BY CHRIS ANYOKWU
Chris Anyokwu, PhD, a dramatist, poet, fiction writer, speaker, rights activist and public intellectual, is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Lagos, Nigeria and has joined Business a.m.’s growing list of informed editorial commentators to write on Politics & Society. He can be reached via email@example.com
The holding of the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP27) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt from 6th to 18th November, 2022 carried with it, according to reports, the collective hopes of the entire African continent for a successful outcome. The Summit brought together leaders in government and finance from around the world to raise ambition and speed up action to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Among other things, it was the conviction and hope of the organisers that they must (a) develop the next generation of innovative clean energy and climate solutions, (b) cater to the development needs of the Global South and support those on the front lines of Climate Change, (c) move from ambition to action, accountability, and implementation and (d) reduce carbon emissions and methane emissions simultaneously. In a word, the ultimate goal of the UNFCCC is to deliver a zero-carbon future for the inhabitants and denizens of the earth.
Prior to the Egypt Summit, Ephraim Mwepya Shitima, Chair of the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) had remarked thus: “As COP27 takes place in Africa this November, there are high expectations that “the African COP” will deliver substantive progress and implementable climate actions on the priority issues for Africa and other developing countries”. Ahead of the Summit, it was common knowledge that Africa was in the throes of a combustible cocktail of climate, food, energy, health and debt crises. Whilst it is being buffeted by floods and storms on the one hand, on the other, droughts and famine are ravaging the Horn of Africa. As a result of this, extreme weather and associated disasters have continued to stall real progress and development. So, beyond the meretricious optics and cute pronouncements of political correctness, leaders from Africa were keen on galvanising immediate, on-the-ground action in the countries that most needed it. Before we get ahead of ourselves, it behoves us to refresh our memory on the nuts-and-bolts of the Paris Agreement around which all the talk about a zero-carbon future for all revolves. According to an online UNFCCC document, “The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on Climate Change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016. Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.”
In spite, therefore, of the foregoing arguments, we need to ask the question: What is Nigeria’s position on the Climate Crisis? Should we be bothered? Isn’t the Climate Crisis an oyibo problem; for the constipated, super-rich Northern Hemisphere? We know the Western world and far-flung regions of the earth are veritable maelstroms of extreme weather patterns siring and spawning earthquakes, land tremors, flash-floods, monsoon rain, tsunamis, hurricanes, typhoons, storm systems, snow blizzards, brushfires, etc. Climate issues such as ocean surges, the melting of ice-caps in the Antarctica and the resultant greenhouse effect usually sound exotic to our tropical ears. Even desertification is a distant rumour to us. So how does the whole brouhaha over Co2 emissions affect the price of garri on the market? After all, Africa is a largely rural, heavily-wooded and densely-forested landmass crisscrossed by bodies of water and fringed by oceans – the Atlantic and the Indian ocean. So, what is there to worry about? In Nigeria, for instance, you can count on your fingertips the major towns and cities. The rest living-spaces are hamlets, villages, settlements and small towns. Travelling from Lagos to Port Harcourt, or Calabar, for example, you are likely to encounter mostly clumps of bush, large swathes of rainforests, which, like the Amazon, are our own lungs of the earth, our Earth.
But then, should we be bothered about the threat of the Climate Crisis? To answer this question, we only need to pause and ponder the extreme climate events which occurred in Nigeria recently. Within recent memory, we are talking about a matter of weeks, 33 out of 36 States of the Federation were “swallowed” and “entombed” under floodwaters. Much life was lost; and property valued at billions of naira lost. (Please Google the article “Why is Nigeria Flooded?). Now as we speak, everyone is praying for rain, just a patter of it to slake the parched throat of our earth: we are all, round-the-clock, parboiled by the insufferably hot weather conditions coming on the heels of the ruinous deluge. Homes now feel like bakeries with walls emitting and radiating heat-waves, particularly at night. Air-conditioning units do not any longer cool; fans only blow hot air. We are now confronted by health issues arising from Climate Change. Hospitals and clinics are inundated with patients down with disorientation, dizziness, vertigo, fainting spells, light-headedness, heat rashes, cough, a malarial epidemic, high blood pressure, eating disorders, insomnia, restlessness, anxiety, schizophrenia, and so on. Furthermore, houses, especially in the northern part of Nigeria, bear cracks and crevices; and the soil is bone-dry making farming extremely difficult. People are, therefore, dehydrated, weak and sickly. Crucially, a weak and disorientated people make a weak and anaemic nation.
