Making Good on a Promise: Boosting Primary Health Care Funding in Nigeria, 2015 – 2019


During the first decade and a half after Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, the country struggled to adequately fund its primary health care system. Despite a nearly 10-fold increase in the size of the economy, Nigeria in 2014 was still spending only US$11 per capita on health care—equal to only 6% of total government expenditure and far below regional norms and the nation’s own stated aspiration. As a result, Nigerian citizens were paying 69% of their medical expenses out of pocket, and the cost discouraged many from seeking treatment. A new National Health Act, adopted in 2014 after a decade of delay, raised hopes for a solution by stipulating that at least 1% of the government budget go into a new fund to improve basic services provided at the thousands of primary health care clinics located throughout the country. However, owing to Nigeria’s longstanding neglect of primary health care, there was a real risk that the fund might never become reality. To demonstrate the viability of the program and press for its implementation, the federal health ministry, led by Minister Isaac Adewole, developed operational procedures that spelled out crucial steps to ensure financial accountability and transparency, won international backing for a pilot project that would validate the system, and built a support coalition that spanned the government and civil society. The effort took three years, but in 2018 the Nigerian legislature passed an appropriations bill that for the first time included the 1% allocation for the fund—significantly boosting the resources available to improve the quality and accessibility of primary health care services across Nigeria. Even more significantly, in September 2019, the government declared the fund a statutory allocation that it would automatically renew every year, and clinics in three states began receiving the new resources in November 2019.

Leon Schreiber drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Abuja, Nigeria, in July and August 2019 with the help of Bunmi Otegbade. Case published November 2019.

public financial management
national planning
health care
fiscal federalism
primary health care
Focus Area(s)
Centers of Government
Financial Management
Critical Tasks
Aligning policy and budget
Budget laws & practices
Building inter-agency cooperation
Donor coordination
Extending services to insecure or remote areas
Financial controls
Follow-up & monitoring
Priority setting
Strategy & public financial management
Core Challenge
Capacity (capability traps)
Norm coordination
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Leon Schreiber