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Public Administration Reform And Transition From MDGs to SDGs in Nigeria



Otive Igbuzor, PhD

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Executive Director, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD)


November 1, 2015



The challenge of development is arguably one of the greatest challenges that has dominated world history. Human beings have always been concerned about how to improve their condition of living and better confront the forces of nature and the environment. Over the years, a lot of progress has been made on how to deal with the challenges of development and improve the standard and condition of living of human beings.

The past five decades have witnessed monumental changes in the world. Global economic wealth has increased sevenfold and average incomes have tripled.[1] Yet, poverty has increased to record high levels. The major problem is that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few people while majority of the people live in abject poverty. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its 1998 report documented that the three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined Gross Domestic Product of the 48 least developed countries. In 2014, eighty five richest people in the world had the same wealth as the poorest 50 percent (3.4 billion people). By 2015, 80 richest people have the same wealth as the poorest 50 percent. In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, income inequality is at its highest level in the last fifty years. The average income of the richest 10 percent of the population is about nine times that of the poorest 10 percent.[2]  It has been documented that the drivers of inequalities include globalization, skilled biased technological change and changes in countries policy approaches (ascendancy of neo-liberalism).


In order to address the problem of poverty and promote sustainable development, the United Nations Millennium Declaration was adopted in September 2000 at the largest ever gathering of heads of heads of States committing countries both rich and poor to do all they can to eradicate poverty, promote human dignity and equality and achieve peace, democracy and environmental stability. The goals include those dedicated to eradicating poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development. There were eight goals namely:

1.     Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

2.     Achieve universal primary education

3.     Promote gender equality

4.     Reduce child mortality

5.     Improve maternal health

6.     Combat AIDS, malaria and other diseases

7.     Ensure environmental sustainability and

8.     Develop a global partnership for development

Nigeria embraced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and set up an office and several programmes for the achievement of the MDGs. But it was confronted with a lot of challenges including credibility of data, resources, transparency and accountability, programme and policy co-ordination and poor commitment at subnational levels. But the opportunity of the MDGs was positively utilized by Nigeria manifested in achievement of some of the goals e.g. the goal relating to hunger, improvement in primary school enrolment and reduction of HIV prevalent rates. However, there are limitations of utilizing the MDGs as a framework for delivering or measuring development.[3] First, they risk simplifying what development is about, by restricting the goals to what is measurable. Many aspects of development cannot be easily measured. Secondly, some of the goals are very modest e.g. the goal to half the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day by 2015 and the target to achieve a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. Finally, some of the targets do not address the problems holistically. For instance, the MDG on education talks only of a full course of primary schooling with no reference to secondary and tertiary education.


Over the past several decades, there are a lot of lessons that has been learnt on how a country can accelerate its development. In 1990, the United Nation’s human development report focused on development and pointed out that people are the real wealth of nations. In 2010, the UN human development report reviewed the progress for the past two decades and made some conclusions that will be very helpful in the development of any nation. First and foremost, the report shows that human development is about sustaining positive outcomes steadily over time and combating processes that impoverish people or underpin oppression and structural injustice hence the principles of equity, sustainability and empowerment are important.[4] Secondly, the report shows that almost all countries of the world have progressed in human development measured by the human development index (life expectancy, schooling and income). Of 135 countries studied, only three-the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe- have a lower HDI in 2010 than in 1970.[5] Thirdly, the report shows that there is no significant correlation between economic growth and improvement in health and education. In other words, economic growth can occur without improvement in the health and education of citizens. In similar vein, there can be substantial improvement in the condition of citizens without fast growth with the right policy, innovation and citizen participation. For instance, the Indian State of Kerala, Costa Rica, Cuba and Sri Lanka attained much higher human development than other countries at their incomes. Fourthly, the report shows that institutions are a key determinant of human development. However, “the policies and reforms compatible with progress vary widely across institutional settings and depend on structural and political constraints.”[6] In addition, the report argues that “markets are very bad at ensuring the provision of public goods, such as security, stability, health and education.”[7] It therefore advocates regulation which requires a capable state as well as political commitment. Finally, the report opines that human development is not only about health, education and income-it is also about people’s active engagement in shaping development, equity and sustainability, intrinsic aspects of the freedom people have to lead lives they have reason to value.[8]

These lessons are important for Nigeria. First and foremost, any development agenda for Nigeria must incorporate strategies to combat the processes that impoverish Nigerians and put in place mechanism to promote equity, sustainability and empowerment. Secondly, the agenda must show that it will improve life expectancy, education and income. Thirdly, the agenda must not only lead to economic growth but it must be inclusive with the right policy, innovation and citizen participation. Fourthly, the agenda must develop leadership but it must also grow institutions. In addition, public administration reform is key to enhance the provision of public goods such as security, health, education, water, energy, housing and transport. Finally, the agenda must promote active citizenship.

