A Conversation With Amina Mohammed

Monday, April 25, 2016
Minister of Environment Amina Mohammed speaks at the opening session of a Public Lecture on Nigeria and the commonwealth of Nations in Abuja, Nigeria February 18, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
Amina J. Mohammed

Minister of the Environment, Federal Republic of Nigeria

Rachel B. Vogelstein

Senior Fellow and Director, Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations

Amina Mohammed will join us for a discussion on how to implement the ambitious post-2015 agenda. This roundtable meeting is part of a new high-level series, in collaboration with the UN Foundation, to explore issues related to implementation of the sustainable development agenda.


VOGELSTEIN: Good morning. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. My name is Rachel Vogelstein. I’m the director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program here at CFR, which has worked with leading scholars for more than a decade to analyze how elevating the status of women and girls advances U.S. foreign policy objectives.

I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens and to the U.N. Foundation for their support for the Council’s work, including our event this morning.

Today is the fourth meeting of CFR’s U.N. Foundation Roundtable Series Road to 2030: Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. And it comes at a critical moment for global development, as nations are developing plans to implement an ambitious new sustainable development agenda, and following the adoption of an expansive set of indicators to measure progress against this framework.

As we know, the SDG agenda was forged with an unprecedented level of collaboration by the international community, and goes well beyond the predecessor framework that preceded it. And as we’ve noted throughout this roundtable series, the scale of our ambition has grown to fulfill a universal set of goals, to include issues like peacebuilding as part of our development efforts, to harness a data revolution, to advance a new international consensus on climate change. The bar has also been raised with respect to our commitment to advancing gender equality. Sustainable Development Goal 5 for the first time creates time-bound targets related to a range of issues, from property rights to financial inclusion to ending violence against women to child marriage—issues that were previously overlooked.

And we know that realizing this agenda in just 15 years’ time will not be easily achieved. How will governments prioritize their efforts among the 17 Goals? And how can we ensure that Goal 5 remains elevated on the agenda? How can we finance the efforts that are needed to make progress against this framework? And what partnerships, including with the private sector, must be forged to achieve it? And perhaps most importantly, upon what tools can the international community rely to ensure accountability against the ambitious agenda now in place?

Well, perhaps no one is better able to share insight into these questions than the speaker we are privileged to host this morning, the honorable Amina Mohammed. Ms. Mohammed is currently the minister of environment in Nigeria. She is also the chief executive officer and founder of the Center for Development Policy Solutions, and an adjunct professor in the Master’s Program for Development Practice at Columbia University. Previously, she served as the special adviser to the U.N. secretary-general on post-2015 development planning, overseeing the development and adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. Prior to that role, she was the senior special assistant to the president of Nigeria on the Millennium Development Goals, and also served as the coordinator of the Task Force on Gender and Education for the U.N. Millennium Project. She received the National Honors Award in 2006, and has been inducted into the Nigerian Women’s Hall of Fame.

Madam Minister, thank you for being here, and welcome to CFR.

MOHAMMED: Thank you very much.

VOGELSTEIN: I’ll begin by asking a few questions, and then we’ll invite our participants to join the discussion.

Let’s start by talking about implementation of the SDG framework itself. We know that this new agenda, you know, is unquestionably a landmark achievement—in no small part thanks, of course, to your leadership and your efforts. And now the focus is on implementation. So what do you see as the biggest challenges as nations turn to implementation? And in Nigeria, what is the government doing specifically to address some of those challenges?

MOHAMMED: Right. Thank you, Rachel, for having me here. It’s also great to see Elizabeth and Molly. They were partners, I like to say, in crime, because we had a huge struggle to get these Goals up there and such a collaborative effort. So it’s great to see you, and thank you for having me.

Implementation. Well, that was always going to be the huge challenge. I think we thought the ambition was it when we framed the Goals, but I think every time we thought through them we were building on experiences, lessons learned, the need to have them there. And so implementation shouldn’t be as difficult as one would think it should be in terms of thinking how to do it. I think it’s probably, for me, about the context. You know, what is the context now that we’re putting these Goals into a universal agenda? And each and every one of those contexts is different.

And it is just incredible what has happened just in the last three to four years in country context, whether it’s Europe and migration, or it’s the kind of protracted conflict in my country—two types of conflict, one that’s economic sabotage and therefore a very big deal in the Niger Delta when we’re blowing up our pipes, gas pipelines and otherwise; or it’s Boko Haram in the northeast. So, really, context matters. And I think that’s been one, I think, challenge on how we think through implementation.

Grappling with, I think, acknowledging this is about a transition. People don’t like to hear about transitions, and transitions are difficult to keep transition moving from one thing to another. It’s very easy to slip back into the siloed thinking, because that’s where everyone’s comfortable. And this is huge.

The being fit for purpose we talked about for implementation meant going home and looking through the institutions what we needed to do to respond to that. And then, suddenly finding out if we’ve got it right in the public service, what about in the private sector, what about within civil society, and how about those wonderful people in the parliament? And I think that’s the struggle to have some leadership that says we’re actually engaged with the sustainable development agenda conceptually, and we’re going to use the Goals, integrated into our plans, to lift that ambition, to make it happen. And it’s a really sort of tough part of the conversation because things are happening 24/7, and almost that’s a discussion that’s put to the side—well, when we’re ready, we’ll do that, and how do we struggle with what’s happening now.

So I think the challenges really are about context, about the changing narrative, and about the transition—how to really get that laid out properly. And what are the actions that you can take alongside of those is something that I’ll speak to what we’re doing in Nigeria. The opportunities to take—to carry some of those actions out brings me to the opportunities.

Opportunity is a partnership. And the partnerships are—they are huge because everyone is talking about how to implement this. I think you have buy-in, you have ownership at all levels of government, whether we’re global or local. But people are looking for those partnerships with the actions that they can take. The most, I think—most of the actions that we see coming right now are from the private sector. Surprisingly, that’s where it’s coming from. Governments are still struggling. And civil society is motivated, but also I think struggling with the partnership with private sector. So I think the opportunities are going to come with the partnerships—partnerships that can go to scale, because a lot of what we’re doing to respond to the SDGs, we do know how to find the solutions to those. And there’s so much available in terms of expertise and technology to share. So I think the partnerships are going to be really key to that.

The other aspect is one of the two Goals that has motivated many people to speak to the reality of success here has been Goal 16, and that’s been the rule of law and strong institutions. That really has helped us to put on the radar and in the conversation that we can spend money in improving capacities and institutions because we need to go to scale and we need to deliver.

The governance issue has come up over and over again: efficiency gains in terms of the way we collaborate; questioning, in fact, that third arm of government in terms of the enabling environment for rule of law. And all of that, I think, has got strong threads on the human-rights agenda, something that we didn’t think we would really get because people didn’t want to see human rights there, but we wanted to thread it through. And I think that Goal has given us a lot of opportunity.

