As the 2023 general election approaches in Nigeria, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPA), and We the People (WtP) organized a presidential town hall for aspirants to share their plans for a greener Nigeria. It was a platform for presidential aspirants to discuss their action plans for addressing critical environmental and climate change issues facing the country. The town hall was held at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Abuja, Abuja on 7 February 2023. It had, in attendance, environmentalists, academics, politicians, journalists, over one thousand students and people from environmentally impacted communities.
The following presidential candidates were present: Omoyele Sowore of African Action Congress (AAC), Dumebi Kachikwu of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Adewole Adebayo of Social Democratic Party (SDP), and Rabiu Kwakwanso of New Nigerian People’s Party (NNPP) represented by his party’s national chairman, Rufai Ahmed Alkali.
Issues addressed included- what the challenges and opportunities of Nigeria’s transition to a green economy and low-carbon development would be; how Nigeria can lead global efforts toward addressing climate change; and plans to address unresolved environmental challenges, resource exploitation, and land degradation in historically marginalized communities in the country.
Tackling the issues, Mr. Omoyele Sowore of the AAC stressed the need for Nigeria to embrace cleaner sources of energy, stating that he had no congratulatory remarks for those who had newly discovered crude oil on their land. “In no time your land will become a wasteland and you will end up drinking your oil because the world is moving away from oil as an energy source,” he stated. Responding to a question on oil pollution in the Niger Delta, Mr. Sowore avowed that Nigeria needed a pan-African knowledge base across all sectors, including in environmental and climate law/policy spaces. Pointing to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP), he questioned how Africans can expect anything good to come out of a COP that is attended by polluters in private jets. According to him, “the polluters are the ones sitting on the high tables, there can never be green results from such conferences.” He further said that, in relation to environmental degradation, conversations at the COP should begin with compensation for and cleanup of the degraded environment.
Speaking on the same issues, SDP’s Mr. Adewole Adebayo noted that it is erroneous to address the environment in the second person. According to him, “we are part of the environment. But the government we have had over the years is a threat to the environment.” He spoke on the supposed dichotomy between the natural and social environment, stating that the latter which had to do with human interactions within the socio-political institutions built is as important as the former (natural environment). Mr. Adebayo also talked about poverty as the only thing that caused people to fall back on the destructive habits for survival. He, thus, emphasized the need to deploy technological innovations to help Nigerians live more sustainably as well as the need to make polluters pay through compensations and investment in reforestation.
“Overall, we must be a community of serious-minded people. When we do not have a leader that is a proper chief executive by ensuring the environmental regulatory agencies are up and doing, the result is what we have currently. And the good thing is, I do not need to attend an international conference to learn how to regulate Nigerian environment,” Mr. Adebayo said. Regarding the call to transit from oil, the SDP’s presidential candidate said, Nigeria has little to lose because she has more gas than crude but the problem is, the resources are majorly being exported.
The ADC candidate, Dumebi Kachikwu aligned with the views that it was wrong to adopt foreign models all round. He noted that many scientific research resulting from foreign countries had commercial motives. Hence, Nigeria must ensure that the foreign models fit well into local circumstances before adopting them. He stressed the need for homegrown research. Mr Kachikwu emphasized the need for multinational corporations in Nigeria to be made to operate strictly within the confines of the law.
Mr. Kachikwu saw conflict as emanating from the tussle for scarce resources and plans to curb the challenge of insecurity by securing the national borders. “If you must entre Nigeria, it must be done legally; and if you must reside here, you must reside peaceably,” he stated. He plans to promote ranching over open-grazing and promised to establish a system where all meat would be sold in licensed shops with tracking mechanism to ensure all meat are traceable to the ranch that produced them.
Rufai Ahmed Alkali who represented Rabiu Kwakwanso of NNPP laid emphasis on the production of fertilizers, chemicals, and pesticides to “revive the agricultural sector”. The NNPP chairman stressed that a revolution was ongoing in the environmental sphere and the intellectual community must continue to interrogate the issues around this revolution.
The respective candidates expressed their dispositions in relation to the role scarce environmental resources play in the insecurity in Nigeria, making particular reference to the depletion of water in Lake Chad and the consequent farmers-herdsmen conflict in some parts of the country. They alsoshared their respective views on how the activities of multinational companies in Nigeria can be well regulated to protect the environment from being despoiled and denigrated.
At the commencement of the townhall, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja, Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, represented by the Deputy Vice Chancellor Admin, Prof Abubakar Abba, highlighted the importance of the environment. He pointed out the fact that “ordinary Nigerians depend on environmental resources for survival, food, medicine, and housing”. He urged the candidates to understand how each region of the country share in the environmental and climate crises.
The Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, in his opening statements, noted that environmental and climate change concerns in Nigeria are unequivocal. He stated categorically that the environment is life which cannot be enjoyed under degradation. He sent out a warning signal on the likelihood of the Niger Delta situation repeating itself elsewhere in Nigeria, specifically in Gombe, Bauchi and Lagos state.
On the issue of adoption of foreign models to solve Nigeria’s environmental and climate woes, he stated that concepts such as green economy and blue economy are being imported into our policies without interrogation and with disregard to the precautionary principle.
He further stated that the focus of political leaders on the environment was nothing to write home about. “The indicators that they care at all about the environment are often only when they move to destroy undeserved and largely autonomous communities termed slums; and sometimes a cosmetic sanitation exercise. Thus, we express hope that the 2023 presidential candidates would act differently if they emerge as new presidents”.
Giving a cue to the aspirants, Nnimmo Bassey stated, “We are experiencing a loss of biodiversity due to the introduction of toxic genetically modified organisms into the environment, every region is facing its own peculiar ecological problems and this could be a unifying factor in a nation faced with many divisive factors”.
The moderators of the town hall, Edmund Obilo of Splash FM, Nkoli Omohudu of AIT and Sheriff Ghali a lecturer at the University of Abuja also lent their voices to the quest for a greener Nigeria. The town hall was an opportunity for students, lecturers, the media and environmentally impacted communities to hear from and interact with each prospective president on salient issues concerning the environment.