The Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations, Prof. Tijani Muhammed Bande, has put corruption at the root of underdevelopment and social unrest in Nigeria, saying that corruption is the worst of the social epidemic affecting the country’s development. He was speaking as a special guest at the launching of the United States Global Office of the Nigerian NGO, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, (CISLAC) in New York, an occasion also attended by Mr. Sunday Itebode, his deputy; Hon. Muhammed Ali Wudil, the Chair of Nigeria’s House of Representatives Committee on Poverty Alleviation and a member of the SDGs Committee, Mr. Hilary Ogbonna, the Africa and Middle East Coordinator of the UN SDGs, Ms. Hauwa Umar, the United Nations Environment Programme in New York, Dr. Afia Zakiya, CISLAC’s Global Trustee Member; Dr. Ada Okika, the Executive Director, UNESCO Centre for Global Education, Mr John Francis who presented a paper as well as other development partners, civil society organizations and media within and outside the United States.
At the occasion which coincided with the UN World Peace Day and at which CISLAC also launched its Shadow Report on SDG 16, Prof Bande, however, located the way out of underdevelopment in creating and building strong institutions. That should be everybody’s business, he said, commending CISLAC for building an institution that could be a key player. He urged Nigerians to launder their image abroad by highlighting great achievements. Following in the footsteps of the Permanent Representative was Hon. Muhammed Ali Wudil who described CISLAC as a foremost civil society organisation working on legislative advocacy to support the SDGs as well as lend its voice to the Poverty Alleviation Bill at the National Assembly. He challenged the civil society to play their role of being the voice of the people.
Mr. Hilary Ogbonna expressed satisfaction with Nigeria being strongly interested in engaging with the SDGs, calling SDGs a development enabler that could propel Nigeria to not only become the leader in Africa but a middle income country quicker if properly implemented. For him, the civil society could play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between the executives and the legislature.
Dr. Afia Zakiya put a bet on the global office helping to consolidate CISLAC’s huge experience and expertise in implementing regional and global outreach programmes and partnerships, strengthening global networking as Africa faces governance challenges that need to be tackled internationally, increasing its advocacy and partnerships with the UN Missions/Institutions, Development Partners, the diplomatic community and relevant committees in the US Congress. She further stated that the CISLAC has the pre-requisite competence to mobilize the Africa’s diaspora as a power resource and other entities and individuals to leverage their expertise and spheres of influence to the benefit of the African continent. In the end, these should position CISLAC as a global stakeholder in parliamentary advocacy, capacity building and partnerships from its experiences working with parliaments and parliamentary bodies at national, regional and global levels.
Mr. Francis John who presented a paper on role of legislators in revitalizing SDG 16 stressed the need for a holistic approach to the SDGs which will enable effective and efficient implementation and sustained development. Ms. Chioma Kanu, CISLAC handler of the Shadow Report told the gathering that the SDG 16 Shadow Report focused on the anti-corruption agenda, specifically targets 16.4 which is illicit financial and arms flows, target 16.5 which is reducing bribery and other forms of corruption and target 16.10 on access to information.
Describing the coming to fruition of the US Global Office as a giant stride, participants urged CISLAC to aspire towards the status of a leading non-governmental organization, locally and internationally in driving legislative processes and agenda within the civil society space. They further encouraged CISLAC not to relent in its efforts to represent the local NGOs to mobilize international resources to deeply engage in shadow reporting that will permeate the grassroots for wider consultations with real Nigerians so as to project the voice of the voiceless.
CISLAC Executive Director, Auwal Musa Ibrahim had earlier said in an opening remark that the civil society has the mandate to advocate for peace, fairness and social justice as requirements for development, pointing out how Nigeria is threatened by ethnic and socio-cultural turbulence. It is his view that the civil society and other stakeholders to lend their voices to a clarion call for peace and stability as well as the struggle against corruption. The idea of sharing the Shadow Report is, according to him, to key into salvaging the country by cracking corruption so as to entrench sustainable development.
Professor Bande’s remark might bring back the controversy about which one comes first – strong institutions or strong leaders. There are those like Barrack Obama who, like Bande, argue that strong institutions are what Africa need. Others such as Nigeria’s incumbent president say it was strong leaders who built the strong institutions anyway and that strong institutions could still be ravaged by bad leaders. Although Prof Bande was speaking specifically in relation to the example of CISLAC rather than a return to that very exchange between Buhari and Obama, his contention still falls into that controversy, a controversy which has not been deeply debated in Nigeria. Neither Obama nor President Buhari who replied him in July 2009 has returned to the debate. The society is the loser!