By Nnamdi Elekwachi
A few days ago, a friend of mine approached me who sought my opinion on Tinubu’s Dubai climate change summit. He was specifically insistent that I dwelled on the size of Nigeria’s delegation. Well, jocularly, I had told him that Tinubu may have actually broken Emperor Mansa Musa’s record of sponsoring the most lavish overseas tourism in Africa.
Mansa Musa, a 14th century emperor of ancient Mali, I further explained to my friend, embarked, in a majestic style, upon a historic pilgrimage to Mecca in the 1320s. With him were some of his loved ones, acquaintances and slaves, all bearing gold bars which the African emperor shared as gifts to pilgrims and those he met on his way to the Hajj through Egypt; probably his way of announcing his presence in opulence. Today, economic historians agree that Musa’s ostentatious outing plummeted the price of gold, later took a toll on, and nearly ruined Mali’s economy with attendant misfortunes.
While I merely wisecracked by telling the Mansa Musa joke just to insert humour into what, unknown to me, my friend considered as a serious national matter, alarmed by that anecdote, with loud questions he interjected, “And you see where the rain started beating Africa? Nnamdi, you see? 1324 AD, you said, right?” Not expecting an answer from me, perhaps, he punctuated his anger by saying, “Our leaders don’t learn a thing! They don’t.”
Well, away from Mansa Musa’s wasteful pilgrimage, back home to Nigeria. President Bola Tinubu was recently in the news over the size of the delegation that accompanied him to Dubai, a city in the United Arab Emirates, a country that stopped issuing visas to Nigerian nationals last year following a diplomatic row. The internet was flooded and agog with pictures of Nigerian delegates that ushered the president into “the Gulf Tiger,’’ as the Middle Eastern commercial emporium which hosts some of the world’s most beautiful tourism centres is known. According to the official website of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Nigeria entered the largest delegation from Africa and the third largest generally; with a 1411-man delegation. That is huge for a government that is seeking to borrow in order to fund her budget, one confronted with perennial budget deficits, ballooning public debt stock, food and price inflation, unemployment, insecurity and foreign exchange liquidity problems that are not letting up.
The question I have since posed to those saying the delegation size is not bloated is: wasn’t such a triumphal entry, as recorded by Tinubu and those thousands delegates, needless to say, a drain on the “comatose economy” Tinubu and his allies recently claimed to have inherited? Even the attempt by the presidency to water down the whole issue about delegation size was indistinct as it was insufficient. With over 400 delegates in attendance, Nigeria wasted scarcely available funds on that diplomatic junket courtesy of taxpayers’ money. It is that simple.
The truth Is, Tinubu himself does not rule like an elected president in a federal republic. He reigns instead like a king, and I mean one whose powers are absolute, else why will his office be needing a presidential yacht, gulping and guzzling billions of naira for vehicles in the so-called presidential fleet with other billions mapped out for travels and feeding, including refreshments and the like?
Funnily enough, I watched Reno Omokri, a former presidential aide, belabour the point in a TVC News programme trying to defend Tinubu’s Dubai entourage. While I do not want to go into the politics of that interview, I was wondering why Reno did not serve his viewers a little history on how Tinubu suddenly became a climate activist or where he received his climate education such that he now champions the cause of climate justice, perhaps more than far more industrialised countries that entered fewer delegations, including those who had been at the vanguard of environmental and climate action (since the Rio Conventions and Kyoto Protocol days).
For emphasis, Tinubu, during the last presidential campaign, just like other candidates too, did not show a grasp of the climate change question. I shared with one of my friends my view that not one of the three leading aspirants showed depth in the climate debate. In an outing that left some of us thinking that Tinubu’s presidency will advocate a restructure of climate finance, Tinubu had said, during an Arewa tour of his campaign trail at Kaduna, that Nigeria under him will not commit funds to climate activism unless the West, the potential depletor of our climate, funds such campaign. He, Tinubu, had likened the African sorry plight to “the case of a church rat eating a poisoned chalice.” It is such an irony that Tinubu, now as an elected president, leads such a mammoth crowd of over 400 citizens (going by the presidency source) to Dubai in the name of climate change summit. To the likes of Reno, that a president whose country is battling domestic and cross-border terrorism, left for Dubai with the Inspector General of Police and National Security Adviser is ideal. To such folks again, it was not needless travelling to Dubai with a party over a half of whom may not know anything about the agenda set for discussion and implementation. I don’t know what else defines hypocrisy better.
