Leadership, Governance & Sustainable Development

The Brundtland Commission in 1987 defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainable development is based on 3 pillars namely; economic, environmental and governance and getting a balance between these pillars is the key to achieving sustainable impact.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is an ambitious, universal and holistic agenda and for Nigeria to achieve these goals there is a need for an integrated approach that tackles the connected issues of multidimensional poverty, inequality and exclusion, and sustainability, while enhancing knowledge, skills and production technologies to enlarge peoples’ choices, reduce risks and sustain development gains. All of these are linked to the quality of leadership and governance that exists in all sectors of the country.

Leadership & Governance

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) defines governance as the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. Furthermore, it comprises the mechanisms, processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences.

In Nigeria as many other nations, governance has 3 forms which are: economic, political and administrative. Economic governance includes decision-making processes that affect a country’s economic activities and its relationships with other economies. It clearly has major implications for equity, poverty and quality of life. Political governance is the process of decision-making to formulate policy. Administrative governance is the system of policy implementation.

Leadership, even though misconstrued with governance is the ability to create an environment based on guidance, respect, and empowerment of the people to act consistently in the direction of the vision pursed. Leadership deals more with influencing, motivating, and enabling others to be successful. In other words, governance deals with the structures while leadership focuses on the human capital that drives growth. Nigeria is currently faced with what some term ‘hydra headed problems’. A case in point is education. While the focus is on improving enrolment and literacy, the developed economies are entering into new frontiers, keeping Nigeria in a constant battle to catch up. Therefore achieving sustainable development to a large extent depends on visionary leadership and effective governance.




The pressing challenges

Nigeria is faced with a population growth challenge as current figures estimate the population to be over 198 million and growing. This creates big challenges and big opportunities for sustainable development. From housing to innovation to quality education, quality health care etc., meeting these needs would mean that jobs would be created, local businesses would be given opportunities to grow and the gross domestic product (GDP) would rise to reflect the realities of the time.

However, due to the neglect of development in years past post-independence and the seemingly slow growth in current years post the return to democracy, a gulf has been created that would require innovative leadership and a working plan that spans changes in governments in order to meet the 2030 goals. A clear example is the poverty index of the country. Given the vast endowment of natural resources, 86.9 million Nigerians now live in extreme poverty which is nearly 50% of its entire population.

With regards to quality healthcare, Nigeria ranked low on the global healthcare access and quality index carried out by The Lancet, a renowned medical journal. Of the 195 countries ranked, Nigeria placed 140 with a total of 51 points. The same challenges can be seen in education, where there are still high levels of children out of school, an out-dated curriculum that does not produce graduates of international standards and poor infrastructure to cater for the enrolled students.

Lessons from the Leadership Solutions for Sustainable Development (LSSD)

In 2016, the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) developed a leadership model which is a framework that fosters leadership assessment, orientation and learning initiatives. Of importance to a country as large as Nigeria, is the 3 step approach of Adapt, Collaborate & Transform.

  • Adapt: Involves breaking down the large sustainable development challenges into work packages that can be achieved in real time and monitored for impact by promoting adaptive thinking and behaviours that enhance individual and team leadership within larger systems in response to constantly changing environments.
  • Collaborate: Which focuses on seeking collective ‘as one’ approaches to build a shared understanding of problems, enabling joined-up support for effective solutions beyond the scope of individual organizations. Over the years, this has been a major leadership issue in Nigeria. Different governments have come up with different approaches and are never followed through to the end. Hence the current developmental level the country has found itself.
  • Transform: Focuses on the positive change to create long-term impact and scaling of solutions while guided by laid down principles, values and norms. Leaders in Nigeria must stop thinking about the short term only but rather have a holistic approach with long term goals. They must be able to sell the vision to the people and be seen to be deliberate in meeting set targets.


The role of quality leadership in attaining the SDG’s by 2030

Effective leadership translates into prudent public policy formulation and implementation, as well as good public service delivery, to meet the needs and aspirations of the citizenry. Achieving the SDGs will require the concerted efforts of governments, the business sector, society, and individual citizens. Therefore innovative leadership and management will be essential for organizations in all sectors to integrate these development goals into strategic plans and operational activities in service of realizing the 2030 aspirations.

Attaining sustainable development in today’s Nigeria is complicated, interconnected, and will need everyone to work towards creating a more sustainable future. Therefore leaders, rather than providing a solution that is not based on any empirical research as has been done in times past, need to engage stakeholders. Leadership should not only bring people together and encourage creative participation but help the populace embrace their diversity. Working together to solve problems, even when values are shared, can be a difficult process. Leadership therefore should foster diversity in all their engagements.

If Nigeria is to attain the SDG’s by 2030, leadership needs to focus on long-term goals without compromising values and principles amidst changing environmental factors and involve all stakeholders in the governance process. The effects of this kind of leadership coupled with coordination and participation of all concerned would potentially lead to improvements in economic efficiency, social cohesion and environmental responsibility which are the three basic indicators of sustainable development.


In conclusion, good governance and leadership are fundamental for development and progress to be attained in Nigeria. From the public sector to the private sector, leaders who are focused, committed, determined, selfless, disciplined, and enterprising are needed to drive sustainable initiatives and bring growth to all sectors. Nigeria is in dire need of committed leaders across all levels and regions, leaders who can conceptualise a national vision and adapt the solutions using the resources found within. The responsibility also falls on the populace to demand good leadership and effective governance thereby creating a governance system that is accountable and result oriented.






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