Winjobi

As the second year since the adoption of the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals at the September 2015 landmark 70th United Nations General Assembly in New York approaches, the National Coordinator, Civil Society Coalition on Sustainable Development, Dr. Tola Winjobi, speaks with Abimbola Akosile on the challenges and progress of the SDGs in Nigeria and rest of Africa

How did Nigeria fare in realising the previous eight MDGs and what hitches did you identify during that process, both from state and non-state actors…and what is your assessment of the current efforts of the three tiers of government to deliver good governance and desired development to the electorate?

Nigeria failed to attain MDGs just like many other African countries. As a matter of fact, it was Goal 3 on the issue of gender that Nigeria first missed because it was the only goal that had some of its targets set at meeting in 2005. Indeed, Nigeria started the implementation of MDGs late as it was the negotiation of the Paris Club debt refund of 2006 that raised the consciousness of Nigerian government to MDGs. By the end of 2015, it was obvious that Nigeria had completely derailed from attaining Goal 1 (Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger); Goal 4 (Reduce child mortality); and Goal 5 (Improve maternal health), and eventually missed all the MDGs. Ab initio, the process leading to the crafting of MDGs up to the signing stage was devoid of inclusion of critical stakeholders in many countries including Nigeria. Worse still, institutional stakeholders such as ministries, departments, agencies, including the parliament, CSOs and private sector were excluded. The problem was largely government’s own. At a point, MDGs became a matter of political patronage while the conditional cash transfer scheme was not transparent enough and many state governments failed in putting down their own counterpart funds though the civil society did all they could to ensure monitoring.

There is no way the current political actors can deliver good governance and desired development to the electorate if they continue the business as usual. Is it three tiers of government we really have or two tiers; local government in Nigeria is just an extension of the office of the executive in states. Nothing has really changed from the change mantra. People are still hungry while poverty is still staring about 100 million Nigerians in the face with majority in rural community while women constitute not less than 70 per cent of the poor. Inequality is growing by the day as the rich are becoming richer and poor poorer. Inequality is also noticeable between the urban and rural communities as the latter is suffering from decades of neglect by various governments whereas these rural centres are the food baskets of our nation. Nothing has changed except from bad to worse as the political actors are self-centred lots who are milking our economy dry without sympathy for the electorate. Not less than three quarters of the 36 state governments owe their workers several months of salary arrears whereas the governors have become insolent emperors feeding fat on the states’ allocations. Both the constituted authorities and their legislators are living in opulence while their workers including legislative aides are starving. Has anything changed? ASUU was on strike for 9 months in 2009 and still on strike in 2017 and government cannot do anything about it. Medical and educational tourism by the political leadership and their children has been the order of the day while poor Nigerian citizens are dying in their numbers as a result of infrastructural deficiency and decay that government doesn’t care about since theirs don’t patronise them. If this business as usual continues, SDGs will suffer the same fate that befell MDGs.

It is almost two years since the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in New York, USA in September 2015, and Nigeria was one of the 195 UN Member-countries which signed onto the agenda…how well has the present government responded to the development challenges captured in the Goals?

There are 17 Goals and 169 targets in all and I am not sure Nigerian government is prioritising the implementation of them so as to see those they can easily work on which will impact on the people. However, the federal government has put some mechanisms in place to ensure hitch free implementation of the SDGs. There is the establishment of the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs which is a carry-over from the former MDGs under the presidency. There is also a House Committee on SDGs at the lower legislative house of assembly; of recent there seems to be a Senate Committee counterpart too to play oversight function and appropriate appropriation to SDGs.

