Tinubu says climate change is not Nigeria’s problem. What a smart aleck!

Last week, I wrote that Nigeria lacks sophistication for issue-based campaigns because, too often, politicians talk with utter ignorance yet arrogance on “issues.” Without doubt, one major culprit is Bola Tinubu, presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), who often blusters and talks frivolously on issues. The latest victim of his verbal incontinence is climate change, an existential threat to Nigeria and many other countries.

Recently, speaking at the interactive session of the Arewa Joint Committee in Kaduna, Tinubu made ridiculous and thoughtless comments about climate change. On the Richter scale of absurdity, his metaphor of “church rat” and “poisoned holy communion” was shocking. Describing climate change in Nigeria, Tinubu said: “It’s a question of how do you prevent a church rat from eating poisoned holy communion.”

Obviously, the “church rat” is Nigeria, which is “as poor as a church rat.” And the “poisoned holy communion” is climate change, caused by burning fossil fuels, which may have immediate benefits but also come with devastating consequences.

The short-term “benefit” of burning fossil fuels is that they are cheap sources of energy, especially if a country has large reserves of coal, oil and gas. That “benefit” is Tinubu’s “holy communion.” However, the “holy communion” is “poisoned” because fossil fuels are the drivers of climate change, which has wreaked havoc around the world, including in Nigeria.

You must wonder which fantasy world Tinubu inhabits. Why would the West succumb to Nigeria’s threat? Well, “they will” because it’s “their” climate change. How utterly ridiculous!

Some took offence at the religious insults in Tinubu’s “church rat” and “poisoned holy communion” metaphor.

But far more offensive is that, for someone who wants to be Nigeria’s president, he lacks the capacity to think deeply about what he says, especially when he speaks extempore, unscripted.

Essentially, Tinubu was saying that because Nigeria, the “church rat,” is poor, it must “eat poisoned holy communion,” that is, live with climate change and commit hara-kiri; after all, eating poison can kill!

Well, it’s worth noting that not every “church rat eats poisoned holy communion.” Not every poor country chooses to live with climate change.

For instance, Kenya is poorer than Nigeria, with a GDP of $98bn (2020), compared to Nigeria’s $432.3bn (2020) and a GDP per capita of $1,550 (2020), compared to Nigeria’s $2,097 (2020).

Yet, Kenya has achieved real success on climate change. It set a target of 100 percent renewable energy generation and has nearly reached it.

Why? Because it prioritises tackling climate change. But Tinubu displayed appalling ignorance on climate change. In the same Arewa forum comment, he said: “We are a poor nation. They banned coal. They say firewood is not to be fetched. They say we need to plant trees and they are not giving us money.”

Continuing, he said, “We need to open our eyes. We need to tell the West, if they don’t guarantee our finances and work with us to stop this, we are not going to comply with their climate change,” adding, with a dismissive shrug of his shoulders: “They will do it.”

Now, a key plank of Tinubu’s campaign strategy is that he’s clever and knowledgeable, and, thus, can solve Nigeria’s problems. But smart people are not frivolous or reckless with words. So, how clever and knowledgeable is Tinubu? Well, to find out, let’s unpack his climate-change comment!

First, he said “their” climate change, meaning the West’s. He gave the impression that if Nigeria took action to tackle climate change, it would be doing so for the West’s benefit, because, in his view, climate change is the West’s problem, not Nigeria’s!

But really? Did Tinubu miss President Buhari’s speech at the 26th United Nations’ Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow, United Kingdom, in November last year?

Well, if he missed the statement, here’s a key extract from it. “I do not think anyone in Nigeria needs persuading of the need for urgent action on the environment,” President Buhari said at COP26, adding: ‘‘Desertification in the North, floods in the centre, pollution and erosion on the coast are enough evidence.” Continuing, Buhari said: “For Nigeria, climate change is not about the perils of tomorrow, but what is happening today.”

So, which part of that statement does Tinubu disagree with? Does he disagree with Buhari on the devastating impacts of climate change in Nigeria?

Extreme floodings are currently devastating lives and communities across Nigeria. Yet Tinubu went to Kaduna, one of the states badly affected by the floods, to spew utter gibberish about climate change.

Tinubu said, “We are not going to comply with their climate change.” Well, we’ve dealt with the use of the offensive word “their.”

But Tinubu’s broader point was that Nigeria won’t “comply” with climate change rules, such as those agreed at COP 15 in Paris in 2015 and at COP 26 in Glasgow last year. But this exposes Tinubu’s utter ignorance of Nigeria’s international and domestic commitments.

I mean, is Tinubu not aware that Nigeria pledged at COP 26 to reach net zero carbon by 2060? President Buhari declared at COP 26: “Nigeria is committed to net zero by 2060.”

Is Tinubu also not aware that, in November 2021, President Buhari signed the Climate Change Bill into law? That Nigeria now has a Climate Change Act that incorporates the 2060 net zero target? Furthermore, is he not aware that Nigeria recently launched the Energy Transition Plan (ETP), which has the twin-goals of tackling the climate crisis and energy poverty?

So, would Tinubu throw all these commitments away if he became president?

Well, he said he would first ask the West to “guarantee our finances and work with us to stop this”. But if they don’t give Nigeria money, “we are not going to comply with their climate change.” He was confident the threat would work. “They will do it,” he said matter-of-factly!

You must wonder which fantasy world Tinubu inhabits. Why would the West succumb to Nigeria’s threat? Well, “they will” because it’s “their” climate change. How utterly ridiculous! He should ask the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, how far hectoring the West about “just energy transition” and defunding fossil fuel projects has worked.

Recently, Vice President Osinbajo went to the US to seek global support for Nigeria’s Energy Transition Plan. He met with officials from the World Bank Group, the US Treasury, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and, ultimately, the US vice president, Kamala Harris, who praised Osinbajo’s leadership on climate change. While in the US, Vice President Osinbajo floated the idea of a debt-for-climate-swap (DFC), under which the West would cancel Africa’s bilateral and multilateral debts, and, in return, Africa would use savings from the debt relief to fund climate action programmes, such as Nigeria’s ETP.

Truth be told, the debt-for-climate-swap idea won’t get traction with the West, due to their view about the moral hazard of debt forgiveness, and their antipathy to it.

However, diplomatic efforts and rational advocacy for global partnerships and support are constructive ways of addressing the issue, rather than threatening that “we are not going to comply with their climate change” if they don’t give us money.

But what about private finance? Tinubu claims he’s a genius in attracting foreign investors. “I brought Enron to Nigeria,” he brags. So, why can’t he see the opportunities for climate investments? Last week, the International Finance Corporation, IFC, an arm of the World Bank, said Nigeria could get $70bn share of the $1trn climate change investment opportunity coming to Africa. Significant global private capital – about $25trn – is available for climate change investments, the question is how a country taps into it.

Truth is, Nigeria needs international support to tackle climate change. Well, it won’t get it by threatening the West, but by setting out credible plans to decarbonise its economy. That wisdom eludes Tinubu, who has an overblown sense of his own ability!

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