Promoting Peaceful, Inclusive Societies for Devt

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The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), a Nigerian non-governmental organisation, recently launched its global office in the United States, and also unveiled a shadow report on the realisation of Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which seeks to promote peaceful, inclusive societies. Abimbola Akosile reports

Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.

Landmark Launch

The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) has been registered in the United States as a 501(c)3, and officially launched its global office on September 22 in New York. This launch coincided with the UN World Peace Day and the launch of its Shadow Report on SDG 16.

The launch was attended by the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the UN, Prof. Tijani Muhammed-Bande, and His Deputy, HE Mr. Sunday Itebode; House Committee Chair on Poverty Alleviation and member of the SDGs Committee, Hon. Muhammed Ali Wudil; and the Africa and Middle East Coordinator of the UN SDGs, Mr. Hilary Ogbonna.

Others included Ms. Hauwa Umar of the United Nations Environment Programme, New York, CISLAC Global Trustee Members – Dr. Afia Zakiya and, Mr. John Francis, Mr. Seing Falu Njie – UN Coordinator National think Tank, as well as other development partners, civil society organisations and media within and outside the United States.

All these were contained in a communique issued after the office and shadow report launch jointly signed by the Executive Director, CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani); CISLAC Global Board of Trustees members, Mr. Francis John, and Dr. Afia Zukiya.

Right Context

During his opening remarks, the Executive Director of CISLAC, Mallam Auwal Ibrahim Musa aka Rafsanjani, welcomed all participants and noted the significance that the launch of CISLAC global office coincides with the UN General Assembly 72 and the International Day for Peace.

He recognised that Nigeria is enmeshed in a critical period where the country is threatened by ethnic and socio-cultural turbulence, and observed that the civil society has the mandate to advocate for peace, fairness and social justice as this will bring the much needed development.

Rafsanjani further intimated that sharing the Shadow Report was to key to inform the current anti-corruption efforts of the present government and entrench sustainable development. He further urged on the civil society and all other stakeholders to lend their voices to the clarion call on peace and stability and eschew corruption.

Positive Remarks

In his welcome address, the Permanent Representative to Nigeria in the UN, Prof. Tijani Muhammed-Bande, commended CISLAC on her giant strides and efforts at strengthening the work she does. He observed that corruption was the bane of underdevelopment and social unrest in the country.

He said corruption was the worst epidemic among religious, ethnic and socio-cultural factors affecting the country’s development. He remarked that Nigeria has been plunged into conflict for the past three years and said there cannot be peace if there is injustice.

The envoy further observed that Nigeria has had a string of leaders without transparency, and that paradoxically, where there has been strong leadership, everything revolves around the leader but not around creating strong institutions. He opined that strong institutions should be everybody’s business, and urged Nigerians to launder their image abroad by highlighting the great achievements made by Nigerians while not losing sight of the challenges.

Hon. Wudil, in his remarks, commended CISLAC’s effort in setting up a global office. He observed that any form of government without a legislature is not a government. He spoke about the government programme on social investment which targets the poorest of the poor and urged CISLAC as a foremost civil society group working on legislative advocacy to support the programme and further lend its voice to the Poverty Alleviation Bill at the National Assembly. He further urged civil society groups to play their role of being a voice of the people.

During his presentation, Mr. Ogbonna expressed satisfaction on the fact that Nigeria is strongly interested in engaging with the SDGs. He stated that the SDG 16 is a development enabler that would propel Nigeria, if implemented, to become the leader in Africa and not just a middle income country.

Ogbonna expressed fear that this task may be eroded since implementing SDGs is costly. He observed the need for Nigeria to attract technical expertise and also buttressed the point on the pivotal role of the civil society in bridging the gap between the executives and the legislature.

Board member, Dr. Zakiya, shared in her overview of CISLAC and the critical rationale for setting up the CISLAC global office. She said the global office would consolidate CISLAC’s huge experience, knowledge and expertise in implementing regional and global outreach programmes and partnerships.

Zakiya also noted that it would strengthen global networking among Africans in the Diaspora, provide a platform to address governance challenges internationally, and increase its regional Africa and global advocacy and partnerships with the UN Missions/Institutions, Development Partners, Diplomatic Community and Relevant Committees in the US Congress.

She further said he CISLAC has the pre-requisite competence to mobilise the African Diaspora and other entities and individuals to leverage their expertise and spheres of influence to the benefit of the African continent.

