‘Rising temperature has implications for human health, livestock’
Chinedum Nwajiuba is a Professor of Agricultural Economics, immediate past Executive Director of Nigerian Environmental Study Action Team (NEST) and currently Vice Chancellor of the Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo (FUNAI). In this interview with Property & Environment Editor, CHINEDUM UWAEGBULAM, he throws more light on increased frequency of extreme weather events in Nigeria and other issues
Nigeria is prone to a wide variety of climate change-induced hazards and disasters. What are the consequences of these changes for every facet of life and livelihood?
There are two major categories of climate-related variables relevant to most parts of the country. These are rising temperature, and changing precipitation pattern. But these are not limited to Nigeria. They are global phenomena. These relate to increased frequency of extreme weather events in Nigeria, and rising sea levels – which relates to coastal erosion and intrusion of seawater into inland fresh waters. These have implications for livelihood in coastal and island communities. Rising average temperature is experienced all over the country, but more in Nigeria’s Northeast, where the number of days with average daily temperature above 40 degrees Celsius has increased. This has implications for human health, as well as livestock and crops. These could also be related to increased general southwards migration from that region, which has implications for conflicts among herdsmen and farmers, as well as human needs for survival, and therefore increased competition for resources. These have security implications.
Changing precipitation manifests in changes in number of days of rainfall, dates of on-set and end of the rainy season, which defines overwhelming proportion of our agricultural practices, and therefore production, as we have mostly a rainfed cropping systems. These have implications for welfare of majority of farmers. While you may find parts of the country with reduced aggregate annual rainfall you have other parts with increased volume.
Drought may occur in the savanna regions of the country, you may have increased volume in the rainforests, where you may also simultaneously have reduced number of days of rainfall, where the aggregate annual volume may remain stable or increased. What this tells is more precipitation in shorter time, which means greater intensity. In parts of the country such as the southeast these worsens the incidences of gully erosion, in particular. What we learn from these is that the consequences for life and livelihood is severe in all parts of the country, and is seen in all sectors, including agriculture, health, transportation, and others. Where extreme events occur with flooding and increased wind speed we see implications for infrastructure, including those for transportation, communication, education, and others.
Nigeria is very susceptible to climate change due to her physical locations and characteristics as well as her socioeconomic situation. What steps should be taken to hasten the implementation of Nigeria’s Determined Contribution (NDC), and how do we ensure that Nigerians are aware and adapt to climate change?
I will state just one, and that is the need to obtain buy-in and action by other stakeholders beyond the Federal Government. So far it seems that only the Federal Government is engaged, but at that level of governance, its mostly policy and setting the framework that can be done. If the states, local governments, private sector, and others do not take action along the line set and implied by Nigeria’s Determined Contribution, and as implied by our being part of the Paris Agreement, then we will achieve little or nothing.
There are examples of recent policy attempts in Nigeria that did not cascade. Two stand out: The first is the reform programmes articulated and driven when Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was Minister of Finance. The States and local governments, and even critical sectors of the economy, in both the Public and Private spheres either were not part of it, or felt alienated, or in fact antagonistic. Beyond what that era offered at the Federal level, the country in many ways is back where she and her team started. The second is Dr. Adesina as Minister of Agriculture. The States and local governments, which deal with the bulk of the agricultural issues in the country, as well as others even in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, also seemed uninvolved. These lessons suggest that it is important that the Federal Minister of Environment, leads in the direction of the Presidency becoming more engaged, and then using the various structures of governance to get the states, local governments, private sectors, and Non-Governmental Organizations to become engaged in the required actions to meet our commitments.
You recently marked your one-year in FUNAI as the Vice Chancellor, what can you say, are the contemporary challenges of education system in Nigeria beyond the university system?