What’s more, the Energy Crisis in Nigeria is not going away anytime soon, sadly. People still rely on wood and coal for cooking. Ninety-nine percent (99%) of vehicles that ply our roads are fairly used, most of them vectors of noxious fumes. Whilst the West is phasing out fossil fuel-powered vehicles as well as fossil fuel-powered industrialisation, it is morning yet on fossil fuel-powered existence in Africa. Foreigners love to dump these used vehicles on our shores, and we all know that these vehicles are more or less mobile vectors of slow death. Africa, with Nigeria in the lead, is the world’s dumpsite. Nigeria is the biggest market for used vehicles in the world; it’s also one of the biggest markets for generating sets, refrigerators, A/Cs, and heavy machinery. These items produce greenhouse gas emissions and industrial effluvia. The cumulative effects of all this on human health is better imagined than experienced. How about our electricity power generation and consumption? In an online newspaper article captioned “Grid collapses 98 times under Buhari amid ₦1.52tn bailout”, Okechukwu Nnodim of the Punch writes that: “Nigeria’s available power generation capacity fell by 981.8 megawatts between 2015 and August 2022 despite the over ₦1.51tn intervention in the sector by the Federal Government since the administration came on board in 2015”. Continuing, Nnodim posits that: “This came as the national grid collapsed 98 times under the regime of the president, Major General Muhammadu Buhari”.
But in this sprawling desert of grey, there are, however, green shoots of optimism. And this has come in the form of the Nigeria Energy Transition Plan. To recapitulate, it is said that: “In Nigeria, desertification in the north, floods in the centre, pollution and erosion on the coast and the associated socio-economic consequences all allude to the reality and grave impacts of climate change”. Thus, to achieve the net zero target by 2060, Nigeria has passed into law the Climate Change Act of 2021. An Energy Transition Implementation Working Group (ETWG) is in place, chaired by H.E. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) and supported by several key ministers and experts. It is heart-warming, indeed, that Nigeria has keyed into the renewable energy pathways or has demonstrated a willingness to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. With our clean-energy push, our desire to escape coal/wood addiction, we can assuredly become a green superpower, just as India is proposing. Given the fact that Africa as a whole contributes just about 3% of the global greenhouse effect but is the worst hit, what to do? How committed are our former colonial masters to cut down their Co2 emissions? How committed are they to fulfilling their financial pledges to help tackle the horrendous impacts of Climate Change in Africa? Should they stop dumping their used items – vehicles, refrigerators, A/Cs, etc. on our shores? As a largely consumer continent given to instant gratification, can we cope if these imports are stopped? On our part, are we not supposed to stop the desert dead in its tracks by protecting our forests, engaging in tree-planting projects, and reducing our reliance on wood and coal as energy sources?
We are supposed, also, to invest heavily on natural gas, solar and wind technologies as alternative energy sources. We need to equally rapidly upscale investment in renewables and promote sustainable livelihoods. To achieve all this, we need to incentivise research on alternative energy sources, provide grants and funding for research institutes and universities. Nigeria needs to look itself in the face and come to grips with the following questions or issues: (i) it is estimated that Nigeria will be the 4th most populous country in the world by 2050; (ii) Nigeria is the natural leader in Africa by virtue of its demography, landmass, human capital and strategic importance to the Non-Aligned Movement, the AU and the UN; (iii) It must play its leadership role on the global stage, a role thrust upon its shoulders by its Manifest Destiny.
But in the last decade or so, Nigeria has not only suffered stunted growth, it has also suffered “arrested development” thanks to the poverty of policy informed in the main by the institutionalisation of mediocrity, ineptitude and sheer incompetence. The reason for this is the elevation of nepotism to the rarefied level of statecraft by the current regime. As W.B. Yeats threnodises in “The Second Coming”: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”. Where there is no vision, the people perish, says Scriptures. It is hard, therefore, to exaggerate the incalculable reverses we have suffered as a result of the deleterious issues highlighted above. And there is no gainsaying the fact that it will take quite a while to fix the mess and re-join the modern(ising) world. Change, real change is the clarion call now and, since we cannot argue with thunder, we cannot help but get on board this cosmic frigate. Nigeria stands on the threshold of destiny: the 2023 presidential election is nigh at hand. Fellow Nigerians, please let your votes count.