What have we done in Nigeria? Coming into the Ministry of Environment, which is probably the last place I thought I would be—(chuckles)—but we—it was very clear for me we had three asks of the secretary-general, United Nations. It was SDGs, financing for development, and environment—the climate change deal. And climate was bubble, and we would try to do the rest. So when it happened, going back home to implement this, the struggle is that environment is still the poor relation. It’s really difficult to get a narrative for environment within sustainable development at the country level. It is difficult with the donors. It is difficult with government. It is difficult with parliament. It’s easy to sell climate change, because that’s actually been the entry point for, you know, sort of scaring everyone that we have to take action. In fact, that’s what my president said to me the other day: everyone’s being scared by climate change.

But I’m not sure that’s done the job, because then it’s, yes, we care about it and we’ve got to do something about it, but then in reality the day-to-day of growing your economy, of making the investments in infrastructure, for instance, in my country, and looking for jobs, very few people even come across the green economy or green jobs or adaptation and mitigation, and the conversation is really not there. So for me the first thing is, how do I change that narrative? How do I become more than the dustbin lady? Because that’s what environment does in my country. It’s sanitation day once a month, and my state and the people who thought it was great to be a minister said, oh my God, and she’s gone to this ministry, which means we’ve got nothing. So we’re not seen as an integral part of what we achieved in both September and December, which was—which was pretty tough.

So we go about it in three ways. We talk about how the whole ministry’s going to empower people. So we have to have the conversation about the jobs we create through the work that we do and investments that we make in environment, and how that links to other sectors—and do that every day starting with the ministry itself, because they also have been stuck in some time warp and there’s a lot of them. (Laughs.) I have in headquarters 1,600 that I have to move to some action.

The second is actually taking climate action. And climate action is much more real for them because they see the things that have caused it, and so therefore we can end gas flaring, we can look at our forestation, we can look at the coastal issues of erosion. So those climate actions—or desertification. We can take actions around those, and that actually is a hook for us on the climate action.

The third is a little tougher, and that’s protecting the environment, and so to the issue of pollution and sanitation is a big one. So just those three issues of what we use.

And then we speak to people in the terms that we see are attractive with the Goals. So the Goals become that vehicle to better understand what we want to do when we say protect the environment, and seeing the environment Goals or the climate Goal as that sort of docking station for the rest. And have that discussion on gender, have that discussion on cities, have the discussion around poverty with that. And that seems to be working.

It’s still a work in progress. We are very far from where we need to be. But that’s why I would underscore the whole transition challenge.

VOGELSTEIN: I want to pick up on something you mentioned, specifically resources for implementation. You know, you’ve said that the SDG agenda is about financing; it’s not about charity. And, as you well know, the world agreed to a new financial architecture last July by adopting the Addis Agenda for Action, which recognizes the importance of leveraging dollars from a variety of sources—so certainly official development assistance, but also domestic revenue, private-sector investment, trade, international financing, et cetera.

How should we think about the development finance landscape in the 21st century, particularly with private capital flows dwarfing, in some respects, international aid? And how can we encourage the private sector to invest in this agenda? You mentioned the private sector already.

MOHAMMED: Mmm hmm. One of the, I think, bright notes that my president had on his few trips that he’s been making around the world over the last six months was the Chinese one. And we all thought he was off—he was going to China, and it was really about better deals and loans coming to us, government-to-government, on infrastructure. Well, we came out over $6 billion in loans, private sector. And so the attraction to—actually fueling and bringing private sector to the center, and not government, was a big change in the way we’re doing things in Nigeria.

So, again, the private-sector players that were spoken to do have integrity. They are globally known and have—and so that’s helpful. But I think it was—you know, seeing how they were investing in the full value chain of agriculture, for instance. So it wasn’t just about the production and what we needed to go in terms of irrigation and government-to-government infrastructure, but it was about putting in industry.

It raised a number of issues. Again, this goes to, I think, everybody very clear that we want the business, but we don’t want it at all costs. So, very quickly, it was about, well, you know, we have imports here that are Chinese. So if we’re putting up manufacturing base here for our agricultural produce, what about the stuff that’s coming in and the quality of it? And then we started seeing cross-sectoral engagement in our country around the table to say, well, this Chinese investment’s really good, but we have to put a stop to two things: they’ve got to stop logging—Amina, hand up; they’ve got to stop bringing in tomato paste that has got carcinogenics in it—NAFDAC, health.

So there’s a very interesting conversation going on. We’re welcoming private-sector investment, but we’re putting the checks and balances that we knew in the conversation for the SDGs civil society was so vocal about. This is OK, but, you know, how do we know that this is not—this is going to be about us at the center and not on the outside?

I think there are different entry points for the private sector. Again, the context is going to matter. In my cases our private sector will ask you about the stability and then today, you know, many of the oil producing, or at least the fossil fuel, are having the challenges that they’re having. People are trying to find solutions around that. So the diversification question of many economies is big on the radar. And people are looking to how can we make that happen, from solid minerals, to agriculture, to other downstream activities form oil, for instance. We can see, let me see, fossil fuel no good gas flaring. So what can we do to put the incentives in for the private sector to enable LPG be the alternative for cooking, and cooking across the semi-urban. We’ve not got to the rural yet, but at least people are thinking solutions about that.

So I think, again, it’s a green field because of the context. And I think many—I do feel—I was in New York at the end of last week on the climate signing. And there was a sense that the financing for development was losing it—I think, its ambition. And very quickly people were looking for the reasons why they couldn’t do things, rather than finding solutions to that. But I think we have to just keep pushing for those solutions, yeah.

VOGELSTEIN: Pushing for solutions. I want to apply that same mantra to another topic we were talking about earlier, which is the issue of gender in the Sustainable Development Goals. We meet following the recent adoption of a new set of indicators to measure progress against SDGs, including implementation of Goal 5. And as we discussed, there are a host of targets that re now included, that were overlooked in the predecessor MDG framework. And yet, there’s still a concern about whether countries will, in fact, hold themselves accountable to many of these new targets, and whether countries have the ability to track many of the agreed upon indicators.

So what do we need to do to actually achieve Goal 5 by 2030? And how can we ensure that the targets under that Goal stay high on the SDG agenda, particularly given the historical tendency to overlook and to underfund issues related to gender equality?

