President Muhammadu Buhari has not hesitated to admit the significance of the relationship between a healthy natural environment and economic prosperity.
Since it is from the environment that natural resources for the production of goods and services are sourced, Mr Buhari has consistently advocated for its protection as a key focus of his administration.
In September 2016, the President reiterated his administration’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which committed Nigeria to reducing “Green House Gas emissions unconditionally by 20 per cent and conditionally by 45 per cent.”
He said the historic signing, which took place at a side event organised by Nigeria in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) during the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA71), was in line with Nigeria’s “Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).”
Also, in September 2019, in his speech at the UNGA74th session in New York, the President reiterated his commitment to building a climate resilient society across the country.
He said; “On climate change, Nigeria stands resolutely with the international community in observing agreed carbon emission targets which I signed in 2015. We have since issued two sovereign Green Bonds and have added an additional 1 million hectares of forested land taking our total forest coverage to 6.7 per cent through collective national effort.”
However, as it is common with many promises of the administration, evidence abound to show that the government’s pledged commitment to environmental protection has not been matched with equal actions.
The frequent change of leadership at the environment ministry may have compounded its peculiar difficulties.
Since 2015, when Mr Buhari was first elected President, there have been four ministers appointed in substantive capacity for the ministry. And, arguably, none of the other three has recorded significant achievements within the first year in office like Amina Mohammed.
Now the deputy secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), Mrs Mohammed is reputed for bringing on board her personal international connections and exposure to bear on her innovative contributions towards stemming environmental challenges.
While she held sway from November 2015 to December 2016, Mrs Mohammed has in her record the launch of the much touted ‘Ogoni Clean-up’, preparation of grounds for the eventual introduction of green bonds, commitment to standardisation of fuel quality in the country, and Nigeria’s entrenched partnership with global institutions on addressing environmental issues, among others.
A major setback to Mrs Mohammed’s ambition could be seen in the failure to win the battle against the placement of the nation’s ecological fund office under the office of the secretary to the government of the federation (OSGF).
She had vehemently protested against the clause supporting this position in the bill, which was introduced by the attorney-general and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami. But Mrs Mohammed’s exit may have weakened the ministry’s stance at the time.
However, since her appointment at the UN plum job, Mrs Mohammed’s successors have laboured in vain to match her record.
The incumbent, Muhammad Abubakar, who is the third to occupy the office since Mrs Mohammed left, has not had it different from his two immediate predecessors- Ibrahim Jibril, now Emir of Nasarawa in Nasarawa State, and Suleiman Hassan, a former minister of state for Power, Works and Housing, who was only drafted to the ministry in 2018 to fill the vacuum created by Mr Jubril’s exit.
Mr Abubakar, with sound qualifications and experience in environmental fields both home and abroad, resumed as the minister of environment on August 21, 2019. He is being assisted by Sharon Ikeazor, a lawyer and former executive secretary of Nigeria’s Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate.
Since his assumption of office, Mr Abubakar has not failed to identify the environmental challenges confronting the country, and has pledged to stem the tide.
In a recent interview with Daily Trust newspaper, Mr Abubakar identifies ignorance among Nigerians as a key factor militating against efforts to fight environmental disasters. He also listed limited financial resources compounded the decision to withdraw aids by industrial nations to countries adversely impacted by the climate change challenges. And as a result, the minister has continued to pursue the roadmaps initiated by his predecessors.
These roadmaps contain both basic and comprehensive solutions aimed at addressing the environmental challenges facing Nigeria such as open defecation, desertification, erosion, drought, flooding, pollution, waste management, among others.
However, within the last one year that Mr Abubakar has been in the saddle, his significant achievements have been limited to what some stakeholders describe as cosmetic approach to addressing biting environmental challenges.
Findings by PREMIUM TIMES have shown that the efforts of the minister in the area of climate change have been largely concentrated on the renewable energy schemes, waste recycling innovations, pursuit of green bonds, tree planting, among a few others.
It should be noted that the coronavirus pandemic may have as well hindered the minister from taking some bold steps, especially in connection with the country’s major interventions in environmental issues such as the Ogoni clean-up.
But some of the ongoing projects identified with the ministry under the incumbent leadership include the rural women energy security (RUWES) project with about 10 women cooperative societies empowered with tricycles that are packaged with cleaner energy lighting and cooking kits.
Also is the national clean cooking scheme (NCCS) which empowers communities including schools by retrofitting the kitchens from firewood to LPG stoves. This project has seen to the launch of the National Assembly Intervention on Clean Cooking Stoves Initiative (NAICCI).
Another is the rural energy access project (REAP), which has ensured the installation of solar systems across some localities including schools.
On desertification, in June, while commemorating the 2020 World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, the minister confirmed that not less than 323,319 kilometre-square, amounting to 35 per cent of Nigeria’s land area is threatened by desertification.
Thus, as a measure to save the dangerous trend, the minister said a total of 1 million tree seedlings were presented to the Kaduna State Government.
The gesture, which is part of the activities marking this year’s World Environment Day on June 20, was the first attempt at achieving mass tree planting since Mr Buhari promised the world during 74th UNGA session that his administration would plant 25 million trees.
The minister’s failures
This project, which could be described as the flagship of the Buhari-led administration’s major interventions in the environment sector, and which has witnessed contribution of a total 360 million dollars by the oil producing companies, is yet to gain significant progress to the satisfaction of stakeholders.
Though in June, while briefing journalists after a federal executive council meeting, Mr Abubakar said the remediation project had created 775 jobs for qualified Nigerians. The claim was part of the minister’s scorecard presented to the President as part of the ministerial performance report.
