On the subject of climate change we have to rely on climatologists and environmental experts and if they say there is global warming as evidenced in the melting of glaciers and polar caps, then so be it. There are several factors rolled into one here. For one, we here in sub-Saharan Africa have never been known to keep any records on our own about anything. And within Africa, Nigeria is a particularly terrible case. We not only refuse to keep records, we deliberately obfuscate them. Even our Director General at the Bureau for Statistics complained recently that he couldn’t do his work because he hasn’t been funded all year! We usually accept whatever the rest of the world puts together for us as the truth. So who are we to challenge climate change when we cannot even verify basics.
Second, there are basic environmental issues here in Nigeria that we are neither documenting nor tackling and it seems this climate change issue is being used as a crutch by us to escape our own responsibilities. Third issue; we will never attain any level of development until we start thinking our own thoughts. Using the products of other people’s thinking is called dogmatism. Nigerians are very dogmatic people anyway. That is why religion is a hit here.
Let me establish my environmentalist bona fides. I wrote a book around the environment; its importance to us in terms of job creation, attainment of collective dignity, youth ownership of their motherland, creation of a new spending class from jobs created in the environment, patronage of local industries, increases in tourism and foreign investments and so on. I titled the book ‘Change is Going to Come’. We are working on how that can be a reality presently, from the campaign stump. In that book, I proposed a launching of a program titled ‘Cleanest, Safest and Most-Organized Country in Africa Project’. This project is to gain global attention while we plug in the energy of our youths in ensuring that our environment, was clean, safe and organized. This program should announce that Nigeria is turning a new leaf – and the world is waiting to know that we are no longer a basket case. I aver that it is the energy of our youths that could sustainably reposition Nigeria. I believe that we can create anything like 3 million jobs in that sector and that millions of our young people can have careers there. There are trees to be planted, grass to be planted and maintained. We have beautification still to do. And until Nigeria begins to look exactly like Europe and America, we had job on our hands to do. Nigeria’s development view has so far been externalized and we always farm out the responsibility for our progress to someone else – foreign investors, foreign ‘experts’ , World Bank, and so on. In the same vein, we are quick to latch on to any foreign occurrence as the reason behind our problems.
It is in this same vein I see the way we send large delegations to climate change conferences when we cannot maintain a single street in Nigeria sustainably and consistently with some modicum of environmental standards. Many Nigerians are getting convinced daily that all the floods in Nigeria are caused by climate change. Ditto the drying up of Lake Tchad, the fact that our fishermen are having fewer hauls, even the fact that we were lucky in 2018 to have a heavier rainy season. Climate change! We scream. I do not buy this. And I believe we should take a breath, and look around us. There is a lot to be done.
Most people just mouth global warming without knowing the details. In a nutshell and according to the experts, the earth has warmed by anything between 0.75 to 1.2 degrees centigrade since the year 1750 (almost 400 years ago), or around the beginning of the industrial revolution. This has led to rising water tables and there is a need to plan ahead before the temperature of the earth becomes unbearable. The global concern about global warming is therefore chiefly tied to industrialization and the effect it has had on planet earth. Yes, today we all have carbon footprints which we can manage and many of us here in Africa have higher carbon footprints than people in developed countries chiefly because a lot of what we use – like generators, gas guzzling cars, plastic bags, non-biodegradable materials etc – have been discarded abroad where they understand the effect of carbon in the environment, but our government is the chief culprit having made no salutary policies to check this growing problem. If we are talking of the effect of 400 years of industrialization, pray how many years of industrialization do we have ourselves? If we must go to climate conferences, let us be clear as to what our strategy is, and what purchase we have in the whole matter. It should certainly not become another excuse for estacodes. In the last one in Poland, governors, ministers and all sorts of people thronged along with our president, whose contribution to the summit was limited to complaining about how Lake Tchad is drying up.