MOHAMMED: Well, we’ve got the 230, there may even be more, indicators that are coming along. I think what I like about the whole set is a lot of it’s very practical. And it’s very—I can touch and feels these. So if you’ve got targets that talk about discrimination or the violence, and you look at the indicators that are asking us to report, I can say as a victim of violence in my home the fact today that I have an indicator that allows someone to report what is happening is really big, because it was swept under the carpet. It’s not something spoken about. And I think if we can find these indicators, having a conversation—having our conversations with them in mind, rather than as an end result of a reporting mechanism that will help—that will help, for us to say: This is what we’re working towards and these are some of the things that we are—we should be speaking to.

So if we—in the general conversation, unpaid work shouldn’t wait until we have to monitor the progress of a country. It should be the conversation we have as we’re framing that policy framework, the plan, the implementation plan for a lot of the issues around here. So I think, you know, again, we always said bottom-up. Actually, maybe that’s the good way to do it with the indicators. Reading through them, they are pretty practical and they are responsive, to a large extent—surprisingly, I have to say. I wasn’t as confident that they would do what they’ve done now to the targets, and then from the targets do we get the goal that we set out to do. Again, all of this is very difficult if it is not a part of country’s plans and their overall policy frameworks. And I’m finding that they aren’t. As we go through, we’re still at the MDG level. And so I think you have to push for these longer-term plans and to see these integrated.

It took a while. I got home and we were very much about the short-term planning. In fact, no one wanted to hear about a 15-year plan in my country three, four months ago. What we did do, then, was to say: You have to have a long-term plan, because this three, four years that we have has got to have a longer projection for some of the outcomes that we need. And how are we going to do that if we don’t even have that in sight? What perhaps we do have to do in many developing countries is to see how we work with the parliaments on this because, again, the investments have to be consistent. And we have to look at those institutional frameworks we have for making that happen. What tools do we have to make this happen? The budget is the biggest one.

I remember about last week in our Cabinet meeting, one of the requests that was coming was that in—we were approving that we were going to have issues around our—what was our issue on—it was a line item that we needed for gender. But the spend that we needed had to be approved at Cabinet for it to get some traction then at the parliament for it. Once you have a line item that is spending on a woman’s issue, a gender issue, then it stays. It’s very difficult to take it out and getting that approval for it.

What did come up in that time as we had this discussion was the amount of time women—we had—you know, we had been pushing for the exclusive breastfeeding of women. It’s only been in our service three months that you get, but we’re saying you need six months. And just a recommendation to say to our leader: OK, Mr. President, we need a six-month, you know, break for women to go off, paid leave, for exclusive breastfeeding, because they can’t do it otherwise. And in that Cabinet meeting, it got his full support. So again, as a result of that, what then comes into our policy frameworks and what gets approved in parliament.

VOGELSTEIN: So it’s the national-level focus, the budget, the resources, but also the political will, as you just mentioned.

MOHAMMED: And speaking about all of it together, this is an integrated agenda. I think, you know, if we—you don’t have to go very far as the gender goal. You just go up to four, in health, and you’re discussing some of the same indicators that are asking you to do things. So relevant to the health indicators. And they will be when you come down to the cities. And you know, the other day someone was giving me the statistics on the respiratory disease burden we have as a result of cooking with firewood.

And I was saying to them, where are we getting this data from? Because this has some really serious implications for us. If the disease burden in my country’s talking about malaria, and somebody’s telling me that this is causing more deaths than malaria, HIV, and TB put together, you have to explain that to me. And you have to explain really clearly where you’re getting that baseline from and how disaggregated is that data? And so we are actually asking more questions than we would have done by just swallowing a WHO statistic, because it now has implications on the way in which we will look at our investments and prioritize them.

VOGELSTEIN: Back to the importance of data.

MOHAMMED: (Laughs.)

VOGELSTEIN: I want to ask you about—last week, you mentioned, you were at the U.N. when 175 world leaders were there to formally sign the historic Paris agreement. What do you think it will take for this accord to actually succeed?

MOHAMMED: I think last week was amazing, because the momentum and the energy from Paris, peoples willed it into the signing of those 175 people on those pages, of which I wasn’t one. I did go in solidarity, but I did not sign. Nigeria did not sign. And we didn’t because the Paris agreement is incredibly important when it comes to working out what it means to implement this, and what are the implications for fossil fuel countries like ours. And I think that signing was a good way of saying that we have good intentions, but it’s not enough. And I think the ratification of this agreement needs far more thought. And so Nigeria has to go through a process where the implementation of its INDC is critical. There are many decisions in that INDC which are conditional or non-conditional that have to pass through a process that includes our parliament. It also includes some of the pains our people have to go through. And I don’t think that was something we could have signed onto with intention without going home and having that discussion.

Having said that, we intend to sort of sign and ratify this by September, working back from the GA then. And I think some of the tensions that we’re going to have is that, you know, how are we going to want to make the investments? We want to make the investments in growing our economy, diversification in oil, moving from fossil fuels to renewables. Who is going to pay for it? By and large, our domestic resources should be doing that. And as we’re improving on our revenues, that’s the sustainability.

But there are many technologies we can’t pay for just yet. And so when I would like—I’m responsible for the environmental impact assessment certification that we have to give for any industry that invests in Nigeria. So when a cement company says to me two months ago, we are doubling the capacity of our plant to produce cement. And I’m asking, so, how are you firing it? And they say coal. And I’m saying, right, OK, clean coal? Because I can’t actually say an alternative energy yet. We can’t get the gas up there. That’s going to take some time. So it’s about that conversation of investments in, again, the transition to cleaner energy. And it has to have these partnerships in the finance framework that will help us do that. And they’re not yet there.

Commitments that we make, for instance, now putting an end to that gas flaring, still leave a considerable amount of investments to—those that are failing most with the flaring of gas actually are local companies and local businesses. And they need a leg up. So where is that going to come from to help us get cleaner? So I think there are a number of huge challenges that we have going ahead. And I think we have to break them down, again, have that conversation around the table with our partners from those who have, you know, still the 55 of the biggest emitters. I wonder who’s going to ratify for that, and then what are the implications. You do that in Africa all put together, doesn’t get anywhere near it. But it will if it starts growing and it grows in the right direction. And what we want to do is to try to grow cleaner than we have been.

VOGELSTEIN: A lot to watch as this conversation unfolds in Nigeria and elsewhere.

Well, I’d like to open the discussion now to questions. Please raise your placard, state your name and affiliation, and we’ll get to as many questions as we can.

Carl, please.

Q: Thank you, Rachel. Good morning. Karl Hofmann with PSI, Population Services International. Thank you. In Nigeria, we operate through the Society for Family Health. And thank you very much for being here, Madam Minister.

