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Unhealthy activities causing severe damage to environment-Dr. Anuforom

IMMEDIATE PAST DIRECTOR GENERAL/CEO of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, NiMet, Dr. Anthony C. Anuforom was recently conferred with the Fellowship of the Renewable and Alternative Energy Society of Nigeria (FRAES) at the 8th Annual Conference of the Society held in Port Harcourt.

This erudite environmentalist made out time to discuss with Lyric Bamn in Abuja the nation’s environmental problems, climate change; uncontrolled displacement of farmers from farmland across the country and its likely effect on food security as well as the effort to reclaim the Lake Chad.

Excerpts:

Give us brief background information about you. Who is Dr. AC Anuforom? Where did you serve, in what capacity and for how long sir? What were the legacies you left behind where you served?

I think the most relevant background information about me in this context is that I am the immediate past Director General/CEO of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, NiMet. I held this position for 10 years (2007 to 2017) two terms of 5 years each, from 2007 to 2017. I was also the Permanent Representative of Nigeria with the World Meteorological Organization, WMO. I was elected into the Executive Council of WMO and served on the Council for 8 years. At the sub-regional level, I was a member of the Governing Board of the African Centre for Meteorological Applications for Development, ACMAD, in Niamey.

Regarding the legacies I left behind, time and space will not permit me to chronicle the details. It is a lengthy catalogue!  Suffice it however to say that upon my appointment as DG, I set out to elevate NiMet to a parastatal whose operations and services will meet international standards. Despite the very lean financial resources, I pursued this goal vigorously by embarking on extensive development of operational infrastructure, equipment and human resources.

Throughout my tenures in office, I was lucky to have very supportive bosses (ministers and permanent secretaries) at different times, as well as competent and motivated staff who shared my vision and passion for the Agency. The combination of these factors, coupled with my personal determination and the grace of God, made it possible for me to achieve the goal of elevating NiMet to international standard.

The certification and recertification of NiMet’s Aeronautical Meteorological Services by the International Organization for Standardization is an eloquent testimony to this fact. The tremendous improvement in infrastructure, equipment and human capital achieved in NiMet during my tenure translated to more accurate and timely weather forecasts and climate predictions which Nigerians still attest to.

NiMet’s Seasonal Rainfall Prediction, SRP, is now very popular among operators in various sectors of the economy. The accuracy of the SRP had exceeded 80 percent, and we commenced downscaling to State/Local Government Level.

During my tenure, NiMet’s operational and service delivery capacity had developed to the extent that the Agency could provide weather forecasts to Liberia and Sierra Leon. Our instrument calibration laboratory also provided services to Ghana Meteorological Agency.  Referring to my service in NiMet, my boss said, inter alia, “…NiMet had enjoyed your immense contributions and wealth of experience to its present amiable status. Your legacy in the Agency remains indelible in its chronology”. I think that the above commendation summarizes the answer to your question. With every sense of humility, I can therefore say that I left NiMet a much better developed and effective organization than I met it.

Dr. Anuforom can you tell us what you have been doing since you disengaged and what you plan to be doing in the future?

Well, naturally I have tried to slow down to take some rest after a hectic working life. My children tell me to slow down, but I must confess that it is not easy slowing down when by the grace of God; one is still physically and mentally strong. While slowing down, I also try not to slide into idleness. Don’t forget that I studied physics and for the last fifteen years I applied my knowledge of the subject in my job in NiMet; first as the Director of Applied Meteorological Services for approximately 5 years and later as the Director General/CEO for 10 years.

I needed to refresh my knowledge in those aspects of my studies that I never got to use in my job. I have been reading research publications and other materials. I have also been participating in some conferences. In the past one year, I have presented papers at two national scientific conferences, namely: ‘Effect of solar activity on frequency of thunderstorms and squalls in Nigeria’ presented at the   7th National Conference of the Astronomical Society of Nigeria held at Enugu in November 2017 and ‘The Role of Renewable Energy in Achieving the Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Target in Nigeria’s Nationally Determined Contribution to Paris Climate Change Agreement’, which I presented at the 8th Annual Conference of the renewable & Alternative Energy Society of Nigeria in April this year. This was held in Port Harcourt. I also attended the meetings of the Nigerian Academy of Science. I delivered the 2013 Annual Lecture of the Academy and they extend invitations to their annual events ever since then.

