By Theophilus Ekpon
The only way for the governing class to strengthen the social contract is to reinforce transparency and accountability in governance. Failure to do so will lead to assumptions by the general public. Institutionalization of transparency and accountability mechanisms must be at the core of all government institutions and entities for the country to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16. COVID-19 has once again opened up the debate around trust in the government and its expenditures. Most citizens have been asking about what happened to the over 20 billion naira that was donated by well meaning Nigerians to support government efforts to reverse and halt the spread of COVID-19. As to why the amount in question is insufficient compared to the actual funds expended so far to fight this pandemic: the Nigerian public deserves to know how the money was spent.Transparency and accountability will help Nigeria achieve SDG 16.
While the Central Bank of Nigeria and the private sector groups, led by the Dangote Foundation and Access Bank, share information with regards to COVID-19 donations by the private sector on a regular basis, the utilised medium, space and languages employed excludes the majority of Nigerians from accessing such information and data. The medium and languages for disseminating this kind of information and data should envisage reaching all Nigerians, in their own local languages, including the marginalized and the rural poor. The only way to ensure coverage that will enable such information to reach almost every Nigerian is to utilize mass media, including radio and television, and social media for the more urban population.
The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, which was established by President Buhari to coordinate efforts towards the fight against COVID-19, needs to immediately expand in order to include civil society. In this way, the inputs of society into the process will become more robust as civil society are interlocutors between government and the citizens. The present PTF, which comprises mostly of government officials to the exclusion of civil society representatives, has neglected key aspects which envisage the whole-of-society approach towards the fight against COVID-19. For Nigeria to achieve SDG 16, especially in the context of COVID-19, working collaboratively with civil society is paramount.
Finally, for Nigeria to avoid another lockdown, and to ensure the implementation of SDG 16, all citizens must come together and support each other in abiding by the COVID-19 guidelines of the NCDC. These recommend the practice of social/physical distancing, the wearing of facemasks, and getting tested, as well as undergoing timely and NCDC-supervised treatment for all those who test positive. This collective effort will help prevent another round of lockdown, and can help reduce misinformation, tensions and conflict in the country and strengthen the resilience of communities. This will prepare us to deal with both the current circumstances as well as a post COVID-19 world. In doing so, we can aim to localise the values of SDG 16 – peaceful, just and inclusive societies – on our path towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in Nigeria by 2030.
Theophilus Ekpon is of the Centre for Sustainable Development and Education in Africa (CSDEA) and can be reached at email@example.com