Sustainable Development Goal 16: Are We There Yet? By Fahad Sani Abdallah

Four years after the adoption of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by member countries of the United Nations (UN), which are to be met by 2030, among which is the Goal 16, ‘promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’.

Improvement in enhancing the rule of law and access to justice remain imbalanced in Nigeria. There seem to be progress in regulations to enhance access to public information with the passage and signing of the Freedom of Information Bill into an Act in 2015. However, despite its passage, full implementing of the law remains a challenge across the Federal level with only few States domesticating it at State level. The level of strength of institutions safeguarding human right has not shown anything to brag about.

Just as the preceding Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) came with its targets and indicators, the SDGs are accompanied by both national and regional indicators to keep track of the status of implementation, achievement and or failure.

SDG 16, through its targets and indicators seek to tackle the prevalent issues faced globally, such as accessibility to justice, crimes, domestic violence, arms and drugs trafficking, corruption and unlawful amassing of public resources as well as conducts that contradicts the peaceful coexistence among citizens. Each member country of the United Nations is expected to recognize their SDG 16 individual main targets centered on the State realities and the missing link to the global indicator with its own specific priority. What this means is that each country is saddled with the responsibility of matching its policies and strategies for socio-economic development to the SDGs.

The agenda leaves this open for interpretation to all countries base on the fact that different countries are at different stages of development and not all countries have the same resources and capacities to tackle their realities on ground. This is because that only few countries have the required capacities to meet all the SDGs, and therefore some countries have to prioritize base on their national development plans. As such, Nigeria has committed to meet some specific targets measured by some specific indicators out of the whole ten (10) targets and 23 indicators for SDG 16.

A comprehensive National Voluntary Review (NVR) document has been developed by the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President (OSSAP) on SDGs detailing a fairly high political commitment to the realization of the SDG 2030 Agenda in Nigeria.

The NVR report sketches in details the relationship that exists concerning policies that are being implemented by the Federal Government (FG) and the analysis of each of the 17 SDGs. The document revealed the well-structured Inter-ministerial Team, the Civil Society Organizations (CSO) Advisory Group as well as the established SDG Desk Offices in all the 36 States of the Federation and the FCT.

Highlight of the document shows great emphasis that has been put on SDG 16 due to the major threats of banditry and insecurity as a whole, widespread corruption and inefficient governmental institutions, which are hampering the country’s social fabric, progress and territorial integrity. Nonetheless, critical look at the document will show that more prominence is being given to the secretarial and structural processes rather than evidence based results achieved.

This publication identifies some of the specific targets which Nigeria aims to achieve and highlights the status of policy implementation for achieving the targets.

Nigeria’s Specific Targets for SDG 16

16.1 Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere.

Target 16.1 aims to reduce violence that is influenced by socio-political and/or socio-economic grievances. Nigeria as a developing country did not achieve most of the MDGs, this indicator provides an opportunity to address one of the major area that has albeit made development very slow in the country. Determining the level of progress of goal 16 largely depend on the quality of data and scope for this indicator. Therefore, a very close attention has to be given to the data used for the indicator. Unfortunately, the figures for Nigeria’s violence and killings are very poor and unimpressionable that using them to analyze goal 16 risk misrepresentation. 

Nigeria has been and is among the top ten countries benefitting from the British, but still have limited homicide data point which is by far the most cause for rise of violent deaths. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), homicides rates in Nigeria and Brazil make up 28 percent of homicides carried out globally. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) gave the figures for murders that occurred in 2017 at 3,219. Another source of data ‘Nigeria Watch’ put the figures of homicides that occurred in 2016 at 4,127. These figures are indicative figures and largely incomplete, they show a rise in the figures of homicides. In terms of violence deaths in general, there seems to be a fall in the figures as there were 11,558 and 10,178 violence death for 2016 and 2017 respectively.

The UNODC in partnership with the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) conducted a survey that is representative of Nigeria’s population of 186 million put the estimated rate of homicide at 34 per 100, 000 population while the global average homicide rate is 6.4 per 100,000.

The Federal Government has in the past few years been making several attempts to combat the significant increase in violence. However, many parts of Nigeria continue to suffer myriad terror as a result of armed conflict, banditry, kidnappings for ransom among others. In northern region of Nigeria, the militant islamist movement Boko Haram has been on a rampage causing massive destruction of lives and properties.

The States in the north-eastern part of Nigeria where Boko Haram has been very active have the highest number of casualties in terms of violence and killings. Borno State in particular recorded over 20,000 deaths which are related to Boko Haram violence in the past few years. These figures are indicative statistics based on the number of death reported and documented by the press. There has also been so many allegations against government troops and the Nigeria Police for being involved in extrajudicial killings of civilians.

