The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 aspirations for economic, social, environmental and political prosperity that every country in the world is enjoined to achieve by 2030.
The SDGs were launched by the United Nations in 2015 to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the previous global goals whose timeline ran from 2000 to 2015. They were designed to address all the shortcomings of the MDGs, which experts often criticized for their limited scope and lack of sufficient quantitative benchmarks.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are No Poverty; Zero Hunger, Good Health, and Well-being; Quality Education; Gender Equality; Clean Water and Sanitation; Affordable and Clean Energy; Decent Work and Economic Growth; Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; Reducing Inequality; Sustainable Cities and Communities; Responsible Consumption and Production; Climate Action; Life Below Water; Life on Land; Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions; and Partnership for the Goals.
In addition, each of these 17 Sustainable Development Goals has a number of targets that help us to narrow down our focus to specific deliverables. Furthermore, each target has at least one indicator that helps us to quantify and evaluate actual progress. For example, Goal 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) has 12 targets, including “Diversify, innovate and upgrade for economic productivity” whose indicator is “Annual growth rate of real GDP per employed person.”
Why are the SDGs so critical to Nigeria’s immediate and long-term development? The SDGs’ strength and promise lie in their comprehensiveness. They cover almost all facets of development, from healthcare to education to poverty reduction to innovation, so much so that if we are able to record a 70% success rate in achieving the SDGs, we will be taking a giant leap in our development as a country.
Despite their instrumentality to the accelerated and all-inclusive development of Nigeria, we are not on track to achieve the SDGs, barely 10 years away from the due date. Most of the indices are not positive. Poverty rates, for instance, have continued to rise exponentially, as shown in recent reports by organizations such as Oxfam and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). According to the World Poverty Clock, an estimated 105 million Nigerians – or 51% of the entire population – currently live in extreme poverty.
Unemployment and underemployment rates, especially among the youth, are also in an upward trajectory. The Nigerian workforce, especially its burgeoning youth population, needs to be gainfully employed for the country’s poverty rates to come down.
From the environmental perspective, deforestation and desertification have continued to spread almost unabated, threatening the country’s rich but fragile biodiversity and the livelihoods and very existence of the people living in the worst affected areas in the process.
These challenges have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic, which brought unprecedented disruptions that hit the income levels of many individuals, private and civil society organizations and the government hard and undermined their ability to mobilize the financial and non-financial resources needed to implement the SDGs.
How do we begin to address this slow progress and ensure that Nigeria is on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030? We can start by addressing the first things first. A major factor that has impeded progress towards the SDGs in Nigeria is the low level of awareness among Nigerians about what the SDGs really are.
The average Nigerian simply does not know what the SDGs mean and, consequently, does not appreciate their importance. If you ask 10 random people on the streets of Lagos or Abuja or Onitsha or any other city in Nigeria what the SDGs are, chances are that at least 9 of them will be completely lost.
Due to the way that they are structured, the SDGs cannot be achieved in Nigeria – or in any other country for that matter – without getting buy-in from everyone. The SDGs agenda is not just for the government or NGOs or the private sector alone to implement. Each individual must play his or her own role within his or her own sphere of influence in the workplace, at home and in the community.
Therefore, the foundational step towards the achievement of the SDGs in Nigeria should be raising awareness and empowering the populace with information about the SDGs that will enable them to understand why the goals are relevant to their wellbeing as individuals and to the economic, social and political development of Nigeria. With the right information and enlightenment, the average Nigerian will become an advocate of the SDGs and he or she will self-mobilize to play an active, critical role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in Nigeria.
Mainstream mass media platforms, especially the social and broadcast media, should be deployed to furnish Nigerians with information about the SDGs. SDG-focused organizations should be empowered to do more advocacy and spread the message to the grassroots and the nooks and crannies of the country. SDGs programmes should also be made part and parcel of the curriculum of schools in Nigeria, at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Only when these and similar initiatives are implemented can the achievement of the 2030 Agenda begin to look like a reality in Nigeria.
While awareness creation or sensitization alone is not the solution to Nigeria’s poor performance in the SDGs, it is the necessary first step. To reemphasize, because of the way that they are structured, the SDGs cannot be achieved without the active involvement of everybody, including the general public, businesses, the civil society and the government.
It goes without saying that people can only take action when they are empowered with the information that helps them to understand why this matters not only in the grand scheme of things, but also to their aspirations as individuals.