By Levinus Nwabughiogu, ABUJA
Sam Onuigbo represents Ikwuano/Umuahia North/Umuahia South federal constituency of Abia State in the House of Representatives. He’s the President of Global Legislators’ Organization for Balanced Environment, GLOBE, Nigeria, an international association for national parliamentarians with over 100 countries as members. He’s also Vice President of African Africa for GLOBE international, in Africa. In this interview, he shared what motivated him to sponsor climate change bill, now an act with its benefits to Nigeria.
What motivated you to sponsor the Climate Change Bill that was recently signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari?
This bill has now become an Act. It’s the climate change bill. You are asking about the motivation and what inspired me? First, I want to start from the angle that I come from a community that is heavily ravaged by gully erosion.
In my village as I speak, I have six active erosion sites such that I have to go outside of the village in search of a place to build a house because the erosion is coming ferociously on to the community. That is a life experience.
I was born and raised in the village. I attended primary school in the village. I was still in the village when I attended post primary. The rate at which gully erosion is ravaging my community wasn’t the rate I experienced when I was growing up, so something is fundamentally wrong. The soil is softer now. A little thing now leads to erosion. That is one.
Two, as farmer, I have also found out that the raining season has changed. The pattern has changed in a way that is affecting local farmers, affecting when they plant.
Sometimes, maybe, you have the first rain after clearing the bush and then you go and plant thinking it will rain the way it used to rain, because you have the first rain, the second rain and then it continues like that until sometime in July when it is heavy but it is no more like that; some people suffer losses.
Recently not just in the north, also in the east and some other places, the weather pattern has significantly changed leading to losses for farmers. That is something that has to do with somebody’s means of livelihood and it is life threatening. So, that is when we say climate change is an existential threat.
So, it is something that has to do with the life of people and how it changes it. So, apart from the south, I have travelled round this country. I have been to all the states. In my years of working for foreign organizations, I can tell you I have been to all the local governments.
So, I have an idea of things and how things have really changed for the worse in terms of weather, in terms of what that has led to because climate change has also contributed significantly to the threat, security and other challenges that we are having including banditry.
It has its impact in this thing. So, when you put them together, you now find out that there is need to sponsor such a bill. I have not even mentioned that one coming from the health angle, because if you check the WHO report, I will confirm that but between 7 to 8 million people die annually from the impact of climate change; respiratory and other health related diseases.
For us in Nigeria, you saw or must have read what is going on in Port Harcourt if you are looking for example to touch. How it’s affecting the young people and all that. When you have a serious challenge with respiratory challenge, for those pregnant women and all that, the reports that some of us have read, indicates that it affects even the child.
It affects the brain and affects development. So, the challenge is huge and what is causing is so much, health wise and that is why it is important that we all get together and solve this.
From the angle of being a legislator, one of the reasons why I pushed so hard to ensure that this bill was put together and passed was that when I attended the Global Legislators’ Organization for Balance Environment (GLOBE) event during COP21 in Paris when Paris agreement on climate change was passed, we were encouraged by our leaders to push for a legislation because that is the only way for a government to come up will actions, points based on law to be able to check the devastating effects of climate change. So, these factors put together influenced me in pushing for this bill with the persistence that we did.
We have seen bills go through the gamut of law making processes and eventually not signed into law or not passed or not supported by colleagues and institutions of government. But yours scaled through and the President gave his assent. Did you encounter challenges or in the course of the sponsoring it or was a smooth sailing?
It sure did encounter challenges, no questions about that. Do not forget that this bill, the idea was mooted, I understand in the 5th assembly but it was actually considered into becoming a law in the 6th assembly. But it failed. Then it was still forwarded in the 7th assembly.
It failed, denied presidential assent and then in the 8th assembly when I was elected and appointed to chair the House Committee on Climate Change, given the background about what I had earlier painted about where I come from, the challenges that are there, apart from my village, I didn’t mention that, within my federal constituency, you have not less than 42 active erosion sites, that people are busy looking for ways of trying to solve it.
Now, having seen all these things, having experienced it, I pushed for this bill in the 8th assembly. I also tried by ensuring that the agencies were involved. We wrote to so many of them.
A lot of them brought in their opinions and ideas to be incorporated into the bill and all that and we had some awareness. We had public hearings on the bill until it passed by the national assembly and was successfully transmitted to the presidency for the assent of Mr President but unfortunately the assent was declined.
So, when I was reelected and to the glory of God I am the very first person to be reelected in my federal constituency, Ikwuano, Umuahia North/ South, I was not given the committee chairmanship but by the special grace of God, I persisted on working on the bill and then, I followed it and this time around.