16.3. Promote the rule of law at the national and international level and ensure equal access to justice to all.

The indicator for measuring this target is through reducing the proportion of un-sentenced detainees as against the overall population of prisons. Nigeria set a benchmark for itself to see that it reduces the population of un-sentenced detainees within Nigeria’s prisons from the baseline of 72.5% in 2015 when targets were sets to 48.35% by the year 2020.

According to the report published by the NBS, showing the population of Nigeria prisons, in 2015, there were 62,260 prisoners while in 2016 there were 68,686 prisoners. This indicates that there was 5.62% increase in the prison population between 2015 and 2016. Among the total number of inmates in prison at 2015, 72.5% of them were awaiting sentencing. Four years after as at July 2019, the percentage of un-sentenced decreased to 68.1% from a total prison population of 73,995. Despite the fall in percentage of un-sentenced detainees that occurred within four years, it is still far beyond the target benchmark of 48.35% by 2020. Seeing as 2020 is just one year away it is safe to conclude that the FG is highly unlikely to meet its target.

The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 which came into law in 2015 is supposed to enhance the efficiency of the management of the criminal justice system and also enhance the speed of justice delivery so as to protect the rights of victims and defendants, vis-à-vis un-sentenced. Hence, the law was signed with the intent to extend access to justice for pre-trial detainees in order to decongest Nigerian Prisons. The law does not seem to be giving favorable results in terms reducing the number of un-sentenced detainees in prisons. Full and effective implementation of the law would have aided Nigeria to meet this target.

16.4 By 2030, significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime

Target 16.4 of the SDGs aims to reduce illicit flows of money and illegal arms through strengthening recovery of stolen assets, seizure of arms and combating organized crimes. Certainly, recovery of stolen assets has gained some momentum in the past few years. Approximately half a billion USD was recovered in one year, but this is just a fraction of over twenty billion USD that have been siphoned away from Nigeria through numerous money laundering acts between 2013 and present day, this clearly demonstrate the amount of work and effort that needs to be put in asset recovery. A national policy on anti-corruption was adopted in 2017 which put greater emphasis on building synergy between anti-corruption agencies.

As parts of efforts to meet target 16.4 of the SDGs, novel laws were made to tackle money laundering and illicit financial flows as well as enhancing strict control of financial flows which has reduced the ease with which cash were taken out of the country. Recovery of stolen asset is expected to significantly increase with the passage and signing of ‘Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Between Nigeria and Other Foreign Countries’ by the National Assembly and the president respectively. The Act which came into effect in June 2019 will enhance the identification, tracing, freezing, restraining, recovery, forfeiture and confiscation of stolen cash and properties by Nigerians that are stashed in foreign countries.

On the part of illicit arms flow, the target is to counter illicit flow of arms and other related factors for organized crimes in order to foster effective international cooperation and mutual exchange of information.

The various routes of smuggling illicit fire arms as well as its undetermined sizes and patterns demonstrate the dilemma at which Nigeria is facing in coming up with the most suitable policies and approaches to tackle this menace.

In Nigeria, there has been an increase of imports of arms and ammunitions into the country with a considerable portion of illicit arms escaping the pry of security agencies saddled with the responsibility of identifying such. Early this year, over 100,000 rounds of ammunition together with quite a number of jack knives were seized at the Tin-can Island port by the Nigerian Customs.

Seizures of such arms are also being made at certain sites and along the high ways after purportedly being cleared by the clearing authority at the point of entry into the country. Case in point and the most recent is the interception of 661 fire arms that were reportedly imported from Turkey and cleared from Apapa port in Lagos. Upon investigation, it was found that some unscrupulous agents attached to one of the security agencies at the port were compromised and bought to allow the passage of these dangerous weapons. These acts hamper the efforts of the nation in trying to meet the targets of the SDG 16 to reduce the flow of illicit fire arms into the country and also promoting peaceful co-existence as these illegal arms fuels all forms of violence.

16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels

The dilemma of disparity between youth and women in Nigeria’s governance is so glaring in the face when one takes a look at the representation of these groups within the management positions in the country. Looking at the recently confirmed ministerial nominees of the present administration of Muhammadu Buhari, from a total of 42 ministers designate, over 80% of them are males living a paltry 16% to the females. Similarly, age wise, only 3 of the appointees are below the age of 50 years. Circumstances such as these has resulted to a very high unemployment rate for both youth and women; and neglecting their issues in policies thereby further depriving them of inclusion socially as well as in decision making process. It is a well-known fact that disregard for gender based matters can cause a domino-effect negatively extending to youth, people living with disabilities (PLWD) and women, particularly issues of maternal and child mortality.