There is also an Inter-Ministerial Committee on the SDGs established to guide the coordinated engagement with Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) though there has never been a replica of this at the state level. There is also a Private Sector Consultative Group which, hopefully Nigerian government thinks, would bring financial leverage to SDGs implementation. Putting these mechanisms in place is not a measure of the progress of SDGs implementation but evidence-based result of the implementation which we don’t have. What does all this translate to in terms of reduction in the number of people going hungry daily, suffering from poverty, death as a result of poor road networks, decayed hospital facilities coupled with wrong diagnosis, unemployment, unpaid salary arrears and pensions, insecurity especially in the hands of armed robbers, violent extremists, kidnappers and ritualists? Can we say the government is doing well in moving towards attaining SDGs by 2030 in the face of all these calamities befalling our citizens? Worse still, the National Assembly has not been helping matters despite their oversight function as they not only indulge in budget padding but they also delay with impunity the passage of the budget. For example the 2017 Appropriation Act was not passed till almost half of year 2017.

One needs to praise the federal government for being involved in the recently concluded High Level Political Forum, National Voluntary Review (HLPF NVR) of the SDGs July 2017 in New York. HLPF is desirable as it was an opportunity for countries involved in VNR to showcase their efforts in implementing SDGs in the past couple of months. It was also an opportunity for NGOs from these countries to hear directly from their political leaders some “lies” being told about the implementation of SDGs. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity for NGOs to rebuff some of these “insincere” implementation commentaries because NGOs were preselected to make comments. However, HLPF though political in nature is good as NGOs can still hold their governments accountable back home. Something that stood out cutting across the NVR presentations in developing countries was the fact that many of them were really passionate about implementing SDGs in their countries but they shied away from the major challenges facing them; two of which are insecurity and corruption. For example, countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia and even Somaliland are still battling with violent extremism as evident in the antics of Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, Al-Queda, etc. destroying lives and property which ossifies smooth implementation and attainment of SDGs. Corruption has also become a dreaded disease seeping through the pores of the fabrics of Nigeria and ravaging it beyond repair. For example, the leadership of the Senate is enmeshed in high level corruption to the extent that they refused to confirm the appointment of Mr. Ibrahim Magu the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) because the latter already has their graft case files with him.

Although many argue that poverty and inequality are the biggest challenges confronting Nigeria and Africa, can you identify some of the 17 goals which ought to be prioritised and which are crucial to realising the rest of the goals in this country?

All the Goals are important but not all of them can be given equal weight. Poverty is number one problem facing most African countries while outright lack of food on the table coupled with bad health could be a sign of poverty. All these are pointing to Goals 1 to 3. They are basic physiological needs before thinking of having quality education and the issue of gender though water and sanitation (Goal 6) should be taken seriously over goals 4 and 5. Education is important and should be given the worthy place desired, while agriculture should not be relegated as this sector would take care of Goals 1, 2, and partly 3. Reducing inequalities (Goal 10) within the country between the rich and the poor, men and women, youth and adults is as important as Goal 16 which deals with access to justice for all by promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. Government should take Goal 8 seriously in providing decent jobs especially for our youth while making all efforts to grow our economy. Then the issue of climate change (Goal 13) and other Goals can follow.

Can poverty – which is the first SDG – be eradicated in Nigeria, and if not, what are your suggested tips on successful alleviation of poverty?

Poverty cannot be eradicated in Africa not even in Nigeria; we can only alleviate it. We have the poor as well in developed climes but this number is negligible compared to higher number in Africa suffering from poverty and preventable diseases. To alleviate poverty, government should create jobs for our teeming youth and cater to the needs of senior citizens including timely payment of pensioners’ due. They should intensify efforts in service delivery providing durable infrastructure such as stable power supply, good road networks linking agric centres, encourage farming, grant incentives to farmers, de-emphasise paper qualification, reduce overhead cost of the National Assembly, make political leadership less attractive, fight corruption to a standstill, provide security for all, run an open and transparent governance and be accountable to the people.

The current administration has a Senior Special Assistant to the President on the SDGs in place and there was a national stakeholders retreat on the SDGs last year; how can the Office of the SSAP-SDGs ensure adequate nationwide awareness and realisation of the goals?