I had to broaden my level of consultation because it is said that once beaten twice shy. Because Mr President had raised a number of issues that are the reasons why he did not give assent, I had to broaden consultations to ensure that those contentious areas were adequately addressed and or were necessarily eliminated. So, that was what I did.
And then, I had to engage the ministry of environment, the ministry of justice and other agencies that are similarly involved. And at this point, I must commend the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila for really supporting me because after making those consultations, I will come back and brief him.
Even in situations where they asked me to write a letter. After writing the letter, Mr Speaker will write to say I am in support of this. So such a thing gave me tremendous encouragement. Let me also thank the minister of justice and attorney general, Abubakar Malami, SAN because it was after meeting with him and the minister of state for environment, Chief Sharon Ikeazu, I explained what was involved and the need to have this climate change bill passed into law.
They agreed with me and said do a letter. I requested for people from his ministry to help in working on the bill on terms of drafting to eliminate anything that you could see as irrelevant. So, he said do a letter and I did a letter and he promptly responded and nominated a team of five, very powerful team to work with me on the bill.
And Mr Speaker also did a letter to say look, a letter from all of us, for Onuigbo, is supported by me. And Mr Speaker also granted us audience when I came to the minister of state for environment to brief the speaker on what we were doing and he assured that he was going to work with us and ensure that this bill was passed into law.
So, you can see the extent of consultation. We also met with the vice president to get his support. You can see the extent of consultations to make sure everyone was on board. I guess that if you would permit, because of the success of the handling of the consultation and the extensive nature of the consultation that by the special grace of God helped to bring everyone on board and then we were able to get it going.
Whenever the Speaker wasn’t there and any issue relating to this climate change arose, the deputy Speaker, Rt. Hon. Idris Wase took it up. My colleagues, the honourable members were very supportive because it is like everyone has risen to the fact that climate change is threatening all of us and it is not something that should be glossed over.
The senate was swift in allowing the thing to go through first reading before we started looking for concurrence. We couldn’t get the concurrence before we went on recess. But as soon as we came back from recess, the Senate President, the deputy senate president were all on it and even the leader of the senate made a very powerful speech on the day it was given concurrence.
So, that was how it happened. Now the national assembly bureaucracy, the transmission was unparalleled. It was transmitted swiftly to the presidency and the president did his due diligence.
So I would like to use this opportunity to specially thank the President Mohammadu Buhari GCFR. He made this promise on the 29th of May 2015 that he was going to tackle climate change and I regard his granting assent to this bill as fulfilling that promise which he made. So, I want to thank him and thank him immensely for this wonderful thing he has given to Nigeria and the world.
Can you highlight or give some of the benefits Nigeria stands to gain from this Act?
The nation now has a legal framework on issues of climate and how to tackle climate change. None existed before now. Then this thing has a Council and the purpose of this bill is to mainstream climate change actions into national development and also to establish the national council on climate change which the main organ that will drive the changes that we are looking forward to achieve.
So, you can now see that this bill in summary seeks to provide a framework in achieving low green house gas emission inclusive green growth and sustainable economic development and way to achieve that is by ensuring that as a nation, we can formulate programmes and policies for achieving a long term goal of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
In this case now, it is no longer a policy, it is a law that is clearly spelt out, generational. And of course, another benefit is that it will facilitate the coordination, all the actions that are going to be needed to achieve the long term climate objectives.
So, the actions can be properly coordinated because they are on different fora. It is not as if we do not have policies. Several policies have actually been put forward and several policies are out there but what is the level of coordination, where is the power of coordination? And that is why you have the Council to be chaired by Mr President.
This bill, when talking about the benefits has areas like climate finance. You heard the minister of state for environment talk about how the Nigerian exchange can work with the ministry of environment on this legal framework on issues of climate change fund. This act also established the climate change fund.
These are some of the areas that people can benefit and then it is going to ensure that there is a director of climate change in almost every ministry. We never had that before. The reason is that right now as we speak, transferring people to climate change desk is like punishment of sending them to Siberia.
But in the bill, we have provided that there shall be a department on climate change to be included or to be overseen or superintended by someone not less than rank of a director.
And this act also makes provision for carbon budget on national climate change action plan and this one involves the ministry of environment with the ministry of national planning to set carbon budget for Nigeria to ensure that we keep average increases in global temperature within 2 degrees Celsius and of course join the rest of the world in pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius above the industrial levels.
So, these things you can see have been clearly set out.
The bill has also attracted several awards conferred on you.
The United Nations is appreciative and when the media which is usually critical of such issues, examining, criticizing and making us to do better say we give you an award for doing something, you can imagine what that is.
The House of Reps Press Corps gave me an award, the most dedicated law maker of the year award.
And coming from people who a part of their functions is to criticize you to make you work better, I want to thank God because it is an award earned and not an award purchased.