Data, leadership, are next revolution but Nigeria still gaining ground,says Dr Mina Ogbanga


The world gathers on September 25, 2018, to review and celebrate three years after kick-off of the global initiative called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which replaces Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Data revolution is the bedrock of this global initiative and a sure way to develop any society. Sadly enough, a UN sustainable development campaigner, also a medical doctor and civil society advocacy, Mina Ogbanga, tells IGNATIUS CHUKWU in Port Harcourt that Nigeria is rather still gaining grounds in those critical areas. .She says Nigeria needs leaders that are a blessing not a lesson. To her, it is better not be leader than to get the chance and not be a blessing.


When Mina Ogbangoa graduated in medicine 20 years ago, she emptied her entire one year NYSC earnings into an advocacy cause. The world took notice. Since then, after fighting to save Okrika women from cancerous white soot one year after her NYSC, the medical doctor has fought several advocacy battles and is today working with the United Nations on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She says no real development can start without credible data. She foresees two revolutions exploding around the world, Data and Leadership, but fears that her motherland, Nigeria, has yet to do much in them but is still gaining ground.

Mina, as she prefers to call herself, who is married with children, is seen around the world as an unrepentant optimist. She has been a strategic face of development. As part of her contribution to civil socirty world, she has moved into other critical roles and activities in ensuring that the centre functions fully and to keep teasing and building more effective leaders in civil work, strengthening systems and building capacity.

Mina Ogbanga ,a Ford Foundation Fellow who just concluded serving at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (IUPUI), United States, graduated from the College of Medical Sciences 20years ago. Armed also with a PhD in Development Studies, she has remained resolute about the fact that development is about getting everybody involved to decide what is best so as to move people to the next level.

Mina is now the Chief Volunteer and Regional Coordinator, South-South Zone and one six regional leaders in Nigeria for the Civil Society Coalition on Sustainable Development (CSCSD) that is implanting the UN’s Sustainable development Goals (SDGs) around the world as South-South Coordinator. She is the founder of CEDSI (Centre for Development Support Initiative) which is a member of the national network, working towards ensuring that no organization is left behind in the work to ensure sustainable development. She says the regional position is a bigger umbrella for all organizations that work in the south-south that are pursuing sustainable development.

To her, Nigeria needs to move into the Data Revolution that she says is sweeping across the world. “We need data revolution. There needs to be political will to ensure we have credible data. We should stop the era of using data for elections only, move away from the era of using data for looking for positions instead of for development. It is abuse of power if you do not use it to develop the people. We need to move from that thinking to a new thinking. It is over 50 years of nationhood and several institutions and persons without any real transformation or change. It has been the same style of revolving and evolving and reinventing and coming back.


You are long in civil society work and you are now a known personality in the advocacy world, are you fulfilled in that passion, and have you met what brought you to it?

We thank God for every step. My decision now to move to the next level in life is primarily based on the fact that I have experienced civil society work and I am fulfilled in a way. I have come, I have seen, and I have conquered. I have learnt lessons and taught lessons and mentored persons who want to provide for society and make the world a better place. I look around today and see a lot of mentees who desire to be development actors. It makes me feel fulfilled, not in building a 50-storey building but in counting mentees whose lives have changed today because they saw in me a role model.

I have been working in this field for 20 years and I can say this is my calling. God gave me the grace to be part of it. Now, I look at the younger generation and I see passion, I see enthusiasm. I pray they meet their dreams. The ultimate is to help make the world a better place. I leave the world with the message: Everybody has a role to place.

If you have not discovered your purpose, that is a challenge and if the environment stops you from pursuing your purpose, it is also a challenge. So, identify your purpose in the civil society field, and identify your challenges. I have always loved civil society work and it is part of my blood. Some people are born that way. Some people are born to be voices for the people or the community. Some people derive their life ambition that way, and if that opportunity is not there, they do not get satisfaction. Some of those that started with us 20 years ago are no more there. They have transformed and reformed to other things. The overall question is, how have you impacted on your environment? I have laid foundations for upcoming youths to also impact on their environment.

I remember when I graduated from medical college in 1996 and I was doing my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in 1997, all my allowances, all, were donated to the struggle. My colleagues and bosses then at the College of Health Sciences in the UNIPORT can testify more. Some have been vice chancellors and deputy VCs. All my allowances earned as an NYSC were donated to the college to help them help a laboratory for that college. That was when every kobo was very important and very unique, not because there was so much money. I don’t work because there is too much or too little money but because there is a need to be met, you now find those who can help you meet that need.