The SDGs mantra is “leaving no one behind”. To attain SDGs by 2030 all hands must be on deck; everyone should be involved while their voice should also count. OSSAP-SDGs cannot do it alone. Paramount is the need for OSSAP-SDGs to constructively engage civil society, academia, media, private sector, professional bodies, donors, youth, women and even children, persons living with disability and other stakeholders as each of these groups has one role or the other to play in achieving SDGs. Without mincing words on realisation of SDGs, Civil society and the media are central to creating nationwide awareness, building the capacity of stakeholders, providing information to the grassroots, monitoring the implementation process, and supporting the efforts of the governments in service delivery. The media has really been playing a leading role with civil society as the former including newspaper, electronic and social media have been giving adequate publicity to SDGs even free of charge. It is not too late for OSSAP-SDGs to provide an enabling environment for CSOs to operate and sustain Government-CSO Strategy Group on SDGs which the UN SDGs Action Campaign spearheaded in November 2015. The idea of impromptu CSO consultation with Abuja CSOs erroneously called voluntary national consultation is not the best for the voice of civil society to be heard as several NGOs are being sidelined in such only Abuja meeting. No amount of money is too small for government to support CSOs’ attendance at such meetings; it is nothing about development if such meetings are not about CSOs.

The parliament has been identified as a key stakeholder in the realisation of the SDGs and the current National Assembly has a joint committee on the SDGs…to you, are they on the right track and working in tandem with the Executive and other non-state actors to ensure delivery of the development goals?

The current National Assembly is not on track as far as SDG implementation is concerned as they are apparently working against the executive by their very conduct. As I have pointed out before, the parliament is a critical stakeholder especially in the area of giving legal framework in terms of appropriation to SDGs related sectors. This arm of government is seen as playing oversight functions serving as the watchdog but who watches over the watchdog? The “separation of power” clause does not amount to legislative recklessness against the executive arm. The members of the present legislative arm especially the upper chamber are seemingly reckless, arrogant, non-cooperative, too full of themselves calling it a bluff the executive arm who is, unfortunately though, apparently weak or perhaps do not want to rock the boat. Their non-confirmation of Mr. Ibrahim Magu as the de facto Chair of EFCC smacks of sheer arrogance; an action that may impinge on the crusade against corruption in which some of them are enmeshed. Delay in budget passage amounts to delay in expenditure which also amounts to late implementation of the projects under SDGs. Our members of National Assembly should learn how countries like Mexico, Germany, South Korea, Ghana, relate with their executive in the interest of their countries. Enough of parliament of power mongering; let’s embrace selfless service and people-centred parliament in order to ensure delivery of the development goals.

Do you view the development process in Nigeria from a civil society and non-state actor perspective, or from an academic-theoretical approach, and can you mention just three of your landmark achievements in this area till date?

I have not less than twenty three years’ experience as a civil society actor with human rights background working for Amnesty International and later with a stint in CAFOD. I have been in the main stream development sector since 2002 while I have been involved conducting training and implementing projects in the area of advocacy for over a decade and a half. Development process should be viewed holistically, both theoretical and practice, without which there will be no results for accountability. There is a nexus between town and gown – the latter representing academic and former the society – facilitating sustainable development. The civil society actors often tap from the resources of the academia in terms of theoretical exercise and research leverage to strengthen their advocacy development work while the academia relies on civil society for joint actions to achieve the very essence of the objective of producing the man power need of a nation. Therefore, the development of a nation hinges on both theoretical and practical approach.

In this regard, we have implemented result oriented projects in conjunction with the academia either in practice or in theory. Few among these are: Irregular migration – Filling the information gaps; “Think Tank Group” on achieving sustainable development; CSOs’ capacity building on engaging the political leadership on mainstreaming SDGs into national plans and programmes; Civil Society Handbook on Advocacy, to mention but a few. The first two projects were jointly organised with the university. In order to implement our activities, we have come up with different platforms of engagement in Nigeria including Civil Society Coalition on Sustainable Development (www.cscsdev.org); Southwest Freedom of Information Act Network; Civil Society Partnership for Development Effectiveness; Child Protection Network; Migrationaware etc.

Are you actively engaged in partnership with other regional coalitions for the successful realisation of the SDGs on a national scale through monitoring and evaluation and oversight?

