Esemonu Gerald is the Executive Director for Environmental Friendly Initiative. He speaks with Michaela Moye about why the environment must be a priority for Nigeria.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a spotlight on global environmental issues. Where does Nigeria’s biodiversity fit into this bigger picture?
COVID-19 pandemic stole the public and media attention globally, but climate change remains the greatest global environmental problem of our time. While the parallels are not exact, the coronavirus response is showing us how people can mobilize and do their part when the need for urgency is properly communicated to them. In this climate crisis so far, many rich countries have largely avoided mitigation solution approaches or seem to be unwilling to carry through radical measures to hold back greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, many people, especially the poorest countries are experiencing and will increasingly encounter adverse climate change on health, in terms of morbidity and mortality. About 40 percent of Nigerian gross domestic product (GDP) comes from agriculture. Extreme weather events – such as droughts, floods and changes in the frequency and intensity of dry season spells doom to already negatively affect agriculture in most parts of Nigeria. Across much of Nigeria, increasing numbers of people are migrating from rural to urban areas in search of work. This movement of people would intensify with changes in climate
Nigeria is experiencing conflict on several frontlines. How does violence affect biodiversity specifically, and the environment in general?
The nature of an environment is determined by the climate, geography and the people. An environment influences the prosperity or otherwise of the people. Wealth is a creation of the environment. Unfriendly environment breeds crises: epidemics, conflicts etc. In my opinion, violence affects biodiversity as it determines influx of people into an area. Increased populations, coupled with bad agricultural practices such as bush burning and over-cultivation and poor waste management will negatively affect an environment’s biodiversity. Declining soil fertility endangers ecological systems; while nomadic rearing of cattle instead of ranching leads not only to farmers-herdsmen conflicts but to soil degradation and erosion. Nigeria has proven to be remarkably resilient despite experiencing conflict on several frontlines but it is very important to know that the migration that attracted people to this geographical space called Nigeria was induced by environmental factors of other areas and sure can be reversed.
In recent years, Nigeria has touted diversification of the economy. Is the country ready for an eco-friendlier approach regarding agriculture, construction, resource management and waste management?
Like they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Maybe this pandemic is that force for good. Granted, we have policies that we can dust off and begin to look at but honestly, we are not ready because readiness or preparedness implies actions which take place before a problem develops and having the ability to respond when it occurs. Nigeria is currently the ‘poverty capital of the world’ because of fall in oil prices. This means Nigeria’s whole economic dependence is on oil without diversification. This is not to say that there are no diversification policies and efforts, but they have not yielded measurable results. A research report on country-by-country greenhouse emissions revealed that Nigeria contributes to emissions mostly through agriculture. More of what we produce is wasted before getting to market or consumers because the agricultural value chain is poor. Our poor irrigation system shows that there is a disconnect between Environment, Agriculture, and Water Resources. I do hope however, that one of learning on this current COVID-19 pandemic is to reduce dependence on oil and focusing more on agriculture and local content.
Are Nigeria’s conservation efforts sufficient to sustain a high level of biodiversity?
While efforts are commendable, they are not sufficient, considering that global warming is a great threat to Nigeria’s biodiversity. Climate change must be addressed. Increasing evidence demonstrates that climate change is affecting terrestrial ecosystems. Pollution, mechanical destruction of habitats, poaching and over-exploitation of natural resources is bringing about extinction of plant and animal life. Conservation is very important to Nigeria in terms of protection and provisions of raw materials, wildlife and for tourism. We have a number of number of parks in the country – Gashaka-Gumti in the Northeast, Afi Wildlfe Sanctuary in Cross River, several in the Southwest, and in Abuja. But these zoological and botanical parks and gardens are facing challenges of funding, insecurity, poaching and illegal logging.
More communities in Nigeria could enjoy their natural landscapes, create a tourism value chain and contribute to biodiversity conservation if parks are established and locally managed.
Do you think that environmental issues receive adequate attention from the Nigerian public?
From my experience only politics, economies and religion receive adequate attention from the Nigeria public. Nigeria is a developing nation with young nationhood issues including a lack of attention to the environment and difficulty in focusing on the environment as collective good. The Nigerian public is more afraid of dying at the hands of his fellow man than any environmental factor. We devote more time trying to overcome the human struggle than fully appreciating the symbiotic relationship between the environment and our survival. Since 2019, my organisation has been engaging with members of the National Youth Service Corps. Before the pandemic, we were expanding our School Climate and Environmental Clubs in the FCT to educate young people on sustainable consumption habits and waste management; and teaching how to create less waste and prepare for a green economy.
World Environment Day is celebrated every June 5. The 2020 theme is Celebrate Biodiversity. Read more here.