I remember that even as lecturers, we went out of our way to teach tutorials as extra lectures so that medical students would have extra knowledge which was required for medical students. My role was to ask, how can I add that extra-moral class to help students beyond the normal classes? Those classes to this day touched many students. Those students see me today and say, oh, if not for those your classes, I would not be this, I would not know that.

My life is about to begin now. Those dreams I wanted to achieve are about to start. I am starting a new phase of life. The beauty of being a development worker is not about how much but about those long-lasting changes you bring to society. My colleagues still call me and ask, do you remember when you gave your entire NYSC allowances in a whole year to the lab project? They say, this is indeed in your blood. I say, you need to bloom where you are planted. You need to stand out. Everybody has what it takes to stand out but not everybody can identify it early enough in their life time. Development work is a work we must all strive to fulfill.

Can you mention some things that stand out in your 20 years as milestones or situations you turned around?

I want to mention the first case that brought me into development work in the first place. It was when the Ekerekana women in Okrika local government area in 1998 approached me. I was fresh out of medical school. They said; the problem in Ekerekana that period was a kind of soot, some cancerous substances that were whitish, falling all over their trees and plants. The women were affected mostly because they did not understand what was happening to their systems with biological impacts. They came and said, Ma, you have finished from your NYSC, we need somebody to help us speak out. This is causing sickness and all of that. When we started to speak, we were told, look, Madam, if you want to pursue this cause, you cannot speak as an individual but as an entity or NGO. Somebody had to come under a structure. I said, ah. I had to look for those that knew the ropes and asked questions. A non-profit was chosen and I was ready to set it up. The centre was going to be dedicated to building capacity to help women and community, especially in the area of environmental sustainability issues because that was the pain of that moment to the women that brought the case to me. That was how the Centre for Development Initiative (CEDSI) was born to build capacity, to support structures, to build the capacity for women and young people to be development actors, to be part of development processes, to have a voice. It was also a learning curve for me.

Now, I didn’t stay too long before the United States Istitute of Peace (USIP) with African Radio Drama Association (ARDA said, now that you have this organization, let us see how we support it to bring out the voice of these women to talk about the challenges they faced. That ended up being our first project in Nigeria, in Africa, where we had to work with USIP and ARDA. We worked with their team lead and the media to build the capacity of those women and a lot of other communities to address the challenges of the environmental degradation they experienced at that time. The women were now opportuned to come on board to radio house airing their views. Government of the day heard them and looked for solutions. That problem to a large extent was addressed.

It is good to start a process and see it to its conclusion. That was my first project way back in 1998/98. It still stands out.

What is this new programme September 25th programme all about?

We need to understand the basics. After the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from 2000 to 2015, which was supposed to address the eight MDGs, in 2016, September 25th, the UN General Assembly, made up of over 193 world leaders came together to set up and agreed on a development model for the world called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This was three years ago. Today, by September 25, we would be celebrating three years of this march forward. Across the world, everybody is celebrating this anniversary. It is called the Global Call for Action for the SDGs against the set targets.

The aim is to identify the role of the civil society organizations (CSOs) in this project and bring part of the global review in what has been achieved and what ought to be achieved in 2030.

The first thing Nigerians would say is, if the MDGs did not do much, how would this one work; have you prepared to confront ths question?

The beauty of this project is that we have admitted that there were challenges somewhere in the past project because the MDGs did not deliver in some areas and that countries performed more than others; and that some organizations performed more than others. Nigeria was not dismal but not very good. The good thing about that experience is the lesson from it and they have identified why it had issues and where it needed to be done differently. So, the SDGs process is trying to see how this would work this time. The task now, is, how we can make things work better than last time.

The lessons from the MDGs are pretty much unique and very instructive and we hope we can change the perception. Now, we need not invent the wheel afresh but to apply the lessons learnt. This is where we are three years on.

How do you know if you are recording achievements or do you wait till 2030?

The beauty of this one is that it has 17 indicators which show us things as we go. For instance, you have a goal saying, no poverty. There are indicators on this aspect and you now know that you need to reduce hunger or you know what exactly you need to do. These actions build up to that global target. If you employ any youth, it adds to solving a problem that is clearly indicated. If you want to buy a power generator, you will know you have to target Goal 7 and Goal 13 on power for all and clean energy by 2020. Gender equality is Goal 5. When you provide enabling environment for women to function, looking at the target and indicators, you are contributing to achieving the global target and indicators. So, you don’t have to wait till 2030 to assess. The world would even not forgive itself if we sat down to wait till 2030.