Civil Society Coalition on Sustainable Development is a national organisation registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission and active in all the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. It is the only government-recognised coalition of over 250 registered civil society and nongovernmental organisations set up essentially for monitoring the implementation of SDGs in Nigeria. Its work is being done in partnership with other civil society organisations, the poor, the marginalised, professional associations, the private sector, and development partners with a view to pressuring governments to account to the SDGs promises, and give the lives of people a meaning through upholding justice, human rights and development in all ramifications. CSCSD considers all the stakeholders including the poor, the marginalised, the minority, and development agencies as co-partners who have an important but collective role to play on the attainment of the SDGs agenda, and upholding of human rights, justice and peace. Since CSCSD believes in equity and equality, it enjoins the stakeholders to consider gender equality, social inclusion, and just global governance as essential for achieving transformation. It also values conducive environment and thus strongly believes that all development must happen within planetary boundaries, while corporations must be held responsible for the environmental destruction they cause.

Nigeria has for long been dependent on donor funding and foreign aid to help meet her development challenges especially in the areas of health and education…now that such foreign aid and funds are being channeled to other more needy countries in Africa, how can the development process be sustained here without serious setbacks?

Yes, there has been dwindling in the foreign aid to Nigeria both to government and civil society. But when you x-ray the official development assistance (ODA) coming to our country, it is just like a drop in the ocean of the total annual budget of Nigeria. Since Nigeria is not a donor-dependent country, re-channeling of aids to other African countries might not have a telling effect on our development process. After all, Nigeria has money bags that can actually fund our budget, but to what use are they channeling their money? Paramount is the need to re-orient the thinking of our affluent so that they can be unconditionally channeling their resources to the development sector in the interest of the masses. In the face of recession, government alone cannot fund all the critical sectors of the economy which is why the need to engage the private sector is critical as it obtains in developed climes like Germany. Beyond contributions from the private sector, governments at all levels should be prudent enough and cooperate with the federal government in the fight against sleaze. Government should always walk the talk rather than paying lip service to revamping our economy. Attention should be paid to those critical sectors of the economy so as to raise our nation from the socio-political doldrums we have found ourselves.

Agriculture, education and health sectors need urgent attention. Government should respect all the instruments and covenants they have signed. For example, according to UNESCO, the budgetary allocation to education should not be less than 26 per cent of our total annual budget. But what have we been having over the years; less than 15 or 10 per cent? ASUU is still on strike not for nothing but for federal government’s reneging on their promises over the years. Ditto for budgetary allocation to health which, according to Abuja agreement, should not be less than 15 per cent as the fiscal vogue in Nigerian budgetary allocation to health is always less than 10 per cent. Agriculture is worse hit and yet food is considered to be the mainstay of everyone. Business unusual coupled with diversification from oil economy and looking inward by prudently managing our resources is a fulcrum for attaining sustainable development goals in Nigeria.

In what ways can the organised private sector work with the government and other stakeholders to strengthen Nigeria’s development process and help enhance the livelihood of the citizens?

I think the federal government has taken the right step in launching the Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG) “to fully harness the resources and effectively engage other stakeholders”. However, the composition of that body leaves much to be desired as they are highly-placed successful business people but inaccessible to many. They are not people that can endear themselves to common people including to the civil society who may need their resources to function in monitoring the implementation of SDGs. It would have been better if each of these private sector promoters could have an SDG dedicated desk officer in their various organisations to be handling matters dealing with SDGs from stakeholders. In Germany, for example, there are principal officers, not the inaccessible Chief Executive Officers or Chairmen, in private sectors responsible for SDGs issues that are easily accessible. The financial leverage that the private sector brings to SDG implementation cannot be underestimated. It is interesting to know that most of the projects on development by CSOs and German Agency for International Cooperation Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) are being financed by the private sectors. There is an Open SDGClubBerlin under the auspices of German Council for Sustainable Development currently being funded by different conglomerates and companies in Germany. This is a best practice that our private sector in Nigeria can launch themselves into for the benefit of government and people of Nigeria. Government needs to be open and transparent in dealing with the private sector while at the same time provide them an enabling business environment through ease of business registration and tax holiday.