I was struck by your comment about the president and exclusive breastfeeding. And obviously the point that in the U.S., we are a long way away from having even national level maternity or paternity leave. And it seems to me your comments have been rightly focused on Nigeria, but I wonder if you could take yourself back to your previous role, when you were looking at the world, and the important change that the SDGs represent in elevating this from a north-south dynamic to a global dynamic, and just comment on how you think countries like the United States are approaching this. I mean, I sense that there is very little traction on this set of issues here. Maybe it’s not surprising given the political year. But you know, going forward will this resonate here in ways that you think will be politically impactful? And what do we do about that if it/s not?

MOHAMMED: Conversations like these ones are really helpful in the right quarters. Again, my president’s been here twice now. And I think those conversations have been a healthy learning curve for where priorities are. And I think it’s been quite amazing to see the government of the U.S. come into my office, where I’ve least expected them to come, to talk about the kinds of partnerships that they have spoken about on the environment which they just didn’t speak about a few years ago. So I think it is—again, these partnerships, and pushing the public sector partnerships globally, is going to be incredibly important. Having a different conversation around the table has to change. Whether it’s the development days in the EU or it is something that we do when we have bilateral visits or we gather around a particular issue that the U.N. convenes, the conversation has got to be different. And it’s got to be this integrated one that has got many players and many contexts to deal with.

And as I think, I think many people in the global north are struggling with today’s context and how to manage that. But there are some signs there that, you know, some of those complications could be resolved by a lot of what we’re speaking about how and investing in that. We talk about two sides of it. One is that, you know, invest in the root cause, and not the Band-Aid that we’ve had before. And I think that that may be a conversation that could change the way the U.S. looks at this. I still haven’t quite understood where USAID is going. And I hope, because they were so helpful and engaged when we did this and shaped the agenda. But for implementation it’d be really interesting to see which way the new leadership is going to take this.

The other side is that many of the issues that we have—and I have to say, we don’t—everybody is playing so much attention to their own problem right now where they are—but on the migration issue, some of the challenges that are being thrown up in Europe and other places are ones that are development issues on health, on education, on women’s rights. It’s really quite amazing how there are two—there’s sort of a tale of two cities for that. And so maybe that’s something that we could be speaking to about it. It’s opening up all sorts of things. I think young people in social media has been the biggest eye-opener for me on the depth of the challenges and the response I’m getting from young people who want to be engaged and are not waiting for us to give them the answers. And I think that’s been, you know, another way.

Maybe in the United States, there is that. You know, it’s not been—many, many countries have not been open to looking at themselves in the mirror. And I think that this is a tough one. And young people will probably do it better than anyone has. The only thing is that—be prepared to get some shocks, because if you’re not as well-informed, then those same opinions could just be ones that will dig deeper in the same frame.

VOGELSTEIN: John, please.

Q: Thank you. Thank you very much and welcome, Minister. We enjoyed your remarks.

A question about when you take the long-term view with regard to energy development, particularly within the context of the environment, how do you see that occurring, particularly for LPG and renewables?

MOHAMMED: I think the conversation so far—I mean, we’ve—we’re struggling with—I know Tanzania at one point, and they did this a little while ago with the sustainable energy for all initiative, that they were going in one direction. But even understanding what your energy mix is today, country by country, region by region, and mapping that, is really quite a big eye-opener to the efficiency gains that you could get, to the sharing of resources that you could get. And very few of us actually know it. We don’t know what our energy mix is currently.

And then looking to see as you are growing, what is it that you need in the short term and in the long-term transition from being able to do the first one, which is if I want to grow green and I have the resources, then that’s the track that I ought to take. But what if I can’t get the resources? My population, my country, and what matters to the people there and the services they have to provide? Then I have to take track two, which is I’m going to continue growing brown until I can get green. And that’s that transition from fossil fuels to renewables.

And in the case of renewables, if I just take Nigeria as an example—because I think many of them—many countries struggle from the infrastructure base that we have that is so long. But there are people willing to invest when they understand if they put in the infrastructure, then what they open up are markets. The population is young, and so therefore with the right skill sets and the proper models for business in our market we will make huge in-roads. So Nigeria, for instance, we say north and south and people would think that that’s half and half. It wasn’t. Two-thirds of Nigeria is the north. And two-thirds of that country, with the majority of the population, is underserved with infrastructure.

So do you take a pipeline and the grid to every single hamlet? No you don’t. What you have to do is really look structurally, institutionally, market population, the whole of it, how best to serve those populations with what we have. Today power in our country, we’ve got, you know, targets that we’re setting. But where is that power going to go to? And if it’s on-grid right now, it will still not reach the north unless there is a pipeline for gas. Who is going to invest in that pipeline? And even if you do, it’s going to take you a minimum of five years to get that investment and that up and running. And you hope you have the continuity with the next government.

So here comes renewables. Who is willing to invest in the renewables? And we’ve had exciting feedback from people who want to look at solar power off grid. The partnership that came up with India and France with many—all of us. I think it was about 158 countries there on that, to how to make that happen. And you’ve got places like UAE who are offering that financing, not just for dropping off grid solar power to us, 200 to 400 megawatts, which is huge for small businesses in rural areas, but it’s actually that they want to develop the industries. They want to develop the market.

So they’re actually looking for that partnership and that engagement. So while the solar people are speaking to us, at the same time you’ve got this huge conglomerate of companies who are also saying to us, well, we’re also interested in your fruit industry. We’re interested in solid minerals. And that’s now a conversation that’s happening that didn’t happen before. Those were silent conversations before.


Q: Thank you. Whitney Schneidman, Covington & Burling.

Just sort of picking up on that theme, and sort of going back to your earlier remarks, you mentioned that it was surprising to see the private sector moving forward with some programs, and that civil society was, you know, struggling with the private sector, as I understood. And from my perspective, I think it’s an easier conversation to have with a lot of companies together about aligning commercial objectives with economic development objectives. But I’m wondering, from your perspective, where you’ve seen it happen the best, and where government, civil society, and private sector come together to really, you know, address SDGs, address the kind of global goals that I think we all want to see advanced?

MOHAMMED: I’m not sure that there’s anywhere that’s really done that yet that I can speak to. But I can speak to the conversations happening that are looking or so, that are coming to finding the solutions to make that work. We had—for instance, I walked into our office and said: Well, how do we make this whole waste to wealth thing work, because we have huge amounts of plastic all over the place. How can we collect that and how can we recycle it and make that work for people? And we need the private sector for that.

So, again, it was one about, OK, the regulatory environment could enforce that they do a large part of the collecting and recycling, but they will go under the radar because I haven’t provided the incentives. And so we’re having a healthy conversation which says we’ve all got a vested interest in taking this off the street. So how do you think you—what would be the incentives you would need to make this work, and how far can I push the bureaucracy and everything else to make that happen?

