Why Human Rights Are Important in Achieving Sustainable Development in Nigeria

Nigeria attaches great importance to the realization of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is underlined by the fact that all five Nigerian high level events on the margins of the ongoing 74th session of the UN General Assembly focus on different aspects of implementation of the SDGs, thus providing context for deeper assessment of the synergies between human rights and the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals and how these can be maximized to realize the 17 Goals of the Agenda for all in Nigeria?

The reflection of human rights in the 2030 Agenda lends the implementation of the Agenda to a human rights-based approach to development. In her address to the 40th session of the Human Rights Council, on 7 March 2019, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, said “human rights are core to the 2030 Agenda and sustainable development is a powerful vehicle for the realization of all human rights”. Emphasizing the mutually reinforcing relationship between human rights and the 2030 Agenda, she continued “I want to reinforce our rock-solid commitment to delivering on people’s rights through the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The significance of understanding the relationship between the SDGs and human rights is not just illustrative. Human rights provide an effective way of strengthening States’ accountability in realizing SDGs. While Agenda 2030 is not a legally binding instrument, the international human rights treaties and national law are binding.  When the SDGs are analyzed through the lenses of existing human rights instruments, many targets of the SDGs are transformed from a goal or aspiration into immediate rights.

Signed in September 2015 by the 193 Member States of the United Nations, the SDGs is “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity”. The 17 goals, 169 targets and 232 indicators cover a wide range of issues that mirror the human rights framework. Many of the SDGs cover economic, social and cultural rights. Goal 16 on peaceful and inclusive societies covers aspects of civil and political rights including access to justice and fundamental freedoms. Goal 17 and many of the international targets under each Goal, addresses issues linked to international cooperation and the right to development.

The commitment in the 2030 Agenda to “Leave no one behind” is grounded on human rights principles and standards of non-discrimination and equality.  People get left behind when they lack the choices and opportunities to participate in and benefit from development. The key principles in ensuring that no one is left behind are participation, accountability, equality and non-discrimination. This requires moving beyond assessing average and aggregate progress towards ensuring progress for all population groups or individuals. It requires legal, policy, institutional and other measures to promote equality and reverse rising inequalities.

In committing to realizing the SDGs, all States, including Nigeria recognize that the dignity of the individual is fundamental and that the SDGs and their targets should be met for all nations, people and all segments of society. The Agenda therefore aims to “leave no one behind” and to reach the furthest behind first.

To maximize on the synergies between human rights and the 2030 Agenda and realize sustainable development in Nigeria, there are several steps to be taken.

Realizing the commitment in SDGs to “leave no one behind” and to reach the farthest behind first requires a precise identification of the target populations. It is therefore necessary to systematically collect data that is disaggregated enough to demonstrate the level of access to all groups as specified in the 2030 Agenda, especially the most vulnerable – including children, youth, persons with disabilities, people living with HIV, older persons, indigenous peoples, refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants. Some of the marginalized groups may also be identified through a review of reports and recommendations of human rights mechanisms.

Once the marginalized groups are identified for purposes of monitoring, real time information would be imperative to determine the impact of policies and programmes on such groups. Data collection is critical in measuring progress and disaggregated data facilitates assessment of impact on different groups. Disaggregated data allows policy makers to discover where averaged figures marked uneven progress. For example, it will capture where school dropout rates amongst minority girls are rising despite new education policies to reach Goal 4. Without disaggregated data, the Goal to reduce inequalities, even where absolute deprivation is low and/or small pockets of people experience persistent marginalization will not be realized. The 2030 Agenda emphasizes that quality, accessible, timely and reliable disaggregated data is key to decision-making, measurement of progress and to ensure that no one is left behind. It underscores the importance of disaggregated data by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts” (para. 74 and Target 17.18).

The National Bureau of Statistics as a government agency and duty bearer should be fully engaged as a partner and collaborator in data collection to support comprehensive reporting under the SDGs. Data collection must ensure participation of all stakeholders including marginalized groups, permit disaggregation, self-identification by groups, transparency, privacy and accountability.

