My name is Esther Agbon and I am the Health Finance and Advocacy Advisor for Options’ Evidence for Action-MamaYe programme in Nigeria. My work involves simplifying health budgets so that they can be understood by ordinary citizens. I engage with civil society organisation (CSO) advocates to carry out meaningful health budget advocacy specifically in relation to provisions for maternal health at the state and federal level.
I also support CSOs to understand how to engage with other international financing strategies adopted by the Nigerian Government, such as the Global Health Financing Facility and Universal Health Coverage. The ultimate aim is to improve the lives of mothers and babies through adequate financing to reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent programmes.
What does ‘be bold for change’ mean to you?
For me ‘be bold for change’ means being fearless and courageous in the work I do – to tell it as it is! If the government is doing well they get a pat on the back, if not, we point out where they need to change course to ensure their programmes affect lives meaningfully, especially for mothers and babies.
What has been your boldest achievement?
My boldest achievement is the catalytic role I played by empowering CSO advocates to bring about increased resources amounting to N798bn, for the Contraceptives and Midwife Service Scheme which had been totally omitted from the Federal budget in 2016. This enabled service delivery for women and babies.
Over N2.6bn savings were also made from a huge lump sum allocated to a Public Private Partnership project; these savings were reallocated based on the questions we raised. For me the importance of this work is not only about increasing financing but also ensuring that allocations are cost effective.
Through the development of health budget scorecards, Evidence for Action-MamaYe Nigeria has increased awareness with the State Governments for more timely release of funds for service delivery.
What challenges to being ‘bold for change’ do you face in your country?
For a woman, you can often be made to feel that this what a man should be working on, you hear responses to advocacy such as “oh, so you do this?” or “this is a field reserved for men”.
There can be other huge challenges; you can be faced with rejection of the information and evidence. As an advocate you need to be sure of your facts before you enter into discussion. There is also the issue of lip service by Government officials, they are promising change but never fulfilling their promises. In addition there are issues relating to non-release of public information and excessive bureaucracy of Government officials.
What bold actions would you like other people to take, to see a more inclusive, gender equal world?
Speak up for the downtrodden wherever you find yourself, you never know when an opportunity may come. Also, connect with networks and coalitions, other women’s groups, to support each other to build stronger voices for change.