Addressing Inequalities to Spur National Devt

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Abimbola Akosile looks at how Nigeria can reduce inequality, the 10th goal of the global Sustainable Development Goals and the focus of a briefing session organised by the Joint Committee on the SDGs of the National Assembly in partnership with the United Nations SDG Action Campaign, which took place in Abuja recently

Global Phenomenon
In an interview on the sidelines of the landmark 70th United Nations General Assembly in New York in September 2015, the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin (now late) gave this reporter an inkling of how global the challenge of inequality was and still is.

While responding to a question on how Nigeria can best tackle inequality, a major factor inhibiting national development, the late erudite don, who was also Nigeria’s former Minister of Health, said “Inequality is everywhere, in the South in the North, it is everywhere. We cannot speak of an equitable country where some people have such conspicuous consumption and there are people who cannot even get access. And that is not a Northern phenomenon, that is a Nigerian and an African phenomenon. It is a global phenomenon. In this country you go to the streets you see it.

“Inequality is a major issue, so this agenda seeks to be inclusive, seeks also to provide equity. It is difficult but we have to do it. So what I expect is that if there one big thing which we haven’t done well in the past it is about data. So even though Nigeria will say they have 174 million people, those are estimates, not everybody in Nigeria is registered, not everybody in Nigeria can be traced. We have to solve that problem, when we solve that problem, it would be easy to disaggregate data”, he added.

Vital Forum
Nearly two years after that landmark event in New York, inequality has not abated in Nigeria; if anything, it has worsened and this is best showcased in the brazen display of wealth and opulence alongside abject poverty and squalor in major cities in Nigeria.

This same divide has spurred many analysts to cry out against increasing inequalities in the country, and the strident calls from various stakeholders echoed around the hallowed chambers and venue of the briefing session at the National Assembly.

The meeting had in attendance, high-level stakeholders including policy makers, civil society leaders, the United Nations System, international development community, the academia and media amongst others, who gathered to discuss the challenges posed by multi-dimensional inequalities and the roles Parliaments and other stakeholders can play in addressing them under the SDGs framework.

The dialogue, which focused on Goal 10 – Reduced Inequality, sought to address the imperative of reducing inequality in Nigeria by redirecting the attention of policy makers and implementers of the SDGs to the core principles of strategic development.

Setting the Tone
In her goodwill message at the event, SSA to the President on SDGs, Princess Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, represented by Dr. Ifeolu Falegan, disagreed with the positions held by many experts who laid emphasis on Goal 1 (No Poverty) as the most significant of the 17 SDGs.

She argued that Goal 10 – Reduce Inequality – was the most significant due to its cross-cutting nature which makes it crucial to the overall attainment of all the SDGs.

According to her, the inclusion of a stand-alone goal on addressing inequalities means that the SDGs understand the multi-dimensional implications of inequalities as a major development challenge of the 21st Century.
She added that addressing inequality was a major step towards eradicating poverty, hunger, diseases and creating equal access to education, healthcare and inclusive development for every human person.

She pledged the resolve of the SDGs Office at the Presidency to continue to be at the centre of coordinating efforts at strengthening the policy, institutional and financial arrangements needed for the successful implementation of the Agenda in Nigeria.

Also, in his welcome address, Chairman, House Committee on SDGs and Chairman of the African Network of Parliamentarians on the SDGs, Hon. Tijani Abdulkadir Jobe, stated that members of the National Assembly Joint Committees were at the gathering to brief and be briefed on inequalities in Nigeria as seen and experienced from different perspectives and efforts being made to address it.

He leveraged on Section 42 of the Nigerian Constitution which prohibits any form of discrimination on grounds of gender, disability or otherwise to elucidate Nigeria’s recognition of the inherent dangers of inequalities.
He noted however, that in spite of these constitutional provisions, other international conventions and protocols, the customary practices and religious laws in some climes continue to affect women’s rights. He expressed optimism that given the array of experts and practitioners at the interactive forum, more light would be thrown on international best practices towards addressing inequalities in all its ramifications in Nigeria.

