From the U.N to Nigeria: These are the issues facing the new Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed

President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Ms. Amina J. Mohammed as the Minister of Environment last week, among other appointments. This appointment has been seen in some quarters as a right fit for her. She served, under the United Nations Millennium Project, as the task force Co-Coordinator on Gender and Education between 2002 and 2005. She was also the Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on post-2015 development planning. In this post, she was influential in the transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted in 2000, to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted at this year’s United Nations convention. She has also served as Senior Special Adviser on MDGs to three different Nigerian presidents.

Here are five critical things she needs to do in her role as Minister of the Environment.

1) Effects of oil exploration in the Niger Delta

The first critical issue she should address is the reversal of the effects of oil spillage in the Niger Delta. The Niger Delta, located in the South of Nigeria, makes up about 7.5% of Nigeria’s total land mass, and also contains a very bio-diverse ecosystem. However, the effects of oil exploration have rendered it useless, oil spillage being the most obvious. About 9-13 million barrels of oil has been spilled in the past 50 years. Farmlands have been destroyed by vandalized pipelines leaking oil, oil spills cause pollution in the rivers, killing fishes and destroying the livelihood of fishermen; gas flaring (Nigeria accounts for one-sixth of Global gas flaring) causing air pollution in the communities surrounding these refineries among others. This will not be an easy task for her. Reversing the effects of oil exploration after over 50 years in this area will take a lot of time, but Mohammed needs to put policies in place, to ensure that her successors have a foundation to work on.

2) Climate change

Global warming is beginning to take its toll on Nigeria. Flooding has now, yearly, become taxing for areas that before experienced little to no flooding. Rainfall is declining in Northern Nigeria, further speeding up the desertification process, resulting in lower agricultural harvests. More than 10,000 farming families have moved southwards because of desertification. Temperature rises have been recorded in different areas in Nigeria. Mohammed needs to bring her expertise from the MDGs to Nigeria’s specific battle with climate change.

3) Pollution

Research has shown Nigerians are in danger from the effects of pollution. 94% of Nigeria’s population are exposed to air pollution levels that exceed World Health Organization guidelines. Air pollution also robs Nigeria of about one percent of its Gross National Income. Communities that had before experienced fresh and dry ventilation now battle air pollution, caused by gases emitted from industries situated near them. Illegal dumping of refuse is also one of the leading causes of flooding in urban cities. They block drainage that used to be pathways for rain water. Fumes from power generating sets also contribute to air pollution. Mohammed would be expected to take a hands-on approach to battle pollution.

4) Over-population in urban areas

One of the greatest problems in Nigeria is the migration of people from rural towns and villages into metropolitan centers, like Lagos state, Abuja, Kano state. These movements lead to over population in the urban areas, that in turn create great pressure on resources in these areas. Lagos state alone has a population of 15 million, equal to that of Mali (Mali is bigger than Nigeria in land mass). Ms. Amina J.Mohammed will be expected to partner with the Ministry of Housing, and the Commissioners for environment in these states to fashion out a solution to this problem, which addresses lack of industry in other parts of the country, which force people to move to urban areas in search of employment opportunities.

5) Environmental degradation from mining activities

With Nigeria set to see a revival in its mining sector according to President Muhammadu Buhari, it is important that regulatory bodies are set up to monitor the activities of miners. Among other things, chemicals used in mining have been known to pollute underground water, and subsequently the environment. Mohammed would be expected to work closely with Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the Minister of solid minerals, to create policies to curb the excesses of mining.

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