President Buhari’s underused opportunity

BuhariDurning the build up to the appointment of ministers, there were many who were concerned about fitting round pegs in round holes and made many wonderful suggestions as to who should go to where. Many, including my humble self, opined that Amina Muhammed, the present minister of environment, be made Minister of National Planning. Perhaps in a bid not to be seen as predictable, or in order to spring a surprise, PMB decided to take Amina to Ministry of Environment, which of course with the present burden of climate change, makes prioritisation of environmental issues sine qua non and makes Amina similarly a good fit.

Events have later proved, with the mumbo jumbo surrounding the very first budget of this administration, that those of us who suggested that Amina head National Planning, were not merely seeking relevance. This is simply owing to the fact that in the entire executive council no one knows about sustainable development as much as Amina Mohammed, having served as Senior Special Assistant to the President on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) under Obasanjo and being the immediate past Undersecretary General of the United Nations coordinating the build up to the adoption of the Sustainable Development agenda.

And now, instead of cashing in on the opportunity and employing such a great human resource in coordinating the tripod of sustainable development, which include the economic, social and environmental, Amina has been assigned to a part. This is not in any way to bring down the pedigree of Senator Udoma Udo Udoma who is a renowned lawyer and businessman but as far as national planning is concerned, in the context of a world agenda for development, I think he is better elsewhere.

The problem is that, like the MDGs, many government officials see the SDGs as a project which you create an office and get funding from foreign donors and assign a senior special assistant to manage the resources while government goes on with the rest of its business. I participated in a workshop the UN Millennium Campaign office held for the national assembly, and I chuckled as some legislators still talked as if the SDGs were a different project entirely which government would need to secure funding for.

Please let it be noted that I only know Amina from afar. I am lamenting the fact that, sometimes history provides us with an opportunity to take decisions that have a dynamo effect, and because of politicking, custom, and many other considerations, we allow the opportunity slip by. I thought that if the Buhari administration were truly to be a regime that departs from business as usual, the launch of the SDGs provided a great opportunity to key Nigeria’s efforts into the new development framework and instead of just having a disconnected office that is seen as a mere unit, someone who was outstanding in midwifing the process in the entire comity of nations, would have been best suited to sit at the Ministry of National Planning and mainstream this into the entire governance agenda of the Federal Government. It is not too late.

When you think of the fact that Buhari is 74 years old and is perceived to not have the primitive acquisitive addiction fueled by greed, which is common among public officials in Nigeria, it means he should do much more, as more resources would be freed up for governance. Until recently, Nigeria was famed for her economic growth but it was a growth that did not reflect on the wellbeing and dignity of the ordinary citizen. Inequalities widened beyond measure. Now with the SDGs the whole world has stood up for humanity. Despite the seven billion persons in the world, the earth has enough resources which if well coordinated, should leave no one behind; world leaders want to see, in15 years, by 2030, no one living in hunger or without the basics of life.

Buhari’s government has at least four years out of the lot, to set a solid foundation. Let us say the first year is gone; let thoughts for the next budget begin now, with the SDGs consciously in mind. The SDGs cover virtually all range of issues that should form the focus of any government, including ending poverty (1), hunger (2), promoting good health (3), quality education (4), gender equality (5), clean water and sanitation (6), sustainable energy (7), decent work and economic growth (8), resilient infrastructure and industrialization (9), reduction in inequalities (10), safe and sustainable cities and human habitats (11), sustainable consumption and production (12), combating climate change (13), good use of water resources (14), good use of land and forests (15), promoting peace, justice and strong institutions (16), and finally strengthening partnerships for the achievement of the goals (17). The targets and indicators could truly help government to have direction to evaluate itself.

I am not sure the just approved budget was based on any philosophy of governance. The wild allocations to ministries, departments and agencies of government which is a carryover from previous administrations would hardly bring about any transformation. Now, President Buhari has to grow a well intentioned and sustained commitment to reducing inequalities and eradicating poverty. The wide disparity of conditions that exist between our cities and our rural areas remains a scandal.

Jerry Rawlings said the water we use in flushing our toilets in the cities is cleaner than the water many rural dwellers drink. In Nigeria today, there are still communities that can only be accessed by foot. There are communities without electricity or telephone or internet access, and there are still hundreds of thousands that cannot access simple credit to start a small business despite the billions voted by government agencies, and many still die from treatable diseases; then of course is the issue of dilapidated infrastructure where it ever existed. This is not fair at all, with all the trillions budgeted every year. Now President Buhari needs to join the pieces, and though Amina is part of his government, I believe she should be made better use of.
Fr. Evaristus works at the Catholic Secretariat as Director Church and Society and Executive Secretary of Caritas Nigeria

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