Climate Change lessons from Oghara

MajiriOghene Etemiku

Last year November-December 2015, nearly 200 countries converged in Paris France to ratify the Climate Change deal which the Conference of Parties, COP, had negotiated in April of that same year. That convergence was not new nor was it anything novel. Every year, the COP meets, at the instance of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate, UNFCCC, to discuss issues relating to the mitigation of climate change.

Most of the time when these discussions take place, the issues are not confined to climate change. There are interconnected and bye-issues as well like flooding, desert encroachment and deforestation. I have read the Paris Agreement. Relevant parts include Articles 2 subsections (a) and (b), together with Article 8 subsection 1. Excerpts from Article 2 say that signatories must do all within their powers to recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.

But Nigeria is seemingly uninterested in these meetings. Whether or not Nigeria attended the Paris Climate Change Summit I cannot vouchsafe. But I can tell that Nigeria did not sign the Paris Treaty. The argument from developing countries like Nigeria is that the developed world is responsible for the climate change problem. Via the industrial revolution, countries from the North emitted carbon injurious to ice glaciers. The implication of this appears unclear to everyone: coastal cities and towns all over the world like Ughelli, Lokoja, Warri, Uzere, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Yenogoa, Eket, Oron, Uyo and Sapele are at greatest risk and usually hit every year from flooding. We all saw what happened in 2012, where floods sacked entire towns. Irregular occurrences like this also build up heat waves that diminish the ozone layer, produce conditions which result in desert encroachment.

This is why nations like South Africa have stopped playing the blame game with countries of the North. In another League with Nations like China, Brazil, India and Russia, South Africa is forming formidable alliances to diplomatically negotiate reduction of carbon emissions with the greatest polluters – China and the United States. But it seems that Nigeria is not ready to join this league. Even though she is not the only country which did not sign the Paris Climate change Treaty, her temperament is easy to decipher thus: first, we still flare our gas. We have been doing so since the 1950s, and therefore contributing to messing up of the ozone as much as the countries of the North. Data out there say that the reason we still flare our gas is that the technology is not there, and rather than develop it, we collect a paltry sum from the multinationals that are here prospecting crude.

Second, we are not careful about our environment and the network in it. We are more interested in ‘development’. But development has to be sustainable, and what this means is that if there is a plan to build a school on a land where trees like mango, guava and palm trees already sit on, an environment impact assessment, EIA, must be carried out to ascertain what cost to the environment the building of a school on that land would bring. And apart from that, if after that assessment has been made, and if there is a tiny-weeny suggestion that the uprooting of those trees would significantly mess up the ecosystem, plans are immediately put in place to plant other trees even while building the school. Most of us do not know as yet, that the oxygen we take in is from trees, and the dangerous carbon we emit is usually mopped up by the trees. That is what we often fail to consider when we seek to ‘develop’. Our development is hardly planned and hardly sustainable. Let me give you a good example. In July 2016, residents of Oghara town in Ethiope West local government took to the streets and the Benin-Warri expressway. Their grouse was that the Nigerian Navy had illegally annexed and forcefully taken over their land for the construction of a Naval Base apart from the Logistics Command situated in Oghara. Now, this land is no ordinary land. While investigating the allegations made against the Navy, I took a walk into that vast land. One, it is an ancestral land holding the bones of the ancestors of Oghara people. And second, it is home to fauna and flora of the type that can only be found in the Amazon Jungle of Brazil. Why do we want to replace it with a Navy barrack?

Just before the street demonstrations took place, the Navy had already commenced a massive clearing of that vast land, and in clear violation of Article 2 of the Paris Treaty. Let’s say two things quickly: what the Navy says it intends to build on that land – a barrack, shopping malls and a naval school – first have no space on that land and is hardly sustainable. It incredibly aggravates the climate change problem, and messes up the work of the UNFCCC. Two, since the damage is already done, especially since the Navy is willing to pay ‘compensation’ to the original owners of the land, and the owners appear ready to be compensated, an EIA, to reconstruct that environmental loss will appear to be better compensation.

Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku is communications manager, ANEEJ