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With citizen engagement, the Sustainable Development Goals can take shape and life for our communities and states. The South East can plug in, from State to Local Governments, towns unions and voluntary associations focused on the development of the region.
Here are the Sustainable Development Goals. They offer SMART objectives and are scalable. They provide a comprehensive compass for states and governments intent on development.
1. End poverty and all its forms everywhere. The World Poverty Clock showed in June 2018 that 86.9m Nigerians live in extreme poverty. The South East states do well on a national comparison, but that is like saying we are the tallest men in Lilliput. Poverty incidence in the region is as follows: Abia, 21.0%; Anambra 11.2%; Ebonyi, 56.0%; Enugu, 28.8% and Imo 19.8%. We must get all the states under 10% as a minimum in four years.
2. Endhunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.SDG 2 is linked to SDG 1 and is critical for our region. Food security comes from increased and sustainable production. Prof Chinedu Agbodike is leading a one-man campaign to involve investors and communities in cultivating all idle lands in the region. Abia State provided seedlings and oil palm for cultivation. More people need to join Agbodike to move the campaign beyond traditional farming to large scale ventures and agro-processing. State governments should incentivise agripreneurs in the region to do what the Israelis did: the application of science and technology to improve agricultural practices and output. Time to test this alleged consanguinity with Israel that is a popular belief!
3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages. An objective that encompasses all the others.
4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all
Education should be the number one item for the region. It should be free and compulsory at primary up to junior secondary, and eliminate the reality now of schools charging various levies despite formal proclamation of free education. Many technocrats from the South East and other regions have done significant work on education reform. They include Oby Ezekwesili, ChinenyeMba-Uzoukwu, Oseghale, Emeka Okoye, Dr DipoAwojide, Nwamaka Okoye and Juliet Kego Ume-Onyido. There is also the work done by the NESG Education Team and platforms like Teach For Nigeria. As Juliet Ume-Onyido stated in discussing the matter with me, “Reforms are actually in the public domain. What is truly lacking is leadership with the Political WILL/VISION”.
On the surface, the South East states are doing well in education. They top and play in the Top Ten in WAEC results as well as Common Entrance scores. A closer look at the data shows many areas requiring focused work. For instance, in the last four years, student enrolment in private secondary schools is catching up with those in public schools. It means parents are increasingly paying for whatever qualifies as a private school essentially so their children can get proper tuition and attention. Countries with superior education systems such as Finland prioritise public school education. Strong leadership drives it as a public good.
The region should focus on STEM, on linkages between home and the Diaspora and on platforms and frameworks for getting international buy-in and technical and financial support.
A significant task for the Governors is a South East curriculum for primary and secondary schools. It would include STEM, digital economy, arts and humanities, values, leadership, communication and volunteer/civics programmes. They should invest in STEM and Igbo language teachers. Revive technical schools. Kudos to Imo State Governor Emeka Ihedioha for prioritising this in his inauguration speech.
Governments should work with educators and planners on how to incorporate the ImuAhia scheme into an Entrepreneurship certification. The Obi of Onitsha is pushing a critical scheme of incorporating Diasporans into the education of young ones through Vacation Programmes. It should increase across the region.
5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The experts say that in addition to a well-formed gender agenda for the region, the South East should see Gender Equity and inclusivity as a fundamental rights issue and an economic imperative for wealth creation and prosperity. Research shows that training women translates to increased benefits for society in better outcomes for the future.
The benefits of progressive girl child education should translate in improved gender relations. Add the benefit of judicial pronouncements such as that by the Supreme Court allowing women the right of inheritance.
Juliet Kego Ume-Onyido submits: “Revisit the ethos of gender balance and intersectionality in traditional Igbo culture; distil the positives (Umuada/Umunna balance), women as traditional makers of laws in Alaigbo, and organizers of markets, and then improve the areas with gaps. Eliminate harmful beliefs/practices -widowhood, rape culture, domestic violence, sex slavery, inheritance laws, female genital mutilation (Ebonyi state has the second highest prevalence rates after Osun), child marriage, politics of the gender of a child (women being victimized by inlaws/spouses when they birth only girl-children), minors used as maids, barriers to political participation, lack of women representation on boards, social mobility, sexual and reproductive rights, socio-economic issues etc.”
We will continue with SDGs6-17 next week.