Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Princess Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, senior special assistant to the president on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and former deputy governor of Lagos State is an administrator, social worker, politician and princess from a royal family in Lagos State. Described as simple in outlook, and self-effacing in her interactions, she has to her credit a long history of great achievements through her passion, commitment and dedication to public service.
With over 25 years in public service, Princess Orelope-Adefulire has carved a niche for herself as an accomplished grassroots politician with passion for the emancipation of the womenfolk and youth development, especially girl-child education.
The Presidential aide who turns 60 today, September 29, spoke on her job of overseeing the implementation of the SDGs, the challenges, and her days as a deputy governor to Babatunde Fashola, among others on the sidelines of the 74th United Nations General Assembly.
Tell us, what has been the Nigerian experience since the SDGs came into force and particularly since your assumption of office as SSAP-SDGs?
As you well know, the Millennium Development Goals, which was adopted by world leaders in 2000 finally came to an end in 2015. With the adoption of a successor framework by world leaders on September 25, 2015, at the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, every member state of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The new Agenda has a set of 17 SDGs and 169 targets, and 232 indicators designed to bring about a peaceful, just, equitable and inclusive world. The 2030 Agenda aligns with Nigeria’s drive to deliver democratic dividends and improve the lives of the poor. The Agenda commits all signatory countries to work together to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development and environmental protection in order to ensure that every person fulfills his or her potentials in dignity and equality in a healthy environment. Unlike the implementation of the MDGs, where we started the implementation six years behind schedule, Nigeria has taken the lead to roll-out the SDGs in the continent by showing best practice in early domestication, integration and implementation of these goals through sub-national mainstreaming, inter-agency coordination and institutional strengthening.
What are the shapes and forms of partnerships engaged in by your office and why are they so important to the implementation of the SDGs?
The implementation of the SDGs requires all hands to be on the deck for us to achieve the desired results. And this can only be achieved through strategic partnerships and collaborations. This, like I said earlier, cuts across vertical and horizontal levels. Drawing lessons from the implementation of the MDGs the successful implementation of the SDGs will depend on partnerships, inclusiveness and accountability. We, therefore, recognize the need for inter-sectoral, inter-governmental, multi-level and multi-stakeholders’ engagements to enhance success. Consequent on this, we are working closely with the states and local governments to ensure vulnerable masses are not left behind. SDG 17 focuses on strengthening the means to revitalize global partnership for sustainable development. This is a radical departure from the MDGs. The SDGs Agenda requires state parties to explore domestic and innovative means of financing through partnership and collaboration at national and regional levels; between governments, the private sector and international financial institutions. The Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, has also in two separate occasions inaugurated the Private Sector Advisory Group on SDGs (PSAG-SDGs) and the Donors’ Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals. The PSAG creates the platform for the organized private sector to support the achievement of the SDGs. Like you know, our people especially the poor and vulnerable have their hopes on the political and business elite, and we cannot afford to fail them. I can also tell you that Nigeria took the lead as the first country to inaugurate the PSAG among the UN member nations and it is designed to forge a partnership between the private and public sector to build the consensus for effective implementation of the SDGs. We are also in strategic partnership with the Nigerian Bar Association to accelerate efforts towards the attainment of Goals 10, 16 and 17, which deal on issues of access to justice, peace, inequalities, inclusive society and partnership for sustainable development. Through this platform, we give free legal services (pro bono) to vulnerable Nigerians, who ordinarily cannot procure the services of lawyers to seek redress from their daily abusers. You will agree with me that with inequality still prevalent and large disparities apparent in access to health and education services and other social goods, efforts by stakeholders must be scaled up and sustained towards lifting people out of poverty and protecting the most vulnerable in the society. To reduce inequality, policies should be inclusive, paying attention to the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized populations. We are also exploring areas of strategic partnership and collaborations with the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). This will be aligned with country priorities as well as the priorities for the SDGs. No doubt, government would need to enhance effectiveness and ensure accountability for results and we recognize the multiple functions the CSOs play in addressing the main challenges of poverty and environmental degradation, conflict and disaster, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and governance at all levels, from the local to the global stage.
What practical steps have you taken so far to ensure effective implementation of the Agenda?
