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Challenges of building an environment- friendly nation

By Chinedum Uwaegbulam
08 June 2020   |   2:59 am
Nigeria is currently faced with many environmental problems such as climate change, deforestation, urbanisation, desertification, erosion, overpopulation and all kinds of pollution

Nigeria is currently faced with many environmental problems such as climate change, deforestation, urbanisation, desertification, erosion, overpopulation and all kinds of pollution. While some of the growing crisis of development are being tackled through policies, others have overwhelmed the authorities. The Property & Environment Editor, CHINEDUM UWAEGBULAM appraises the highs and lows of the Buhari administration in the environment sector.

BOTH from the pre-and post-inauguration statements, President Muhammed Buhari appears to have sufficiently warmed his heart among Nigerians and the global community about the direction of his government on the environment: transiting to a low-carbon climate-resilient economy.

The icing on the cake is the signing of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change during the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA71), which demonstrated Nigeria’s commitment to a global effort to reverse the effects of the negative trend.

Climate Change
Furthermore, the President articulated the country’s commitment through its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that strive to build a climate-resilient society across the diverse terrain of Nigeria. He instituted an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change to govern the implementation of the country’s NDCs, thereby ensuring a strong cross-sectoral approach, coherence and synergy for climate action.

While admitting that implementing the roadmap will not be easy in the face of dwindling national revenues, President Buhari however, indicated that both internal and external resources would be mobilized to meet Nigeria’s targets.

And so when the President announced that the Nigerian government will develop a more robust sectorial action plan, and expand the scope of the Sovereign Green Bonds in line with the intended upward review of the NDC’s towards the inclusion of the water and waste sectors by 2020. It was reassuring.

To some extent, President Buhari is acclaimed to have delivered two sovereign Green Bonds resulting in realisation of Nigeria’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is certainly commendable within the year in view.

In fact, Nigeria’s first sovereign green bond was oversubscribed by about N100 million as investors staked N10.791 billion on the N10.69 billion ($30 million) bond. Another Series II Green Bond issuance was also launched to further demonstrate a commitment to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent (unconditionally) by 2030, as outlined under the Paris Agreement.

The question that naturally arose was: can the government muster so much courage to implement the green bond, and account publicly for its proceeds? Which inter-ministerial agency will monitor the projects? Who will provide the leadership and ensure coherent implementation?

The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, however, provided the answers. He said the green bond is part of the government’s recovery growth plan initiative, and a vehicle to drive the economy in terms of environmental projects funding that would be managed by Debt Management Office (DMO).

While it can be said that Nigeria stands resolutely on this with the international community on climate change, “regrettably, there is non-involvement of sub-national governments on the ground in climate-related initiatives like off-grid solar and wind farm, irrigation, afforestation, and reforestation, ecological restoration,” according to Dr. Leslie Adogame, Executive Director, SRADeV Nigeria.

He posited, “obviously, communicating and operationalising climate change idea from top to bottom remains a major challenge. In other words, no matter how laudable the international gains may be, very little is currently achieved in mainstreaming state and local governments stakeholders or their buy-in beyond national policy framing.

To Adogame, “ it will be unfair to assess his administration totally and accurately within the period in question, due to the ravaging pandemic that grounded the nation to a standstill in the past three months.

“It is noteworthy that the relationship between environment and public health are very closely related and inseparable in the attainment of sustainable development goals (SDGs) commitment by Nigeria.

Similarly, towards advancing national climate change strategies and encouraging an enabling environment for the private sector to leverage local and foreign investments, the Federal Government since coming back to power, through the Department of Climate Change of the Federal Ministry of Environment initiated the assessment of Investment and Financial Flows (IFF) for Nigeria’s five NDCs priority sectors – agriculture, oil and gas, transport, industry and energy.

A fellow of the Nigerian Environmental Society and Chief Executive Officer, Natural Eco Capital, Dr. Eugene Itua, explained that such assessments of investment and financial flows are crucial tools to help break down Nigeria’s national climate change targets into actionable goals; determine how much is already being spent on activities related to climate change from public and private sector economic actors.

It will also identify the investment and financial flows to implement these climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, as well as the possible sources of finance, the implementing entities and the timing of investments; structure national budgets and investments more efficiently to meet both climate change, economic growth and development targets.

Ogoni Clean-up
Nigeria at large is faced by significant environmental problems, some of which are: oil spill, drought, and desertification and water pollution amongst others.

Furthermore, the Nigerian Government has commenced implementation of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Programme (HYPREP) in Ogoniland, to recover the carbon sink potential of the mangrove ecosystem of the one thousand square kilometers of polluted sites in the affected area.

But the Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, said, the Buhari administration’s environmental legacy project is its acceptance of responsibility to act on the UNEP report recommendations (2011) on the clean up of the oil-polluted Ogoniland.

He said: “In spite of the defects, President Buhari’s administration has also provided the institutional framework and $200 million yearly pledge since 2018.”

One of those who hold such a view is Dr. Adogame. “In January 2019, the re-engagement of UNEP technical support to facilitate and fast track the take-off on the Ogoni clean-up project abandoned many years ago, is also a huge gain to the environment.

Many stakeholders have opined that operationalising the clean-up/remediation process on the ground locally has been slowly implemented.

However, to close watchers of the on-going development, such as Ojo, “the Ogoni clean up is not well carried out with the hiring of contractors most of them highly unqualified hence the shoddy clean-up that makes nonsense of the clean-up.

“There is no clean -up facility in Ogoni and HYPREP deviates from the UNEP recommendations, lacks the capacity to spend and oversee the clean-up process. It has no robust rolling clean up a work plan that has come under public scrutiny, lacking transparency of the process.