A very good friend of mine, Professor Chidi Akujor, a Professor of Astronomy at Federal University of Technology, Owerri, FUTO, has been encouraging me in these academic activities. In fact, we are working together with the professor on some papers which we hope to jointly publish very soon.  I have really enjoyed these academic activities.    Looking forward, I will continue these academic activities and also engage in private sector and NGO activities to promote climate smart agriculture in Nigeria, especially among rural farmers. I also plan to get involved in bridging the gap between Climate Information providers and end users. This will be from private sector and NGO perspective and in collaboration with relevant agencies.

The environment has witnessed so many changes in the past few years and despite these changes, public awareness about environmental degradation has been so low in the country. What do you advise the government to do to raise public awareness on environmental issues? Are Nigerians really protecting their environment sufficiently?

Changes in the environment are continuous and inevitable because some are natural while others are human-induced. For instance, construction of houses, roads, bridges, dams and other physical infrastructure which are necessary for economic activities, inevitably result in human induced changes in the environment.  These developmental activities will not normally constitute much challenge if they are carried out in compliance with regulations stipulated by the appropriate authorities. However, unplanned and unregulated changes to the environment constitute hazards to human health and safety; and jeopardize the needs of future generations. That is why the United Nations is advocating for sustainable development.

Soil erosion, desertification, deforestation, coastal erosion, air, water and oil pollution, indiscriminate refuse dumping, improper disposal of industrial wastes, etc are all forms of environmental degradation being experienced in Nigeria. They are not hidden. Everyone sees them all around us; and so, I don’t think that Nigerians are not aware of the degradation to the environment.

What is lacking among the Nigerian public is the awareness of their role in preventing environmental degradation. There is need to create awareness about those things we do that harm the environment. Nigerians need to be educated on their roles and responsibilities in conserving the environment.

Government should implement the National Policy on the Environment, which includes Environmental Education and Awareness Creation. Awareness creation can be achieved speedily through closer collaboration between government and NGOs. It is also important for government to strengthen the relevant Agencies, such as NESREA, NOSDRA, etc, to enforce environmental protection regulations.

Climate change has drastically altered rainfall patterns especially in Nigeria to the point that some experts have predicted that serious food shortages might set in next year as a result of such changes, over-grazing and herdsmen attacks throughout the country. Do you agree with this view and what should be done to prevent or avert food scarcity in Nigeria next year?

Yes. Climate change is real; it is a global challenge and Nigeria is not immune to its impacts. It has indeed not only altered the rainfall pattern, but also impacted negatively on the ecosystem in many parts of Nigeria. On my assumption of office as the DG/CEO of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) in 2007, we stepped up the accuracy and timeliness of the Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP). We also introduce the Annual and Quarterly Climate Review Bulletins. Based on the analyses of long-term rainfall data from our weather observatories across the country, we established the fact that rainfall characteristics over most parts of Nigeria have changed. I made this fact public since 2008 and continually reiterated it in subsequent years in most of my public discussions; especially during our annual SRP presentation. Other independent researchers in the universities and research institutes have also arrived at the same conclusion. So, it is correct to say that the pattern of rainfall in Nigeria has changed.

For this year 2018, NiMet predicted a normal length of rainy season with normal rainfall amounts, and that this should not present any major threat to agriculture. But there are other factors which affect food production and availability.

So, if there are predictions of food shortages by other experts outside NiMet, these may be attributed to some other factors than rainfall. We should also not lose sight of the fact that the population of the country is increasing and this means that demand for food is also increasing.

At the same time climate change and environmental degradation are reducing the available land for cultivation as well as agricultural yield. It noteworthy that between 1960 when Nigeria became independent and the present, the country’s population density has quadrupled from about 50 persons per square kilometre to over 200 persons per square kilometre. By 2030 the population density would have increased to 284 persons per square kilometre. The increasing pressure and exploitation of land, forest and water resources contribute to loss of soil fertility and declining agricultural productivity. To sum it up, one could say that although rainfall is a critical factor and sine qua non for good agricultural yield, other factors could still lead to food shortages.  If nothing is done, this situation will get worse in future as the population and demand for food continue to increase. The UN projects that by 2050 Nigeria will be the 6th most populous country in the world. Traditional and conventional methods of agriculture are therefore no longer sustainable. They must be replaced by a more scientific approach that guarantees increased and sustainable productivity. I advocate the application of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) as a means of tackling this challenge.

