Nigeria’s long walk to industrialisation

Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr Okey Enelamah,

Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr Okey Enelamah,

At no point in recent history has Nigeria’s government been so serious with development programmes than it has been under the Buhari administration. However, the ambition of the current administration to industrialise the country seems threatened, according to reports about concerns and frustrations expressed by the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun. The minister was said to be highly disappointed at the resolution reached at the meeting held in Washington, United States that discussed the importance of addressing infrastructure gaps in developing countries. The minister accused Western nations of being a stumbling block to Nigeria’s plan to develop by improving power output through the use of coal which will eventually help Nigeria to industrialise.

The minister argued that, “coal was the competitive advantage, that was used to develop Europe, yet, now that Nigeria wants to do it they say it is not green, so we cannot.” No doubt, the minister has a good case much as she is indisputably correct about Europe having used coal energy to develop its economy. Therefore, the million dollar question is: why must environmental regulations erode competitiveness now that developing nations, particularly, Nigeria, waking from its slumber, seeks to utilise coal energy?

Indeed, it is an irony for Nigeria to pose the above question or argument. The reason is that the Buhari administration came to power under the mantra of ‘CHANGE’ to right the wrongs of previous administration. Now, it is mobilising against global change of attitude towards industrialisation. An African proverb says: “when the music beat changes, so does the dance steps.” Nigeria cannot develop in isolation from the rest of the world’s position and view about the need to protect the planet. It is now a global agreement that industrialisation should no longer fly under the wings of property that cause climate change, example of such is coal and oil (gas flaring). Besides, before the discovery of oil in Nigeria, coal, among others, was one of the major earnings that the country depended on. But this was jettisoned immediately oil became the new cash cow whose cash delivery comes naturally easier, bigger and less stressful than other revenue sources. The current efforts so far garnered by government in the quest to pursue coal energy can be said to be ‘too little too late.’ If one may ask, what informed the Buhari government to think about coal energy at the eleventh hour when it is being jettison by the world? Could it be due to the economic recession? Or the revenue drop due to oil price crash in the international market?

No doubt, the world has moved a thousand steps and more away from using coal energy due to the danger it poses to the climate. Environmentalists and development experts advocate that energy production and use around the world contribute about 87 per cent of overall carbon dioxide emissions generated by humans. These emissions, come from the burning of fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas which generate carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour, which in turn contribute to global warming. It is, therefore, baseless or a misplaced argument for anybody or country to pursue coal power plant in the name of development, at this period when the whole world is being sensitised with serious campaigns about climate change. In this respect, anyone advocating for coal energy must be coming from the backdoor or could be considered as insensitive to the plight facing humanity from global warming.

More so, our dear minister and those who share her position should give us a break and stop reminding us that Nigeria is blessed with coal. If given the green light, will our leaders not mismanage coal energy as they did oil wealth? For instance, since the discovery of crude oil in Nigeria, successive governments have concentrated only on few extracts from the crude and have consistently shifted the goal post to end gas flaring. The question is: why should we burn gas? Why shouldn’t we use gas for energy production? Why has action on ground over the years failed to move the needle on this important development market? Of course, the answer to these multiple questions is corruption.

Nigeria should wake up from her slumber and quickly retrace her steps to join the bandwagon and go green. This is because, experts have identified that, going green benefits both the environment and the nation as it can cure economic stagnation and give humanity a clean fresh environment. We cannot stand on the premise that, because Europe did use coal many years ago, therefore, we can put the environment and indeed human lives at risk because we desire development desperately? No doubt, the green initiatives may be very tough for Nigeria, because the nation depends on a mono-economy, oil, which accounts for over 90 per cent of export earnings as well as the national budget. Perhaps, the above premise, hangs the fears of the Finance Minister and her cohorts knowing that, going green means limiting fossil fuel investment and the coal plant initiative will naturally be dead on arrival.

Without mincing word, going green is a very difficult pill for Nigeria to take considering her endowment and insatiable appetite for oil earnings. But, come to think of it, just as Nigeria is rich in oil and coal, so also does the nation have in abundance renewable energy, which includes sun, wind, rain, waves and geothermal heat. Indeed, Nigeria must take advantage of the new innovations, technologies and business models that use natural resources optimally and efficiently. Instead of continuingly having gluttonous appetite for oil money which has fuelled the nation’s inability to invest in other sectors.

Many thought that proceeds from the oil boom would be channeled to revive the nation’s waning textile industries as well as the railway and bring back the Nigeria Airways. But, to the dismay of everyone, Nigerian leaders failed to live up to expectations as they wasted the money on non-productive expenditure. Had Nigerian leaders heeded advice or had a thinking cap and pumped oil money between 1970 and 1990s into stimulating manufacturing companies, power and agriculture, the result could have been different today.

The Buhari administration should, therefore, brazen up and have self-confidence to develop because the nation stands on the cusp of a lost opportunity.

The administration needs political commitment and the audacity to implement the right policies. Above all, the Buhari administration must lead the way with a firm hand on the wheel and set policy that creates an enabling environment for market-based growth that creates jobs. Yes, jobs for the teaming and rapid growth among the youthful unemployed working-age population.

• Ozah is on the staff of The Guardian

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