Data revolution: The problem with the MDGs is on issues of data. Now that we know it,  we now have to gather data and manage it properly. The inability to get the population of those that have access to water in a given community is a slap on the face of the programme. There are data issues about women that are unemployed, etc. We are talking of credible data. What we want is credible data to be able to know how to manage the problems and the gaps. The lessons from the MDGs are proper collection and use of data. The UN has set out a huge portfolio to generate data in general. The ministries have a primary duty to help generate data. The main concern is that we do not know how well our agencies are doing in data generation. If you don’t get it right from data, you won’t get development right. We don’t know how well our organisations are doing. It is very obvious. We have to understand this.

We need data revolution. There needs to be political will to ensure we have credible data. We should stop the era of using data for elections only, the era of using data for looking for positions instead of for development. That is abuse of power if you do not use it to develop the people. We need to move from that thinking to a new thinking. It is over 50 years of nationhood. Over 50 years of several institutions and persons without any real transformation or change. It has been the same style of revolving and evolving and reinventing and coming back.

Leadership revolution: We still have not tasted revolution in leadership; else, certain things would still not be happening in Nigeria today. The sweetest way to lead is to allow the citizens participate. You ask them how many people want water, they speak and you count. It is collective decision, no imposition; nobody feels hurt or left behind. That is what development should be about. Unless democracy has changed, they defined democracy as a way but it seems its definition has lost its original flavour. It has been redefined, reviewed, and reinvented. It is the power for the people or for against the people. Posterity comes back to haunt us and before you, you discover that that no one in our generation would go scot free whose hands had an opportunity to lead and did it against the citizens. You cannot find yourself under any circumstances thinking you are going to enjoy life. Life is what you have contributed to the development of society.

It is safer for you to be out of leadership than to for you to be the problem in our leadership. If you cannot be a blessing to a society, don’t be a curse. That is my prayer for each leader. You must give account of every leadership opportunity given to you. That way, you save the world a lot of troubles.

A human being is either a blessing or a lesson to society. Nigeria has had many leaders who were lessons. Now, we need leaders that are blessings. Now, we need to learn how to engage and how the future generation would be.

Is government going to be given a role or they would be giving NGOs a role in this new scheme?

The SDGs targets have to be driven by the authentic partners and the people who have the mandate to provide these services are the government. No matter how big or rich the CSO or NGO or private individual is, if the enabling environment is not provided, these activities would not work.

How do you work with governments to do their part?

It is by encouraging them and reaching them with the understanding of their roles; through seminars, partnerships, communication, leadership training, and opportunities in different forms. Government has a statutory responsibility in the matter of development, which can only be complemented by other stake-holding bodies.

Do our governments look like people who can lend themselves to this vision, the partnership?

You see, 193 leaders agreed to wok on SDGs and you cannot expunge your name from this. They have already put Nigeria as one of the countries to do SDGs. We know we are good at signing international pacts but when it comes to domesticating it, problems come in. Now, you are on your own if you do not domesticate and carry out the activities successfully. This is because every other country is working so that their citizens are not left out.

Where is Nigeria on implementation and domestication?

We have offices in most states dedicated to the SDGs. The functionality and workability in recognition and understanding of the place of these offices in our different states are as determined by how a state wants it. Some have very active offices with very active special advisers or commissioners. Those are structural requirements at the global level. These offices would work in tandem with other MDAs to achieve the SDGs. They achieve by ensuring that every MDA must mainstream it’s activities into the SDGs plan. For example, issues of poverty, you have ministry on economic matters that would work in that direction. The goal on ‘no hunger’, you remember Ministry of Agric. On health for all, Ministry of Health comes to mind; the one on education calls to mind Ministry of Education, the one on gender equality, you remember Ministry of Women Affairs. That is how it works.

Do these ministries now take instructions from the coordinating NGOs?

No, whatever you do in your ministry is reported to the SDGs office just for update and coordination. It only makes you to look at the targets and indicators that the global world has set and look at priorities and current situation in a state or nation and look at how to address it.

How do you say a state is doing well on SDGs?

It is to look at each goal and see how a state made them their priorities. All these 17 goals are captured in the ministries. We do not exempt any goal for any state. What will happen is, this commissioner needs to know if his priority was buying generators and distributing them, you are made to know that it is not where to go now. Where the world wants to go now is clean, renewable, alternative and sustainable energy. It’s about adjusting your priorities and pursuing them one after the other. It’s about sustainability to our energy provision to complement the grid on ground. So we are looking at off-grid energy. Any other method is against the SDGs target and such a commissioner is part of the problem Nigeria wants to solve. He does not understand where the world is going to. You are working against the SDGs. If everybody that is coming to leadership understand the target and place of the SDGs and their roles in the goals, it will make life easy for a lot of people. That is exactly where Nigeria is now at this moment.