And it’s not that we’ve not had waste to wealth. I was shocked in my country that we had over 33 programs and projects, of which I think less than 10 percent are functioning. Some never even got off the ground and were vandalized because no ownership in the whole idea of partnerships and what, from the beginning to the end, we intend to do with this. It was much more about what investment would happen in a contract that would supply equipment, rather than what that equipment would do and how we could follow that up with business and with jobs and with, you know, sustainability.

So I think ask me that question in a couple of years’ time. (Laughter.) But right now, we’re just trying to think, you know, OK, so how do I engage the private sector in very real terms to do things in sanitation, to do things in waste to wealth, to get them engaged on the LPG. And we have a number who are saying to me: We’re ready to do this. We can provide the gas in cylinders safely. And we can take this to peri-urban centers.

VOGELSTEIN: We can reconvene in five years and discuss. (Laughter.)

MOHAMMED: I won’t be in office then. (Laughter.)

VOGELSTEIN: Ambassador Cousens, please.

Q: Thanks. And let’s reconvene more often than that. It’s really delightful to see you, Amina. We really miss you. But it’s wonderful that you’re doing what you’re doing.

MOHAMMED: Thank you.

Q: Two questions. First, about the relationship between the SDGs and climate. I think people worked really hard over the course of last year to have those agendas be seen as mutually reinforcing in the advocacy community and the political community and so on. It feels as though there’s a bit of a renewed risk, that they diverge as we get into implementation. So I’d be interested in your thoughts about how to have them be as strongly reinforcing as possible.

Second, this whole question about implementation and transition, I often think about a phrase that you used to use when you had your former hat on about the transition to implementation, and creating the constructive space and time for countries, for companies, for communities really to digest the implications of what was agreed last year and figure out how to integrate that into—in ways that are meaningful to them. Yet, there’s also an incredible sense of urgency. We only have 15 years. We need to rush, rush, rush. As you’re sitting now where you are, how do you advise we try to strike that balance between the space that countries like yours really do need, while keeping up the kind of pressure for action where it can be taken?

MOHAMMED: Thank you, Liz.

The climate actions that we need to take reinforce the implementation of all the Goals. So I really think that that climate goal has been very important to us. So where I may not be able to get the traction, talking about environment and climate, the minute that I speak about the other Goals I’m asking about the climate actions they need to take, because they’re synonymous with each other. And I think that’s been very helpful for us when we’ve spoken to water, to cities, to infrastructure and transportation. We’ve brought in the climate actions. And the INDC reinforces that because it came out of—I think it’s the cleverest thing we ever did was to get countries to sign up to that INDC, because it had specific targets on emission reduction.

And then people see the synergy between the two, even on gender. I mean, you know, you’d think, OK, you’re not going to get anything there, but actually you do, because you see that the burden of climate change, which is very vivid in many of our countries, is on the shoulders of women and young girls, particularly adolescent girls. And so that’s a really big hook for us on all the SDGs. So while it doesn’t—it’s not sort of the narrative or the construct or the conversation we had about this, as you know, an integrated set of environment, social, and economic—no, it doesn’t happen like that. But I think the investments, and having an impact in environment and on the social agenda, through what? What actions do we need to take for it?

And again, context, context, context. It’s just two weeks in Paris negotiating those final bits and pieces on the agreement. Two weeks later I went round the country just for me to feel what does this mean in my country. And it was from coastal erosion to the pollution in the Niger Delta, and the gas flaring. People talk about the water and they talk about the soil, but they don’t talk about the air. That sort of gets lost. And all the way up to where the desert has, you know, come all the way down. But you’re seeing it in conflict, but you’re also seeing it in other areas where poverty is grinding and malnutrition is horrible, with the children that we have that are facing the brunt of that.

So I think it’s a really interesting time right now. And those conversations are happening. And it’s about investments, what do we have to move this? It is still a little scary that we are—the sustainable development agenda has brought the economic focus to it. And I’m just—you know, we need to push that the results, for whatever economic—macroeconomic framework we put in place and investments we’re making must result in health and in education, otherwise that will slip. And I think that that’s a feeling we have now, is that sometimes there’s less conversation about that. And we’re looking at the indicators and they’re not very good, when we see what’s happening in our countries.

On the transition to implementation, it was all about fit for purpose. You know, how do you become fit for purpose and create the space for that conversation, urgent, but no hurry to fail? It’s really tough, because, you know, every government in what I call in our major challenge, democracy, has got four years. And how with weak institutions do you carry that through, the sustainability. So I think it’s a wide range of conversations, and particularly with players that will be there regardless of the administrative change politically. So business is important. Civil society is really important. But even getting the public service and institutions much more aware of this and building skills—not training for training or capacity building for capacity building’s sake, but really capacity building against these types of investments. That’s been missing.

When I look to see how much we have invested with our donors in Nigeria on capacity building, millions and millions of dollars. And it really has had almost no effect. I go into my ministry. I’ve said 1,600 people. I cannot find 20. Across the whole system, I can’t find 20 who can bring the skill set I need to work with this. And it’s not that difficult, but it is obviously a huge challenge. So now we’re training against what we want to do, rather than, you know, sort of a set list of skills that you want to put into place over time. So I think that’s going to be really important.

Our international partners have to become much more coherent and coordinated about this. I think there is a cacophony right now at the country level. It’s not just in Nigeria. We’re seeing this in a number of places that when we go to our U.N.-convened meetings, whether it’s in environment, or oil, or corruption, governments, fellow ministers are all struggling with different messaging. In my country, different sectors. So what we’ve done is put in—put roundtables of ministers together for, one, so that we can be coherent and for, two, to say to our partners, whether they’re business or in the international community, stop. When we’ve got our road map ready, then we’ll tell you where we need you to come in and help us.

But it’s a struggle, because everyone needs to satisfy an output from their different constituencies. So if you don’t make it with me, you go check my minister of power, because they’re environment, or you go to minister of petroleum, or you go to the VP. So it’s really very hard. The reality of this is that, you know, we’ve had to say to our partners: You have to be fair. We understand you’re under pressure, but no one can be in more or a hurry or understand the urgency than we that live with the demands that we have to respond to, the rights of our people to give them health or education. So it cannot be more urgent among the outside. So help us to help ourselves.

And that’s really difficult because, you know, the pace is different. There’s much more capacity here. And you’ve got this year that you’ve got to fill all these, you know, bottom lines. But we don’t. You know, we go on from one year to another year to another year, and sometimes really slow. It’s one of those things that we struggle with. But, yeah.

VOGELSTEIN: So coordination, a really big piece of this. Please.

Q: Yes. Thank you very much, Minister, for your comments.

And I think particularly the question I would have is on the ability of regional partnerships to help drive action and new multilateral frameworks to actually help facilitate that action as well, something that really struck me as the context, context, context, and yet scalability, and the importance of new partnerships to help drive action.

