Where is the National Climate Change Bill?

On December 9, 2010, the harmonised version of the National Climate Change Commission Bill was forwarded to President Goodluck Jonathan for assent. It was reportedly received on his behalf by his Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh. It is now more than eight months since the transmission of the bill and there is still no word from the Presidency on the fate of this very important bill. More than thirty of such bills addressing several critical areas of our national life are currently lying on the President’s table gathering dust. This is incontrovertible evidence that we have a President who is either out of touch with the aspirations of the people or is not bothered about anything. It will be recalled that the 6th Nigerian Parliament had to amend their own rules to give the President time beyond the expiration of the parliamentary season to consider bills forwarded to him. Is our President even aware of such amendment?

More than one fifth of Africa’s poor, about 102 million people live in Nigeria. They predominantly depend on rain-fed agriculture as over ninety per cent of them are rain dependent peasant farmers. Lack of irrigation facilities, due to the availability of only a few dams, makes it is difficult to provide the required water needs of most crops, thereby adversely affecting yield. Today, rainfall in Nigeria has become very irregular (intense in some areas and very sparse in others) and the agricultural base of the desperately poor are severely threatened. The situation places more than 42 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP at risk and increases the vulnerability of those in dire need of the dividends of democracy. The drought we used to hear about in distant lands is increasingly spreading closer to the Guinea Savanna towards the Northern and Middle Belt states of Nigeria. There has been intense rainfall variability in the past few months leading to flooding in Lagos, Bauchi and Katsina. It is believed that Lagos State alone lost more N150bn (about $1bn) to flooding recently. In Katsina State, seven people died while more than 120 houses were destroyed. Almost 2000 indigenes of Bauchi State were displaced by the down pour.The Nigerian Meteorological Agency predicted recently that the flooding will spread to other Nigerian cities like Bauchi, Calabar and Ibadan in the near future. Climatologists predict that there may be a one meter sea level rise in the next 50 years which may render two to three million people in Lagos homeless.

Erosion menace is a frightening reality throughout the whole of the South-East. Sadly, there are those within the government who still see climate change with the regrettable not-in-my-backyard lens or consider it as a problem of the future. The time has come for them to rise from their cold conceit, wake up to their responsibility, and repent from their inaction. The absence of an agency for the coordination of informed policy response to the issues of climate change has cost us beyond what can be calculated and has paved the way for ad hoc reactionary approaches that lack depth and are prone to capture by corrupt tendencies. A full-fledged commission that has both the technical competence and regulatory teeth will indicate that we are ready as a nation to ameliorate the adverse effects of climate change (before it catches up with us) while innovatively tapping into the opportunities it offers.

The oil industry (our chief foreign exchange earner) draws intense criticism from development experts due it its huge contribution to greenhouse emissions. We are comfortably lagging behind because our government has always found one reason or the other to continue the mindless gas flaring in the Niger Delta region. One third of the total greenhouse emissions in Nigeria still comes from just one single source- the oil industry. This still remains the most important contributor to greenhouse gases in Africa. It is depressing that there is neither a clear understanding nor courageous leadership on matters of climate change within any governmental institution. Vested interests are having a field day and have found “innovative” ways of sedating our policy makers to keep shifting the goal post to the detriment of the populace that they pretend to be catering for. How can we continue to close our eyes as the gas that will power our economy is turned to flames daily? How do we intend to feed our power plants that will give us the electricity we desire? When will the celebrated gas master plan go beyond media propaganda?

Many countries are building thriving low carbon economies that are creating new “green” jobs for their peoples. Diverse private sector opportunities abound to countries that are able to lay out clear legislative framework and operational modalities. As usual, Nigeria lags behind in this new thinking in global development. Must we wait for a disaster to act? President Jonathan is an indigene of Otueke near Oloibiri where oil was discovered in a commercial quantity for the first time in Nigeria.

He therefore carries the burden of the environmental despoliation and ecological catastrophe in the Niger Delta region in particular and in other parts of Nigeria. He needs to demonstrate that he has the ability, courage, depth and tenacity to meet the demands of this burden. His continuous inaction can easily lead pundits to conclude that he has subtly submitted to the hands of vested interests whose intent is to milk Nigeria’s natural resources dry and leave a polluted environment for generations yet unborn.

Those whose livelihoods are affected daily by the effects of climate change and who voted Jonathan into office in April 2011 deserve a better deal and that is what they are asking for. Luck has offered President Jonathan, an important opportunity to shape the course of Nigeria’s fate. He should embrace the mandate that fate has offered. He should append his signature on the National Climate Change Commission Bill and unto many other bills waiting for his signature.

Igwe wrote from the Africa Programme at Johns Hopkins University Washington DC via ucheigwe@gmail.com