Democracy, Leadership and Agenda 2030: Inspiration from Nigeria

Aug 23, 2016


(Presentation by Resident Representative ai, Opia Kumah, at the Mandela Forum in Accra, Ghana)

I. Introduction

Democracy represents the most viable avenue through which the legitimate aspirations of a people for a better quality of life can be expressed and claims for redress made. Democracy is therefore critical to sustainable human development;

With exceptions, economies under democracies have outperformed autocracies in the consistency of their growth and delivered better development outcomes;

The major enabling factor for democracies to sustain growth and development is the existence of institutions of accountability - checks on the executive, separation of powers, separation of politics from the civil service, independence of the judiciary, press freedom, and autonomy of academia and the private sector.  In order words the institutionalization of political power and the dispersion of centres influence ensure the functioning of public institutions in an impersonal, efficient and predictable manner;

Arguably, the most critical determinant of the growth of democracy is political leadership. While too frequent leadership change, weak willpower, and constant policy reversal can undermine the foundations of democracy, especially in their fledgling stages, entrenched and personalized leadership is antithetical to democracy and often leads to calcification of power and stagnation.  The trick is to maintain continuity in change;

Over the past three decades, many young African democracies have resisted and survived attempts to entrench the personal rule of ‘big men’. Slowly but steadily, despite occasional setbacks (e.g. Burundi and Rwanda) the tide is turning in the direction of governments underpinned by institutions and the rule of law. Examples can be found in Malawi, Zambia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali etc.;

But the news is not all positive for democratization in Africa. In many instances, the political struggle in Africa remains very much a conflict ‘between the rule of law and the rule of persons’ (See, for instance, African countries’ stagnation on critical indicators in the Freedom House Index and the Mo Ibrahim Index.  According to the IIAG (2015), overall progress in governance is stalling, with marginal improvement recorded in human development, and participation & human rights.)

Even more invidious, emerging democracies in Africa have often failed to deliver a “democracy dividend” in the areas of human security and safety, rule of law, and sustainable economic opportunities. The indicators of governance weakness abound, namely denial of basic public goods such as healthcare, education, clean water, electrical power, clean and liveable environment, because the institutions required to provide them remain weak, often eroded from within.

II. The SDGs, Leadership and Democracy

In September 2015, world leaders adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a roadmap for attaining durable development in freedom and dignity by 2030. Their primary focus is on eradicating poverty and addressing non-sustainable patterns of consumption and production, and protecting environmental resources;

The SDGs tackle an important omission of its more streamlined predecessor, the MDGs, through Goal 16, which focuses on governance, inclusion, participation, rights and security. If countries fail on Goal 16, any ambition to achieve the 16 other goals may as well become a mirage;

Goal 16 focuses on ‘effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels’ and calls on nations to ‘ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels’;

SDG 16 is therefore an end in itself and a crucial part of delivering development that is sustainable everywhere.

However, Goal 16 will not achieve itself. Its attainment requires enlightened and focused leadership that wields authority in a democratic manner and environment.

III. Inspirations from Nigeria

Despite some difficulties, Nigeria provides a good example of a positively evolving democratic culture.  Since embarking on the current democratic dispensation, successive leaderships have shown a commitment to institution-building. The Nigerian people and their institutions have on multiple occasions demonstrated an eagerness to safeguard newly won democratic gains. To cite a few cases in point: failure of attempts to erase term-limits in 2007; upholding constitutional provisions in the succession crisis precipitated by the infirmity of late President Yar’Adua in 2009-2010; conduct of credible and transparent 2015 General Elections, which witnessed the transfer of power from the then ruling PDP to the APC; and judicial affirmation, which has led to the upturning of several flawed elections, etc.;

These developments, notably the peaceful transition in 2015, provide a political context conducive to the implementation of the SDGs. UNDP in Nigeria is proud of its contribution towards erecting this significant pillar of democracy in Nigeria.

UNDP will continue to work with the Government to use lessons learned from the implementation of the MDGs to inform the SDG prioritization.

IV. Way Forward: Leadership Imperatives of the SDGs

In conclusion,

SDG implementation entails 3 key elements which require courageous, focused and inclusive leadership built on the foundation of the rule of law, in the following areas: (1) policy continuity and institutional coherence; (2) multi-stakeholder partnerships; (3) data, monitoring and accountability;

Since targets are defined as aspirational and global, each government is expected to set up its own national targets guided by the global level of ambition but taking into account national circumstances. Each government will also decide how these aspirational and global targets should be incorporated into national planning processes, policies and strategies. And each government shall determine the partnerships required to attain the goals;

The imperative of inclusiveness implies that all levels of government, different stakeholders and viewpoints must be embraced in the implementation of the SDGs;

African political leaders need to address the issues of coherence, partnerships and ownership, as well as gaps in data, in order to attain these noble global goals. Once these are achieved, we can say democracy and good leadership are working for the people.


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Lucky Musonda

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