In Nigeria, political participation of women, PLWD and youth has severely been restricted to political mobilizers and thuggery, leaving behind unexploited human resources in the population of youth, PLWD and women that have a very great potential to address socio-economic challenges of the nation that hampers sustainable development.

16.5 Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms

In Nigeria, according to the Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) 2019 published by the Transparency International, over 40% of users of Nigeria’s public services were involved in bribery before accessing public service in the previous 12 months with a larger proportion of bribe receivers in the Nigerian Police and public schools. However, according to the GCB, 59% of Nigerians surveyed believes that government is doing a good job in fighting corruption, this figure shows a significant increase from 22% in 2015.

A damning revelation from the GCB report is that a larger proportion of bribe givers constitute mostly those citizens who are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. This is notwithstanding that many of these citizens finds it very difficult to access public services such as education, healthcare and the rest of social welfare as compared to those who are at the top of the socio-economic ladder whom have disposable income to seek for private services and also have the capabilities to confront corrupt public officials.

More upsetting, is the fact that the survey showed that young people aged between 18 and 34 tend to be more likely to pay bribes than other age groups as one in three of young people within this age group in Nigeria pay bribes before accessing any public services.

In some quarters, it is said that the onus in decisively fighting corruption is on the judiciary and the legislature. The executive arm of government has severally charged politically exposed persons who were once at the helm of affairs in Nigeria across all arms of the government with corruption related offences. However, probably due to weakness in the judiciary or weaknesses in the laws enabling the judiciary, there has been very few convictions of accused persons relatively compared to the rate at which they were charged to court.

Findings from TransparencIT’s database of corruption cases ‘’ showed that many corruption cases have been lingering in courts for many years due to loopholes in the administration of criminal justice which defense counsels exploit to delay the prosecution of their high-profile clients who are charged to court for alleged corruption and other related offences.

In their efforts to contribute to the anti-corruption fight, the National Assembly (NASS) recently transmitted a bill ‘Proceeds of Crime Bill’ to the president for assent. The bill intends to provide guidance on how ill-gotten wealth can be confiscated, forfeited and managed. Notwithstanding, some critical bills are still pending at the NASS; they are Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act (Amendment) Bill 2016; SB112 Anti-Corruption Court (Establishment) Bill 2015; and HB 897: Special Court Bill 2017. These bills are albeit slow and may probably not see the light of the day.

16.9 By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration

The registration of children under the age of 5 years is the indicator for this target. Just as it is the case globally, Nigeria is also faced with challenge of very little birth registration. According to assessment made by the United Nations Children Funds (UNICEF) across ten countries’ in Africa, Nigeria remain highest in terms of non-birth registration among children under five. UNICEF stated that as at 2018, among 32 million children under the age of five, only 2.8 million representing nine percent have birth certificate across the 36 States of Nigeria. Such scenario results to poor planning in terms of education, health, as well as other social welfare.

The National Population Commission (NPC) which was created in 1988 is the agency responsible for ensuring civil registration including birth and death registration. However, it has been faced with myriad challenges such as issue of inadequate funding and manpower, limited reach across rural areas as well as overlapping of services with Local Government.

Having a universal coverage of birth registration for every child has been in consistent with national plans of Nigeria Government and is included among the six commitments of the (2013-2020) National Priority Agenda as well as in the vision 20:2020.

Also, long before the development of National Priority Agenda and vision 20:2020, the National Population Commission (NPC) in 2005 set a target for itself to achieve 60 % coverage of birth registration by 2010 and 100% by 2015. The commission has since missed its target again. Despite missing its target, the disparity of issuance of birth certificate has almost doubled between the rural and urban areas with 32.2% and 62.8% respectively. Now the Government of Nigeria has committed to take the percentage of children under the age of five with birth registration to 44% by 2020 and 100% by 2030 from a baseline of 16% in 2015.

One has to wonder, why has the government consistently been failing to meet target sets in the past years? has the government of Nigeria made any serious efforts to address the challenges that stopped it from achieving previous targets? Has there been increase in budgetary allocations to the NPC to help it carry out its mandate? These are questions that government needs to answer before it can be taken serious in addressing this target of SDG 16.


The Nigerian government has taken a bold step towards committing itself to achieving Sustainable Development Goals. However, it requires multilateral approaches in order to meet its target of the SDGs, particularly when it comes to mobilizing human and financial resources, technology innovation as well as capacity building in terms of developing a data point for easy collection and analysis which will enhance mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation of all indicators for specific targets of the SDGs.

In order to achieve this, a strong and effective partnership needs to be built with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), religious and traditional institutions, patriotic citizens as well as global societies of nations on the bases of trust, kindness and strong-willed patriotism.

Fahad is the Programs Manager of TransparencIT and Head of ServiceWatch Initiative.

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