Rafsanjani: Corruption’s a Serious Threat to Realisation of the SDGs

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The Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Mr. Auwal Musa Ibrahim aka Rafsanjani, spoke with Abimbola Akosile on various development issues on the sidelines of the recent National Stakeholders’ Retreat on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) held at the State House, Abuja. Excerpts:

THISDAY saw you on the streets of New York in September 2015 at the United Nations General Assembly….for the past one year, can you give us a brief synopsis of how you have engaged the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Nigeria?

CISLAC and other civil society organisations in Nigeria were very active in supporting and ensuring that the new development framework called the SDGs came into effect in September 2015. We actively participated in that process and since then we have come back to Nigeria to launch this development framework and to popularise it and also to make it to be part of our development rolling plan and mainstream it into development planning. We believe that we must take lessons from the last development framework which is the MDGs, which was very late in terms of implementation. We wanted to make sure that this time around, this new innovative and inspiring development framework is not late in the country in terms of implementation. Second is also to ensure that all the necessary key stakeholders are actually involved right from the beginning, talking about the Legislature, the National Assembly needed to be carried on board as timely as possible so that they can actually support the mainstreaming of the SDGs into our national financial planning, because without the National Assembly being involved in it, you would hardly really achieve the SDGs realistically.

The National Assembly is responsible in terms of ensuring the allocation of resources and also over-sighting these resources ensure that this development framework is achieved and implemented. So it is from this perspective that we think that the Legislature, the Media and the Civil Society need to be carried on board as early as possible so that we will not be late in carrying along all stakeholders and getting people to understand and support this development framework; particularly now that we need to look at different issues. If you look at the national development priority, it fits into this development framework, which means that it is easy to actually adopt, implement as well as achieve these objectives. So we need to ensure that we sensitise the relevant government agencies and the private sector to support this important development framework so that Nigeria can be seen to be actually one of the most important countries that give priority to the achievement of the SDGs.

Now, you talked about some critical stakeholders in this process of the realisation of the SDGs….how important is the Legislature in realising the SDGs in Nigeria?

The Legislature at the state and national levels are very important in terms of realising the SDGs in Nigeria. Like I mentioned to you, whenever the Executive sends in draft for budget proposal, the National Assembly has the responsibility to scrutinise and ensure that all the necessary areas and components in the budget are actually taken care of. For example, financing of health, the National Assembly under the SDGs will ensure that the financing of health is not left out because we have realised that there is lack of adequate support for financing health despite the fact that we have the National Health Act where at least one per cent of our budget should be allocated to health, it is not given that kind of consideration. Nigeria signed the declaration that at least 15 per cent of our budget should be devoted to health in Nigeria. This is not also seen to be achievable or seen to be done without the cooperation of the National Assembly members. So it is important that the National Assembly is carried along to have some form of understanding and also have constructive dialogue between the Executive and the Legislature to be able to bridge the financing gap. We can’t continue to give excuses of not achieving financing of health, education and other infrastructure that is needed for any serious country to strive economically, socially and politically. So if we are talking about safety net or social safety sector, you cannot afford to leave effective implementation of the SDGs. So therefore, the National Assembly will play and continue to play key role in terms of ensuring adequate financing, in terms of also ensuring effective oversight on the programmes and policies as well as the budget allocated to the government, departments and parastatals in achieving the SDGs. So we believe that the National Assembly is very important and likewise the civil society, which will also play key role by providing the necessary information where there are gaps and research, advocacy and providing sensitisation and mobilisation of the general public on the SDGs and how important it is in our lives as a nation. The Media is equally important because the media will help to carry out effective investigative reporting on the allocations made on the sectoral basis on achieving the SDGs. So the Media also need to be carried along; they need to be able to play the role that they are expected to play so that both the Executive and the Legislature would actually be made to account for the resources devoted to this important development framework.

A few years ago, there was an African Parliamentarians meeting at the National Assembly in Abuja where there was a symbolic gesture that they wanted to kick poverty out of Africa and there was actually a ball that they wrote poverty on; it was kicked then. But since then, poverty has not left Africa….can you tell us in your own words what actually went wrong after that programme?

What went wrong is basically deepening corruption in Nigeria and Africa; a lot of waste, a lot of misappropriation of public funds, diversion and outright stealing and looting by people that have been entrusted with public funds. So that is why we have not been able to deal with the issue of kicking poverty out of the faces of Africans in general and Nigerians in particular because of the looting and corruption that has become a cankerworm in Nigeria. Second, it is also because of policy somersault, inconsistency of policies and programmes of government that is not coherent with addressing the issue of poverty. So these are major stumbling blocks towards addressing or eliminating poverty, which has become a serious problem. A lot of Nigerians are having difficulty of having decent meals and that is even costing more malnutrition to the nation because as you can see the level of malnutrition in the country is getting very high and scary. There is no way you can attain sustainable development when the citizens are hungry, when the citizens are in abject and absolute poverty; when the citizens are unemployed, when they have no basic education or healthcare system in the country. This is what is compounding the fact that we are not able to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty off the face of Africa because we have health and education deterioration and corruption and misappropriation of public funds as well as policy inconsistency and somersault. These are the reasons why poverty is increasing in the face of Africa and Nigeria in particular.