Climate Smart Agriculture is an integrated approach to agriculture that was introduced by the FAO. CSA achieves three beneficial objectives, namely:

  • Sustainable increase in food security by increasing agricultural productivity and income.
  • Resilience to climate change through adaptation measures.
  • Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation).

Government should work with relevant NGOs, consultants and private sector entities to promote and popularize CSA in Nigeria.

Despite the obvious advantages of CSA, especially with respect to resilience to Climate Change, it is yet to be well known in Nigeria, talk less of being widely practiced. In other developing countries like Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, India, etc.; CSA is helping rural farmers to sustain high agricultural productivity and incomes.

We can also achieve this in Nigeria and this will contribute immensely to the effort in boosting the agricultural sector. In its wisdom, the Federal Government acknowledged the serious threat of Climate Change to agricultural yield and included CSA in the Agricultural Promotion Policy of the Economic Recovery & Growth Plan (ERGP) (2017-2020).

Many communities have been displaced from their ancestral homes by migrating armed herdsmen to the point that farming has reduced, and the government has been helpless toward the emerging situation? Do you think that this phenomenon can contribute to food security or food scarcity when large parts of the country in the northeast, north central and even the northwest are in a state of uncertainty and hostile attacks?

The impact of the insurgency in the Northeast of Nigeria and the widespread activities of marauding herdsmen in parts of the country where farming is the predominant occupation should not be underestimated. Millions of farmers, who have been displaced from their homes and farmlands, are no longer able to contribute to food production. Instead, they increase demand side of the food security equation without commensurate increase in the supply side. This will no doubt contribute to food shortages and worsen the food security situation in the country.

What do you suggest to Nigeria and by extension other West African states to do to reclaim the receding Lake Chad which has largely been taken over by desert encroachment? Do you think that the stakeholders have so far shown sufficient political will to carry out the reclamation process?

The shrinking and drying of Lake Chad is a huge environmental challenge, with far-reaching socio-economic, political and security implications for Nigeria and the other countries bordering the Lake Basin. These challenges are already well known. For ages, Lake Chad has been supporting economic activities and means of livelihood for over 40 million people in the area which includes Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Fishing, farming (crop production) livestock production and crafts are the main occupations which have been contributing to food security, employment, poverty reduction, and hence social stability, in the countries bordering the Lake. With the shrinking of the Lake, coupled with population growth, all these socio-economic benefits have been jeopardized. It has been argued that the problems of insurgency in the Northeast and armed herdsmen attacks in parts of the country, especially the Middle-belt, as well as the dangerous trans-Saharan migration to Europe, are all linked with the loss of means of livelihood around Lake Chad. So, the consequences of drying Lake Chad are enormous.

In my view, stakeholders have so far demonstrated political will to reclaim the Lake. The latest is the International Conference on Recharging Lake Chad that was hosted by Nigeria in February this year. Before that President Muhammadu Buhari had been very vocal in calling for global action to save the lake. It was one of his key messages when he addressed the 71st General Assembly of the UN in September 2016. The World Bank in collaboration with the French Development Agency supported the lake Chad Basin Development Commission to prepare the Lake Chad Development and Climate Resilience Action Plan which was published in 2015. These are few examples that demonstrate the commitment by stakeholders to save Lake Chad.

The Nigerian governments at the federal and state levels appear to be paying only lip service to environmental protection, tree planting or forestation. Even in annual budgets, the allocation to the sector has been so insignificant. If the present trend continues, what do you think will become of states prone to desert encroachment in the next ten years?

