On Environment and Sustainable Development in Nigeria in the 21st Century

It gives me great pleasure to be at this great citadel of learning once again and be part of the Faculty of Social Sciences 2016 National Conference. I must therefore thank the Dean of the Faculty for the kind invitation to this conference which theme, ‘Environment and Sustainable Development in Nigeria in the 21st Century’ will always be relevant to mankind, far beyond the shores of Nigeria.

Since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1972 and the subsequent conferences on Climate Change, the awareness of the international community on the degradation of the environment and the adverse effects on lives generally, has been put in the front burner for mitigation in all ramifications. The developing nations are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. For instance, the combined effects of desertification and soil erosion in the Northern and Southern parts respectively continue to adversely affect agriculture, energy and water resources.
Permit me to enter this caveat. Development has a cost. We must choose, for instance, whether to ease transportation by constructing roads, during which green vegetation would have to be cleared or preserve the forest in its virginal state. To provide decent accommodation for people, new houses have to be built on land. There are other imperatives of human development that impinge on nature, even food crop cultivation. To make an omelette, an egg must be broken.
However, this is only half of the story. The challenge before humanity is how to have development without hurting or jeopardising the environment. On September 25 last year, many countries came together at the General Assembly of the United Nations to adopt a set of goals which includes to end poverty, banish hunger, protect the environment, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda.
The upshot is that there must be development. Nigeria needs rapid development. According to the UNDP, Nigeria is ranked 152 out of 188 countries, five places below Pakistan and 10 behind Bangladesh. The major indices are not encouraging at the national average. Though our life expectancy has increased slightly to 52.8 years from 48.7 in 2005, we are still far from the advanced countries with over 80 figure. The only encouraging index is mobile phone subscribers per 100 people which stands at 77.8, better than sub-Saharan Africa figure of 77.1 but still far below the developing countries average of 91.2.
But we see here the crushing effect of underdevelopment. On our inauguration we saw that a lot of the youth are idle. That was why we engaged 40,000 of them in the Keynesian mode in the Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (OYES) for public works. We have the evidence of this shortly after when Osun ranked among the states with the lowest unemployment and crime rates in the country. When we introduced free school feeding programme, school enrolment shot to the roof by 25 per cent. We already have the report that parents have been withdrawing their children from private schools and enrolling them in our new schools, thus stretching their capacity to the limit. The home grown school feeding programme alone engages 3,000 cooks and indirectly engages farmers and other food producers since, to be able to feed these 252,000 pupils, 15,000 whole chickens, 254,000 eggs, 35 heads of cattle and 400 tonnes of catfish are purchased weekly from farmers and food vendors. This is empowerment for farmers and job creation opportunity for thousands of others in the state. This programme covers only pupils in elementary 1–4. You can just imagine what its impact would be nationally if all pupils in school are fed in all the states of the federation. It will primarily boost agriculture and provide directly and indirectly at least five million jobs with unlimited multiplier effect.
It has been estimated that to be able to provide adequate accommodation to Nigerians, we need 17 million new homes. Though providing this will impinge on the environment, this assignment will virtually wipe off unemployment in the country, if we also decide to locally produce at least 90 per cent of the building materials needed.
But the key here is sustainable development. Industrial capitalists are allergic to this concept. They have been largely opposed to sustainable development and where there is consciousness, they have only paid lip service. When there are adequate legislation, they have been so strident at subverting and side-tracking them.
But we must somehow come to the realisation that we have no alternative to the environment. There have been putative efforts at colonising space and other planets for human habitation. These have not gone beyond fantasies. We must therefore take to heart the admonition of Mohandas Gandhi that: ‘What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another’. For as Franklin D. Roosevelt reminds us: ‘A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people’. We agree with the wisdom of American conservationist and philosopher, Aldo Leopold, who pointed out that: ‘We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.’
For a developing country like Nigeria, we need knowledge based production to be able to overcome certain practices that amount to abuse of the environment. We need for instance cheap forms or alternatives to fossil fuel for our peasant to stop cutting down trees for firewood. Our research institutions too need to penetrate society with such little things as the industrial use for sawdust, instead of the constant burning at sawmills. We also need better social organisation with mass mode of transportation in order to reduce the number of personal cars on our roads, thereby cut down on carbon emission.
There is no alternative to trees. We must never shrink the carbon sink in order not to offset the oxygen-carbon dioxide balance most vital to human and animal existence. Since the inception of this administration, we have embarked on tree planting campaign and we have recorded a modest achievement. We successfully purchased and planted 2.5 million tree seedlings all over the state. The novelty about this is that we transferred ownership of the trees to individuals. These trees are therefore not anonymously planted but put in care of individuals in their homes, farms or offices.
Realising the importance of forests to social, economic and cultural life of the people of Osun State, it is imperative that the issue of the State Forest Estates will command better administrative attention where illegal felling, plundering and illegal farming will be stamped out. Afforestation programme that will reclaim all the degraded areas should be attended to with a view to restoring the status, integrity and health of the all the forest reserves.
All over the world, the issue of afforestation cannot be achieved by government alone. I am therefore making a clarion call to non-governmental organisations, community based organisations, religious bodies and private individuals to collaborate with the government in restoring and increasing the forest cover in the state, be it inside or outside government gazetted reserves.
But to be able to win the war on environment, we must first win hearts and minds. We must include and make environmental studies a compulsory subject from the kindergarten to the university. We used to have nature studies in schools. We should bring this back to our schools.
If we embark on development without consideration to the environment, we will soon discover that we have lost both development and the environment.
I thank you all for your kind attention.
This speech was delivered by Ogbeni Aregbesola at the Obafemi Awolowo University’s faculty of social sciences 2016 national conference, held at the university’s conference centre and guest houses on Tuesday March 29, 2016


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