There are several of them, but I will single out one, and that is the quality of applicants for admission to the universities. Something adverse is happening in a large and wide scale at the Primary and Secondary school levels that call for sincere understanding without pretense. The assumed knowledge, skills and character at the two levels are obviously not the case. Imparting those skills at the tertiary level is a herculean task, and a priori not the mandate of universities. Take one example, letter writing. How do you teach letter writing to university students, when they ought to have learnt that at the primary and secondary levels, and when you begin to teach that at the tertiary level, the willingness of the students to learn and change is limited by what seems as they being set already in what they know. Parents and teachers need to be careful of the impact of ICT on basic reading, writing and arithmetic.
In FUNAI we have started a Language Enhancement Programme (LEP) that is compulsory, though with a zero credit allocated. Nevertheless, it must be passed by all students. It adopts a hands-on workshop approach to address these widespread deficiencies in reading and writing. We have also started a staff re-training programme that is institutionalized and all staff including Graduate Assistants, and the lecturers, excluding Senior Lecturers and above, must compulsorily attend. But from Senior Lecturers and above, it is optional. We have to accept that we cannot continue to assume that anyone with a PhD knows what is expected in terms of continuous improvement in knowledge and maintain the required character and ethics of the vocation. We hope these will make FUNAI stand out as our expectation is that as our products become obvious in society, people will know that we are different, and of world class, as we aspire.
FUNAI is a young university, established five years ago, and with financial crunch in Nigeria, how are you meeting the needs of the university infrastructure?
In the circumstance of the financial challenges in the country, we must first appreciate the effort of the Federal Government to support us. But as you know, that is not enough. We are reaching out to the private sector, but so far, it has been limited in success. I suppose we are all affected by the economic situation. We adopt a very frugal and prudent approach. The staffs are gradually buying into the vision and are making sacrifices. Even the students are also supportive. Last December, the Governor of Ebonyi state gave a gift to staff and students, and they donated that to management to use in the infrastructural development. Last Christmas, staff responded to our appeal to help develop a Convocation Arena for our first convocation. We could say, there is a gradual shift in mentality and away from the common culture in Nigeria of taking and not giving. I am not sure there are many examples of that in Nigeria, where staff and students are willing to give and are contributing to infrastructural development.
What’s your vision, strategic plan for FUNAI in Ebonyi State? How do you hope to achieve them?
In the context of our community service mandate, we have focused on Ebonyi state, our host state. Ebonyi is a strong agriculture state. You are of course aware of Abakaliki rice, of excellent quality. In the last year, we started a faculty of Agriculture, conscious of the fact that offers the best opportunity to impact on the state. The agriculture we have started is tilted towards agribusiness, and we are developing the faculty with significant private sector involvement. We recently signed an MOU to build a Poultry business that will be run as a business, but with our students being trained along. We hope that upon graduation they will become modern agripreneurs. Even our staff cooperative society is embarking on production and marketing, which of course includes processing, for profit purpose. I will say, it is a new approach of agricultural training that does not rely on university farms run as parastatals of government with all the implied bureaucracy. In the next few months, we should be able to install our radio station, which a group donated to us. That will be part of the training for our Mass Communication students, but we will tilt the programmes to agriculture in Ebonyi and attempt to provide some extension services and farmers advisory and information service. As you may know, agricultural extension services in Nigeria has virtually stopped since the World Bank stopped funding the Agricultural Development programmes (ADPs). We hope to create a partnership with the Ebonyi State Government in this .
In addition we are currently partnering with the state Government in developing the state Agricultural Policy. Secondly, Ebonyi state is the only state being classified as educationally disadvantaged in the southeast. In this period, we also started a faculty of education. With this, as well as our SIWES Unit, we have been running training programmes for artisans in the state. Thirdly is that with the successful graduation of students under our Basic Medical Sciences in Anatomy and Physiology, we are on the verge of commencing a faculty of Clinical Medicine and, ultimately, training medical students. Of course, you are aware of the unique case of the state in medical challenges.
Our application is currently before the National Universities Commission.