Between Obama and Obasanjo | TrendyNewsReporters
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Between Obama and Obasanjo

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I read the story that former President Olusegun Obasanjo called on Nigerians to adopt renewable energy with mixed feelings. Ordinarily, I should be excited that a high-profile senior citizen is advocating going green but I am not. In as much as he is saying all the right things now, the fact remains that the two-time leader of Nigeria had all the time in the world to drive this resource-filled country in the green direction when he was the president but he missed that golden opportunity.

Why is it that our politicians usually suffer from amnesia when they get into office, only to come out to remember all the things they would have done when they were in power? This is a diagnosis that would immensely help our country. It is not exclusively a presidential malady. From the ward councillor to the state governor, all our leaders are prisoners of their own forgetfulness. I would not conclude that it is contrived mischief because it may actually be a deep-seated psychosomatic condition requiring a simple prescription. Yet, it is time we recognised that this disease is killing us all, vicariously.

Before we examine Obasanjo’s case, let us beam a comparative searchlight on former American President, Barack Obama. Last weekend, he won an Emmy Award, which is one of the world’s biggest accolades for creativity in the entertainment industry. He won the best narrator Emmy for his work on the Netflix documentary series, “Our Great National Parks”—an environmental advocacy audio-visual production. The five-part show features national parks from around the globe. I have seen parts of the film and it is a colourful and inspiring picture to behold.

It is instructive to note that Obama did not win the eco-award because he is a famous politician. He slugged it out with other big names and famous nominees, including the award-winning naturalist, environmentalist and broadcaster, David Attenborough. This simply means that the former president’s achievement in the sector is not a fluke. He has green all over his footprints, in and out of office. If he is telling America to go green, he had already told them while in office as the Commander-in-Chief. If he is telling the world to value and preserve our environment, he did not start today.

In fact, when he was the president of America, he did even more than what he is doing today. That was when he had the real power to effect a global green change and he did not disappoint.

Let us start with his Climate Action Plan, prepared immediately after he entered office in 2008, which proposed a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. It included preserving forests, encouraging the use of alternative fuels and increasing study of climate change. Obama’s last Climate Action Plan, issued in June 2013, included regulations to industry with the ultimate goal of cutting domestic carbon emissions, preparing the US for impending effects of climate change and working internationally to address climate change. Among the regulations outlined in the plan were initiatives to increase natural disaster preparedness, create and improve existing hospitals, and modernise infrastructure to better withstand extreme weather.

The plan supported conservation of land and water resources and developing actionable climate science and encouraged other countries to take action to address climate change, including reducing deforestation and lowering subsidies that increase use of fossil fuels. It specifically mentioned methane, building efficiency, wind, solar and hydroelectricity. Interestingly, Obama directly tasked White House staff members, Heather Zichal and Michelle Patron, with the implementation of the plan. But sadly, on the first day of the presidency of Donald Trump, the White House website announced that Obama’s Climate Action Plan would be eliminated.

Then on March 2017, Trump signed an executive order to officially nullify Obama’s Clean Power Plan in an effort, it said, of reviving the coal industry. The whole world was pained at this ignorant and knee-jerk Trump plan because it was poised to reverse all the mileage gained by the international community in the fight against climate change. Thankfully, in January 2021, on the inauguration day of US President Joe Biden, Trump’s executive order was revoked by the executive order “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” thereby re-instating the Obama Climate Action Plan.

In summary, Obama had made protecting the environment and combating climate change one of the cornerstones of his presidency. In 2015, he rejected the construction of the 1,179-mile pipeline from Canada to Texas with the argument that it discourages the global fight against climate change and dirty energy. In February 2016, he signed an agreement to bring electricity to 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa by 2020, mostly through off-grid renewable solutions. I personally know some Nigerian solar power installers who were direct beneficiaries.

He appointed a tough new US Environmental Protection Agency administrator; raised fuel-efficiency standards; unveiled the Clean Power Plan; established America’s Great Outdoors Initiative (to engage young and young in conservation through recreation); signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009; used the Antiquities Act (which allows US presidents to make a presidential proclamation to create national monuments from public lands to protect significant natural, cultural or scientific landmarks) to achieve green ends; invested in green energy during the Great Recession of the mid-2000s; and established America’s first National Ocean Policy.

The point to note here is that Obama has made more green strides while in office than now he is no longer the president. But in the case of Obasanjo, the reverse is the case. When he was in office, the former president pursued policies that courted dirty energy. Even with all the gas flaring activities going on in the Niger Delta, he did not sanction the oil companies. He did not convert these wasted resources to clean energy. He did not organise the renewable energy sector; neither did he provide them with the incentives and policies to grow the industry. He did not show a clear path toward the fight against climate change.

As a matter of fact, when he had the opportunity to fund green energy, through the Nigerian National Integrated Power Project, he looked only toward gas. One can only imagine the massive solar power revolution that would have been ignited if Obasanjo funnelled as little as 10% of the funds for the NIPP towards renewables. We have the sun, the wind, the biomass; and we have the land.

But today, when he does not have access to huge funds, he is now canvassing for constructing solar panels. He recently inaugurated 2MW solar power project for the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library in Abeokuta, while proclaiming that the Nigerian government should do same because “renewable energy is the viable alternative and by investing in it and reducing emissions, Nigeria can earn profits from carbon credits”. And I ask, is he just waking up from slumber? How many carbon reduction initiatives did he launch while in office?

Let us be clear on this, Obasanjo is a great green-minded patriotic leader, but from all indications, he was infected by amnesia. While he showed some motions towards reinventing agriculture—like the cassava revolution—he totally forgot the path that matters, until he stepped out of Aso Rock. It is a generic “Naija-wahalla.” Today, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), who I once sold as a green politician, is also dancing naked in the market square, ecologically speaking. The only problem is that the disease is too far-reaching for comfort. While it grips just one individual, it actually smothers 200 million compatriots, with the entire ecosystem to boot. Hence, it is fast-killing cancer that must be tackled.

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