Green jobs in Nigeria: Imperatives for Vision 20-2020 By Emmanuel Obasi

Today, 28 April 2012 is the world day for “Safety and Health at Work’’.  The annual event anchored by the International Labour Organization (ILO) has this years’ theme as “Promoting Safety and Health in a Green Economy”.   This theme is coming in these times when according to the ILO, ‘’there is a shift in the world to a greener and more sustainable economy’’.   Sustainability as we know, dwells on (among other components), social development and environmental protection and in the thinking of the ILO, these should be closely linked to safer and healthier workplaces and decent work for all.

The Green Jobs initiative is a joint initiative of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Organization of Employers (IOE) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).   In the UNEP Green Jobs report of September 2008, the initiative defines green jobs as ‘’decent work which contributes directly to reducing the environmental impact of enterprises, economic sectors or the economy as a whole by reducing energy and resource consumption, reducing emissions, waste and pollution and by preserving or restoring ecosystems’’.  The document further states that ‘’Green Jobs need to be decent work; i.e. good jobs which offer adequate wages, safe working conditions, job security, reasonable career prospects, and worker rights’’.

In its paper published to support this years’ observation, the ILO SafeWork office documents that the notion of ‘’Green Jobs’’ as only those jobs involved in the protection of biodiversity and the environment has been broadened to include the creation of jobs contributing to resource efficiency…… as well as occupations which play central role in ‘’greening’’ industries across the economy’’.  Continuing, the paper notes that ‘’Green Jobs include new job opportunities across a wide spectrum of occupations, from managers and scientists to technicians and farmers, and for a wide range of job seekers in rural and urban populations, including slum dwellers’’.  The paper also documents that ‘’the main areas of economic activity that have the best potential for generating new green jobs are: renewable energy, construction, transport, recycling, forestry and agriculture’’.

What has caught my attention here and which agitates me is the whole idea of ‘’Green Economy’’, ‘’Green Jobs’’ and ‘’ Decent Work’’.  In order words, the evolution of green economies (the current focus), will generate associated green jobs – jobs that protects/preserves not only the environment (which is paramount anyway), but assures good or decent life and safety for the people, the workforce.  Come to think of it, the people need to be safe (alive) and healthy (strong and virile over long years) in order to continue to man, drive and sustain the production processes that assures an even greener economy.

Nigeria’s ‘’Vision 20-2020’’, foresees a robust economy, in the league of the top 20 in the world by the year 2020.  This will suppose a green economy, in line with the focus of the world.  I believe this is achievable.  We have the strategy document, we have the people – so I believe – we only need to get working.  My concern on this day and at this time is the need to begin to give serious thought to the ‘’Green Jobs’’ paradigm as we match towards ‘’Vision 20-2020’’.  In saying this, I am thinking of all sectors of the economy and owners of enterprises – oil and gas, banks/financial institutions, manufacturing, telecommunications, waste management, construction, transportation (land, air and sea), government parastatals, etc.

From one sector to another, one office or work area/site to another, lots of Nigerians work in environments and under work conditions that can be said to be far from ‘’Decent’’, the type envisaged/articulated by the Green Works Initiative.  Aside from the oil and gas industry, where the safety and health of staff and personnel have in most cases been elevated to another level and used as one of the indices for measuring overall business performance/success, the same may not wholly be said of other sectors.  In greater instances, it is considered a great favour that you have a job in the midst of huge unemployed, poor and hungry people.  You are therefore expected to focus on working anyhow instead of complaining on issues regarding your safety and health.

One area of deep concern is the waste management sector, where both government and private organizations are involved. This sector is huge, connecting activities and end processes in almost all other sectors.  While this sector is identified as one of the fastest sources of green employment, it cannot be lost on us that the practices that are associated with this sector and most importantly the conditions under which young Nigerians do the jobs portends greater harm to the people and ultimately the economy as well as the society.  One is aware of the existence of waste management laws in Nigeria dealing with not just appropriate handling, but minimum safety and health provisions for the workforce.  Where then is the enforcement?

A waste disposal truck with waste management workers


Waste Collection & Disposal Operation in Nigeria:

A ‘’green’’ activity, but how green is this job for these folks.  They are exposed to diseases/infections and possible death


Many sad cases also abound in the labour intensive manufacturing industries, owned and run by certain Asians where Nigerians are subjected to very unsafe conditions in their own country.  Such companies operate in complete disregard for any know health and safety or labour laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (and these laws/regulations abound).  Lots of our young people, potential gurus of tomorrow have either been maimed or lost their lives in such blatantly unsafe work conditions and the owners/operators of such factories have gotten away with such avoidable deaths.

The construction sector, involving working at heights is one that has also maimed lots of our young people.  The oil and gas industry regards work at heights (any work from 2 meters above ground) as one major exposure/high risk jobs and takes extra precautions prior to authorizing such jobs to proceed, even though their direct staff are not involved – it is called duty of care for contractor personnel. Sadly, this is not so with the other sectors, where organizations care little about how their jobs ate accomplished.  Again, I am certain that laws and regulations exist for the building/construction industry dealing with minimum safety and health provisions for various construction works.  Again, where is the enforcement?

The transportation sector is arguably the worst killer.  Here, dreams/hope of tomorrow – future anchors of Vision 2020 – have been cut short, virile manpower maimed or lost and rendered liabilities to the economy and society; and these could have been avoided.  The tragedies from this sector have been due largely to the multitude of workers (drivers) with little or no instructions on the basics of this sector/their jobs; yet these ones bandy around licenses of all sorts, given by recognized authorities in the country.  These hordes constitute threats to not only their unfortunate passengers, but other decent road users.

Green Jobs, Decent Jobs/Work, assures the preservation of a virile workforce over long periods of time.  It assures that we do not lose our best brains and hands before they have come of age and maturity to be at the helm of the production processes where they will bring to bear experiences garnered over the years growing through the ranks.  It is a backbone to a greener and bigger economy by year 2020.

The theme of this year’s celebration can and should be a wakeup call for all of us; employees, employers and most importantly our government – the safety and health regulatory arms.  We owe it a duty to this country to realize ‘’Vision 20-2020’’ or at least be able to count our good progress by the end of 2020.  But first, the workforce of tomorrow must be preserved through appropriate safety and health practices. 

Have a very SAFE Day and do all in your power to remain safe and healthy each day.

Mr. Obasi, a Lagos-based chemical engineer, blogs at REHOBOTH

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