Environment & Health

The Age of Stupid in Nigeria

Of the times and peoples that have passed since recorded history, the Dark Age was one with significant ironies. It had the drawback of having taken place in the pre-industrial Europe where there were no cars, no rail, nor mobile phones and there was no internet. It was allegedly the stupidest epoch too, probably because of a kind of thinking that supported the idea of the flatness of the earth, and that our static sun actually rises from the East and sets in the West. People at that time lived in a richly endowed environment, devoid of the problems of pollution, waste management and epidemics. Perhaps this was why the darkageans believed that they had no business developing the world for future generations albeit because of another Judeo-Christian belief that there is a sugar-candy-mountain aka ‘heaven’ prepared for the worldly pilgrim, and amply supported by John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Such strong support for such strong stupidity led to such hedonistic practices as the burning to death at the stake of scientists and non-conformists who held contrary views. But thank heavens for that kind of thinking and such hedonism, because it actually sponsored individuals like Christopher Columbus, Vasco Dagama and Amerigo Vespuci, whose hunger for travel and knowledge discovered the Americas and the West Indies – countries today producing cars, mobile phones and food at the touch of buttons.

That should have been Nigeria’s from-darkness-to-light story. However, here is a country of great expectations and greater disappointments. Before independence in 1960, Nigeria had no crude oil, nor the stupendous wealth that accrued from its discovery. Yet everyone in the international community expected Nigeria to do well mostly because of its strategic importance in Africa as a nation of human, cultural and religious diversity like the United States, US, or even India. Alas, nearly 50 years after independence, Nigeria still literally wallows in the dark, not just because of her inability to generate 3,000 megawatts of power. Like the darkageans who believed that we lived in a flat world, Nigeria and the people who run this country still hold the outdated and anachronistic notion that it is our multiplicity of endowments that will get us to our own sugar and candy mountain. They hold brief for oil, our primary [and almost only] source of income, that it still will be our primary source of income in the next 200 years even though our American and European customers have started investing heavily in renewable energy sources – nuclear, solar, wind and hydro sources of power generation to replace oil in 50 years from now.

There are many reasons why, [most of them selfish and sensible], the civilized world is investing in renewable energy sources. One, the energy is renewable. What that means is that no nation can claim any exclusive property rights to renewable energy sources. Every nation under the sun is endowed with the primary raw materials like the wind, water and nuclear power potentials needed to generate energy. So, the sensible thing that Europe and America is doing concerning these energy sources is applying modern technology to harvest these energy sources in a system known as ‘combined heat and power’, CHP, at certain percentages of utilization. Quite unlike Nigeria where power generation is one-sided and is the exclusive preserve of the almighty government, countries in Europe empower their people to also invest in solar or other sources of energy to the national grid for cash. Though this programme impacted negatively on the agricultural sector, – farmers saw no need to work hard on their farms anymore if the solar photovoltaic panels on their rooftops earns them more money – it only made power generation even more competitive and attractive.

But there are other less than sensible reasons for the drive and investment in the renewable energy alternative. It is not just because it is seen to be ‘cheap’, clean and eco-friendly, but because of the approach of an irreversible point of climate change – ‘irreversible’ because nobody may be able to do anything again to reverse the sudden wave of heat or the spasms of cold that may suddenly grip the world someday; and it is ‘climate change’ because over time world economic activity has depended on one substance, oil, which produces byproducts like carbon dioxide, methane and carbon mono-oxide in quantities that the earth is currently unable to absorb. That inability has already begun to melt ice glaciers in the North Pole. Therefore, as soon as icebergs in the North Pole begin to melt, what do you think will happen to our beloved coastal cities like Lagos, Portharcourt, Warri, Freetown, Accra, Cotonou and Lome?

According to scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, PIK, Germany, industrialized nations were responsible for nearly 85 percent, an equivalent of 16 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per capita per year. They recommend a reduction of that 85 percent per capita emissions of these greenhouse gases by 2050 so that that dreaded irreversible point of climate could at least be averted. What this means is that industries in Europe and the Americas are already planning to stop drinking the oil that we send them so as to stop the constipation of their environment and ours. So what this translates to is that if there are environment problems in Europe and America occasioned from the world’s dependence on fossil fuels for income and power generation, those problems have a symbiotic effect. Take a look at what happened at the Chernobyl Nuclear plant in 1985. Radioactive substances from that incident spread like cancer throughout Europe and left a scar on its conscience.

Last year, Nigeria or Niagara earned up to three trillion naira from the excess crude account occasioned from a dizzying rise in the price of crude oil from $50 to nearly $150 per barrel per day, pbd. While countries in Europe and the Americas are working day and night to manage the problems that they created by trading carbon dioxide emissions and deploying funds for tackling the impending catastrophe of climate change, our three tiers of government shared 80 percent of the three trillion naira from the excess crude revenue in 2008. Specifically, Rivers State received the highest allocation of N251.377 billion closely followed by Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and Delta states which were paid N167.216 billion, N116.447 billion and N115.799 billion, respectively. Lagos State got N77.791 billion, Ondo N67.123 billion, Kano N57.975 billion, FCT N47.167 billion, Kaduna N45.743 billion, Imo N45.587 billion, Cross River, N45.585 billion, and Borno State N42.465 billion. Let us not mince words: about three quarters of that amount has found its way into the different pockets of many politicians in the nation today. Only N72billion was put aside for ‘the development of natural resources’.

However, while all of this oily money was being callously shared by all the tiers of government, gas is still being flared in the Niger Delta, further escalating problems of climate change. Every day that this nation flares its gas, it blows about $4million. Juggle that number by 30 days and you get $120million. Last year when excess crude revenue hit the three trillion naira mark, Nigeria would have earned another $1440 if the December 2008 deadline for gas flaring had held. Yet, people who should know better buy up spaces in newspapers to split hairs that we cannot afford the infrastructure Nigeria needs to end gas flaring. What a pity.

But the world is taking note of this action or inaction of irresponsibility by our tiers of government. In far away Poland, Poznan to be specific and in December 2008 where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Ch

ange, UNFCCC, held its conference, participants were awed by a sneak preview of Franny Armstrong’s movie, The Age of Stupid. The movie had vivid images of the effects of gas flaring in the Niger Delta: moving scenes where Nigerians use Omo detergent to wash dead fish from polluted rivers and lakes in the Niger Delta before they boil the fish for food. The theme of that movie was captured by this rhetorical question: ‘Why didn’t we do something about this when we had the chance?’ If the accolades that the movie has received so far are anything to go by, even before it was premiered in the United Kingdom, UK, it definitely establishes Nigeria’s leadership as the quintessential example, not of the Dark Age but as the Age of Stupid!

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