So in a similar way I had the opportunity to work in the trenches with both Elizabeth and Molly at the White House on the Sustainable Development Goal work, but then recently moved home to my home state of Hawaii. And now I’m trying to implement this on the very local level. So it is an interesting struggle, heading up a public-private partnership that is working to implement the state’s 2030 statewide sustainability goals, which were actually agreed to prior to 2015. So it’s actually interesting.

We were approached recently by other island economies to work with them to identify similar goals and a way of actually tracking progress. And so one of the things that we’re struggling with is how do you look at the locally and culturally important context when you look to do this? And what is the role of sort of regional partnerships, whether it’s an island grouping, a Pacific grouping, and Africa grouping—different partnerships to drive action? Would be my first question.

And then in your new capacity, where do you see specifically, say, the upcoming IUCN World Conservation Congress as an opportunity to take the SDG discussion forward? You know, the IUCN and WCC traditionally being more focused on conservation. It’s now taking place in the United States for the first time, the first time the U.S. has ever hosted the World Conservation Congress, which is being hosted in Hawaii. So I would also like to invite you to attend this September. (Laughter.) But the fact that it is September 1st, is this an opportunity, do you think, to actually break open the dialogue in advance of the other conversations that take place in September? Thank you.

MOHAMMED: Wow, OK. (Laughter.) I think the whole SDG conversation and regions, together we can go further. For the first time, there’s actually an opening for the conversation to happen regionally. And we have so many issues that are the same. And the networks and partnerships, the consolidating around programs that have been there for a long time, but they got any traction. Now they are, because the finances are not there.

More can be done regionally through some of our bodies that are there, whether they’re government or otherwise, or you’re finding, for instance, Unilever all over the place, but it’s all over the place with other private sector companies that are coming together and saying, well, we’re going to make our headquarters to discuss this issue in West Africa and Ghana, or we’re going to do something about that in Kenya, on telecom. So I think there’s some new partnerships that are coming up, but they’re no longer just bilateral. You’re finding networks coming together because they really can do these things. And there’s a lot of learning.

People don’t want to take the risk alone. And so there’s that sharing of, you know, this is important. And we can’t afford to invest too much with many losses. And I think that’s really important. It’s important on some of the struggles that people have for some of the gender issues of unpaid labor. And suddenly that coming into the discussion on labor. It’s not been there before. Recognizing it and valuing it, and trying to do something about it, is important. Again, just checking within that network, in ECOWAS, for instance. So this issue of women and assets and access to finances and resources, who’s doing what.

And it’s no longer about whether you’re in a group of one to 10, who’s doing the best who’s not. It’s how did you do that and how can we do it? So it’s sharing and learning. There’s much more of that conversation going on, particularly in contexts where things are really tough with conflict, with migration, the IDP situation in Africa, it’s now a big issue all over the world on migration. So there are different—you know, different solutions for different places. And I think that’s being shared quite well through the networks.

Conservation—whew. OK—(laughs)—going beyond saving the gorilla, because it’s about the ecosystem. And I think that for—there’s going to be some major challenges here. I think conservation is going to come up against big business. And it’s going to come up against, perhaps, issues that we thought were resolved and are very far from being resolved. I have seven national parks under my responsibility. And the biggest challenge I have right now is security. So there’s a lot of poaching going on. Every game warden wants me to give them more ammunition so they can protect themselves and their families and the wildlife. And I’m saying, no, you can’t have bullets. You can have tranquilizers, so you can put, you know, people to sleep. But don’t kill them.

But I need a collaboration with the security agencies. And that’s not there because they’re already struggling with other issues. And there’s no option for the alternative for a lot of this in terms of livelihoods. But there’s also the other—the business side of it. We have a heritage site. It’s a huge forest in the southeast of my country. And a highway is going through this. We’ve moved the highway out. It’s 260 kilometers. It’s a really good idea to have that highway. It connects people, and it’s development, and it’s fine.

But it’s now not so fine, because what has happened is a manipulation of that highway, where we have—normally, engineering, you have 45 meters set back from the middle of the road, so that’s about as far as you can go into any of the woods or the forests, wherever we’re talking about. But in this particular case, they’ve gone 10 kilometers either side of the center line, which has almost wiped out some communities that have been there for hundreds of years and will have a huge effect on the ecosystem and conservation. Fortunately, we have processes that we can put back in place to do that.

And it’s—you know, you’re wondering why 10 kilometers? And then you suddenly find out, there’s a massive logging exercise, and that logging exercise is one of collusion between national government and international companies. And so I think for this global agenda, when we come to speak about conservation, it’s everyone’s role, just as it is in the illicit flows it has to be in this as well. And I think there are new grounds that we need to explore, and to see how we can protect better that. I mean, I can sit there and, because of Rwanda’s experience, can say to the leadership in this particular place, you know, this is the revenue you’re losing, because I am being told that for every gorilla there is in Rwanda, that’s looking at a million dollars revenue annually. That’s huge.

So what can you do about sharing that revenue with bettering people’s lives, protecting the environment, and keeping that sort of ecosystem together? There are other things going on as well. We have taken programs that are regional in nature—the Great Green Wall in Nigeria is a huge opportunity. It has only been in the past looked at like let’s plant trees and stop the desert coming in. That’s not the answer. The answer really has been for us that whole ecosystem of economic trees, of jobs, of services, actually of taking back the desert, because we’ve got conflict between herdsmen and farmers, because there is no land. And we look at China and we see what they’re doing with the Gobi Desert. And it’s economic how they’re reclaiming so. So how can we use that? So those kind of, you know, cross-border, cross-region activities to try to also do some of the conservation we need to do.

VOGELSTEIN: A very realistic example of the earlier comment you made about context really mattering a lot.

We are getting close to the end of our time, so I’m going to ask if we can take three questions in a row and then, Minister, will give you a chance to respond.

Molly, please go ahead.

Q: Great. OK. And Madam Minister, Amina, a real pleasure to have you here in Washington.

So I have sort of two questions here. So the first is about—you said something that really made sense to me, which is that the action now is really at the national and subnational levels. So it’s what do countries, what do states decide that they want to do with this agenda, and how do they drive it? So I’m curious, and especially given your experience with MDGs, do you see that happening? Do you see that energy and that, you know, practicality of, OK, here’s an opportunity and we’re going to embrace it, you know, in your own government, in others? If so, then what’s driving that? And if not, I’m curious what do you think would encourage that action?

And then as you do that—so it sounds like Nigeria is perhaps undertaking a cross-ministry exercise in this. And as you do that, and you look at the 15 years, but you know realistically you also have some short-term, you know, pressures as well, how do you think about that? Are there certain sort of foundational or cross-cutting things you say here’s the three things we absolutely need to get done in the first few years to make progress across this? And how does that get done?