“Also, the absence of key performance indicators in terms of environmental and socio-economic standards prior to the procurement and clean up contract awards makes the process more of a reward for political patronage,” Dr. Ojo said.

In terms of broader environmental issues, ERA flays the Buhari administration saying, “the government has failed woefully.” He continues: “It has focused on a small area in Ogoni leaving the rest of the polluted Niger Delta unaddressed. This shows that environmental degradation, frequent oil pollution and persistent gas flaring remain the norm.”

Also, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria calls for the setting up of $100 billion clean-up and rehabilitation fund for the entire Niger Delta, which is yet to embraced by the government.

In terms of addressing climate change, Dr. Ojo noted that Nigeria is yet to make a clear commitment to an energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources by 2050 in line with the Paris Agreement of 2016. “Its mantra of development that is hinged on oil dependency is yet to be addressed considerably as huge sums of money is still being frittered away in oil exploration, especially in northern Nigeria.

“The lessons of resource conflicts, environmental degradation and massive pollution from oil and gas have not been deployed to shape the national development plans and programmes.

According to him, the Federal Government will need to ensure that the polluted Niger Delta is cleaned up without delay, compensation paid to victims of pollution and the destruction of their livelihoods.

“Further, there is need for a post-petroleum economy through economic diversification and investment in greener technologies and in the production of renewable energy such as solar and wind energy,” he added.

Dr. Ojo also suggested that government should remove the 7.5 per cent Value Added Tax on renewable energy products as a matter of urgency and as part of Covid-19 palliatives, to encourage and promote clean energy access to all.

Lake Chad
It is common knowledge that the Lake Chad Basin, which used to be a region of productivity, food security and wealth for an estimated 40 million citizens living around the Chad Basin, has shrunk significantly from its original size due to Climate Change.

“We will continue to lead in efforts to have solid partnerships for the ecological restoration and recharge of the Lake. We are confident that this would improve the living conditions of the diverse nationals living in the area, promote inter-state cooperation, strengthen community resilience, as well as assist in addressing the environmental and security crisis that threaten the region, its resources and inhabitants.

“Finally, permit me to add that the 40 million citizens in the Lake Chad area expect this summit to take into consideration their concerns. They anticipate that the outcomes of this meeting would include solutions to address the Climate Change impact in the Lake Chad area.”

The former Executive Director, Nigerian Environmental Study Action Team (NEST) and a professor of agricultural economics, Chinedum Nwajiuba stated that the president has shown more interest and passion pertaining to environmental matters, especially issues concerning Lake Chad, Paris agreement at the global level and clean up of the oil-polluted Ogoniland than his predecessors.

Nwajiuba who doubles as the Vice-Chancellor, Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu Alike Ikwo in Ebonyi State, want to see better coordination of environmental matters, issues in the NDC integrated with the yearly budgets, resource allocations, development plans and actions to show that the country is committed to the Paris agreement.

The Chief Executive, Connected Development (CODE) Mr. Hamzat Lawal also commended the Buhari administration for its a few breakthroughs in the environmental sector.

For instance, he explained: “ But one event worthy of note during the current United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed’s stint is the battle over the control of the Ecological Fund. Ecological Fund, an intervention facility set aside to tackle the multifarious ecological problems ravaging communities across the country, is currently under the Presidency.

“There was a demand for a comprehensive audit of the inflows and outflows from the fund to ensure transparency in the administration and application of the account,” Lawal stated.

Commenting on the National Agency for the Great Green Wall (NAGGW) initiative, which aims to implement actions to end or reverse land degradation, loss of biodiversity in African drylands and to ensure that ecosystems are resilient to climate change, Lawal noted that

He flayed the GGW and Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation for their failure to provide information under Nigeria Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, the releases from Ecological Funds to the agency. “This was to determine the level of transparency in their expenditure. GGW refused to neither acknowledge nor respond to our FOI letters.”

He disclosed some of the groundbreaking achievements recorded by the National Agency for the Great Green Wall (NAGGW) using the green bond proceeds and other funding mechanisms, which include the production of 1,578,517 assorted tree seedlings for afforestation activities, and establishments of 128.8km shelterbelt.

“Having recorded a few breakthroughs in the environmental sector during President Buhari’s regime, the Federal Government has the opportunity to accelerate the pace of structural reforms to build an institutional and policy framework capable of managing the volatility of the oil sector and supporting the sustained growth of the non-oil economy.

“Reforms such as the strengthening of regulations regarding oil theft, illicit financial flows, environmental degradation and beneficial ownership. There is a need for the president to assent to the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), which will enhance the environmental regulatory and remediation powers of DPR.

Although the much-hyped Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) is still in the front burner, there is no hope that it will materialise anytime soon. Similarly, the President has been reluctant to assent to the NOSDRA Act, which seeks to enhance the capacity of NOSDRA to detect and respond to detect and respond to oil spills.

By and large, some aspects of the environment have experienced low attention, while others are incomplete ‘funding inertia’. For example, the problem of plastic pollution is worrisome and a total national embarrassment as petrochemicals companies continue to spew dangerous chemical products into the environment.

Adogame said: “Even though a Federal Government policy programme document for the management of plastics has been finalised by national stakeholders since mid-2019, the will to enact legislation to curb the abysmal ‘Plastic Tsunami’ in Nigeria is still dangerously lacking.”

Meanwhile, despite the intervention by the Federal Ministry of Environment in concert with the World Bank and its partner agencies under Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) to address on a multi-dimensional scale the menace of gully erosion in the Southeast as well as land degradation in the North, several communities in Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Imo and Ebonyi are being ravaged by erosion.