President-Elect Buhari

According to Dr. Okereke Chukeumerije, a Professor at Reading University, United Kingdom, the Nigerian Ministry of Environment “needs to have highly capable and experienced people running the ministry – from the minister through the senior to medium level officials.” One of the results of inexperienced personal piloting the affairs of Ministry of Environment in the words of Prof. Okereke is “lack of environmental awareness and well designed policies to tackle a host of sustainability related challenges in the country such as erosion, desertification, climate change and waste accumulation.”

A quick look at recent attempts by groups at raising the level of environmental awareness in Nigeria is not encouraging. The acceptance of “amnesty” program by the Niger Delta militants and the subsequent abandonment of genuine agitation for reduction in pollution at creeks and farmlands from activities of oil exploration and exploitation was demoralizing. This was coming at the heels of the brutal execution of environmental right activist Ken Saro-wiwa by Sani Abacha's administration on November 10, 1995. The election of Vice President - now President Goodluck Jonathan- to the seat of power in Abuja raised false hope that the degradation of Niger Delta ecosystem will begin to receive the much needed urgent attention.

However, President Jonathan’s inaction towards salvaging what is left of the environment at his backyard as well as putting the right pegs in the right holes in Ministry of Environment makes the theme of this year’s Earth Day - “It’s our turn to lead” - pertinent.

As we prepare for this year’s Earth Day on April 22nd, 2015, the questions on my mind are; where are the leaders of Environmental Movement in Nigeria? Whose turn is it to lead in Nigeria? Where are the next leaders in ‘governance for sustainable development’? Who will be the next Minister for Environment?

Nigerians have just elected General Muhammadu Buhari in a historic election characterized by change. GMB if nothing else should reciprocate by changing the political system where individuals with little or no understanding of the science that underlies good environmental policy are put in charge of the Ministry for Environment. GMB should appoint a Minster for Environment that will help reconcile continued economic and social improvement with the preservation of local ecological systems, through ‘decoupling’ of economic activity from environmental loading.

GMB as a change agent should appoint someone that will exhibit independent judgment in the development, implementation and evaluation of plans towards clean energy and sustainable development. Also, the next minister for Environment should work with environmental civil society groups to develop the necessary skills to tackle the broader political, economic, and social issues that underlie environmental problems as an integral part of the change Nigerians voted for.

It’s the turn of environmental groups in Nigeria to lead. They should therefore, not only constitute an effective force in tackling environmental issues, but also a genuine civil society that is transforming state-society relations in Nigeria. To effectively influence sustainable development debates, we need environmental networks with a wide understanding of politics and political action.

There is thus the need for radical shift in environmental movement in Nigeria. While the Niger Delta environmental movement was active few years back, they failed woefully to make an impact on environmental governance.  This new collation of environmental groups should therefore mount national campaign different from the failed efforts of the Niger Delta militants that capitulated in the face of financial inducement.

It’s our turn to translate this ambitious agenda for societal change towards the environment to practical reality. To achieve this, we need to push for a radical shift in existing patterns of oil production and consumption as well as the transformation of major socio-economic sectors including energy, transport and agriculture. We have to lead the public debate, get involved in political decision making, policy formation and implementation that will steer societal development along sustainable lines.

Finally, we hope that GMB will give Nigerians a Minister for Environment with the experience and determination to effect change so urgently needed in these desperate times in responding to citizen complaints while enforcing environmental regulations. That is the change we voted for and expects to see from GMB in commemoration of 2015 Earth Day in Nigeria. Wind of change is in the air. The environmental ministry in Nigeria shouldn’t be left out.


Churchill Okonkwo 

African Center for Climate Science and Policy Research

Washington DC

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