There is an ongoing debate about the ideal person or institution to help Nigeria realise the SDGs. Should it be personalities as in people or should it be institutions…..should it be institutionally-driven or personalities who can actually drive the process?

I think if we are looking for sustainable development we should be looking at institutions so that when that individual dies or leaves office that foundation of sustainability of a system goes on. Why we have problem in Africa and Nigeria in particular is because some of these interventions are tied to individuals. Yes, individuals are important because we need to have credible persons, somebody with integrity, somebody with capacity, somebody with passion and commitment. But at the end of the day, if it is reduced to only him or her, it then becomes a serious deficit or an interim success no matter how successful the person is. In looking for permanent success or in continuation of it, we need to ensure that our institutions are working, that our institutions are transparent and accountable; the system should be accountable and transparent and the system should be financed in a manner that it would not be starved of funds in carrying out its responsibilities.

Given the way things are in the current scheme of events, how big is the issue of corruption in the realisation of the SDGs in Nigeria?

Corruption is a very serious threat to the realisation of these SDGs and also the entire development of Nigeria. As you can see, corruption leads to under-development, unemployment, total collapse of health sector, total collapse of education, of infrastructure in terms of electricity and even the road networks as well as other things that we need as a nation to be able to progress. Corruption is a serious threat, and it if is not tackled and dealt with squarely, there is no way we can be able to achieve or realise anything in the development framework for sustainable development.

There is this call for collaboration and partnership in terms of realising the SDGs in Nigeria….you have listed some critical stakeholders but to you, what should be the ideal pattern….is it private sector/civil society/ academia /government /legislature /media or do you have another formula?

I think all the stakeholders have one role or the other to play. In the previous development framework in Nigeria which is the MDGs, we have had a situation whereby there was a conscious and deliberate effort by government without bias to bring in civil society to carry out monitoring and evaluation on what government has actually invested. Now unfortunately, that is no longer there, that is why it is difficult to ascertain in reality how far government resources and human materials have been invested in the development framework. So it is a clarion call for the government to ensure that it restores that partnership and cooperation with civil society based on integrity, selection integration, based on capacity integration and capacity of those selected civil society people to carry out unbiased, honest and transparent assessment on where we are, where we are getting wrong and where we are making progress so that we can consolidate the gain. Secondly, it is also important to get the media to carry out the investigating reporting in terms of these because we have had a situation whereby some people just squander money in the name of doing projects whereas the projects actually are not there.

So with the media carrying out responsible oversight we would be able to mitigate some of the claims that people make to dupe the country of resources that have been wasted as far as we are concerned. The third category has to do with the private sector. We believe that the private sector, like the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, like the National Economic Summit group, and other private sector groups can actually support the sincere efforts of government both at state and local levels to realise and achieve this new development framework of sustainable development because we know government alone cannot do it. We need the private sector to come in; a private sector that is not a parasite; a private sector that would come with its own values and its own resources. Not the kind of private sector that we see sometimes and they actually come with nothing but rely on the state resources to make the money and without making any impact on the lives of the citizens. That is not the kind of private sector we are looking for. We are looking for truly a private sector that would tune in private-public partnership that would enhance productivity, that would ensure and guarantee sustainable economy as well as social and political development in Nigeria.

It is around a year since the SDGs were adopted in 2015 in New York and Nigeria has not really done much or taken off as expected even though it is a fifteen-year cycle. Now what are the useful lessons we can take from the MDGs process and bring into the speedy realisation of the SDGs in Nigeria?

It is on this realisation that we have discovered that Nigeria has not really taken off well and that is why we are supporting government to ensure that government really takes a lead in Africa on this issue. In terms of the parliamentary engagement we are happy to say that through the work of CISLAC and the UN Millennium Campaign (UNMC) we have been able to infuse and mainstream the Legislature into the new development framework, that is the SDGs, and they are very knowledgeable and they are much aware about their roles and responsibilities in this respect. So I think the Nigerian government at the level of the Executive should actually key in and take necessary steps. Yes, we thank the President for appointing the Senior Special Assistant on the SDGs but we also want to accelerated action so that Nigerians can begin to feel the impact of this new development framework.

The MDGs were 8 goals and 21 targets, but now we have a broader framework of the SDGs which are 17 goals and 165 targets….do you think Nigeria can reasonably try to realise all of these goals or is there any need to prioritise?

Well, at the inception, we should prioritise and ensure that we meet the basic needs of the people. And then we can set mid-term and long-term framework towards achieving the targets and goals. They are all achievable when you have the political will and I believe that if the government can ensure that the loopholes and the lapses we have had in the past and the whole government architecture can be blocked, this is achievable, realistic within the framework of the fifteen years that we have.