A media tour of some states across the six geopolitical zones in the country a few years ago, to assess the performance of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) before it was replaced with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, was very revealing. It was also a walk-up call, a reminder of what governments across the world need to do to improve  lives and livelihoods. The tour left me with near heartbreak. With a reporter’s notebook in hand, the journey through many communities showed challenges of an immediate sort, especially in the rural areas. Indeed, the faces of the rural folks said it all: It was solemn. It was poverty writ large.             

No wonder, a significant number of Nigerians is said to be living below the poverty line. And the country is already infamously being described  as the poverty capital of the world. It’s no  joke. Many essential facilities are almost non-existant. No potable water, no basic healthcare system, lack of power supply, deplorable education facilities and classrooms. Infrastructure such as good road network and other things that will create opportunities are either  lacking or in terrible state.                   

Globally, the effort to tackle these challenges  has engaged the attention of leaders of many nations. Which was why at the end of the MDGs  five years ago, world leaders came together at the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, USA. It was for a common mission: to sign a new global partnership for development tagged “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).                                   

President Muhammadu Buhari, just few months in office then, was part of the team of global leaders who endorsed the take off of the new plans. He affirmed support for SDGs to succeed in Nigeria. This is consistent with the ‘Change’ mantra of his administration. The SDGs consist of 17 areas  and 169 targets to be achieved by the year 2030. The goals to be implemented include to ensure: zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, decent work and economic growth, industry innovation and infrastructure. Others are reduction of inequalities, urgent action to combat climate change and its  impact, promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. Altogether, these goals capture the essence of development in any nation, hence its slogan of “Leave no one behind”.                                                                      

Specifically, in Nigeria, the prospect of achieving the SDGs targets is being pursued vigorously in an inclusive and people-oriented way. That means strengthening special projects in the six geopolitical zones of the country. 

The enormous task falls on the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing under the leadership of Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN. It is an assignment that must succeed. In that regard, the minister in February 2020, inaugurated a team from the ministry with a clear directive that failure was not an option at all. The team is headed by Alhaji Babaginda Hussani. The Minister of state in the Ministry, Engineer Abubakar Aliyu  has been of great support, providing necessary expertise. It’s a team work. The focus is to achieve eight broad targets contained in the SDGs document. These are: poverty eradication, availability of water and good sanitation, quality education, access to clean energy, healthcare, infrastructure, decent work and economic growth and reduction of inequality.                                            

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Only recently, the Special Projects team concluded a tour of 22 states, spread across the six geopolitical zones to evaluate the success of the projects executed and their impact on the people. Across these states, beneficiaries spoke glowingly to the impact, attesting that, indeed, the team has worked toward a higher purpose. The tour began in the Southwest zone, and covered Lagos, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states. In Lagos state, for instance, Badagry, an ancient town, stands out. Thouli Community School is one of the places the impact of the special projects glitters  like a diamond. Before now, the sleepy school was like a relic of old slavery camp. The students, we were told, used to trek over 7km to school. The students and school authorities say they are eternally grateful, according to the school principal, Mrs Mojisola Ogunsola. The same cheering news and attestation by artisans in Ekiti, Osun and Ondo states.                                 

In the North-Central state of Kwara,  evidence of the special projects dot many rural areas and semi-urban centres. A shop owner in Kwara state, fondly called Iya Ola could not  hide her joy  as she narrated how the street lights executed by the Federal  ministry of works, and installation of new transformers have transformed small businesses. In the Southeast and South-South, the impact of the special projects is evident and many beneficiaries attest to that. In Anambra State, a resident of Umudioka, Mr. Sunday Eze, was particular about the rehabilitation of access roads and renovation of schools which the state seems to have neglected. He noted with gladness the  special projects have facilitated the movement of goods and services, especially during the hectic period of the lockdown.            

In Orlu, Imo state, a town hall constructed by the Special Projects team, is something to behold. The traditional ruler, HRH, Onyemachukwu Okorie says the community is so glad as the town hall provides a conducive environment for the people to gather and deliberate on issues concerning the community. According to him having been on the throne for 15 years, he can attest that the project is the only federal presence in the community. In varying degrees, residents of Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Bayelsa and Rivers, commend the effort of the Federal Ministry of Works in providing boreholes, primary healthcare centres and installation of electricity transformers which have made lives in the communities less of a boredom.      

Perhaps, few places in the Northwest, feel more elated with  the impact of the UN SDGs projects executed by the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, as the Sule Lamido University, in Jigawa state. Until now, water supply was one of the biggest challenges facing the new university.  Such was the problem that the students had to go off campus to fetch water. This also affected the university’s laboratories that need water to carry experiments. Extremely happy with the new development, one of the students, Usman Bala, “we are so excited that the problem of water is over now”, courtesy of the special projects of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing that has constructed and commissioned a 130,000 litres water reservoir in the university. With an increasing student intake that begins this academic session, Sule Lamido University is a a good testimonial to the impact of the SDGs special projects. In nearby Sokoto state, the  joy of the authorities and students of Government Girls secondary school, Bodinga,  knows no limits. This is because of new classroom blocks, chairs and tables provided by the ministry.                                                                     

Altogether, President Buhari deserves commendation for his commitment to meeting  the UN SDGs targets. But the President needs to do more. He should fulfill his promise to take “100 million Nigerians out of mass poverty over the next 10 years“.  This is in addition to reforms in education, healthcare and water sanitation. It’s all part of the plans of the SDGs. The projects will please the federal government as it begins monitoring of backlog of approved projects by the Federal Executive Council(FEC).