Furthermore, in his presentation on role of the legislators in revitalising SDG 16, Mr. John Francis gave rationale for parliamentary engagements which included their legal mandate as representatives of the electorate and voice of the citizens, their leadership roles in policy formulation, fiduciary powers in appropriation and the legitimacy of the legislative oversight role for the purpose of transparency and accountability and strengthening institutions for good governance at all levels.

He further stressed the need for a holistic approach to the SDGs which would enable effective and efficient implementation and sustained development.

Shadow Report

In her presentation on the second major purpose of the side event, the launch of the CISLAC SDG 16 Shadow Report, Ms. Chioma Kanu stated that the objective of the SDG 16 Shadow Report was to provide a broad independent assessment of the government led national progress toward the SDGs.

She disclosed that the SDG 16 Shadow Report focuses on the anti-corruption agenda, specifically focusing on targets 16.4 which is on illicit financial and arms flows, target 16.5 on reducing bribery and other forms of corruption and target 16.10 on access to information. She stated that the report has 19 policy areas and 175 targets.

Kanu further observed that although not much has been achieved by the government on SDGs, there is political will to push the process forward in terms of legislative frameworks. She therefore urged the government to strengthen the legal framework by passing into law some enabling pieces of legislation such as the whistleblower protection bill, freedom of information bill and the lobbying policy, and also called for the review of the Companies and Allied Matters Act, CAMA to include beneficial ownership disclosure.

Notable Observations

Participants at the forum observed the absence of clear short, medium or long term national development plan that will harmonise the SDGs at national and sub-national levels; and no clear institutionalised bilateral efforts to curb Illicit financial and arms flows or to recover stolen funds of Africa, specifically Nigeria, domiciled in foreign countries.

They also noted the presence of an obnoxious CSO bill sponsored by a member of the National Assembly to scuttle the voice of the people and close the space for civil society to participate in the developmental agenda.

Other observations included the absence of clear data capturing scuttles monitoring and planning for the SDGs; and the absence of a revolving door policy with cooling off periods for public official securing appointment in private sector.

Official Tips

As part of the recommendations from the forum, the United Nations was urged to continue to open its door to mainstream Civil Society Organisations in its global development agenda; while the Nigerian government was enjoined to borrow a leaf from the UN to create space for Civil Society to continue its engagement for sustainable development.

The Nigerian Government was urged to establish a clear plan for short, medium, and long term national development that includes harmonisation with the SDGs, Agenda 2063 and other relevant African development plans;

African countries, specifically Nigeria, were also enjoined to strengthen bilateral relationships and access to information that would ensure all stolen illicit finances in foreign countries are repatriated for sustained development within the African region;

Government was further asked to expedite action on asset recovery by setting up a special integrity trust fund to be monitored by the Civil Society to ensure repatriated funds are duly channeled to sustainable development efforts; and to strengthen existing policies and laws regulating the revolving door policy to include cooling off periods for public servants’ transition to private sector.

CSO Interventions

CISLAC and the Civil Society were enjoined to continue to build national, regional and global presence and tap into the Nigerian and broader African Diaspora technical expertise for contributions to Nigeria’s stride for governance/legislative excellence and sustainable development that ends poverty, injustice and inequality.

There was also a call for discontinuation of the Civil Society bill at the National Assembly that poses no good intent for the development of citizens and further robs the country of inclusivity in governance;

Civil society was also enjoined to ensure advocacy efforts are built on strong data integrity principles, are grounded in the voices of the poor, and clarifies linkages between local, national, regional, and global factors that shape socio-economic, political and other aspects of sustainable;

They were also urged to strengthen CISLAC’s institutional development through a sound strategic plan and funding that includes a strong African based philanthropic focus.

Expanded Reach

Participants lauded the giant strides of CISLAC and encouraged CISLAC to stand tall as a leading non-governmental organisation locally and internationally, in its efforts to improve Nigeria’s legislative processes and relations within the civil society space.

They further encouraged CISLAC not to relent in its efforts to represent the local NGOs to mobilise local philanthropic and other appropriate international resources to deeply engage in shadow reporting that will keep citizens informed of national development and SDG progress, and engage the grassroots in wider consultations to project the voice of the voiceless.

They added that the Nigerian and other African Diaspora expertise would be a powerful role CISLAC can now play to advance sustainable development and resilient communities at home and abroad.