In the midst of ongoing politicking and wrangling over the 2011 general election, we must not fail to remind Nigerians that Friday April 22nd is Earth Day. In recognition of the power of millions of individual actions, Earth Day 2011 will be organized around, “A Billion Acts of Green: Personal, organizational and corporate pledges to live and act sustainably.”
The dangers associated with environmental damage have become better known in Nigeria since the execution of environmental right activist Ken Saro-wiwa by Sani Abacha’s administration on November 10, 1995. Surprisingly, the awareness of the environmental crisis we face has not entered into the mainstream politics. While those who assert that environmental problems are minor or non-existent have become marginalized, the absence of concrete and verifiable personal, government and corporate commitment to live and act sustainably is still a source of concern in Nigeria. The recent abandonment of the agitation for cleaner environment (which later expanded to include resource control) by the Niger Delta militants through government ‘amnesty’ should be worrying to environmentalist in Nigeria.
At the personal level, it has raised the question of preconditions for environmental activism in Nigeria in particular and developing world in general. By quietly accepting the monetary gratification, the ‘training’ and employment promises that came with the ‘amnesty’, I’m forced to ask: were the militants’ original motivations monetary? If there was an element of environmental justice in the restiveness in Niger Delta, was any progress made? Is environmental justice feasible in the midst of poverty and absence of economic justice?
I strongly believe that caring for the social and political ecology (poverty, economic empowerment) are necessary preconditions for an effective and powerful environmental politics. To get to that however, there must be that inherent personal conviction that the earth/environment needs help. On this 2011 Earth Day, all Nigerians must start by making personal and corporate commitment to live and act sustainably.
I advocate for a bottom up approach to embedding the environmental consciousness in our way of life. To be a true environmentalist, one must have a natural inclination to love and protect nature. Nigeria needs to raise a generation that is environmentally conscious across all the geopolitical zones. The care for the environment must start early in life, primary schools and colleges and should not be left to the people on Niger Delta.
There is an urgent need to mobilizing environmentally conscious middle class across all sectors of our national life, most importantly in our universities. For environmental movement to sweep across our universities, we need professors that will be selfless enough to bring the discussion to the class room. Drawing from physical and social sciences, our colleges should produce graduates that ought to act only in ways designed to protect the long-term flourishing of all ecosystems and each of their constituent parts.
Take a moment to find out the antecedents of our environment minister and commissioners; how many of them clearly understood the treat the earth/environment in Nigeria is facing? What can be said about the minister for environment’ John Ogar Odey’s expertise in environmental matters? The bigger question though is; do we as a country have a pool of committed environmental activists (that cannot be compromised) for political appointment?
From desertification in the north to soil erosion in the south, from oil spillage in Niger Delta to solid waste disaster in cities like Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Kaduna, Onitsha, Aba, etc; there is no personal commitment to mobilize and create awareness. Most of the NGOs involved in environmental activism in Nigeria have monetary gratification as the ulterior motivation. Those that are genuinely concerned about the environment are both unorganized and underfunded. But what we need in organizations and movements are individuals that have embraced deep ecological concern as their own spiritual philosophy.
We need personal commitment that breed corresponding environmental movement that will grow rapidly, greatly influencing grassroots environmentalism across the country. The absence of grassroot environmental movement was partly why environmentalism in Niger Delta region in Nigeria died with the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa.
In Nigeria natural resources are systematically depleted in the accumulation drive by both multinational capitalists operating in our oil and gas sector and the state. Ecological degradation in Nigeria has assumed emergency proportions largely through the mindless commitment to the economic growth strategy endemic in the developed capitalism. The double tragedy for Nigeria however, is that the acclaimed growth in the economy is largely invisible.
Recently, both politicians and corporations operating in our oil sector have been keen to announce their "green" credentials on paper. But this is ironic, since both the state and capitalism are key causes for the environmental problems we are facing. The biggest challenge to environmental degradation in Nigeria is walking the talk; most of today’s national environmental laws and acts are treated as options and not imperatives. Because economic practices are at the core of the problems of environmental degradation, greening of national politics and resource exploitation – for example the recent gas plan - appear to be proceeding at a more rapid rate than the greening of national economy.
What Nigeria needs is a successful corporate leader who is moving their company from business as usual toward a restorative enterprise. The individual's and company's commitment to resource efficiency, environmental-social responsibility and sustainability must pervade throughout their company and personal life. They should encourage and inspire chieftains in industry and others to join in pioneering the processes of clean environment sustainable development in Nigeria.
Finally on this 2011 Earth Day and as Nigerians continues with the 2011 election, the significance of making personal and corporate commitment should not be overlooked. Individual activists, teachers and students should empower their community and society toward ecological restoration and a sustainable future.
Greenworld Environment Society