Bridging accountability gaps in Nigeria to boost children’s nutrition

by Sylvia Szabo, Nutrition Policy and Advocacy Adviser, and Denis Kovalenko, Corporate Grant Manager


According to the 2013 Democratic Health Survey (NDHS), 37% of children under the age of five – more than one in three – were stunted in Nigeria. It’s only a small improvement from five years earlier, when 41% of children were identified as stunted. Given Nigeria’s population, this implies that 11 million children in the country suffer from stunting, with children in poorest households and those living in rural areas being at higher risk of undernutrition. Because of critical links between nutrition and health, and the negative economic impacts of malnutrition, scaling up for nutrition is key to Nigeria’s socio-economic development.

Despite government’s commitments, funding for nutrition remains scarce and nutrition policies are often not clearly articulated. To maximise funding for nutrition and develop effective policies for nutrition and food security, it is critical for the government, civil society and the donor community to invest in significant advocacy efforts at national and local levels, including through tailored strategies, improved leadership and coordination mechanisms. Effective planning, budgeting and accountability at all levels of governance are of essence.

In February 2016 we visited Abuja to discuss with colleagues and partners ways of working and plan future activities with a specific focus on nutrition advocacy. This work entails influencing policy-makers and legislators at the federal and state levels to deliver on existing commitments and scale up funding for nutrition, thus contributing to developing and strengthening different accountability mechanisms.

Here are three examples of progress:

 1 Nutrition advocacy in Gombe state

In the north-eastern state of Gombe, Save the Children has been engaging with Emirs – traditional rulers with high influence within their local government areas (LGAs) –  who have recently agreed to become nutrition ambassadors. Their role in Gombe will be to influence the state government to increase funding for nutrition activities as well as sensitise communities on nutrition. In addition, 40 civil society organisations (CSOs) were trained in nutrition advocacy. Following a meeting with CSOs in February, the State Assembly has committed to re-introduce the budget line for nutrition in its 2016 draft budget. Save the Children and partners are planning to capitalise on this by strengthening accountability mechanisms.

Civil society organisations in Gombe engaging with the Emir (Photo: Zaharadeen Sabu/Save the Children)

2 Working with the Nasarawa State government on budgetary accountability

A budget analysis workshop involving government officials and civil society took place on 22 and 23 February 2016 in Nasarawa State. The workshop had two main objectives:

  • to improve officials’ understanding of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions, thus contributing to developing further expertise in budget analysis methodology
  • to strengthen relationships with and amongst relevant ministries, departments and agencies.

A critical outcome was to agree on a list of keywords to define nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive budget items. The multi-stakeholder participation encouraged critical assessment of the proposed keywords, which is key for the subsequent validation of budget analysis methodology. The results of the analysis will be used to track nutrition commitments and develop advocacy messages to ensure optimal budgetary allocations and disbursements for nutrition at the federal and state levels.

Members of CSOs and government officials debate budget analysis methodology during a workshop in Nasarawa State
Members of CSOs and government officials debate budget analysis methodology during a workshop in Nasarawa State

3 A ‘zero-based’ budgeting approach

The Government of Nigeria is currently implementing a new method of budgeting – a zero-based budgeting format. Advantages of this approach include that it:

  • is based on the key policy thrusts (economic, social development, infrastructure, governance, environment, and state and regional development)
  • makes it difficult to shift budgetary allocations
  • is more of a bottom-up process.

A zero-based approach to budgeting provides opportunities for greater engagement by CSOs, including budget tracking. It also creates opportunities for streamlining budgetary allocations across the government’s priority policy areas.

What next?

These examples of nutrition advocacy work in Nigeria illustrate the commitment of CSOs and other stakeholders to ensuring progress in equitable nutrition in different states and across the country as a whole. Future nutrition-related policies and programmes should explicitly consider accountability mechanisms as an integral part of policy tools and interventions. This will contribute not only to reducing malnutrition in Nigeria, but also to the country’s wider socio-economic development.


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