The Place of Scientific Evidence In The Formulation of Public Policies in Nigeria – By Olasoji Fagbola
Evidence-Informed Policy-Making (EIP) or Evidence-based practice has been defined as the systematic ways to ensure that research evidence becomes incorporated into policy-making. One of its core features is the systematic and transparent access to, and appraisal of evidence as an input into policy-making. In other words, science advice is playing an increasing role in the formulation of policy and decision making.
The global economic landscape is experiencing rapid changes. Globalisation especially is creating considerable new opportunities and new challenges and Its impacts on national economics is driven by significant progress in science and technology as exemplified by a plethora of breakthroughs in biotechnology, space research, energy development, and information & communication technologies (ICT), among others.
In Nigeria, the research-to-policy linkages have been generally seen as weak; and some of the factors that have been given for the low incorporation of research by Nigerian policymakers range from lack of high-quality research, generally weak and unreliable research institutions to evident disconnection between researchers and policymakers. There is little interaction between policymakers and researchers, therefore significant discussion of available research results, their aptness to policy-related problems, and identification of other policy areas requiring research attention is lacking. There is also a lack of studies or development in Nigeria that promote evidence informed policy making involving meetings between researchers, policymakers and the society. Although innovative attempts have been made to connect researchers and policy makers, such attempts focused on organizing a 1-day evidence-to-policy workshop and the effect of these meetings on their practice and getting research into practice is yet to be assessed.
Nigeria has not been able to accord science and technology innovation the appropriate attention particularly in terms of funding with respect to research and development in the sharing of, and allocation of revenue due to lack of appropriate indicator that shows the implication of such action or inaction. Consequently, it is having a telling effect on the complete realization of the objectives of public policy.
The inability of policies made to attain most of their objectives, amongst others, is resident in the lack of concrete evidence to provide the basis for their formulation. Resultantly, this undergirds the need to provide evidence-based policy by leveraging on policy research outcomes, including, especially, research and development and Innovation Surveys in line with global best practices.
In the health sector where significant success has been recorded, it was based on the incorporation of evidence into policy making. For example, evidence was used in the formulation of Human Resources for Health (HRH) policy, the Oral Health (OH) policy and the Integrated Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (IMNCH) strategy. The Federal Ministry of Health and development partners like WHO, UNICEF, Partnership for Transforming Health Systems (DFID), and the United Nations Population Fund, among others, initiated and developed these policies and strategies to strengthen and improve the functioning of the health system to become more equitable and efficient in-service delivery and consequently improve health outcomes. These policies were developed as a result of the Health Sector Reform Program (HSRP) that was initiated in 2003 which was a response to the very low ranking of the Nigerian health system in the year 2000.
The place of evidence in the above-stated policies cannot be undermined as reports have it that ten types of evidence such as survey reports, research publications, systemic review reports etc. were used to develop policies within the case studies. Reports from expert consultants were also seen by the respondents as relevant in the policy drafting stage because they now built on the information provided by the surveys to enhance the evidence used. The expert consultations gave a practical aspect to the development of the policy because most of the evidence gotten from this source was based on experience of the stakeholders, and that gave more value to the evidence obtained.
Furthermore, involvement of technical experts (including researchers) who have an appreciation for evidence and its use in policymaking, also contributes to evidence-based policymaking. For instance, 1% budget appropriation for universal health coverage the allocation of 1% of the consolidated revenue fund (CRF) for the basic healthcare provision fund (BHCPF); in an attempt that will lead to achieving the National Health Act (NHA) of 2014. The NHA provides a legal and policy framework for basic healthcare provision. The NHA was conceived in response to Nigeria’s dire health outcomes and was only passed after a decade of campaigning by civil society and the medical community. Nigeria has the second largest HIV epidemic in the world with 3.2 million infected people. Every day, Nigeria loses about 2,300 under-five year olds and 145 women of childbearing age. This makes Nigeria the second largest contributor to the under–five and maternal mortality rate in the world. These outcomes represent nothing short of a national crisis.
The lack of funding for the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF), a key component of the NHA, has perpetuated these poor health outcomes. The BHCPF is designed to deliver a basic package of health services to all Nigerians through the primary health system. With N55.15 billion now allocated for the BHCPF, the country can finally begin to properly implement the most significant piece of health policy in her recent history thus in alignment with the sustainable development goals.
Overall, Science-based evidence has proven to be relevant in formulating public policies. However, the practice is relatively new in Nigeria and has not gained much ground. Therefore, there should be collaborative efforts to increase awareness of Evidence- based policy making and collaborative effort should be made between the government, individuals and researchers to ensure that science-based evidence is implemented in initiating and developing policies in Nigeria.
Sustainable Development Practitioner