So, it is important and it is a global requirement that every state should mainstream the SDGs and localizing the goals; in budgeting and planning. You do not plan for what you do not understand. It’s about streamlining projects to goals. It is like writing a manifesto for a government. You cannot be a doctor without going to medical school. It is a process. If you are a commissioner and you tell the world you have done so much, built boreholes, etc, you would be embarrassing that state. The world wants reticulated water system and you are claiming boreholes.

Will it not be a matter for an administration to drive than a commissioner?

Embracing and implementing should be the task of everybody at every level. It should be the driver of the development process in every state. It should be driven by the leaders and the implementers. It should be part of policy of an administration. It makes life so easy. It is like an expo to development policy makers. It stipulates processes for programmes. So, you ask, how do I fit into this whole process? To make your life better, you must understand the SDGs processes because you find the gaps and fit into them.

If you want to make cities inclusive (Goal 7), your cities are the hubs for ideas, you make them centres of productivity. If you go to a place and they say it is a one city state, it is not a good plan. You have to create more centres as cities being centres of production and activity. You have to consider affordable housing. So, if you find a governor in the Niger Delta that is reducing slums, services to the people, you can see SDGs in progress. It is not about a house that is N60m. You have already told the poor, sorry, this is not your place. You can only get to the gate and look at them. It is not a housing scheme but we do not reject it because a project must serve somebody. When a project does not include at least 70 per cent of the people, it is a challenge. If you say by 2030, you are providing access to sustainable transport system, it is expected that it would be in place, increasing and improving road safety. Some roads to where people live are not motorable.

So, if you know these targets, you can do the politics around them and still achieve theses targets. The difference is that you are doing what others have not started doing. You are streamlining your activities into the global plan, and when the world is looking for those state governors, presidents and CSOs that are doing SDGs, you can easily be identified and be counted. It’s like following the syllabus. Students that read by their syllabus usually set the pace in life, always ahead of others. They even remind teachers where the class was, and they look like having a conversation with the teachers.

Is it possible for any state government to follow these guidelines without regular conversation with the SDG drivers?

The beauty of this matter is that no white man is coming to Nigeria to say, I know your problem, this is the solution. No, the matter is, you as Rivers State, you know what your priority is and develop your own plan of action to address those priority needs of your state.

When are states in Nigeria expected to draw their plans or take off date?

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the office of the special adviser on SDGs had a meeting with SDGs officers across the states. These are the kind of conversations that ought to identify the progress so far made and the challenges, plans, and the next steps, and how to mainstream the activities, depending on who the donor that is supporting the process is, such as UNDP, WHO, UNICEF, etc. All these UN agencies, who are the custodians of the SDGs, are expected to work with the respective state governments to develop a state action plan (SAP) and facilitate states to mainstream their plans in line with SDGs.

Can we have idea when states are supposed to develop the state action plans?

This ought to be immediately after 2015 when the decision was taken. Their delegates ought to come home and start developing action plans. Every state ought to have an annual plan, develop their 2030 plans. You ought to have a 15-year-plan based on your one year plan, one month plan and one day plan. Your duty is to review those plans according to current circumstances and address those changes so that by end of 2030, those items planned would have been achieved. The most beautiful plan is to see a proper structure in place. Unfortunately, not every state has the benefit of this preparation.

Is there an annual event such as a festival or assessment to score states and assess them and give award as motivation?

The CSOs want to put in place methods to start tracking, measuring, identifying, and calling on governors and Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) in line with the SDGs, just like you have organizations that are assessing the governors on budgets, etc. We can say, which state governor is first on Goal One, Two or so?. At the end of the day, you can look at the all the goals and see if there is a state that comes first on all or last on any or all. This would be done to motivate the states because if you do not carry first in any of them, your people will know that you are not part of the new global leadership movement. You cannot do this without giving people a training and that is what is going on now. It has been going on since 2015, but it does not have to go on for ever.

Again, what does 25th of September 2018 mean in all of this?

It is to remind us that we have a target, and that three years have already gone, so, to assess what has been done.

Who do you expect o be there?

We work very closely with special advisers with SDGs officers in the states. We are expecting the CSOs, the UN agencies, governments of the south-south, and the media. Some people in the media do not understand the details. After the summit, there would be training for all stakeholders to understand what SDGs are all about. The media need to understand if what they are reporting align with SDGs, else, you still report that so, so people died. We want to be speaking in numbers as codes of the goals; else, you are not a reporter for SDGs. The governments in the south-south need to know their roles in the development process; the companies need to know their roles too. There is what they call private-sector intervention aspect. Companies are not left out. When a company is focused on destroying their environment, the company is called upon to know their fault and way forward.

