Oluwafunmilayo Oyatogun is determined and passionate. At the young age of 20, she is a graduating senior at the University of Colorado- Boulder with a double major in Environmental studies and Geography.
Appalled by the little attention given to environmental issues in Nigeria, she founded Bailiff Africa: a platform that provides environmental sustainability initiatives, and serves to promote environmental consciousness among Nigerian youths, and eventually, Africa.
This week, she writes about a Nigeria that sadly models its fundamentals around more developed nations, but is not mindful of the fact that these nations themselves have begun to collapse. She warns that if we blind our eyes to the failures of these more established nations, we are bound to repeat the same mistakes they made.
It is with pleasure that I introduce another young person Oluwafunmilayo Oyatogun. She follows in the footsteps of Jude Egbas, Yemi Adamolekun, Auwal S. Anwar, Elnathan John, Japheth Omojuwa, Zainab Usman, and Ogunyemi Bukola – all young people with a passion to leave Nigeria a little better than they met it. -Nasir El-Rufai
Green, White, Hoax, By Oluwafunmilayo Oyatogun
Nigeria, in recent history, has become a callous imitator: of so-called democracy, of so-called enlightenment and of so-called development. What is most unsettling is the failure of Nigeria to learn from the flaws of those nations which have gone ahead of her in her quest for development. In the formulation of the Nigerian Dream by the Nigerian state and in the minds of Nigerians, little work has gone into creating a strategic and sustainable model. Instead, the models of foregone nations – along with their dents, holes and inadequacies – have been copied and pasted into the Nigerian context. In fact, the conventional Nigerian Dream is not a dream at all; it is a plagiarized piece which offers an inadequate image of an already substantially warped phenomenon.
In primary school, we distinguished growth from development very easily because growth meant quantitative expansion while development meant qualitative expansion. This definition, like everything else in primary school, is simplistic, non-encompassing and narrow. However, like everything else in primary school, it is basic, fundamental and indispensable. But in Nigeria, capitalistic growth formulas have replaced those of development and a recurring, self-inhibiting cycle has formed. If the Nigerian Dream, whatever it may be, is modeled after the “American Dream”, that is its first and biggest flaw.
In order for Nigeria to thrust itself out of the stronghold of corruption, and before it goes far along the road of blind, goalless and hollow development, the citizens must identify what development means and what this development is worth.
The Nigerian flag is a symbol of the country. It is twice as green as it is white; symbolizing twice as much agricultural viability as it is conflict-free and twice as much environmental sustainability as it is harmonious. Yet, in Nigeria today, harmony, peace, agriculture and environmental sustainability are nearly alien concepts. Perhaps because they do not fit too well within our facade of a dream, the one we copied and attempted to present as our own. Nigeria, the land of contradictions, has become more than just a literary and artistic land of contradictions; it has become a pitiful paradox. Therefore, the Nigerian Dream of Development must undergo a thorough overhaul and must pass the test of sustainability before the youth propagate it in its current self-destructing form.
Our first capital base of development is the natural environment (the land, air, water, flora and fauna). Of course, humans are just as much a part of this natural environment as the smallest seed pollinator. We, humans, feature again in the second capital base: our social environment. We hold the capacity of investment, of intelligence and of wealth creation. Yet, humans are the only species which in the quest for survival, desecrate and destroy our very capital base for survival.
In Nigeria, our measures of ‘Nigerian Development’ are the very things that often hinder actual Nigerian Development. Our economic strategies encourage short-term boom for few but long-term doom for the masses. These include ridiculous debt-incurring plans, importation of foreign and multi-national corporations to suffocate the local ones which retain capital and investments in the country, etc. Worst of all is the importation of corporations which exploit local resources for the benefit of everyone but the host communities.
In developing fossil-fuels, companies devastate the environment because they do not have to account for pollution in their upfront costs. By doing so, they externalize the costs to people who have little or no contribution to the production of pollution but have to pay for them in various forms including disease and death. But we must curse the indiscretions of oil companies with slight reservation since they produce what we consume, they supply as we demand.
In January 2012, the Occupy Nigeria / Subsidy protests were as successful as they were partly because fuel was the middle ground that brought the poor and the rich together. The rich man must fuel his Mercedes; the poor man must pay for a truck ride for his oranges to the market. Put simply, everyone and everything depends on oil fuel.
And yet, in a country such as Nigeria where we produce and export oil, there is nothing to show for it. Well…nothing but thick, dense, black clouds over Lagos, rivers of more plastic than water or sea life, desert encroachment and the Niger Delta curse. And that exactly is the problem with the current ‘development model.’
It poisons the base which could enable further investment; the land that feeds us, the water that feeds the land that feeds us, the air we breathe and the people who make these investments.
Unfortunately, many still argue ignorantly for the socio-economic inputs these corporations make to their host communities: schools, hospitals, community centers and scholarships. These are treatments of symptoms, instead of treatments of diseases. Before another school is built, it must be questioned why previous schools have not survived. It must be questioned why there is no school in the first place.
More so, development projects of organizations which dance around the problems created by them are not beneficial to the general development of the community, or state, or country.
A corporation that has a chronic history of oil spills in a community only seeks to blind the conscience of that community by building schools, hospitals and doing everything but cleaning up the spills which contribute to stunted economic growth in those communities.
If this is right, how about other nations? How about the ones we look up to; our impeccable models of truth? The sad reality is that development in the West, the kind Nigeria now copies, albeit woefully, has begun to collapse on itself. It is a shame for a nation like Nigeria to blind its eyes to the failures of older, more established nations.
Some argue that in developing, we will innovate our way out of the challenges that environmental destruction, climate change and pollution will offer. It is quite foolhardy to assume so.
Even though we may learn to live through floods, storms, extreme temperatures and droughts, at what cost will we adapt to human-centered, human-caused changes? And who exactly will be capable of adapting? The answers are clear: only those at the top of the food chain will be able to adapt as we have seen that poorer societies live with majority of the environmental impacts which they do not contribute to.
Also, the costs of adaptation, some of which are diseases, do not render it adaptation at all. There are other moral, spiritual, philosophical and cultural reasons why people advocate against the destruction of the environment but the simplest, most general reason is that we are tampering with our very own chance of survival as humans in the world as we know it today.
In the end, Nigeria’s size in people or gross GDP will not be sufficient for her to retain the title of ‘Giant of Africa’. Right now, she is dangling from the thin rope that separates giant from ‘agbaya’ . If Nigeria does not develop in a sustainable manner, she would be just as much a failure as if she did not develop at all.