Lake Tchad dried up, mainly because of overuse. 30 million people in that region depend on that lake and everyone was milking the lake unrelentingly for irrigation especially as population exploded. The governments of the countries bordering the lake ought to have sat together and planned ahead (chiefly Nigeria), but we are not famous for planning in these parts. Now we rush to climate change conferences where they can see from one mile away that we are just a people who refuse to think, and where we accept no responsibility for anything but are eager to dump the blame on someone else. Also, we need to plan our cities a lot better. People build on flood plains in our cities and later become victims of the environment and part of global statistics on internally-displaced persons. In the villages, we do absolutely no planning at all. People build mud houses anyhow. Nigerians are well-traveled. Once there is government money to spend freely we hop into the next plane and go to breathe good air abroad. What we aren’t ready to do, is to clean up our own environment so that we can breathe good air in this place too. Our environment is natural. We have little in terms of heavy, polluting industries, but we see nothing wrong in despoiling our environment with our own hands. I was in Rwanda and realized to my great delight, that even small shops only dispense with brown, degradable paper bags. We used to have such in Nigeria back in the 70s. Today, we have a huge lobby around polytene industry and government is not able to even reduce the use of plastic bags. When they try, we hear how some people ‘invested’ a lot of money to build polytene factories. Is everything about money? Everywhere you go, all you smell is bad air. Go to VI, Ikoyi and elsewhere, it is open, stagnant, unswept gutters you see. Yet we know how to sell real estates at overinflated prices. If I was a foreigner, why would I come to Nigeria except there was some loot to be made, at the expense of my mental and physical health?
It is campaign season and all we see is visual pollution – posters all over the place, that have already become eyesores – and no plans to clean the environment afterwards. We should take a pause and think of why things are called ‘eyesores’. It means they are a pain, an ulcer, a cancer to the eyes. Our country is full of eyesores and instead of fixing and healing these sores and ensuring they occur no more, we prefer to travel abroad to countries where they understand what life is all about. We hate our country. We hate ourselves. We hate each other. We have little value for our race; the black race. If we valued ourselves, we would know by how we take care of our environment. The minister of state for the environment just resigned to go and mount his forefathers’ throne in Nasarawa. Nothing was happening in that ministry anyway. Amina Mohammed, the substantive minister who got an job at the United Nation was never replaced by Buhari anyway. We can get appointments at the UN and World Bank and IMF. We can attend Harvard, Imperial and Oxford, and even become Professors in them, but what we have been perennially unable to do is the basic stuff; clean up our environment, get obsessed with it, show we have self-respect by the way we take care of our environment. It is not enough to build personal mansions situated in the midst of absolute filth and disgust.
And our poor people too have some blame. They plead poverty when they build on the banks of Rivers Niger or Benue – though since the inception of this country, there has never been plans at all to help the poorest and most vulnerable with places to live. In 2018, our people still sort themselves out with mud houses which has its advantages but if we were other peoples, that technology would have been vastly improved by now – cheaper, better, more efficient, and of course sustainable. Does our government care where our villagers get the mud they use in building their huts? In fact, some people in government will want that to happen because there is a kill to be made from all these IDP business all over the place. Budgets for IDPs are regularly embezzled without mercy. Even food donated to them from abroad get sold by officials in the open market. At the end of the day, the shame is on all of us. I am of a view that one of our biggest responsibilities at this moment is to elevate the position – and humanity – of the black man. Nigerians especially do not cut a good picture on the global scene at all. A friend of mine who recently returned from studying in Singapore and Malaysia complained bitterly about how he is almost always pulled aside even while shopping in those countries. Now is not the time to start rubbing shoulders at climate change conferences. Now is the time to ensure we level up and ensure our people are living in environments worthy of human existence. Now is the time to work hard and shift this shame. And no one will do this hard work but us. I see this as a growth area; an opportunity for repositioning ourselves in several ways, an urgent imperative for us to carve a new, progressive image for ourselves as a country, and the black man as a race.
Indeed the subject of the environment is central to development. I would even say that it is central to humanity. How you keep your environment tells how evolved you are. In this regard we have a long way to go, even though we are presently heading in the opposite direction. again, I urge you, dear reader, to hearken to the words of Walter Rodney, and note his emphasis on ENVIRONMENT as he described economic development below;
“A people will be said to be developing economically, when they increase jointly, their capacity for dealing with the environment. This capacity, will be dependent on how much they understand the laws of nature (science), on how they are able to develop tools for dealing with the environment (technology), and on how work is distributed”.
So in short, I urge us to desist from playing what I call ‘intellectual mogbo-moyas’, meaning that we often do not interrogate anything deeply before buying it so long as it’s from abroad. It is in the same way we farm out our economic problems to global recession, Brexit, normalization of interest rates in the USA, Chinese slow down in exports and any other excuse we can come up with. This is closely tied with a brand of ‘junkie economics’ that we apply here, whereby we seek quick fixes, often recommended from abroad, and keep patching things along as we sink into economic despair. In short, the first step in responding to climate change, for us here, is to face the arduous but absolutely important work of tidying up thoroughly after ourselves and ensuring a deliberate approach and policy towards creating sustainable, habitable environments.
Nigeria; know thyself!