By Shittu Ahmed Obassa
While food wastage predominates among the well to do and the not so rich necessitating the global clarion call that people should think , eat and save there is abject poverty among the lower strata of Nigerian society coupled with wide spread ignorance among parents regarding the basic needs of children under the age of five years.
Experts In National Food and Nutrition Survey are coming to grip with the fact that poverty and ignorance are twin factors are constituting a great impediment to the efforts of international agencies such as UNICEF to save no less than one million of lives children by 2015 in Nigeria.
The concerted effort at improving the nutritional status of infants and young persons by both international agencies and domestic non gogvernmental organisations is said to be under threat owing to wide spread incidents of wasting, stunting and severe acute malnutrition among children in the sahelian parts.
Stakeholders now deem it necessary to exchange innovative and good practices in nutrition, discuss integration and way forward for complementality and ownership of nutrition services in many states for evidence-based results as well as sustainability of the measures put in place to address critical cases of malnutrition in the states confronting severe acute malnutrition.
They also are strong in their conviction that the establishment of Committees on Food and Nutrition at the three tiers of government in Nigeria is key to moving the issue of nutrition from back burner to front burner in national discuss. But it is the criticality and functionality of the committees that are more often ignored by the policy makers in the nutrition development in the states located in the semi-arid region or those sharing borders with the sahel where famine and drought are recurring once the quantity of their annual rainfall reduces much more than expected.
The criticality of the role of government in rehabilitating the hundreds of thousands of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, wasting and stunting cannot therefore be overstressed, given the varying dimensions of these problems which are currently plaguing states such as Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara.
The Nutrition Specialist in the C Field Office of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Dr Florence Oni , told a stakeholder’s meeting on food and nutrition held in Ilorin on July 30, 2013 that malnutrition was the major cause of 53 per cent of infant mortality and yet only three states under her jurisdiction had deemed it fit to have budgetary allocations on nutrition activities, much less funding Community Based Management of Acute Malnutrition(CMAM) centres in their worst hit communities.
She gave out some statistics that no fewer than three states under her jurisdiction have what she termed “non cure –rate malnutrition.” Zamfara has 29.1 per cent followed by Katsina managing 7.9 per cent,leaving out the third state owing to its demonstration of commitment to surmounting the seeming insurmountable by disbursing more than N100 million within the space of two years on CMAM.
She mentioned Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara States as the three states that have actually seized the initiative to earmark some money in their annual budgets specifically for their state Committees on Food and Nutrition(SCFN) to implement their work plan in view of the severity of malnutrition in their respective areas. Stressing the need for other states to take their cue from the examples of the aforementioned three states, she praised the governments of the three states for their bold initiative and taking the right step in the right direction. She said the action of the three states should be sustained as there is imperativeness of giving cash backing within available resources to the approvals emanating from the offices of the state chief executives.
She noted the outcome of meeting which ought to have influenced several state houses of assembly’s deliberations on 2013 budget never held until July when the budget estimates had already been scrutinised, passed and signed into law. The delay in convening the meeting ,according to her, was largely due to the fact that the2013 UNICEF’s programme is in “a bridge year “.
During such a year the agency’s new country representative assumes duty. The development accounts for the delay in the signing of Programme Implementation Agreement (PIA) between UNICEF and the various state governments interested in partnering with the international agency.
She called on the state nutrition officers to intensify the use of evidence based reports as an essential tool for advocacy on malnutrition in order to convince the poiicy makers , citing her experience in Kebbi State as a good example.
“Let us use what is available in our environment as advocacy tools.“If people know how to demand for their rights things will not be the same in Nigeria,” she emphasised.She observed that there can be a positive change in the situation of malnourished if stakeholders including NGOs push hard enough.
“We have challenges and we accept that we have challenges and that is the only way we can makes , “ she enthused.
She placed a high premium on access to knowledge and information, saying the media must step up their sensitisation of parents at the grassroots to treat every child as important.
Dr Oni identified the Emir of Argungu, Alhaji Sama’ila Mera as an indefatiguable Champion of Nutrition as he single-handedly secured N35 million from Kebbi state government for nutrition in the state.According to her, the emir is now duly recognised as one of the three national champions . The others are the Asagba of Asaba, Professor Chike Edozien and the wife of the Second Republic Senate President, Mrs Marian Wayas.
The Nutrition Officer in Katsina State , Hajiya Rabi Mohammed, said the delay in the signing of the PIA had stultified the activities of the state Committee on Food and Nutrition, adding that the government placed a high premium on the PIA’ signing which serves as the much needed tonic to ginger it into action.
She further said if the PIA had been signed much earlier in the year the government would have deemed fit to make a budgetary provision for nutrition activities like the other three states now operating a budgetary line for nutrition activities.
Incidentally, the Katsina State Committee Food and Nutrition received in audience its Sokoto State counterpart which has just been given N 10 million in 2013 budget for its activities.
The visit which was geared towards experience-sharing was said to have gone a long way in assisting Sokoto State in the effort to map out its own strategies in tackling the challenges of severe acute malnutrition manifest in the border
The Nutrition Officer in Sokoto State, Malam Hamza Abdullahi explained that the experience-sharing tour spanned two other states, namely Kebbi and Kaduna. The choice of Kaduna for such a tour stunned many paticipants at the just concluded meeting because the showing from Kaduna was indeed not impressive.
According to the Assistant Nutition Officer in Kaduna State, Mrs Jane Gwani,their poor outing at the the meeting was caused by internal problems. Accusing fingers were directing at the relevant director in the Ministry of Economic Planning as being the cog in the wheel of progress as the activities of the state Committee on Food and Nutrition remain in the lull since he resumed duty.
Dr Oni also recalled an instance when she and the director in question exchanged hot words on the inactivity of SCFN at a meeting organised for policy makers and top government officials including directors of planning, recently. Before now, Kaduna State used to be a rolemodel for the other seven states in the C Field Office of UNICEF and the Federal Capital Territory(FCT) . Then, the director of planning , Mrs Ladi Tanko Kokwain was very pushful and highly resourceful in getting things done, with funds being made available for SCFN’s activities as and when due.
SHITTU AHMED OBASSA wrote in from Abuja