Let us look at some major environmental issues in Nigeria such as Ogoni Land Clean-up campaign and gas flaring in the Niger Delta as well as the Great Green Wall Initiative. These are major environmental protection programmes in Nigeria. The ERGP includes all these under the environmental protection programme. In my view this demonstrates that the Federal Government is not merely paying lip service to serious environmental issues, considering the fact that the ERGP implementation is being driven vigorously. In April this year, the Ministry of Budget and National Planning announced that 59 projects have already been identified for execution as part of the implementation of the ERGP.

On the issue of tree planting and forestation, a number of states have demonstrated some seriousness. Last year, Governor Ambode of Lagos State directed that 500,000 trees should be planted across the state to protect the environment. Last year, it was also reported that Kebbi State commenced the planting of one million trees as part of its effort to combat desertification. There are similar reports from other states. The NGOs are also helping in tree planting campaigns. With regard to the budgets for environmental protection by governments, I do not have enough information to assess whether they are insignificant or not. However, based on the above facts, I do not share the view that governments at federal, state and local governments are paying lip service to environmental protection and tree planting. I will rather advise that there is need to do more since there is increasing pressure on land and forest resources, coupled with the negative impacts of climate change on the environment.

You were recently conferred with the Fellowship of the Renewable and Alternative Energy Society of Nigeria. Can you tell us more about Renewable Energy?

Yes. I was conferred with the Fellowship of the Renewable and Alternative Energy Society of Nigeria (FRAES) at the 8th Annual Conference of the Society held in Port Harcourt from 25th to 28th April this year. The objectives of the society include creating awareness on the potentials of renewable and alternative energy in ameliorating Nigeria’s energy challenges. The theme of this year’s conference was “Renewable Energy for Stable Power Supply and Environmental Sustainability”. I presented the keynote paper with the title: ‘The Role of Renewable Energy in Achieving the Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Target in Nigeria’s Nationally Determined Contribution to Paris Climate Change Agreement’.

The contemporary challenge of global warming and the resultant climate change, coupled with extreme weather phenomena that are becoming more frequent and destructive, are predominantly due to the emission of green-house gases (GHG) into the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuel to generate energy is the predominant source of GHGs emission. The use of renewable and alternative energy eliminates GHG emission and is now a major climate change mitigation strategy. The Paris Climate Change Agreement requires every country to reduce their GHG emission so as to stem the trend of Global Warming, limit global temperature to less than 2OC and stabilize the atmosphere. Each country committed itself to a specified quantity of GHG reduction it will achieve by 2030, and this is contained in the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) document submitted to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat. Countries around the world are now de-emphasizing fossil fuel and resorting to renewable energy as a means of achieving this goal. It was reported earlier this year that the United States now sources about 18% of its energy consumption from renewables. In March this year, Portugal generated more than its monthly electricity consumption (103.6%) from renewable sources! As stated in its NDC, Nigeria will achieve 31 million tonnes GHG reduction per annum by 2030 through the use of Renewable Energy.

The World Bank recently announced that from 2019, it will stop financing upstream oil and gas operations, as part of its commitments to towards implementing the Paris Agreement. In December last year, France passed a legislation to end all oil and gas exploration and production by 2040. Meanwhile, it will stop granting new exploration licences. Giant strides are also being achieved in developing technologies that reduce GHG emission. Individuals can now buy electric cars in many countries in Europe. Another example is Australia which has launched the world’s first fully electric solar train. These are just a few examples of how the world is moving increasingly towards renewable energy. In Nigeria, there are documents giving policy guidelines on renewable energy development in the country. A key one is the National Renewable Energy and Efficiency Policy (NREEP), which the Federal Government has stated its commitment to implement within the framework of the Economic Recovery & Growth Plan (ERGP) (2017 – 2020). Although our economy is largely dependent on oil (fossil fuel) we should join the rest of the world to develop renewable energy technology. That is where there are prospects for the future. My fear is that if we don’t join the rest of the world our oil will become a lot less relevant in decades to come. The economic diversification policy of the present administration is a step in the right direction. But I will advise that greater emphasis should be placed on the development of renewable energy technology. We need to go beyond buying and deploying the renewable energy technologies. Just as we are presently a major oil producing country, we should plan to be among the major renewable energy technology producing counties in a couple of decades from now.

Thank you, Dr. Anuforom for responding to these critical questions.

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