Earlier in his opening statement, Chairman, Senate Committee on SDGs, Senator Attai Aidoko Ali Usman, described the parliamentary briefing as a special tool which the National Assembly developed in partnership with the UN SDG Action Campaign to give Nigerian Parliamentary bodies, especially the Committees on the SDGs an opportunity to interact with experts and the Nigerian development community across sectors on the various aspects of the SDGs and understand the current status, challenges, opportunities and the legislative actions required from the Legislature as an arm of government to actualise the goals and targets of the SDGs.

He expressed fear that inequalities which were gradually becoming a major development barrier, particularly in Nigeria, could hamper the achievement of all the SDGs if not checked.

‘From statistics available to our committees, Nigeria seems to be one of the most unequal societies in the world in terms of income, access to basic social services, life expectancy among others. Across geo-political zones, states, population and age groups, we see clear manifestations of social, economic and political inequalities. These should concern all Nigerians and must be addressed’, he stated.

Senator Usman said the briefing would give participants insight into: The general state of inequalities within given population or sector; the drivers of inequalities and their various manifestations; current policy, legislative, institutional and other mechanisms aimed at addressing these inequalities in Nigeria; and proposals for legislative mechanisms and support necessary for addressing the identified and other forms of inequalities.

In his briefing, the United Nations Global Director of SDGs Action Campaign, Mitchell Toomey, commended Nigerian parliamentarians for their outstanding leadership role exhibited in the African continent and efforts towards domestication of SDGs despite the challenges of insecurity faced in the country. “The Nigerian National Assembly has become a shining light in the engagement of efforts to achieve the SDGs in the world”, Toomey declared.

He appreciated the efforts of the Nigerian Government in identifying inequalities as a key challenge in achieving the SDGs and setting agenda in motion to address the challenge.

Stakeholders’ Views
A representative of the Federal Character Commission (FCC), D. Shetimma Buka Abba, who spoke at the briefing, decried the huge gap between the rich few who sit on 80 per cent of the country’s wealth and the majority poor in Nigeria, and expressed fear that the consequences of such crass inequalities may spell doom for the country if not checked now.
He said within the window of its mandate to ensure equity and improve the quality of life for the poor and vulnerable, the Commission was already addressing socio-political and economic inequalities in the federation. He submitted that the achievement of the SDGs by Nigeria would be difficult if inequality in all its ramifications was not addressed.

He said inequalities in the educational sector manifest in the form of male-female enrolment and urban-rural distribution of teachers, where more teachers are concentrated at the urban areas while most schools in the rural areas have little or no teachers.

Representative of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Oladimeji Olayinka averred that inequality cut across all the sectors in Nigeria and the health sector was not an exception. He suggested increase in budgetary allocation to NPHCDA to effectively carry out the national policy on immunisation programmes properly and effectively, noting that health was a key element in the achievement of the SDGs.

Chioma Osuji of the Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All (CSACEFA) identified violence against girls in schools, poor gender distributions of school teachers, lack of toilet facilities in schools, forced marriage, educational policies not being gender sensitive, stereotyped curriculum, non-conducive environment for children with disabilities, lack of skilled teachers for special children, lack of data on disability and discrimination against disabled persons as impediments to the actualisation of the SDGs.

She also decried the lopsided attention on universal basic education to the neglect of senior secondary education and suggested that the education policy be reviewed to accommodate the senior secondary schools and sanction states which failed to access their educational funds.

In the same vein, David Anyaele of the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities stressed the need for parliamentarians at all levels to strengthen oversight functions as regards addressing challenges of persons with disabilities, build their capacities around disabilities, strengthen the lawmakers understanding, and called on all states to domesticate disability law.

The National Coordinator of Civil Society Coalition on SDGs, Prof. David Tola Winjobi noted that whereas the rural areas were classified as the food basket for the nation, they remained grossly under-developed in all ramifications, a situation that made life in the rural areas a difficult one.

Winjobi recommended a holistic approach in entrenching proper infrastructural development in the rural places especially when government is encouraging people to return to agriculture which has been neglected.

The general view of those at the briefing was that inequality remains a problem that must be tackled for Nigeria to move forward. It remains how the legislators, government and other stakeholders approach the goal to ensure adequate, equitable development for all before the deadline year of 2030. That is a worthwhile target.