As it is required in the Agenda, we have within the last three years been driving our advocacy and sensitization efforts across the national and sub-national levels, to mobilize critical stakeholders and ensure coherence as we implement the SDGs across the nation. Effective implementation of the SDGs requires multi-level partnerships and we have been working round the clock to achieve that. At the moment, we are partnering with the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning to domesticate the 2030 Agenda by integrating it with the Medium Term Expenditure Framework as well as aligning it with the National Development Plan. Core areas of the SDGs such as agriculture and food security, energy, industrialization, inclusive economic growth, health, education, and other social aspects of development, the environment, amongst others, were integrated into the National Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (NERGP). We are exploring partnership with the Ministry to ensure the whole of the SDGs gets integrated into the implementation plan, otherwise known as Volume 2 of the NERGP. Only few days ago, President Muhammadu Buhari officially launched the Integrated Sustainable Development Goals (iSDG) Simulation Model report at the Nigeria High-level Side Event on the margins of the 74th UNGA in New York. The iSDG model is designed to help bridge the Policy, Planning, and Budgeting Gap in the quest to achieve the SDGs in Nigeria. With this, Nigeria has now become one of the few countries, if not the first country in the Global South to have developed a home-grown analytical framework for SDGs integration.
What is your assessment of the Buhari’s administration so far in improving the lives of Nigerians?
The whole essence of SDGs is encapsulated in the transformative promise to “Leave No One Behind.” In other words, governments across the world are encouraged to implement policies that will ensure greater political, economic and social inclusion, especially for the vulnerable segments of their population (most of which I have already enumerated above). And if you look at the policies and programmes of President Muhammadu Buhari – whether you are talking of agriculture, the Social Investment programmes, the ongoing massive investments in infrastructure, healthcare and the different initiatives aimed at energizing the productive sectors of the economy, you will see that they are basically aimed at improving the social and economic circumstances of Nigerians. The creation of the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs by the president early in the life of his administration has also been acknowledged by stakeholders as a demonstration of President Buhari’s commitment to improving the lot of Nigerians. The office as earlier stated, has been working to establish partnership with stakeholders in private, public sectors, locally and internationally with the requisite resources – technical and financial to support efforts of the Nigerian government in implementation of sustainable development.
How challenging has this been for you?
There is no meaningful programme or project that does not come with its challenges. The size of the framework, from eight MDGs to 17 SDGs also means the implementation will come with its unique challenges. More importantly, we need to recognize the persistent difficulties in obtaining up to date information regarding the SDGs indicators in a large and complex developing country such as Nigeria. To meet the targets set by the United Nations on the SDGs, it is important to strengthen our data gathering and dissemination system. As you may also know, funding can never be enough. This has been further compounded by the global economic downturn. We believe we can do more with more resources, in addition to being more efficient with the scarce resources that are available.
Are these challenges surmountable?
We are working against all odds to ensure these challenges do not limit our efforts. We have already made strides in tackling the problems in data collections. We are in strong collaboration with the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) to strengthen the system of administrative statistics.
How hopeful are you that Nigeria will achieve the SDGs by the year 2030?
The target date of 2030 is still over 10 years from now, but we are certainly not leaving any stone unturned in our implementation efforts. At the moment, we have a clearly defined path towards the achievement of SDGs by the target date of 2030. However, strong commitment and collaboration of all stakeholders is necessary if the quest to bequeath to the people a desired future in which no one is left is to be achieved.
Deputy governors are considered to be mere spare tyres who never get to do any serious job in governance. How would you react to this having occupied the post before?
Well, that was certainly not the case in my own instance. As deputy governor to former Governor Raji Babatunde Fashola, I can tell you that I was supported and given all the opportunities to actualize my passion in the areas of alleviation of poverty, empowerment of women and other vulnerable groups and initiatives aimed at combating all sorts of abuses in Lagos State. Some of the policies and initiatives we introduced in this regard are still very much on ground and functioning for the desired purposes till date. Lagos State also became a trailblazer in efforts to tackle sexual abuses, rape, abuse of children as a result of initiatives from the office with the support of the governor. Many states are now copying the laws and framework we put in place in this regard. So, I will say the question of whether a deputy governor is a spare tyre will depend on the circumstances of each individual.
The participation of women in politics in terms of holding political offices is still very low. How can this be improved and what are you doing to help in that regard?
You are right in this regard. We must continue to work with men to create opportunities for women to be elected and appointed into political offices. On my part, I have been engaged in mentoring women with interests in political offices.
What is your advice to the downtrodden who expect much from the Buhari administration for a better life?
Nigerians should be hopeful of a better time ahead for the country. They should also continue to support and key into the different programmes of government. I am hopeful that things will continue to get better in the country.
What would you say are some of your memorable moments and what were your regrets at 60?
My most memorable moments are those times I spent trying to affect humanity positively. I get fulfillment in service and I am grateful to God that I have had the opportunities to serve and empower people. For regrets, not sure I have any. God has been good to me and my family, and has led me on the right path with grace and mercy.