Recent reports from around the world indicate that soon, there’s going to be a shift from a fossil reliant economy to a green one. That shift promises to be asymmetrical. Countries like the UK and Germany, after having spent a lot of money on research and implementation, have already set 2030/2040 to stop relying on gasoline to run their cars and their economy. Other countries in the Gulf, realizing the finiteness of an oil-dependent economy have already started the push to build another economy. We cannot say that for other countries like Venezuela and especially Nigeria, fossil-fuel dependent nations experiencing a recession despite the enormous accruals from oil exports.

Watchers of these developments have already begun to speculate that our Federal government is likely to follow suit, and dump a fossil economy for a green one. Citing the plan by the UK, Germany, France and India to ban vehicles running on diesel and gasoline, and our being signatory to the Paris Treaty, The Guardian of Nigeria carried a report on its front page of August 28, 2017, titled Why Nigeria may phase out diesel, petrol vehicles. In the report, The Guardian believes that Nigeria may survive the shock that will arise from a European ban on vehicles run on fuel and diesel. It cited the fact that apart from oil, Nigeria is blessed with a lot of the materials with which Europe is building a green economy – lithium ore and graphite and other solid minerals in abundance in the North.

This is good talk but I believe that the Federal Government must carefully consider its decision to phase out diesel and gasoline vehicles within the next decade, circa 2030. But I must warn that we are far from ready. I believe that Nigeria should initiate a backup economic plan asap and focus on effecting low-sulphur standards that would reduce effects that the importation of dirty fuel and diesel exacts on health of Nigerians and their old cars. In a World Health Organization report of 2016, four Nigerian cities – Onitsha, Kaduna, Umuahia and Aba made the list of the top four of the World’s most air polluted cities, validated by a World Bank Report that over 94% of Nigerians experience health difficulties from importing dirty fuels from Switzerland, and old cars from Europe

It is in the light of this that I want to call on the Federal Government to consider that backup plan I mentioned a little while as a response to the radical shifts taking place around the world. Recall that in December 2016 CSOs came together to draw attention to the fact that fuel imported from Europe to Africa has the highest sulphur content in the world. That campaign to raise this awareness got the attention of the World, and much later in that month several environment ministers in the ECOWAS sub-region, together with representatives of the African Refineries Association, ARA, converged on Abuja and set a July 1, 2017, as target date to enforce resolutions reached at the Abuja meeting.

Inter alia, the Abuja meeting noted that air pollution is a major public health concern with 3,000,000 deaths resulting, and that 92% of people live where limits exceed WHO limits (WHO), mostly from developing countries. In addition to this, the meeting considered that a switch to low sulphur diesel plus the use of cleaner vehicles would result in annual savings in health costs of about $6billion in Sub-Saharan Africa. A reduction in the sulphur component of air pollutants in fuels will reduce direct emissions of both sulphur dioxide and sulphate particulate matter from all vehicles (old and new) leading to gains in health and the environment.

Arising from ongoing activities which included a study on regional fuel standards, a proposal for regional meetings to develop the regional strategy and coordinate the implementation of low sulphur fuel and emission standards, the Abuja meeting recommended that governments in the ECOWAS sub-region adopt that all imported diesel fuel should meet 50ppm max in line with AS-AFRI4 specification by 1st July 2017. Even though the Standards Organization of Nigeria, SON, eventually released new fuel standards of fuel imported to Nigeria by April 2017, Nigerians were dismayed to learn that the Nigerian government eventually shifted the July 1, 2017 date.

I believe that an initial step for the government would be to abide by the Abuja recommendation which suggested that it first bans importation of dirty fuels, ban old cars being imported to Nigeria, work with environment ministers in the sub-region to introduce a uniform binding standards for refineries and vehicular emissions by 2020, provide funding for installation of desulphurisation plant for diesel production in refineries in the ECOWAS sub region to ensure compliance and monitor fuel markets to prevent production of low standard fuels.

In the next decade, the Buhari administration would not be there, to continue to pursue its anti-corruption resolve to rid Nigeria of corruption in all facets of our lives. What must be done must be done now, and that is why I urge Mr. President to consider suggestions that the initial step which would establish the grundnorm upon which to eventually phase out importation of old cars, and prepare for the introduction of an economy running on a green economy is now.

Etemiku writes from ANEEJ, Nigeria

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