This must be complemented by avoiding fragmentation between the multi-layer and multi-cluster institutional framework for enhanced coordination and SDGs mainstreaming established at the national level including, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs -responsible for horizontal and vertical coherence between development policies, plans and strategies as well as the Inter-Ministerial Committees on SDGs on one hand and civil society, the National Human Rights Commission and the National Working Group on Treaties Reporting among other national actors.

The SDGs include two goals on combating inequality and discrimination (Goal 5 on gender equality and Goal 10 on inequalities within and between States). The target is “to leave no one behind” and “to reach those farthest behind first” (para. 4).

Addressing inequalities is critical to reaching the overall goal of leaving no one behind. In a speech at the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) on March 6, 2019 in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet spoke forcefully for combating inequalities in income and wealth. She argued that inequalities in their various forms, are responsible for the rise in social unrest in many countries. Referring to the situation in France during the summer labour riots (gilets jaunes), Sudan and Haiti and surging inequalities there, she made a direct connection between political unrest in those countries and rising inequality. Reducing the various forms of inequalities is a precondition for the achievement of the SDGs. Immediate action is therefore required to redress various forms of inequities —inequalities of resources, income, power, access to justice, and with respect to the basic conditions for human dignity.

Equality is a human right and not purely an economic or a political agenda. In Nigeria, many feel excluded from the benefits of development and denied economic and social rights, leading to alienation, unrest and sometimes violence. Some have also decided to vote with their feet, evidenced in the surge in involuntary and precarious migration flows to other parts of the world especially Europe and Asia. The precarious flow in migration from Africa to Europe is a result of the failure to ensure development that reaches all.

Inequalities and the failure to give equal weight and respect to all human rights without discrimination erodes the three pillars of the United Nations, peace and security, development and human rights. Income inequality is rapidly accelerating in Nigeria. According to OXFAM, the combined wealth of Nigeria’s five richest men – $29.9 billion – could end extreme poverty at a national level, yet 5 million face hunger and more than 112 million people are living in poverty. There are also large discrepancies between women and men. Women represent between 60 and 79 percent of Nigeria’s rural labour force but are five times less likely to own their own land than men. Women are also less likely to have had a decent education.  Over 75% of the poorest women in Nigeria have never been to school and 94% of them are illiterate. Nigeria has the lowest rate of women in parliament in Africa, with the number progressively decreasing since 2011. In the 2019 elections, the number of women elected into the National Assembly fell below five per cent.

With 87 million people in extreme poverty as opposed to 73 million in India, Nigeria in 2018 overtook India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty. Of continuing concern is that extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute, while poverty in India continues to fall. In addition, Nigeria ranks 152 out of 187 in the Human Development Index (HDI), which is well below the average for sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria must stop and reverse this negative development.

Human rights are a precondition for achieving sustainable development and provides the legal framework and structures for implementation. Nigeria should seek a coalescence of its human rights and SDGs structures and frameworks to ensure necessary coherence to achieve sustainable development for its entire people.

For Nigeria to achieve sustainable development leaving no one behind, emphasis must be placed on equality and reaching the furthest behind first. This includes vulnerable and marginalized groups – women and children who are victims of the insurgency in the North-East, the  Almajiri (who form a large percentage of the more than 12 million out of school children in the country), the nomadic herders forced to migrate due to climate change and  sedentary farmers displaced and rendered destitute, communities in the Niger Delta who have lost means of livelihood; and settlers and indigenous minorities who face violence and discrimination – who otherwise will be hidden and forgotten. Disaggregated data focusing on these marginalized groups and the impact of policies and programmes on them, is imperative to ensure they are not left behind, hidden and/or forgotten. With this, attaining the SDGs in Nigeria will be inclusive, incremental, rights-based and reaching the farthest first.

Edward Kallon is the UN Resident Coordinator Nigeria.



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