Buhari’s green pegs in green holes By Greg Odogwu

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There may be many reasons to criticise President Muhammadu Buhari’s choice of ministers and even the long wait that heralded their emergence, but one thing no one can take away from that ministerial list is its green colour. With the pedigree of ministers we have today manning the environment-related ministries, it is very obvious that if not for anything, Buhari took his time to give Nigerians very qualified compatriots to run those ministries around which the country’s environmental and sustainable development revolve.

Although many of our ministers are environment-friendly, with ministerial portfolios that would have natural linkages to the environmental sector, it would be germane to beam a searchlight on just four or five core ministries. These are the Ministries of Environment, Agriculture, Water Resources, Power, and Niger Delta.

The nation’s environment ministry was notorious for being run by what angry environmentalists usually described as quacks. These were politicians who in the spirit of political patronage were called up to fill the quota of their godfathers or ethno-religious demographics. While they were not considered for “specialist” ministries like Health and Justice, they were quickly inducted into the Ministry of Environment to carry on business as usual. After all, even the President who posted them never even considered the ministry as “juicy”!

So, Nigeria found itself in the throes of Ministers of Environment who never understood anything about global environmental best practices; and how the environment as of today is the centre piece of international politics, and the fabric of sustainable development apparel. Who, while scrounging around for quick return self-serving projects, end up inadvertently bringing down the whole house, and crashing the future of the yet unborn Nigerian.

Illustration: The minister who said she used hundreds of millions of the flood relief funds allocated to the ministry for “publicity and sundry expenses”; and the other minister under whose watch we witnessed N9.2bn clean cook stoves saga.

But today, President Buhari gave us a round peg in a round hole in the person of Amina Mohammed. With more than 30 years in the sector, her resume is a citation in development work. Before her appointment as minister, she was a key player in the post-2015 development process, serving as the Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, on post-2015 development planning. It will also be remembered that Mohammed also served as the Senior Special Assistant to the President on the Millennium Development Goals. She also served on many international advisory boards and panels such as the Gates Foundation and the UN Secretary General’s Global Sustainability Panel. This experience leaves no one in doubt that she is well-suited for the ministry of environment, the fulcrum of sustainability in the development world.

And one more thing that signals President Buhari’s regard for the environment is the fact that instead of scrapping or merging the ministry, he appointed a Minister of State for it. This is a clear message that he does not view the ministry just as a tree-planting, environment-cleaning outfit, as some other non-green President would misjudge.

Something similar to this is the fact that a former Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, got the lion’s share of ministerial assignments. While there may be a myriad of conjectures and theories as regards the rationale for Buhari to lump three ministries on the laps of Fashola, there is no denying the fact that Fashola was the greenest of all the governors in his class. The seeming magic wand he deployed to transform Lagos Sate during his term was actually a green wand! He sought to make money from environmental stewardship, thereby creating many green jobs. He also, in a bid to cut carbon emissions in the mega city, instituted milestone renewable energy projects that have defined his legacy.

And truth be told, an environment-friendly man is an efficient resource manager, anytime. In Nigeria of today, we need astute resource managers, eco-lovers and global players. And this is what Fashola represents. The success of the Lagos State Waste Management Agency, Lagos State Climate Change Clubs and “solar projects for a greener Lagos” are testimonies that show that our power and housing sectors are in good, nay green, hands.

This can also be said of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development which was thrust on the shoulders of Chief Audu Ogbeh. Interestingly, at the announcement of his name as a ministerial nominee, Ogbeh became the butt of various jokes and sneering criticisms, many of them revolving around his age. However, the critics never bothered to figure the weight of his experience in agriculture as a resounding factor for Buhari’s choice.

To me, agriculture is too practical a business to be totally left in the hands of theorists and academicians. And when you have someone who combines that experience with political sagacity, it becomes noteworthy. We need someone who is knowledgeable enough to design new agricultural projects, but experienced enough to know that the sector cannot be viewed against the prism of the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress politics. And therefore, ready to build on the gains of the immediate past minister of agriculture, a man generally adjudged to have achieved above average. This is what I believe, Ogbeh stands for. He has already said as much in his first media interactions.

For the avoidance of doubt, Ogbeh, a vibrant and proud agriculturist, is a renowned cashew farmer. His cashew farm covers a land area of more than 250 acres in Otukpor, Benue State. He understands the terrain and is built to set achievable agendas that will move the sector forward especially in a time that Nigeria needs to export her agricultural products.

The Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, is a man I have personally interacted with, and who is so passionate about environmental engineering that one would not be surprised to learn that he started his career at the Water Resources and Engineering Construction Agency, Kano State, where he designed, supervised and managed water and dam projects. He once told me that in his career as an engineer, constructing environmental infrastructure gave him a sense of “personal fulfilment”.

The Minister of Niger State, Pastor Usani Uguru has a profile stating that he has an M.Sc degree in Globalisation and Development, and was a student of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt between 1998 -2003 where he obtained a Master’s degree in Environmental Management. He was also Commissioner, Cross River State Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Development. I cannot boast to know much about him, but I believe that President Buhari has a knack for identifying the green fellows. If not, Uguru would not have made it to the Niger Delta Ministry, which no doubt needs a man who understands the cry of the region for environmental stewardship and justice.

Re: Keep your N5,000, give me a green job!

My last week’s article generated some reactions from Nigerian youths who wanted to let me know that they needed the N5,000 more than the green jobs. The reactions are a sad testament to the depth to which we have sunk as a nation. The poverty and hopelessness are so much that people just want to survive for today, let tomorrow be in the hands of God!

Below, I share one mail (via kingzles@gmail.com), which I consider has the most reasonable argument.

Dear Greg Odogwu,

Without much ado, after reading your piece on page 25 of The Punch today, I could not hold back my thought of your pessimistic opinion for the status quo.

However, I am very well in support of this stipend initiative by the government, even if it is a way of getting the appropriate social security data of unemployed Nigerian youths, I would not mind.

The rate of robbery, internet fraud and hawkers littered around the streets is a very good sign of decay in our system and failure on the part of government.

I beg to differ on all your opinions as canvassed in this report of yours.

Only recently, I could only imagine the number of bug mails I got from fraudsters concerning the CBN – BVN registration. If we could have social security and identity theft protection scheme via mobile line registration as well as social security numbers, it will go a very long way to curb these social vices. I have been robbed more twice on Eko Bridge linking to Costain while coming home from work by young boys whose data if captured on schemes such as this will be dissuaded from their heinous acts…

Kingsley Ezenwa Izimah