At a recent parliamentary briefing of the Joint Committee on the Millennium Development Goals on the post-2015 Development Agenda held in Abuja, President of the Pan African Parliament, Hon. Bethel Amadi, spoke with Abimbola Akosile on the global development goals, corruption, and other issues. Excerpts:
What is the position of the African Parliament on the MDGs in Africa?
We have been closely involved in the post-2015 agenda and we have held series of consultative meetings in our parliamentary precinct in Midrand in partnership with the United Nations. It is part of the new process of engaging members of parliament in formulating the post-2015 development agenda, considering the fact that the current MDG goals were levelled up without any parliamentary input.
During these processes we’ve been able to put back on track what we believe should have been the basis on which the MDGs should have been formulated, i.e., making them people-oriented, ensuring that the voice of the people of the world for whom these MDGs were first proposed to affect their lives in very clear ways are heard, to begin to ensure that the human dignity and minimum standards of existence are made available to the majority or most people in the world.
So this is a process of engaging the people in determining what their needs are, what their priorities are.
What is your evaluation of the Nigerian situation as regards the MDGs, because a lot of people think the country has not gone far in realising the MDGs, even though the time is short?
I believe that over the past decade substantial progress has been made in many of the MDG goals in Nigeria. We’ve had some progress in the issue of maternal healthcare, improved maternal healthcare; we’ve had improved statistics on infant mortality, we believe that the number of out-of-school children has reduced substantially through some of the other policies like the Universal Basic Education. We also had progress in sanitation issues; more communities have access to drinking water, and more access routes and infrastructure in place.
But there is a lot more that needs to be done. Despite the progress made so far, there is a lot more to be done. We’ve had increase in levels of unemployment and this definitely would directly affect the abilities of families to have decent standards of living.
There has been an increasing gap in wealth distribution, even though the statistics show that our economy is growing by six or seven per cent. But that growth is not inclusive and that is one of the main issues we are talking about. There must be more inclusive economic growth to ensure better wealth distribution across the country. That would make it possible for families to have more resources to send their children to school, to provide better healthcare for their families, to provide nutritional food for the families.
I think, most importantly, and that is one issue we have been pushing at the Pan African Parliament, as we begin to formulate the post-2015 agenda we have to talk about the issue of governance, with the issues properly tabled. Can we begin to see how transparency and accountability in the use of public resources will affect the implementation of the MDG goals? You would see that one of the major problems in our country today is corruption and mismanagement of public resources. That is a governance issue and that must be tackled.
One of the biggest problems and why we have not been able to achieve as much as we should have in the MDGs is the corruption and leakage in the system. A corrupt system remains a big drain on our natural resources and a lot of that can be traced to the core enforcement of law and order.
There are not enough deterrents, there is no adequate punishment for crimes and these are things that help to encourage corruption.
What about the penalties, are they not stiff enough?
The penalties are not even the issue; it is the enforcement of the penalties. I have been a member of the House of Representatives for 11 years now and I had opportunities to serve in the internal affairs committee of the House of Representatives and we visited the prisons across the country. You will see in every prison that almost 80 per cent of the inmates are awaiting trial.
That slow judicial process hampers the implementation of justice and the enforcement of law and order. You will see that very few people who are elites are in prison. Most of the people you find in prison are poor and those who do not have the resources to get good legal representation to enforce their rights.
So we think the issue of corruption should be dealt with head on and this will help us reduce the haemorrhage that is presently going on in our governance system and this is an age-long problem. It is not a new issue; it’s been there for years, from the military days on to civilian rule, and that is why there has to be a national consensus to ensure that this issue is dealt with.
This is not peculiar to Nigeria, it applies to most other African countries and that is why at the Pan African Parliament we have been pushing for certain legislations that would ensure more transparent and more accountable governance, more transparent and more accountable utilization of Africa’s immense resources. Africa is a resource-rich continent but the resource management and the resource application have been one of the main problems we have.
If you look at some of the legislations we have been pursuing on the continental level, the African Charter on Elections, Democracy and Governance is a key legislation that talks about transparent governance issues, election and democracy. It’s a very important charter, it has come into force now and it needs to be implemented in most member states.
We are also pursuing the African Charter on Corruption and the African Charter on the Civil Service because they go hand in hand. A lot of the corruption in governance has to do with the collaboration of the civil service and I think these are key issues that we need to look at and those two charters are also being pursued presently by the Pan African Parliament.
And if we are able to get these two charters working side by side, we are convinced that the available resources on our continent can be properly utilised to improve the living conditions of millions of our citizens who continue to wallow in poverty, hunger, disease, and illiteracy.
Do you think any of the MDGs in Nigeria can be achieved before 2015?
From the statistics available, I would say it would be difficult to achieve any of the goals. But the idea is not necessarily that the goals must be achieved; let us make substantial progress on them and then over time we can begin to look at achieving it post-2015 because those issues are real issues and should not stop at 2015.
But it is important that not only should we make substantial progress but we should have a clear plan on how to sustain the momentum; sustainable development.
Which countries in Africa do you think have done so well in terms of achieving the MDGs that they can teach others a lesson or two on attainment of the goals?
There are a few countries that have made substantial progress. When you think of a country like Rwanda, after the genocide nobody believed that Rwanda would rise from the ashes of genocide to be able to make meaningful progress even in terms of the MDGs. But they have made substantial progress and it is to the credit of the people of Rwanda, not just the government, it is collective.
That is why we think that the Nigerian current process of partisan politics does not allow us to see anything good in any other person who is from any other political party and I think that is very wrong.
It has to be a collective thing. All Nigerian citizens, civil society, private sector, political class, we all need to come together for the benefit of our people.