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MINISTERIAL RETREAT AND THE CHALLENGE OF A NEW ORDER

By NBF NEWS
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Once more the nation is at the verge of a new order. After a lull necessitated by the uncertainty surrounding the health of president, Umaru Yar'Adua, the nation has been enabled to move forward by the council of elders and the action of the National Assembly, which has enthroned the vice president in an acting capacity.

For him, it was expedient to draft in a new team to work with. In his inaugural speech to the newly constituted Federal Executive Council, Nigeria's Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, highlighted the imperative of the new order, the demands on the new Executive Council, adding the need for performance and of course dangling a threat for lack of performance.

To me the new Federal Executive Council has been led in defining the moment, taking a critical look at issues which have built on the recent past with more challenges ahead. Worldwide, economic issues are worsening and presently the world is in a critical pointDevelopmental issues seem to have been placed on hold.

The target of the Millennium Development Goals is five years ahead and indices are reporting a frightening plunge from an already bad situation. The signs of our time includes: high poverty rate, hunger, maternal and child mortality rate that is alarmingly soaring. Malnutrition is on a dangerously high level; seating and exacerbating diseases; leaving a gruesome burden on the health sector. General life expectancy is in a low ebb.

Education is nearing comatose as our own National Examinations Council (NECO) returns a frightening one - digit per cent success rate verdict and the Niger Delta issue cries for genuine attention. In almost all spheres of the economy, affairs seem to be in a lamentable state, particularly regrettable and inexcusable. We seem not to have been governed yet we have been.

The new council must be further assisted to come to terms with the realities of their tasks and enabled to adopt best suit strategies.

They have little time to take stock but they must realign. They must scrutinize issues properly. Failure in each sector should be carefully analyzed so as to come up with a workable action plan for its success this time.

Generally, goals cannot be attained without spending time on planning. One might think we do not have the luxury of time, but time spent planning is never time lost. The two weeks of retreat is a time well apportioned and the fall out confirms the effort. Having been led to rightly define the moment, what therefore are the goals to seek?

The goal of the Ministerial retreat should be to chart a new and workable prospectus for the nation. Like the school, it should be selected to solve present and future problems of the society, with a glimpse of the future in mind. Issues must be prioritized, putting what is most important in perspective.

The focus must be on issues that are developmental and they must strive to hit hard on key pressure point that promises multiple benefits to the economy. They should device and adopt other innovative ideas, support programs, policies and strategies to move the nation forward. A new resolve is that the populace must be saved by us all; led by this team. This is the time to act.

The team must work to device the framework of the linkage between the various sectors and how policy makers can be assisted to take advantage of the bio and in some cases multi directional link between sectors for the attainment of broader goals.

That is, how better integrated forms of action with other relevant ministries and agencies/ Institutions could strengthen support for better management of various factors to deliver broader goals. All these imply that relationship of the team must take a joint definition where sectors draw from and are accountable for impacting on the success and failures of others, beside their individual goals.

They must therefore insist that sectoral goals are harmonized so that sectors do not work at cross purposes and negate efforts at broader goals attainment. Since each sector must identify its connection with others, and the degree of importance, whether critical, collaborative etc. they should be assisted to expose crucial and pivotal points where greater synergies with better and broader goal attainments could be achieved.

Policy makers must be assisted to seek and adopt the best policies and practices. Its strategies should be redefined with due attention to putting what is important in perspective with a new sense of urgency which must drive efforts on every level. Policies and strategies must be communicated to the masses, empowering the vulnerable through helping them take charge of themselves.

Besides rebranding Nigeria, an ongoing project, information, a most critical—-/ unarguably the central anchor sector in governance must position to transcend political jingles and act its real role. The situation must be packaged to stir and arrest the attention of the masses and mobilize them into action on and for themselves. Information dissemination is central to this new challenge and must be utilized lavishly to acquaint people with the new order, issues, strategies and goals.

At home with agriculture and the food sector, this sector must be assisted to take its lead and seat overall development; aligning with major sectors to deliver on its octopus benefit. Agriculture thrives on healthy workforce and the workforce must be well fed. We must therefore savour the link between agriculture/ food sector and health by emphasizing the connection and taking advantage of the bio-directional link between them to improve both sectors, and impact on the MDGs.

When scientists say over 55 per cent of diseases are food borne, what does this mean? How then can we utilize knowledge of this and in combination with what and who to lessen the burden on the health sector? The news of splitting Water Resources and Agriculture is a welcome development. This leaves agriculture to target its core functions for multiple benefits.

Focusing education, is the curriculum at various levels reflecting our national agitation and present needs of the government and people? Education must be led to prioritize issues in order of inclusion embracing being relevant to our present and future needs. No more would education stress London bridge that is falling down which should burden Brown and his team, or 'A tale of two cities' which are neither Lagos nor Abuja. What then must be dropped from the curriculum and what should be included for relevance? What strategies will get issues to the target, in joint effort with which ministries and agencies?

What will we say of Women Affairs that seat the most vulnerable and drags along the dependents? First things first. What is first? Issues of wellbeing, principally health must precede those of governance and political inclusion, although they are chances of reinforcement. Institutions must be set that are accountable for the survival of the populace, particularly the vulnerable group. Strong visionary leaders must be identified to manage this group.

We must act to redeem the times. Issues are critical and there is no other time to redirect them and make meaningful impact than now. The best strategy must be utilized to drive effort at every level to accomplish the task. The nation must be moved by this team and a new order must emerge which will surpass the tenure and endue; leaving a worthwhile legacy. Did I hear you say I want to heave a burden you know nothing about on you?

In the interest of the nation, you have taken an oath to serve and it is in the same interest that help will come to you to accomplish. We are all as able as we are disable, depending on what we choose and how we choose to act. The time for action is now.

*Nnenna Nwoke Kalu is the Publisher of Food Security Magazine and coordinator, Vulnerable Empowerment Initiative Network. Based in Lagos.