Sustainable Development in Nigeria: The Long Overdue DiscourseBy Ahmed Sodiq and Adetunji Alabi
Published on 11 February 2017
Nigeria, having been a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), now has an obligation to reduce its carbon footprint. The question herein is: how can this be done?
It's already about a couple of decades into the 21st century and Nigeria still continues to be over-reliant on its endowed petroleum resources. Every fiscal year, the country benchmarks its budgets on the cost of crude oil and gas in the international market. This is a trend that can be traced back to the mid-20th century and, year after year, has proven to be economically unprogressive. A similarly negative conclusion can be reached about the sustainability of the country's approach in exploiting these resources -- except the long overdue cleanup of the Ogoniland spillage [1,2], the country has not paid much attention to sustaining the Niger-Delta environment, where most of its oil extraction takes place.
Many Nigerians are not aware of the effects the country’s overreliance on crude oil, and its steadily increasing population, have on its environment. These effects would have been more obvious if the country’s entire population was adequately supplied with electrical power. In such a scenario; from the renewable energy angle, many dams would have been constructed, land space the size of an entire state would have been used to setup solar panels (probably in the northern side where solar irradiation is very strong) or the entire coastal area of Lagos State -- through the Niger-Delta region-- would have witnessed environmental transformation with an array of wind turbines that would be several numbers more than the London Array . On the other hand, from a fossil-based generation perspective, the combination of all of the country’s current daily output of crude oil and coal would have to be consumed domestically. Although the country would be able to generate 128 GW of electrical power, the obvious effects on the environment would have been massive; the level of CO2 in the atmosphere would have made international headlines because the attendant emission around the power-generating plants would have been 4 times more than the great London smog of 1952. These are the realities of adequate power supply in Nigeria. Nigeria cannot continue to live in the past; it would one day scale the hurdles of darkness and give electricity to its entire population, then what happens when that stage is reached?
Now that we are back to reality, let’s analyze what sustainability is and what role Nigeria has to play. The 1987 UN-sponsored Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future : defined sustainable development as that which meets the needs of the present without sacrificing or compromising the ability of the future to meet their needs. Is Nigeria meeting its current needs in energy use? What about the needs of the future generation? If Nigeria is not meeting its current needs in energy use, then why does the country continue to do the same thing and expects different results? It is high time we embraced energy diversification to incorporate renewable energy into our energy mix. Especially as the resource is readily available - the solar irradiation that hits Nigeria daily can power the country for a whole year .
The three pillars of sustainability include; the environment, economics and equity. The major sub-pillar that can make these pillars function well in harmony is human capital development, whose root stems from education. It is obvious to the blind and audible to the deaf (if we may borrow from the pool of Hon. Patrick’s tenses) that the current situation in our education sector is beyond moribund. How can we be sustainable when more than half of our youths’ population is out of school? Even the limited numbers in school are not receiving the qualitative education that would eventually transform Nigeria to a sustainable nation.
The UN sustainable development goals have served as the templates adapted by advanced nations to achieve their sustainability goals. In fact, it is arguable that sustainability is the new world order; this is evident as many countries see those who are dragging their feet on sustainability issues as polluters who do not want the best for our only known habitable planet. We need to be proactive in the protection of our planet like many countries around the world. And in emphasis, we say, not in our generation would Nigeria slumber until the glories of sustainability are exhausted by countries who work daily to advocate energy efficiency, integrate renewable energy into their energy mix, educate their children according to international standards and provide the basic amenities to every law-abiding citizen. On this note, let’s take a look at the UN sustainable development goals:
Although, very simplistic in its definitions, the message is much deeper. The bedrock of sustainability, as highlighted in UN-SDG 7, is affordable and clean energy. Whichever source is used to provide energy for human consumption has a domino effect on the planet; clean energy refreshes the planet and creates enduring and alluring ‘atmosphere’ for the ecosystem. Alternatively, energy generated through the continuous exploitation of the fossil-based fuels creates environmental degradation that in turn brings about climate change (e.g. the wanton release of greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere). The topic of discussion in many circles today is how to leave behind the dark ages of fossil-based fuels for energy generation, because it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that these fuels have damaging effects on the ecosystem. The big question is, can Nigeria divest from fossil-based fuels for energy generation? Our answer to that question is: Yes, but not in the short-run. The country needs to start decades-long aggressive implementations of its energy policy that would take into account the use of renewables in its energy mix. So that when we check ourselves, say in the next 10 years, we would have made tremendous progress in the reduction of fossil-based energy in our energy calculations.
In conclusion, nothing is wrong with Nigeria as a country, the sun has not stopped rising in its East, nor stopped setting in its West; or who can say a Nigerian child does not cry like a human any longer? What is wrong is our approach to issues that have serious consequences. We need not only lead Africa in terms of population, we need to lead the world on sustainable development.
 A. E. F. a. J. Network. (2017, 25th February, 2017). Ogoniland Oil Spills clean up will take up to 30 years. Available: http://www.channelstv.com/2017/02/17/ogoni-clean-fg-conducts-ground-breaking-ceremony/
 C. Television. (2017, 25th February, 2017). Ogoni Clean Up: FG Conducts Ground Breaking Ceremony. Available: http://www.channelstv.com/2017/02/17/ogoni-clean-fg-conducts-ground-breaking-ceremony/
 U. London Array, "Year of installation: 2011/2012 Location," Outer Thames Estuary, North Sea Foundations, vol. 177.
 G. H. Brundtland, Report of the World Commission on environment and development:" our common future.": United Nations, 1987.
 A. Giwa, et al., "A comprehensive review on biomass and solar energy for sustainable energy generation in Nigeria," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, vol. 69, pp. 620-641, 2017.