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Amina Az-Zubair

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Nigeria's Ambitious Effort to End Poverty

Posted: 03/16/2012 9:09 pm

I was surprised to see a recent report in The Economist suggesting that the Millennium Villages Project has failed in its efforts to scale up. As the advisor who served three presidents in Nigeria over the last six years in order to scale up the Millennium Villages to tens of millions of people across the country, I'm surprised to have not received a call from the magazine to check the facts on what is actually a widely discussed and readily available case of nation-wide scale up.

Some background: for the six years that I humbly served as the special assistant to the president on the Millennium Development Goals, I worked hand in hand with local government leaders to develop a project known as the Conditional Grant Scheme for Local Government Areas (CGS-LGA). After 2005, when Professor Jeffrey Sachs first alerted me to the important project he was launching in order to help Africa meet the Millennium Development Goals, our nation was delighted to take the concept into practice and launch two Millennium Village sites, then reaching about 45,000 people.

The government of Nigeria was inspired to go beyond just those sites and to scale up the MVP model to tens of millions more, by working through a local government context. In partnership with Jeff and his team, we not only achieved the robust design of an ambitious program in 113 local governments covering 20 million Nigerian poor but have also inspired our parliament to invest more resources to reach all 774 local governments in our country by 2015. The project is Nigeria's, and, of course, builds on Nigeria's own organization, needs and strategies; the concepts and approaches of the Millennium Village project are key inspirations and techniques.

The funding for this scale up is our own. The government of Nigeria is using the billion dollars per annum that it receives in debt relief to take this project to scale. We believe it is the right model to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals for our poorest people. Despite Nigeria's incredible economic growth, too many mothers still die during childbirth, too few children make it to their fifth birthday, not enough girls are reaching secondary school and the real chance to break out of the poverty trap. We've seen the Millennium Village model work first hand. The people of Nigeria deserve a real shot at ending poverty and the MV model helps to design effective ways to do just this.

It's hard for those of us who work day in and day out, on the ground to fight poverty to see such flippancy and carelessness in the media. This is especially true in this case, where the facts are so easy to ascertain.

The truth is simple. Just as Nigeria is scaling up the Millennium Villages Project's ideas and tools to millions throughout the nation, more and more parts of Africa are working with the Millennium Village teams to adopt the concepts of integrated rural development and the specific tools and approaches of the project for application and adaptation in their own countries. The Government of Mali is working with the MVP team to scale up the concepts to 144 communes. Rwanda too recently signed an MOU with the MVP to work on national-scale integrated rural development throughout the country.

Let's hope The Economist gets this story right and commits itself to doing a better job of telling the story about how Africans themselves are leading the fight against poverty -- taking the best practices from the best projects and using their own funds to meet the Millennium Goals. It's a story worth telling, after all.

Amina Az-Zubair, is CEO of Center for Development Policy Solutions and from 2005-2011 served as senior special assistant to the president of Nigeria on the Millennium Development Goals.