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Why do political leaders avoid SDGs?


It should be curious and inscrutable why political leaders who are still undergoing political recruitment process called periodic elections cannot be remembered for robust campaigns anchored on the essentials of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which seek to address basic issues in poverty reduction and sustaining development in our world.

No doubt, the political climate in many African countries since many of them gained independence from their colonial masters from the late 1950s has been largely survivalist. The early crop of leaders had focused more on their political survival than in the enhancement of the living conditions of their people. The political instability, caused by contestations for power after the early years that followed have resulted in enhanced conflicts, military coups and social upheavals that have largely worsened the human conditions in these countries. Many of the political leaders had focused more on entrenching themselves in power than in pursuing meaningful human development goals. Hence, across the continent, there has been a preponderance of sit-tight rulers who have relegated issues of economic and social development.

Across the world, issues of development have, over the years, been vigorously promoted through the United Nations system. One of these is the adoption and pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, which lasted between year 2000 and 2015. These MDGs, which were eight in number were planned to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, while aiming to achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases as well as ensure environmental sustainability among others. This was meant to be applicable worldwide.


In Nigeria, a review of its performance in the attainment of the MDGs concluded that Nigeria did not attain the MDG targets by the end of 2015, though smaller African nations such as Ghana, Cameroun and Botswana performed far better and substantially met the goals.

It is a sad commentary on governance system that most other African countries, including Nigeria, failed to meet any of the targets. According to some estimates at about the end of the MDG period, Nigeria had an infant mortality rate of 72.7 deaths/1,000 live births, a contraceptive prevalence of 15.1%, health expenditure of about 4% of GDP, HIV prevalence of 3.17%, a HIV burden of 3,228,600 and HIV-associated deaths of 174,300, with life expectancy at birth of 53.02 years. These were not unexpected, as a multiplicity of health system-related, political and systemic challenges, among other factors worked against the attainment of the goals.

Given the termination of the 15-year MDG period in 2015, a new United Nations development agenda, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development or simply put, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the period 2015-2030 was adopted. The SDGs being a successor programme to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with a collection of 17 global goals and 169 targets was set to transform living standards worldwide. As a 15-year plan, which commenced on January 1, 2016, it is expected to end on December 31, 2030, covers social and economic development issues such as poverty, hunger, health, education, global warming, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, urbanisation, environment and social justice, among others.

It is, therefore, unfortunate that political campaigns for leadership that just culminated in elections into the various leadership positions in Nigeria, did not address the issues highlighted in SGDs, which exposes poverty of development agenda in Africa’s most populous nation.

The role of political leaders, particularly in Africa in enhancing the attainment of the SDGs appears not too reassuring. And this is where Nigeria’s leadership is a desideratum. Issues of extreme poverty are still prevalent in Africa. The SDG’s aim at eliminating extreme poverty by 2030 appears far-fetched in Africa, particularly in Nigeria, which just overtook India as the poverty capital of the world. This is akin to the second goal of the SDGs, which aims at ending hunger completely by 2030, since a sizeable proportion of the African population go to bed hungry daily largely due to poor agricultural policies and failure to promote sustainable agriculture across the continent.

Besides, health-care systems in Africa are not getting better and many members of the affluent population still resort to health tourism with a large chunk of newly trained health experts migrating out of the continent for better opportunities. Other issues on the SDGs such as gender equality, access to clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, availability of decent work, reduction of inequalities and promotion of human rights, justice and strong institutions are still lagging behind levels obtainable in other jurisdictions.

It is gratifying to note that Nigeria, is striving to attain some measure of success, as some of the goals are being prioritised over others. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs, Mrs Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, at a media interactive session in New York on the state of the SDGs in Nigeria the other day said the country has not been “swallowing all the goals and targets hook, line and sinker” but was prioritising them. This is yet to be seen beyond rhetoric that also marked the failure of MDGs, in this regard.

Though the narrative from the government on the performance of the SDGs in Nigeria appears positive, it should not be unexpected, since government officials all over the world always “blow their own trumpet.” Indicators of the seemingly worsening conditions of living standards across the country, which is what the SDGs are meant to address, tell a different story.

For instance, the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria is insufferable. Issues of insecurity are worsening and opportunities for employment and decent work are dwindling. If these indicators are not encouraging, where is the glimmer of hope in the attainment of the SDGs, as public officers have claimed? Are there other positives on the improvement of the living conditions of the average Nigerian that are not obvious to the public?

In as much as the fiscal challenges of government are quite obvious, the attention to the enhancement of living standards should be paramount and not the attainment of some bogus macroeconomic stability, which may not have any direct bearing on the living conditions of the ordinary citizen.

Political leaders need to go beyond programmes such as the social investment scheme of the present administration and provide appropriate signals to the private sector to enhance corporate social responsibility as well as other social intervention programmes to add value to the lives of the ordinary Nigerian.

The year 2030 is merely 11 years away and governments and other political leaders in Nigeria and across the continent should avoid a situation where most of the countries on the continent would fall short of attaining the SDGs, as was the case for the MDGs.

More important, Africa deserves better than it is currently getting for its citizens and a new crop of political leaders may need to emerge, that would give more attention to the uplifting of the human condition on the continent.

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