When the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, visited Rivers State as part of his nationwide campaign for the upcoming February presidential election, he made a promise to the people of Ogoni that if voted into power, he would ensure the implementation of the United Nations Environmental Programme report. This report, which recommended a clean-up of the abysmally polluted Ogoniland, has been submitted by UNEP more than three years ago without the required action from the authorities. Considering that Buhari did not make the proclamation from a campaign trail podium but in a meeting with the elders of Ogoni, this is no ordinary campaign promise. It is a pledge from a leader to a people who feel lost and forgotten in a land flowing with milk and honey, yet crawling with vipers and poison. Nevertheless, Ogoni people and the environmental hazard they face is just a microcosm of the country’s ecological condition. There are several people, groups and regions in the country to which environmental peril is a daily and inevitable reality. And for these people, it would be a great relief – in fact, epiphany – for there to appear on the horizon, a national leader whose heart is with the earth. This is the more reason I am glad that it is Buhari that made the pledge. As is obvious, he is one Nigerian leader that has sterling green credentials. In fact, he towers shoulders high above others when it comes to eco-friendliness, and there are a couple of reasons for this assertion. Firstly, everything about the man speaks conservation. His character, habits and overall personality telegraph a palpable aura: That of a conscious effort to prevent loss, waste, damage and destruction of resources, which is exactly what conservation is about. During his days as military Head of State, he promptly exhibited this trait when he introduced the monthly environmental sanitation exercise in the country. This aspect of his character makes some people describe him as ascetic and puritan. Yet, there is no gainsaying the fact that his famous War Against Indiscipline was channelled at plugging the drainpipes of a bleeding nation whose resources and image were dwindling as fast as an ice cube soaked in hot water. With child’s eyes, I saw a culture of discipline and environmental preservation suddenly emerge and pervade my immediate environment which hitherto was overrun by material waste and environmental neglect. In a widespread national rebirth that could be described as a miracle, Nigerians began to care about orderliness and environmental stewardship. What is more, during his time as the Chairman of the defunct Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund, Buhari once again portrayed that green streak in a peculiar national project that would have nipped in the bud one of the worst ecological challenges of modern Nigeria. During the final year of my first degree programme at the University of Nigeria, I worked on a thesis with the approved topic, “The Public Image of the PTF”. In the process of gathering materials for the work, I made frequent visits to the national headquarters of the PTF in Abuja; and also interviewed many beneficiaries of the Fund across the country. This exposed me to the PTF’s activities, special project reports and documents. I stumbled on a particular PTF project which showed how Buhari undertook an ambitious project which when completed would solve a serious environmental problem the nation faced even to this moment. The PTF project tagged, Rehabilitation of Livestock Production Facilities and Procurement of Inputs in Nigeria, was planned to solve once and for all what we generally know today as violent conflicts between Fulani herdsmen and farmers. The genius of the project was its foresight and depth. It incorporated comprehensive contingency plans on how to mitigate the depreciation of natural resources – fodder and water-for livestock, thereby effectively instituting a futuristic framework for Nigeria’s adaptation to the impacts of climate change. Among the revelations from the project as it progressed was the fact that most of the people that we today generally term as “Fulani herders” are actually non-Nigerian pastoralists from neighbouring countries (especially the Udawa pastoralists); therefore, the project recommended the introduction of “Transhumance Certificate” for Nigeria, to mainstream indigenous herders and gradually root out invasive elements. It is instructive to list a couple of other observations and recommendations of the project which it planned to execute strictly from the PTF without bugging the nation’s purse. They are: The conflicts between pastoralists and farmers in the country are escalating; the Grazing Reserve Law of 1965 is still applicable throughout the Northern states but is not enforced; the law had not made provision for the protection of stock routes; there is no applicable law to support the establishment and development of both stock routes and grazing reserves in Southern Nigeria; there is an absence of facilities and infrastructure in grazing reserves and a lack of gazetting of grazing reserves; there should be integration of sedentary and semi-sedentary pastoralists with irrigation requirements; the Federal Government to provide extra budgetary allocations through the PTF or the Ecological Fund for the development of grazing reserves and the training of range managers since the World Bank is no longer a source of funds. Surely, had the PTF been allowed to survive till today, its national value would be self-manifest. Nigeria needs a green leader for two reasons. Firstly, we are the giant of Africa and must lead in the ongoing fight against climate change. Kenya, South Africa and Morocco are leading the different regions; and we cannot even boast of leading West Africa before talking of leading Africa. As the woman in the street will say, “Who dash monkey banana!” Secondly, we have many bio-resources and need a man with an ear to the earth to appreciate, conserve, and efficiently deploy them. There can be no fiscal and physical discipline without environmental discipline. Recently, there have been lots of articles written by Nigerians who are bothered by the desecration of our ecosystem through both material and human waste – refuse, public urination and public defecation; and I am convinced these are subtle manifestations of the corruption in the polity. From 2015, the world will do away with the Millennium Development Goals and start implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. The proposal contains 17 goals with 169 targets covering a broad range of sustainable development issues, including ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change, and protecting oceans and forests. Nigeria is a far cry away from fulfilling the MDG’s; but we must blaze the trail with the SDG’s. We need a green leader to achieve this. In today’s world, great leaders are green, and great economies are the ones with vibrant environment sectors. Think of America’s Barack Obama (who adopted renewable energy in the White House), Xi Jinping (who declared war against environmental pollution in China); and Pope Francis, who recently declared that the destruction of South America’s rain forests and other forms of environmental exploitation is a sin of modern times. Sometime in 2013, I wrote an article titled, “Francis, the Green Pope”, which was sort of prophetic because today the term I coined is now a buzzword in environmental/media platforms because of the Pope’s recent proclamations. I was able to adumbrate the Pope’s greenness because through the eyes of an environmentalist, I saw that behind that papal vestments lay a kindred spirit – an earth-lover and poverty-hater. This is how I see Buhari today. A man who can galvanise energy efficiency, poverty alleviation, resource discipline and environmental best practices within our shores, thereby catapulting Nigeria to a well-deserved pedestal in the comity of nations.
Written by Greg Odogwu