VOGELSTEIN: Thank you. Please, Will.

Q: Madam Minister, congratulations on your appointment. Your country’s gain is the U.N.’s loss. And as a former UNDP rep here in Washington, I think I can get away with saying that it’s easy to get lost in the U.N. architecture. So this leads to my question.

With your departure, where does ownership in the U.N. system lie for the SDGs? In many ways, you were the very public face, and a superb public fact, but particularly when it comes to, as many have mentioned, the issue of monitoring and reporting on implementation, where will the lead lie? Thank you.

VOGELSTEIN: Thank you. John (sp), please.

Q: Thank you. And let me just echo Mr. Davis’ comment. You really played an outstanding role, Madam Minister. I mean, I was with the BIAC in the OECD and interacting with—and you really were a common focal point for all of that.

One of the things—I just wanted to underscore the—one of the issues which seems to me to have become submerged, but which really deserves much more prominence, and I’d like to get your thoughts on it, is that of the informal sector. You talked about the Goal 16 and the institutional structure. You’ve mentioned property rights. But even though the U.N. had the U.N. Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor, which did some really fantastic work, it doesn’t seem to me that within the SDGs we’ve given it enough prominence. We’re talking about somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of the populations of most developing countries, the ownership of property, the employment—the employment, as well as the submerged GNP that isn’t recognized, being locked out, unrecognized, not incorporated, and, in many cases, because of this institutional issue. How can we give this some more prominence so that it really becomes, in so many ways, the Rosetta Stone to unlock the complexity of these 17 Goals?

VOGELSTEIN: So questions on inspiring action and prioritization, on ownership of the SDGs in the U.N. system, and the informal sector.

MOHAMMED: Oh, OK. Thanks. We need much more in terms of champions at the country level right now. I think countries are really grappling with day-to-day issues, and they haven’t figured out how the SDGs can help them. And in trying to do that, they need someone to make that easy for them. And so I think it’s, you know, creating—I sit in—I sit in my own Cabinet and I’m listening to budget and planning. And they’re talking about—finally I’ve pushed them, OK, you got to do the long-term plan. That’s happening. And then they’re saying, OK, so can you give us the pieces that we need on the SDGs? And I’m saying, don’t forget 2063. And you know, how does that all fit? But when I look at the implementation plan for the budget, then I don’t see what it is that we need to be seeing there. Maybe that’s a prioritization of how we move the SDG agenda.

So for us, context, security is a big issue. It is the first responsibility of my president to his people. And he’s got to deal with that. The second that he’s dealing with is the governance structure. The corruption is a symptom. And that symptom has a lot to do with the way we’re structured. So institutions matter. And, you know, that whole rule of law that he’s trying to straighten up. The third is, again, this is where we struggle with the urgent and hurry bit. Infrastructure: If we don’t have infrastructure, we can’t put up the hospitals or the schools or the access to water. None of it will work. And we’ve not been doing that over time. And that’s scale and that’s money. So he’s trying to deal with infrastructure in terms of power. And he’s trying to make sure that that relates to jobs. So he’s saying: Look, I’ve got to do the infrastructure. I’ve got to do the jobs.

So all of that requires for us, I think, to keep being reminded in the context of sustainable development as a concept, and the Goals as that that will help us get to where we need to get to, and how can we do that? Now, civil society is doing really well, but they need to be connected. And so I think with the private sector this is where actually they’re partnering quite well. And how can we do this at the local level, local governments, state governments on that one. So a way to go. How are we doing it? In our ministry what we’re doing is what can I do in setting those regulatory environments better—setting them up better? I have two or three under me. The laws are pretty archaic. And that is something that I can do that gives a proper platform for going forward.

Alongside that, a couple of campaigns, campaigns that put partnerships together that will run because people will see immediate results, and then really figuring out a really good communications strategy. We need communication, communication, communication. Today we have a town hall meeting with some of our ministers. It’s the first time we’ve done this town hall meeting, gone down to Lagos, sat with the ministers who probably have the biggest headache today because there’s no power, long fuel queues, and people are asking why have we gone to China and why have we gone to the United States. So explanation. Six ministers sitting there taking grueling questions has been important. So that communication with people really, really important.

On the U.N. ownership—whoa. OK, so—(laughter)—the next secretary-general—who is going to be a woman, by God’s grace—(laughter, applause)—needs to take that up. That’s the gauntlet she’s going to have to take up. I think that the indicators, again, as I said, are much better than I thought they would be. I think we can take those up and have that conversation. We are still far from the U.N. agencies being fit for purpose in a coherent way in the center, never mind at the country level. And a lot of it is because they haven’t figure out that they don’t need additional jobs; they need to retool themselves.

The same people who were doing the MDGs need to find a different skill set to help us in our countries, and come out of their offices into ours and have these conversations as DFID has with us, to how to put together a concept, a terms of reference, an implementation plan, and make that work. And they’re falling off because they’re not doing it. They’re still the most trusted. People believe in the U.N. And I think that that’s incredibly important. So they convene. But we need to support them. We need investments in those people that are at country level.

And maybe we can sort of make it, but there’s some kind of service that you have to give, that the people in New York have to go to the field for six months, you know, more frequently than they do, because I think the skill sets they have are so valuable to us. You have no idea how many times you’re thinking about how many concept notes. Ideas abound and I can make them work because I have money. But just that middle bit of putting all of it together completely, you know, we haven’t got it. And so we need to have that.

Last on this list of questions, on the—it’s the different entry points to that. The informal sector’s huge. It’s what keeps us together and going. And yet, we can’t service it, we can’t—we don’t know where it is, who it is. So I think the leaving no one behind agenda has been getting a lot of traction. And it’s led to many questions being asked of our government, for instance, and I know in a number of other governments as well, you know, where are the birth certificates? Where is the birth register?

Of recent, we made a commitment to a missing persons registry in Nigeria because we didn’t realize that it wasn’t 219 Chibok girls that were missing, there’s actually a couple more thousand. And we don’t even know who they are. And they’ve been coming home. And we didn’t realize they’d gone missing. So that was a really big eye-opener for how do you strengthen the institutions at the local government level to begin to put these things back in place?

The identity for bank accounts, for the telebanking that’s going on, and access to health services through different insurance schemes, is also putting together the ask-for strengthening the institutions to look now at the informal economy. But how? I think you need—you know, we need to be having some really good conversations with people like the bank on making this real. I think countries would like to get their head round it. And tax is one way through it. And we need to do better with that. Customs is another way. But it’s still a huge challenge.

