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High-Level Town Hall Meeting Champions Nutrition Department Creation and Six-Month Paid Maternity Leave in Niger State.

Malnutrition in Nigeria remains a pressing issue, driven by factors such as food scarcity, inadequate feeding practices, and socio-economic disparities. The consequences are particularly severe for women and children, with malnutrition contributing to high rates of maternal and child mortality. Strong political commitment and improved nutrition coordination and sufficient funding for nutrition programs are required to address these issues. In response, the Nigerian government, under the leadership of former President Gen. Mohammed Buhari, had taken steps to enhance nutrition financing and coordination, including a directive for the establishment of Nutrition Departments in various ministries and agencies at all levels of governance in the country. However, this directive is yet to be fully actualized.

Recently, over two hundred stakeholders gathered in Minna, Niger State, for a high-level town hall meeting organized by the Niger State Planning Commission in collaboration with the Civil Society Scaling-Up Nutrition in Nigeria (CS-SUNN). This meeting aimed to address two crucial issues: the creation of Nutrition Departments in key line Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) and the extension of paid maternity leave to six months, both of which would contribute significantly to improving the overall well-being of women and children.

The town hall meeting brought together a diverse group of participants, including representatives from the state government, the state house of assembly, health professionals, the wife of the State Governor, civil society, commissioners, permanent secretaries, development partners and representatives from women groups.

Cross section of participants following the discourse at the Townhall meeting

Honorable Mustapha Ndajiwo, the Niger State Planning Commissioner, opened the meeting with a powerful message. “The role of nutrition in the lives of women and children cannot be overemphasized. Our state is fully committed to establishing a Nutrition Department and supporting the six-month paid maternity leave initiative. These steps are crucial for the health and future of our children,” he stated. The Chairman of the House Committee on Nutrition presented the legal framework to support six-month paid maternity leave for nursing mothers. He highlighted the necessary laws and policies for its smooth implementation and full salary payments. He emphasized collaboration with stakeholders to finalize the document for the Governor’s approval, noting the importance of this leave for better maternal and child health. He assured that the documentation is nearly complete and implementation will begin soon, with mothers receiving full pay.

Hon. Commissioner, Niger State Planning Commission given an Opening Remark.

CS-SUNN delivered a presentation, stressing the need for dedicated Nutrition Departments in all relevant MDAs and advocating for a shift from Iron and Folic Acid (IFA) supplements to Multiple Micronutrient Supplements (MMS) to better address malnutrition. The meeting also featured presentations on the current nutrition situation and the importance of the proposed policy changes. The event was marked by engaging discussions and a powerful drama performed in Hausa by the Aminu Kuza Group, illustrating the importance of nutrition and extended maternity leave.

The team secured strong commitments from the State House of Assembly and key line MDAs, including the Office of the Head of Service, Commissioners, and Permanent Secretaries with significant participation and media support amplifying these commitments. Hon. Mustapha Ndajiwo, Commissioner of the Niger State Planning Commission, highlighted the critical role of nutrition in the well-being of women and children. “The creation of a Nutrition Department is a step we are committed to taking,” he declared. “We fully support the six-month paid maternity leave to enable mothers to practice exclusive breastfeeding, ensuring better health outcomes for both mother and child,” he said.

Panelists at the Town Hall Meeting L-R: CS-SUNN PM, ALGON Chair Niger State, Commissioner of Niger State Planning Commission and PS Office of the Head of Service Niger State

“The six months paid maternity leave is something that we are very keen to see happen in the state, a lot of progress have been made at the state house of assembly and at the state executive council, we are making progress in coming up with frameworks that will ensure smooth running of the bill once it is passed to law for efficient implementation. We are also eager and waiting for the directives for the creation of nutrition departments in the line MDAs, a directive which once received, we will kickstart immediately,” said Mustapha Ndajiwo – Hon Commissioner Niger State Planning Commission.

Dr Ibrahim Dangana – Hon Commissioner Niger State Ministry of Primary Health added “a lot of research has shown that if you give women leave, it enables them to take better care of themselves and their children. Statistics has shown that extended paid maternity leave can reduce maternal and child mortality by at least 13%, which when converted to figures, is a lot of people. Another advantage is improved human capital development for the state, as this will result in raising children with high Intelligent Quotient and also improve state revenue by reducing money that would have been spent on treating Moderate Acute Malnutrition/Severe Acute Malnutrition”.              

Hon. Commissioner Niger State Ministry of Primary Health presenting a Closing Remark

In the words of Pharm Nasiru Paiko, Chairman House Committee on Health and Nutrition – Niger State House of Assembly, “We have made our commitments on several occasions and we are working tirelessly to ensure we fulfil our commitments”.

The town hall meeting succeeded in raising awareness, securing commitments, and setting the stage for policy changes that will benefit countless women and children in Niger State. With the creation of Nutrition Departments and the extension of paid maternity leave on the horizon, the future looks brighter for the state’s most vulnerable populations.

As Niger State moves forward, the collaborative efforts of the government, CSSUNN, and other stakeholders will be crucial in transforming these advocacy goals into tangible realities.