The town hall meeting has been convened to provide a platform for presidential candidates in the upcoming election in Nigeria to discuss their plans and strategies for addressing critical environmental and climate challenges facing the country. We thank the Vice Chancellor of this great university for playing host to this epochal event. We are also highly enthused by the fact that our youths are a majority in the audience. The future belongs to you and the seeds sown by those we elect will determine the level of wellbeing attainable in the coming decades. They could also determine your chances for survival. The subject of this town hall is fundamental for our survival and to living in dignity.
Without a safe environment the enjoyment of human rights is impossible. The present Nigerian Constitution at Section 20 provides for environmental protection as one of the Fundamental Objectives and directive principles of state policy. It states that states shall protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air, forest and wild life of Nigeria. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights expressly states at Article 24 that All peoples shall have the right to a general satisfactory environment favourable to their development. The Charter has been domesticated by Nigeria, thus, provides a basis for the justiciability of our right to a safe environment.
The reality is that the focus of political leaders on the environment has been largely tokenish. The indicator that they care at all about the environment is often only when they move to destroy underserved and largely autonomous communities termed slums. It is this mindset that led to the destruction of Maroko (which was inhabited by over 300,000 people) in July 1990 and is now threatening Makoko community in Lagos. And sometimes a cosmetic sanitation exercise in which trash gets pulled out of drains and piled by the roadside until they get washed back into the drains. Although there is a designated ecological fund, its use has been characterized as mostly being for political ends.
The Environment Unites
We believe that serious focus on tackling the environmental problems in Nigeria could be a unifying factor in a nation faced with many divisive factors. Every region has significant ecological problems and investment in solving them would reduce the troubling reality of unemployment by providing needed supports to our largely informal economy. Our propensity to invest in mega projects serve more as means of financial extraction rather than meeting real social-economic needs of our people. We celebrate the construction of deep seaports, but do we have any fish port for the millions of our artisanal fishers?
Cross section of participants
Nigeria suffers from huge biodiversity loses. At a time when our farmers should be supported to build a farming system that works with nature, to preserve indigenous seeds and varieties, we are opening to all sorts of genetically engineered seeds and products in a very lax biosafety regulation regime that threatens our biosecurity and food security and ignores the precautionary principle. While the law requires labelling of GMOs as a cardinal requirement for their being permitted into our environment and to our dining tables, our social-cultural context and informal trading systems make labelling an impossibility. Since we cannot label, we should not permit. That is simple logic. Should we sacrifice our health and environmental sustainability, promote monoculture, and disrupt our agricultural systems for seed monopolies and promoters of pesticides, and other harmful inputs?
Environmental sustainability has lost much of its meaning since it is hung mostly on the economic plank which sees the environment as a thing to be exploited or transformed for the extraction of rents often termed foreign exchange earnings. This drive for foreign exchange has allowed rapacious exploitation that has scarred our environment and our peoples, leading to a catastrophic and shameful fall in life expectancy.
Concepts such as the green economy, blue economy and the like, have been aped without any serious interrogation. These have built the scaffolds for the commodification of nature, exploitation of our people and entrenchment of colonial approaches that deepen poverty and lock in corruption and a lack of accountability. Some of these approaches have led to massive land and sea grabs and raised the potential of sky grabbing and ultimate loss of independence.
The climate crisis is an existential threat to humanity, Nigerians, more so. The floods of 2022 took the lives of over 600 Nigerians and destroyed infrastructure and over one million homes. Now we have heard warnings about impending floods. This town hall should help us know how the candidates would address this perennial issue that is bound to get worse. Amid floods, Nigerians are battling with water stress and the blockage of water ways by invasive species across the nation.
The trend in political circles has been that Africa must persist in using fossil fuels to drive economic development because Africa has not contributed significantly to the harmful carbon stock in the atmosphere. A supporting argument to this is that renewable energy cannot drive industrialization. Before the conversation begins, let us place on the table that this argument is contestable. The entire nation of Greece was powered with renewable energy for 5 solid hours in October 2022. Overall, the European Union produced 22 percent of its electricity in 2022 from wind and solar power. If we wish to ignore that as a signal that change is coming, let us not ignore the fact that overall, although Europe is investing in fossil fuels infrastructure in Africa, they are taking steps to wean themselves of this same energy source. And, there has been a drop in energy demand as the people become more conscious of the climate crisis.
Will we continue to pollute our environment, extend the situation in the Niger Delta to Gombe, Bauchi, Lagos and elsewhere? Do we consider the fact that without a shift in the clean direction, we stand a chance of becoming the cemetery for internal combustion engines in the coming decade. What will the presidential candidates do to ensure that we don’t end up with stranded assets as the international oil companies divest and skip off with inordinate profits, even as our communities are already stranded.
We are here to hear from our esteemed presidential candidates. The moderators will likely cover issues of droughts, desertification, deforestation, floods, coastal and gully erosion, oil, and other forms of pollutions. We would also like to know what they would do about the oil/gas well fire that has been raging since April 2020 at Ororo-1 field off the coast of Ondo State. Hopefully, we have a leader that will not keep a blind eye on such blatant ecocide.
Uncontrolled artisanal mining, including of lithium right here in the Federal Capital, and the disturbing blasting of hills in the outskirts of Abuja for construction materials, pose serious environmental and social-cultural problems.
This town hall is as much a platform for the candidates to inform us of their plans for the environmental sector and a platform to sound a wakeup call to every Nigerian to hold office holders accountable for environmental actions or inaction. We cannot play politics with our environment because it holds the webs of life.
Four Presidential Candidates were in attendance were: Omoyele Sowore of African Action Congress, Dumebi Kachikwu of African Democratic Congress, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso represented by the NNPP Chairman, Prof. Rufa’i Ahmed Alkali and Adewole Adebayo of the Social Democratic Party.
Welcome Address by Nnimmo Bassey, at the Presidential Town Hall on Environment and Climate Change held at the University of Abuja on Tuesday, 7 February 2023. The Town Hall was hosted by the University of Abuja in partnership with Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Corporate Accountability and Popular Participation Africa (CAPPA) and We The People (WTP).