But it’s a work in progress. I think people are more and more recognizing and asking a question. I don’t think there are enough tables like this to really dig into some of those issues that need to be addressed.

VOGELSTEIN: Well, our table is always open. (Laughter.) And it is clear that while much work lies ahead to realize the agenda—

MOHAMMED: Can I take the three ladies? It’s really is not fair to leave the ladies behind. (Chuckles.)

VOGELSTEIN: Absolutely. Absolutely. Why don’t we—fair enough. If you can stay, we can stay. Why don’t we quickly start here, and then we’ll come to all three.

MOHAMMED: Sorry. (Laughs.)


Q: Thank you very much. My name is Fumi Adine (ph) from Nigeria, a Georgetown law student.

My question is on the issue of climate change and linking it to women’s health in the IDP camps. What is the government doing concerning that? Because we have a lot of problems women fact in IDP camps in Nigeria.

VOGELSTEIN: Thank you.


Q: My question, you’ve mentioned the importance of civil society a number of times today. And we’ve heard a lot about the role that civil society can play, and accountability in particular in relation to the SDGs. But in my engagement with a lot of local civil society, they’re still really struggling with how to understand and incorporate the SDGs into what they’re doing. And in terms of accountability, there’s been a lot of talk but not as much financing of civil society’s capacity strengthening in engagement and accountability, likely because of where the funding comes from, right? I’m curious what you see as the role of civil society and accountability in the SDGs, and where you see that support potential.

VOGELSTEIN: Thank you. Emily, please.

Q: Hello? Is it—

VOGELSTEIN: It is. It’s on.

Q: You can probably hear anyway. But as a corollary to that, wanted to ask in a sense about global civil society, media, NGOs, others, because you mentioned a disturbing loss of momentum on the issue of financing for development. Could you talk a little bit about how you see the role of other actors—regional, globally, as well as locally, nationally—in pushing that agenda and giving it traction again?

MOHAMMED: Maybe starting from that, because I think we got the momentum continuing, and I really thought it was really useful to have the 175 signatures and bring everyone to New York. I might not have done it, and don’t want to sort of advertise that, but—because I think there is the downside to not doing things like that. So all the entry points that we have, and the build-up to discussions around the financing, we need to have civil society at the table reminding us, the same way they did in trying to get the ambition of the financing for development in Addis. And I think that’s not happening. I think at the spring meetings this year it was rather quiet.

You didn’t feel any feedback. The media were not carrying anything about the urgency of following up on the ambitions. So I think there are points of entry where we need to keep holding, you know, fire to our feet and to particular leaders in doing this. And there are a number of issues that came out of the financing for development that we can run with. It seems we haven’t done that. And maybe it comes to the question of how do you finance people to do this, because this doesn’t happen in fresh air. And that’s a little bit more difficult because whether you want to partner with government or the private sector, that certain level will curtail the independence you have the voice that you have for it. So where is it going to come from?

And I think that that’s the struggle that civil society is going to have to deal with. We need to see more of the resources that are gained off the back of the issues at the local level move from global to local. It just doesn’t work. There’s so much that is, I think, acquired at the global level, but it’s not getting down to the local level to help empower civil society. Simple issues like having, you know, an opening to put toolkits together that use these indicators, to hold people to account, to even communicate, whether it is social media or otherwise, or using young people on campaigns.

We can still campaign—I mean, I’m campaigning on clean and green and we’re going to—we got two targets, take plastics, you know, water—plastics and bottles off the streets by 2019, and also to stop open defecation, which didn’t know excluded, you know, men urinating until I became, you know, chair of some council and realized that the open defecation was only for one half of it. But to say open defecation in public places by 2019 will no longer happen in my country, and to set that target. And I’m using private sector and I’m using civil society because the campaign does work, and it needs to be taken to schools and to hospitals, and to really touching people’s hearts and minds. And civil society does that best. So I think we’re still looking to see how we can do that.

On the climate change, in particular the IDPs, I led the delegation this year on our two-year commemoration to Chibok. And just preparing for my Chibok visit, because government had never gone down there, except when Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala went to lay the foundation stone to rebuild the school, for which we have 500,000—that’s half a billion—lira missing, because it was given to the army, they have not built the school. The demolished it, and so there is nothing there. I’m going down there to—what am I going to say to the parents? Because the parents don’t really care whether it was the former administration or ours. What am I doing about it?

But on the way down there, two other things came up. The drought that will happen, is already happening in Ethiopia, will and has started to have an effect in northeast Nigeria. The IDP camps that are getting millions of people in. We’re trying to do two things: First, manage the situation there, malnutrition and children. And the second thing is actually the feeding—the whole feeding exercise, realizing that people just dumped food there. And they were said to be cooking for large amounts of people, and it’s not getting there. So how do we bring the cooking and IDP camps to families—how to families, how to keep them back together again? This is where the cook stoves with LPG came in. And we’ve managed from my ministry to provide about 3,000 in the initial stages to families there.

But ultimately, it’s how do we fast track the integration—reintegration of these families into our societies, into Maiduguri, into Damaturu, into all those urban and semi-urban centers. We don’t want to live in IDP camps, and they can come back, but we need these really fast now home building schemes that we need. And we found the technology’s there. We hope that through this tragedy we’re not just going to build back a mud hut. And if we are, we better make it so that solar power is there, reticulated water is there, cross-ventilation, drainage, it’s a grid system that works and doesn’t become a slum.

So it’s an opportunity as well. And we can see, you know, the governors there are struggling. And one of the things that we did do was that the World Food Program was not in Nigeria. And we were reaching out to Ertharin Cousin, who’s a wonderful person. And within a few days, we unlocked all those little barriers to getting them in. So, you know, it’s amazing. Their office will be there. It’s staffed by Nigerians who are going to come in. And we will push to see how all the red tape is un-taped, and that they can come in and work. And so partners.

We still do have another call. The challenge there is that there are too many cooks in the whole northeast situation. Well meaning—I mean, we need trauma care, we need security, we need all the things that we need. But trying to coordinate and manage that is a huge struggle. So any capacities to help us manage and map this and get good information back, not that is sensationalist. Everything is a tragedy in the northeast today. There are one million stories there that are very, very sad and painful. But what we need is to get over that. And it’s not going to be by dwelling on those or looking for those as the objective of a visit.

And we struggle with that, because that’s—every person that wants to interview me, wants to interview the misery. And that’s apparent. And what we want to do is can you interview me on the solutions and what I need to help me get through this?

VOGELSTEIN: Well, there is no doubt that a lot of work lies ahead to achieve the ambitious agenda you are so instrumental in shaping, and continue to shape. And today’s conversation has really enlightened all of us as to the path forward. So please join me in a round of applause. (Applause.) Thank you.


This is an uncorrected transcript.

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