PPPP connection:

Companies can make profit and prosper by complying with the needs of the planet because it looks at prosperity, people, planet, profit; the pillars of SDGs called the PPPP. You can legally achieve profit by doing SDGs, by doing things right. You either leave the oil in the ground or think of better ways to exploit it. If other countries that have oil companies are still enjoying them with clean environment, it would be wrong for Nigeria’s case to be different.

Would compliance lead to increase in annual budgets for a state?

Warning: We do not want to hear that anybody is blaming raise in budget to SDGs. We want to warn here that once SDGs is viewed as an elite project, that is the beginning of failure. SDGs scheme is not coming to say, increase budget, or you must do this. SDGs is coming to say, those things you are doing, those moneys you are spending, these are better ways you can spend the same money for effectiveness and efficiency. If you increase budget, it will depend on other factors; more needs, more money to spend, but not because you are now doing SDG. Money is allocated naturally for projects in a ministry. We just want you to do them in a more organized and more effective way.

Beware: Nobody should use SDGs to increase budget. Such leaders are leaders the SDGs scheme does not need. When you say SDGs made you to increase budget, it is not true. If you planned to build hospitals, SDGs wants show you what you want to achieve in the goals. Do not use SDGs to exploit your citizens further. Funds would be expended naturally in the MDAs, though you have to provide for the SDG desk, team work, enabling environment. They are not the reason for the change of budgetary provision or to say, that is where N144Bn went to. You need to think citizens first, and you need consider societal change, development, sustainable development, etc.

Are there specific backers for the SDGs?

We are action-partners with the UN and we are part of the whole global action for the SDGs. The UN is fully behind the process, and they hope that they come up with innovate ideas in achieving the SDGs. The UN is expecting state governments across the nation to rise up to the occasion expecting the state governors to begin to carry out activities that would promote the achievement of the SDGs. They want each state to come up with innovative ideas based on priorities. They expect collaborations and partnerships. It is a CSO-driven process and we call on partners and funders interested in pursuing sustainable development to come in and sponsor these projects, to volunteer for this project. The world is celebrating global action for sustainable development and we cannot be left behind in the south-south. Most of the donors are in the west and north, so who are the donors in the south-south? But we have the Ministry of Niger Delta, the NDDC, etc. We call on them to see how they can partner with CSO-coalition and see how to move the SDGs scheme forward. We have to look at localizing the SDGs and seek ways to act for the scheme so we don’t waste another 15 years the way the MDGs wasted their 15 years. Some states to this day do not understand what MDGs meant. Some thought it was about contracts for water, etc. There was no sign that the projects were from needs assessment. It is three years now, but the question is, how many people know about SDGs. This means awareness is still low. We ran a project in Ogoni and we realize that 90 per cent of young people still do not understand what the SDGs scheme means. So, instead of blaming people for the ignorance, we are saying, look, know it now. The CSOs have decided that their role is to support government to create awareness. UN agencies can only help to provide resources and so on. It is a UN-driven process from the global angle but it is a government-driven process from the implementing angle. It is a transparency-driven process from the CSOs because they can tell you this governor came first in water, health, etc. Different stakeholders have different roles to play.

Awards would be given to organizations on community action for SDG challenge. It is a challenge that comes from NGOs that are registered in sustainable development. All NGOs, governments, private sector people are invited to be part of this and tell us what they have done in their communities.

What next after September 25?

After that day, we would have a position for CSOs that would define what the coalition would be doing and plan of action for the year, and the 5-year plan, the one year plan, etc. Naturally, there would be a communiqué. It would not be the usual communiqué that does not move an inch.

Nigeria has ideas in projects in universities but these projects from masters and doctorate degrees lie idle in the offices and floors while the nation is looking for ideas.  Knowledge is hidden in those theses especially credible theses that were seriously conducted. If we go and dig out some of those projects, Nigeria would move fast. Dust takes care of the knowledge while Nigeria suffers.

Nigeria’s solutions are hiding in them. Until we move from theory to practice, until we look up those pieces of knowledge from our theses to policies towards achieving sustainable development, we will not succeed. People will continue to deceive us. For now, institutions are not driving our affairs but individuals. These are serious facts. We run on individual whims and caprices. If we look at governance beyond that level, it may be better for a lot more people than it is in some countries and agencies. We need inclusive development to ensure that no one is left behind. All stakeholders are important. It is one vision and that vision is to work together to build the world we want.

(First used in BD Sunday)