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How Nigeria can achieve growth that’s more equitable and eco-friendly

NIgerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly. EPA/Matt Campbell

Africa did not achieve many of the Millennium Development Goals. This was mainly because of poor governance and the inability of many governments to stimulate sustainable development.

The Sustainable Development Goals give the continent a new opportunity to achieve a new set of objectives. These include stimulating more equitable growth, protecting the environment and delivering quality, affordable and reliable infrastructure.

Contrary to the prevailing trend in Africa, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s government seems keen to focus on these objectives. During the adoption of the new goals at the United Nations, he said they offered an opportunity to address unfinished business.

Buhari urged member states to continue the fight to end poverty and to deal with new threats to peace. He committed Nigeria to combating problems detrimental to the economy and ecosystems created by the demand for oil. He said:

In Nigeria, we have seen extreme weather variations, rising sea levels, encroaching desertification, excessive rainfall, erosion and floods, land degradation. All threaten the ecosystem. These developments have devastating human costs and are affecting food security, livelihoods and the very survival of our people.

To address this we have developed a national policy to guide Nigeria’s response to climate change. Our response is broadly based on the twin strategy of mitigation and adaptation.

Why sustainability matters

Sustainability has become a new mantra – a philosophy of sorts.

The broad view of sustainability emphasises the need to balance environmental, social and economic considerations.

It is directly linked to the quest for sustainable development. This is a development that does not disadvantage future generations. And it recognises the nested interdependency between the economy, society and the environment.

In other words, the economy’s success is dependent on society’s viability. And society’s success is linked to the environment’s viability. This is very much at the heart of the new goals.

The emergence of sustainability in Nigeria’s political discourse is a welcome development in a number of ways. First, Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa. The focus therefore gives a degree of legitimacy and importance to the sustainability movement in Africa.

Second, it sets the Nigerian economy and society on a new path, which up until now has either been ignored or not mainstreamed. It offers a new intellectual space to rethink economic growth and social development. In practical terms, it means that issues of sustainability will be considered in government policies and decisions.

Exactly how sustainability considerations will be embedded is still up for debate. This requires further exploration and consideration given the composition of Buhari’s government and the ministerial portfolios.

Energy and infrastructure sector

By merging the power, housing and works ministries, the government can take a different approach and push a broader sustainability agenda.

Ongoing reforms in the power sector offer an opportunity to embed sustainability thinking and practices by ensuring players abide by best practice. This shouldn’t be missed.

The first priority is to rethink Nigeria’s energy mix in a way that meets longer-term objectives. At the moment it stands at about 75% gas and 25% hydro. The government can offer incentives and create an enabling environment for change.

Incentives could include corporate tax breaks and increased research and development investment in energy and infrastructure. The aim would be to encourage businesses to explore opportunities in renewable energy, clean technologies and rural electrification.

There is also the opportunity to inform and influence housing projects. One innovative approach would be through encouraging the development of eco-friendly and affordable housing.

Another critical ministry is transportation. Traffic menace is one of the main problems confronting many cities in Africa. This is particularly true in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital. A significant amount of productive time is lost daily to traffic in the city.

Poor transport infrastructure is not good for business and the economy. The new goals emphasise the need for quality, reliable and resilient infrastructure. This includes regional and transborder infrastructure to support development with a focus on affordable and equitable access.

The ministry of transportation is in good stead to key into this trend. It should open up opportunities for the private sector to provide transport that meets economic, social and environmental demands. This could be done through public-private partnerships under an effective and pragmatic regulatory framework.

Petroleum and minerals

The ministries of petroleum resources and solid minerals also offer interesting opportunities. These two sectors are at the core of the extractive industry, which is fraught with sustainability challenges. These range from environmental degradation to community unrest.

Although the sector seems to be ahead of the others in adopting sustainability practices, more needs to be done. This could be achieved through effective regulation, enforcement and monitoring.

These ministries need to creatively collaborate to avoid the danger of silo thinking. This is a real risk. One possibility is to have the co-ordinating responsibility of managing collaboration domiciled in the vice-president’s office.

This office could be supported by:

  • the Ministry of Environment given the pivotal importance of environmental sustainability; and

  • the Office of Budgeting and National Planning, given the importance of embedding social, economic, and environmental considerations in national policies.

Beyond the ministerial portfolios, there is also room for regulatory agencies to play a role.

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