At the end of the MDG period, it is clear that Nigeria did not meet most of the targets. The incidence of poverty increased from 54.4 percent in 2004 to 65.1 percent in 2010. About 10 million children of school going age are out of school.  In the 2015 elections, there was only one female presidential candidate; four Female vice-presidential candidates, one main governorship contender and five deputy governorships; and 15 percent of 1, 774 House of Representatives and 17 percent of 747 Senate seats. The end result is that while the seventh assembly had 27 women, only eight of them were re-elected for the 8th assembly. The percent of women in the National Assembly is one of the lowest in Africa. There has been a significant reduction in infant mortality and maternal mortality but the gap between current situation and the desirable are still very large. Access to safe water and sanitation and other environmental challenges are still huge. Nigeria is still an aids orphan compared to other African countries.

Despite the poor profile of Nigeria in terms of achievement of the MDGs, there are some actions that have worked well which need to be scaled up in the transition to SDGs:

  1. Budgetary allocation to MDG specific projects since 2006 made Nigerians to focus on the achievement of the MDGs.
  2. The institution of Monitoring and Evaluation of MDG projects is a positive development which has been adopted by the country and incorporated into the vision 20:2020 economic development blueprint. The involvement of civil society in the monitoring of the projects is a particularly good innovation.
  3. The establishment of an office to guide the MDGs. This should transit to the SDGs.
  4. The OSSAP-MDG is guided by a clear strategy to achieve its mandate. This worked very well and state governments, local governments, ministries, departments and agencies need to learn from it.

But there are several areas of improvement going forward including the following:

  1. There is the need for increased budgetary allocation to investment clusters that will accelerate development especially health, education, agriculture and infrastructure. No nation serious about development can spend over 70 percent of its budget on recurrent expenditure.
  2. There is the need to improve capacity for execution. It is unthinkable that every year, ministries, departments and agencies cannot implement their budgets with the monumental developmental challenges facing us as a nation.
  3. There is the need for state governments, local governments, ministries, departments and agencies to have overarching development strategies. No nation, state or organization can accelerate its development without an overarching strategy to guide its priorities, programmes and actions.
  4. Nigeria needs to develop its leaders and focus on policies and practices that will lead to poverty reduction and development.
  5. There is the need for better co-ordination and synergy between Federal Government, State Government and Local Government.
  6. There is the need to mainstream citizen participation and ownership in the development process in Nigeria.
  7. Nigeria’s development agenda must go beyond focus on the economy to include political, economic and environmental development. It has been proven that economic growth is necessary but not sufficient for the development of nations. Economic growth without job creation does not reduce poverty.



Meanwhile, it is clear that the context of 2000 when the Millennium declaration was made is different from the context of 2015 when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was adopted. In 2000, there was relative stability, prosperity and coherence when western economies were on the rise and the conditions were good for forging agreements on global targets for development. [9] In 2015, the world is encountering more complex problems of climate change, population pressures, increasing urbanization, multi-polar world and increasing breakdown of the division of the world into North and South, East and West.[10] Secondly, the geography of poverty has also changed. The Brookings Institute notes that only 10 percent of the global poor live in stable, low income countries, 40 percent live in fragile and conflict-affected countries and 50 percent in middle income countries.[11] The institute also showed that within these countries, the distribution of poverty demonstrates huge inequities across different population groups and fragile states, which are home to some 1.2 billion people did not meet the MDGs.[12] Furthermore, the period is characterized by multiple crisis, instability and terrorism. It is therefore not surprising that the SDGs are more holistic and address a lot of issues not contemplated by the MDGs.


The SDGs are a new, universal set of goals, targets and indicators that UN member states will be expected to use to frame their agendas and political policies over the next fifteen years (2015-2030).  The SDGs are a follow up of the MDGs. The SDGs are necessary because we have come to the end date of the MDGs and poverty is still very high with over one billion people living on less than $1.25 a day –the World Bank measure on poverty.

There are seventeen proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

    1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
    2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
    3. Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all ages
    4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
    5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
    6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation  for all
    7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
    8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.
    9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation
    10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
    11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
    12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
    13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (taking note of agreements made by UNFCCC forum.
    14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
    15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss.
    16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
    17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

There are 169 targets to achieve the 17 goals. The targets under goal one include reducing by half the number of people living in poverty by 2030 and eradicating extreme poverty (people living on less than $1.25 a day).

