Nigeria currently faces a number of inter-connected sustainable development challenges – pollution from the oil industry, land-use change, flooding, as well as the need for economic diversity and enhanced public infrastructure. Thomas Israel Mayomi, prospective LSE Development Studies student, unpacks these complex issues.
Land-use change, flooding and food
Nigeria, located in the sub-saharan region, is facing serious sustainability challenges. To start with the causes of these issues, it is a general fact that rising population increases the pressure on the available resources in a country. Nigeria, as the most populous country in Africa and around seventh in the world, has been affected by this pressure. The ratio of people to square kilometre is rising especially in major cities like Lagos, Porthacourt, Abuja and Kano. The cost of land in these major cites has escalated to the extent that an average working class citizen may not be able to afford a plot of land with their entire life earnings. The effect is that only the affluent class can afford to live conveniently in these areas, without having to feel the strain of lack of electricity, air and land pollution and even the poorly planned structure of towns. One cannot help but wonder what the situation will look like by 2050, when Nigeria’s population is expected to challenge those of India and China.
As a result of this rising population, my major problem for future generations is how they would meet their food needs. More arable lands are converted daily to shelters and sites for commercial purpose just to meet what Abraham Maslow described as the “psychological needs”. Aside from these factors, a number of natural disasters, particularly floods, have ravaged the country since 2012. Flooding has destroyed a lot of farms and agricultural settlements in the middle belt region of the county. There was also a massive degradation of lands suitable for cultivation and housing. The combined effect of these is that the ability to meet food needs in the near future is in jeopardy. Given that most countries are facing similar challenges, the prospect of importing food may not be viable, both in terms of availability of produce and finance.
Public infrastructure and economic diversification
Another reason why we should be worried about our tomorrow, is the lack of infrastructural development, especially in the areas of power and transportation. Development is crucial if a country intends to create a conducive environment for businesses to thrive. This is because with the high unemployment rate and the population explosion, there is serious need to refocus the economy on a private sector-led growth.
We have to do this, since the government cannot continue to create fictitious jobs just for the sake of providing employment opportunities. Ideas like this have led to wastage of resources and massive depletion of government revenue which should have been channeled to productive ventures. Consider the advance countries of the world, even those with relatively lower population, they have all developed their transportation sector with great emphasis on high speed trains, public buses and airports. I am particularly interested in the use of high speed trains especially the underground ones as they save space, cause less disturbances and augur well for the sustainability we crave for.
These problems partly arose as a result of the country’s heavy dependency on crude oil revenue from the volatile international oil market. Past attempts at diversification of the economy have failed, due to either lack of political will, or poor development planning. This raises the question about the ability of its future generations to meet their needs as its reserve of the “black gold”, as it is commonly known, has been estimated by the World Bank to become fully exhausted by 2030.
A closely related issue is the impact of environmental pollution in Nigeria. There has been a high correlation between water pollution and oil exploration activities. In fact, oil companies have already been fined for oil spillages and other unethical behaviours which can adversely affect future generations. This includes gas flaring, which is indeed disheartening. This gas is capable of generating billions of revenue for the country but, the sole desire to explore only crude oil, diminishes an alternate source of revenue for not this generation alone, but their progenies too. It is increasingly likely that the future generations may find it hard to meet their foreign exchange need if this practices are not curtailed.
Also, the impact of air pollution is of utmost importance. There has been a recent increase in the use of personal vehicles and power generators. (The sound of various generators harmonizing in a particular street is now a major sight.) This harms local air quality (through the emission of particulates and nitrous oxides), and well as releasing CO2. They might also contribute to the hot nature of the most highly populated cities, as I observed on my recent trip to Lagos. There is an urgent need to streamline the emissions of these gases.
Let me conclude by providing certain realistic solutions towards ensuring sustainable growth. it is important, that the government lay foundations for a diversified economy. It won’t be an easy task for the new government since a lot should have been done earlier, but this can be achieved by improving the transportation, communication and capital markets. These sectors, when efficient, would make the business environment more friendly to other (non-oil) sectors. In addition to improving the transportation sector, people should be encouraged to use public means of transportation to reduce hazardous gas emission to the atmosphere. However, this will only be possible if the public means of transportation are improved in terms of its convenience and subsidized prices. The result of this is that traffic congestion would be reduced, and in turn, less burden on existing resources.