWAS Commission, in Abuja.

She stated, “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Who are the people? They are the men and women.

“So, it is important for us to have a level playing field for the other half of “the people” to be able to participate,” she said.

Akande-Adeola added that both the male and female folks were all guilty of the gender stereotype that had kept women on the fringes of political participation.

“We say all sorts of things, including the claim that politics is dirty and noble women shouldn’t participate in it.

“We also culturally divide roles for men and women, saying women belong to the kitchen, while men belong to the boardroom. That’s the mind-set we were mostly raised with,” she advised.

Akande-Adeola, however, said that mentorship was important in advancing the topic, advising women who have broken the “glass ceiling” to pull others up.

Another participant at the workshop, Biodun Baiyewu, Executive Director, Global Rights, was also of the view that to increase women participation in political and appointive positions, the mindset and long stereotype about gender must be addressed.

‘’We need to revisit our history as a people. We have systems that, generation after generation, tell women to be ambitious, but not more ambitious than their male siblings or husbands.

“There are many instances, in a committee, a man can be chosen as chairman and then they will say ‘let us select a woman as the secretary’.

‘’It is the same mindset of tokenism that we take into governance. You are not a democracy yet when half of your people can’t hold a significant number of leadership positions.

“We need to get it into our heads that we are all first human beings before we are a particular gender. Hence, we are all deserving of leadership positions.’’

Jude Ilo, Founder, Natasha Ilo Foundation, called for a concerted effort to enforce various adopted actions to increase women political participation.

Ilo said that while some progress had been recorded with regards to awareness and consciousness, it was time for their enforcement across board.

‘’We have to look at enforcing some of the affirmative actions against those factors that are holding women down.

“Access to land, access to inheritance, and access to credit are some of the empowerment possibilities which give women economic empowerment.

‘’When you take away something as basic as access to inheritance from women, you are making it impossible for millions of women to speak for themselves,” she said.

Political analysts believe that women’s representation in Nigerian politics has been on a downward slide since 2011, while the 2023 elections confirmed the expectations of poor outcomes for women.

They argued that concerted efforts are needed to achieve the affirmative action taken at the Beijing Conference in order to allow more women participation.

To achieve this, all stakeholders: governments, NGOs and civil societies as well as religious groups, must rise up to work with the women in fulfilling their other half of the bargain in national and international development.

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