The fact that Nigeria accounts for just 0.319% of global greenhouse gas emissions whereas China, with whom Nigeria shared the third position in terms of delegation size, accounts for 32.8% of global gas emissions leaves much to be desired. The USA with 12.6 per cent of global carbon emission has 159 delegates; India, with 6 per cent of global carbon emission, entered 725 delegates but Nigeria which does not have a larger population nor a larger economy than these countries sent more delegates who will be sponsored with taxes of poor citizens who are being told to endure the hardship Tinubu’s petrol subsidy-free regime and monetary policy reforms had occasioned. Tinubu’s presidency is not about the poor. Nothing else could be truer. A president who inherited a battered economy and runs the largest presidency with 48 appointed ministers (the highest so far by any president) preaching perseverance could, in actual sense, only be exhibiting an affected pretension when he asked that the poor be allowed to breathe.
I worry this much because the last time Tinubu was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly’s 78th Session, the President, it was alleged, spent $422,000 on hotel reservations for a week, himself and his travelling aides. There was another $80,000 captured as “accidentals.” This (mis)spending was worsened by the fact that the president did not see as fit for purpose the Nigerian House in New York, maintained abroad with taxpayers’ money. Many people have done the work of breaking down the actual sums – in estacodes – ministers, lawmakers, civil servants of different salary grade levels, advisers and sundry officials earn from such a trip, so I won’t bore you with numbers.
I am told the President went to Dubai to attract investors to our economy, and I ask, how? This is becoming an old leitmotif and I urge those advancing this to look for something more sellable. There are indices and variables investors are looking for in any clime. According to Statista, Nigeria is currently ranked 131st in the ease of doing business (EoDB) report of 2023, meaning the environment here is not business friendly. Again, with perennial power outage, insecurity, high interest rate charged on businesses (with lending rate at 18.75% benchmark), poor infrastructure and the like, I wonder who believes the president and his party are capable of winning investors. Investors, it should be known, don’t easily get attracted by appeals or sidelines talks, no matter how subtle. They know what they want to see on the ground before they come in. You first complete your building before tenants move in and rents start coming, you don’t bring tenants to an uncompleted structure. Period.
Nigeria, no doubt, has a lot of legal frameworks like the Energy Transition Plan, Climate Change Act of 2021 and other policy documents regarding green, clean and renewable energy transition, but is still far from achieving her transition to carbon neutrality set for 2060. Currently, Nigeria has yet to decarbonize her road transport sector where the vehicular age limit for cars is 12 years, where, also, climate awareness is abysmally low. On occasion, I ask myself how prepared Nigeria is for a low-carbon economy (LCE). From government to private industries, gas flaring and greenhouse gas emissions remain daily occurrences. Though a framework exists for climate action, adaptation and mitigation are yet to be domesticated by various sub-national governments, another side of the problem. So, the climate change issue is still a work in progress, not a party in Dubai for some delegates. Well, since the name is Conference of the Parties, COP 28, there could be a party element in it with our usual owambe.
In 1996 only 65 competitors represented Nigeria at the Olympic games in Atlanta, Georgia (USA), but Nigeria won her first gold medals and broke other athletic records. Ultimately, it has never been about number, size or figure but quality. So the question now is, what quality or calibre of persons did Nigeria take to Dubai? Were they the best, seasoned experts in environment and climate sectors or just hangers-on, cronies and, yes you read it right, the paramours of some politicians?
When a nation borrows from China, the US, Britain and others to fund a presidency that sponsors a trip where that nation spends more on its contingents which outsize those of the creditor nations, then, we do not only have a planless creditor nation, but equally a “borrow-pose” creditor. We may have forgotten that Benjamin Franklin warned that “creditors have better memories than debtors.” The world is watching.
Tinubu has two roads before him; he can follow Mansa Musa’s wasteful path to party and waste gold, or the path of the Dream Team in 1996 to win gold. Moderation in all things goes an English saying.
I hope my friend reads this.
Nnamdi Elekwachi, a historian wrote from Abia State