The minister further claimed that a total of 57 impacted sites are currently being cleaned up, and that more are being planned for remediation.
But major stakeholders have faulted the minister’s claims, who some of them accused has not visited the Ogoniland since he was appointed.
In a petition addressed to the house of representatives’ committee on public procurement and dated August 20, 2020, the Ogoni Youth Federation (OYF) accused the management of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) which is responsible for the coordination of cleanup activities, of incompetence and corrupt practices.
The petition, which was signed by the president and secretary of the group, Legborsi Yamaabana and Ntormabari Yesua, urged the National Assembly to probe the alleged derailment of the project.
“…The evident procedural breach and conspiracy to delay and derail the Ogoni Clean-up project, and to loot and misappropriate the funds allotted, are issues of broader concern and require the collaboration and joint efforts of your Committee and the House of Representatives Committees on Petroleum and Environment to unravel the truth, in the interest of the Ogoni people, Niger Delta, Nigeria and the International Community,” the petition, a copy of which PREMIUM TIMES obtained, stated in part.
In a similar development, Amnesty International, in conjunction with other advocacy groups including Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Friends of the Earth Europe, and Milieudefensie, has condemned the federal government for poor implementation of the recommendations of the United Nations Environment Reports (UNEP).
In its report, entitled; “No Clean-up, No Justice: An Evaluation of the Implementation of UNEP’s Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland, Nine Years on,” quoted UNEP to have confirmed the HYPREP poor structure and lack of capacity handle the cleanup as prescribed by it.
It said; “According to UNEP, which has been re-engaged as technical advisor to the project, HYPREP has been beset by a series of structural flaws.
“For example, in November 2019, UNEP concluded that “HYPREP is not designed, nor structured, to implement a project as complex and sizable as the Ogoniland clean-up.”
The group added that apart from its observations, UNEP identified flaws in HYPREP’s procurement processes.
From emissions to gas flaring, spills, soot, and improper discharges of drilling mud during petroleum prospecting, among others, Nigeria is still a major victim of pollution due largely to unregulated activities across major sectors.
For instance, shortly before her exit from the ministry, Mrs Mohammed led Nigeria to hold a high-level meeting with other stakeholders in the Netherlands as part of the sub-regional’s fight against the importation of dirty fuels. Nigeria, alongside other West African countries had pledged to enforce significant reduction in sulphuric contents of fuels imported into the region.
But, four years after the historic meeting, with neighbouring Ghana achieving considerable progress in the implementation of an agreement reached, Nigeria is yet to take any step further.
In fact, a recent report on dirty fuel importation into the country conducted by Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) indicated that fuels imported into the country are found to be dirtier than those refined in the creeks.
Yet, the ministry does not have the political will to mobilise relevant stakeholders towards enforcing the required standards recommended by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON).
The challenge posed by erosion and particularly within the country’s southeast region have not been curtailed. From sheet to gully erosion in the southeast to coastal and marine ones in the Niger-Delta region, and debilitating flooding across other parts of the country, are yet to be comprehensively tackled.
The consequences of the poor coordination of interventions aimed at addressing the adverse effects of environmental issues confronting Nigeria could be linked to the various ugly statistics of societal ills including increasing figure Nigerians engaging in open defecation and the resultants challenges of health hazards.
As of July, 2020, Nigeria has recorded more than a thousand deaths from Lassa fever with more than 40 healthcare workers already confirmed of the disease within the last eight months.
The Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) has consistently engaged in advocacy for environmental rights and protection. But its executive director, David Ugolor, is unhappy with what he described as not too fascinating approach of Nigeria towards protecting the environment.
Mr Ugolor, who has participated in both regional and global campaigns against environmental hazards, said Nigeria had it better between 2015 and 2016, when the leadership at the environment ministry was well focused.
He said; “You’ll agree with me that when Mrs Mohammed was there, people were aware about what was going on about the environment. Since this current minister came on board, one can’t point to one significant thing that has been achieved.
“However, one particular thing that I know that the ministry of environment has been very good at is linking the climate change issues with the economic plan. That, for me, is something that any country that wants to quickly meet the sustainable development goals need to urgently address. The linkage between climate change and the potential economic plan. That linkage which the ministry of environment is the driver is something that needs to be recognised. That is one key thing that this government has done well.”
Mr Ugolor added that though there has been much noise about the Ogoniland clean-up, the expectation of the people has not been met.
“And while the concentration has been on the Ogoniland, I can tell you that not only Ogoniland suffers pollution. Go to Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states, among others, you would realise that they are all affected by oil-related pollution.
“Access to drinking water has been undermined permanently, farmlands that are accessible to common people have been damaged and, unfortunately, the government has not put in place any visible roadmap on how to remedy some of these problems associated,” he added.
But the SDN’s Senior Project Officer in charge of environment, Jesse Martin, has said the blame for the ministry’s perceived slow response to some of the identified environmental challenges may not be placed at the minister’s doorstep entirely.
Mr Martin said for a man who assumed office in August 2019, coupled with the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, there is little anyone could do, considering the restrictions announced globally.
He also commended the minister for clear demarcation of responsibilities between his office and that of the minister of state, saying the development has afforded stakeholders to know who to approach whenever need arises.
He said; “There are clear signs of improvements in the coordination of the ministry’s activities, and for the identified flaws, we may need to give the minister the benefit of the doubt, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, we have expected the minister in Ogoni since his appointment but the pandemic hasn’t permitted that.”