The goals were chosen from a global consultation process. Nigeria participated actively in the consultation process. A Nigerian Hajia Amina Mohammed, OFR is the Special Adviser to the UN on the Post 2015 development agenda.  The new goals was agreed upon at the UN summit in September, 2015 and will become applicable from January, 2016. The expected deadline is 2030.




There is a nexus between effective public administration and development of societies. Scholars have argued that Public Administration is a strategic factor in economic and social development and determines the success of any development plan.[13] The inadequacy of administration in many countries have been identified as an obstacle to development hence the need for Public Administration Reform. The need for Public Administration Reform is widespread across the world such that the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) supports 380 projects in 112 countries covering various aspects of Public Administration Reform. Indeed, it has been estimated that 80 percent of the plans of the world are incapable of being fulfilled because of poor administration.[14] Scholars are in agreement that for public administration to deliver on development, it should live up to the Weberian image of efficiency, rationality, specialization, non-partisanship and non-political bureaucratic hierarchy. Unfortunately, the image that we see in many developing countries is that of corruption, irrationality and incompetence.

It is well established that development is about improving the quality of life of citizens. Meanwhile, the major function of public administration is to provide services including health, education, transport, waste disposal, issuing licenses, providing information, providing internal security, regulation and enforcement of legal duties. Indeed, public administration helps to provide enabling environment for economic growth and prosperity for citizens as well as securing and strengthening democratic institutions, systems and mechanisms.

But in Nigeria, there are huge challenges with public administration. It is no longer news that there is dysfunction in Public Administration in Nigeria leading to failures in service delivery, a lack of accountability and poor performance of the machinery of government.  The cost of governance is very high with the federal government spending over 70 percent of its total budget on recurrent expenditure. There are huge challenges of policy planning and co-ordination. The structures and systems in the public sector are not delivering services efficiently and effectively to the citizens of Nigeria. There is a huge capacity gap in the public sector and the ministries, department and agencies are not working optimally. The budgetary process is marked with a lot of challenges and there is hardly any year when the budget has been passed in the first month of the year.

As we transit from the MDGs to the SDGs, there is a great need for Public Administration reform in Nigeria. There is the need for concrete strategies and plans for improved policy and planning co-ordination, improved human resource management structures, systems and skills and improved budget transparency, consultation, oversight and credibility. In this regard, it is important to give priority to planning. Indeed, no plan should be made without consideration of its public administration implications. Any plan too ambitious for its administration context will fail. It is clear that plans do not implement themselves. The condition of public administration determines what kind of plan will work.

In addition, there is the need to take on board the lessons from the implementation of the MDGs and have focus on development. The achievement of the SGDs should not be made the responsibility of an office but all levels of government. In this regard, there is the need to incorporate the SDGs into a national strategic plan which is needed urgently in the country. This should be followed with concrete policies, programmes and projects to achieve the SDGs. In all of these, there is the need to focus on the big issues of inequality and social justice.


The challenge of development is a huge one facing many nations including Nigeria. For development to take place in any country requires effective public administration. But there are problems with public administration in Nigeria. Therefore, as we transit from the MDGs to the SDGs, there is a great need for Public Administration Reform in Nigeria.



Dr. Otive Igbuzor is a Pharmacist, Human Rights Activist, Policy Analyst, Development Expert and Strategist. He holds a doctorate degree in Public Administration.


[1] Watkins, Kevin (2000), The Oxfam Poverty Report. An Oxfam Publication

[2] Ibid

[3] Abani, C., Igbuzor, O. and Moru, J. ( 2005), Attaining the Millennium Development Goals in Nigeria: Indicative Progress and a Call for Action. In Moru, J. (Ed), Another Nigeria is Possible: Proceedings of the First Nigeria Social Forum. Abuja, Nigeria Social Forum.

[4] UNDP (2010) Op cit

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid p.5

[7] Ibid p. 5

[8] Ibid p.6

[9] The World we want-Beyond 2015: A toolkit for National Deliberations (2012). GCAP, Beyond 2015 and UN Millennium Campaign

[10] Klugman, Jeni (no date), The MDGs and Beyond 2015: Pro-Poor Policy in a Changing World

[11] Joe Costello T. D. Beyond 2015: Where Next for the MDGs

[12] Ibid

[13] Rodman, W. Peter (1968), Development Administration: Obstacles, Theories and Implications for Planning. UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning Occasional Papers No. 2.

[14] Ibid

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