Enviromental activist about elections in Nigeria: „Many Nigerians are tired“

Nigeria's foremost environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey talks about the upcoming elections. He also speaks about the need for change and the climate issue.

People supporting the candidate Tinubu

People in Nigeria hope for a better future

taz : In Nigeria, elections are just around the corner. Is anyone talking about climate change?

Nnimmo Bassey: In Abuja we had a town hall meeting with the presidential candidates. We invited all of them. Four finally showed up. We asked them questions about the environment. They did show a sense of understanding, although it might not be from the same perspective I would like. As the majority didn’t come we cannot be sure. But the environment has not been a topic in the campaigns. So we had to question them. Over the years the environment has been a critical issue in Nigeria but the policy makers don’t seem to understand this. Or they just take it as something nothing can be done about.

In general in Nigeria people vote for persons, not so much because of their agenda....

In this particular election circle I have personally not seen anything as vicious as personal attacks. They talk about whether they are corrupt, thieves, drug pushers. But they are not discussing the issues.

Is this surprising?

No. Many of the parties basically have the same platform and ideology. Most of them are for privatisation of public resources and for the ease of doing business that opens up the country to anyone who want to exploit. Because they don’t have differences in what they believe, they can also change from one party to another. We hope that will change. The younger parties with the younger presidential candidates tend to have more defined positions. But there is no difference between the major ones.

You have been an activist for such a long time. How do you feel about this?

We were hoping that the situation in the country would help us to choose a better leader, because almost everything has broken down. Going back for more of the same is surely giving the same results. The nature of the economic meltdown gives me hope that Nigerians will wake up to the fact that you can’t trust many of those leaders who have been recycled for years.

You have been advocating against gas flaring and oil production for decades. What are the most important topics regarding climate change today?

To me as somebody campaigning against the fossil fuel sector that is still the number one issue. We still have gas flaring releasing millions of tonnes of carbon in the atmosphere, also polluting the environment, crossing biodiversity laws, displacement of communities and so many problems. We also have big problems of deforestation and coastal erosion.

Nigeria experienced heavy floods last year…

All Nigerians are very conscious about that. In October massive flooding killed 630 people by the official count. People understand this is climate change and also the responsibility of the leaders to provide help for the people, to build dams to stop the water from Cameroon. Just recently it has been announced that we should expect more flooding. So people just sit and wait. They have not recovered from the last flooding and a new one is coming.

The nature of the economic meltdown gives me hope that Nigerians will wake up

In Germany almost twenty years ago people argued that one of the politicians, Gerhard Schröder, won elections because he visited places heavily affected by floods and listened to the people affected. Is something like that possible in Nigeria as well?

Peter Obi is always stressing the fact that when the flood disaster happened in October he was right there with the people, looking for solutions. That could convince some people. But I am not sure to what degree that would effect the results.

In general Peter Obi seems to be popular among the young generation…

A lot of young people think that he is the alternative. He comes through at somebody who can be trusted. That attracts young but also old people. I believe that many Nigerians are tired of recycling leadership. But he falls a bit into the same cycle because he has been in politics for quite a while. We have some who are much newer. He might be the candidate to beat for all the parties. But we never forget that he wanted to be the PDP candidate. He shifted when he could not get the ticket. Choosing him is for many people a protest because they have been oppressed and didn’t have a choice.

Is Nigeria at a crossroads right now?

The election will define a lot of things, if we have a leader that people trust. Nigerians are very good at following leaders. If you have a bad leader they follow a bad leader, if you have a good leader they follow a good leader. If we have a bad leader, they see that anything goes. People do have to survive, so they do whatever they can do. So it could just be a reset. It can happen that you have a reset and things could change dramatically within a short while. But the climate issue will not disappear. It needs to be tackled. If that is done it will cut down all the new phenomenon we have here, a lot of migration of Nigerians, young people. They call it “japa“, just checking out, leaving. A lot of young people are leaving. But if they see there is a programme for change, that there is actually something happening, that can obtain a slowdown.

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