What will Nigeria’s new president do on environment and energy issues?

Nigeria’s new president Muhammadu Buhari. Photo credit: Chatham House via Flickr.
By Anders Lorenzen

The people of Africa’s largest economy, largest oil producer and most populous country, Nigeria, have made their choice and have elected former dictator, Muhammadu Buhari, as their next President. Mr. Buhari previously led Nigeria from 1983 – 1985, claiming power during a military coup.


He is a former Major General in the Nigerian army, and it is thought that this experience would put him in a better position to handle Nigeria’s biggest political problem today, the problem of curtailing the terrorist organisation Boka Haram.


Mr. Buhari succeeds the hugely unpopular Goodluck Jonathan, blamed for the rise in conflicts, inequality and corruption.


So how will Mr. Buhari deal with Nigeria`s environment and energy problems? The economy is in trouble, it is over-reliant on oil, and it has suffered in the wake of the low oil price. This has had huge implications for jobs, with public sector jobs cut by 24%. On his election website it does not appear he wants to diversify the economy away from oil and gas. He wants to make Nigeria one of the world’s leading and cutting edge centers for clean oil and gas technology, while producing leading oil and gas technologists and scientists. He would also demand an end to flaring which he says  pollutes the air and damages communities.


Nigeria’s environmental issues are closely linked to the energy industry, as irresponsible oil operators, mainly Shell, have devastated the Niger Delta river system. It has polluted the waterways, at great cost to local people whose livelihoods depended on those rivers. Mr. Buhari wants to enact policies that halt the pollution of the Niger Delta, but he has not provided information on how he would achieve that.


On the broader environmental issues he also wants to create shelter belts preventing desertification from the Sahara Desert reaching Nigeria, and he wants to create a holistic approach to erosion and shoreline protection across the country. Furthermore, regulation of the timber industry is also on Mr. Buhar`s agenda, where he hopes to double the number of trees planted to replace those felled by the loggers.


Mr. Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, was widely criticized for not only failing to curtail Boka Haram, but by allowing it to happen in the first place. Nigerians have seen few benefits from being the 11th biggest oil producer in the world. They lack access to electricity and basic essentials such as clean drinking water. This has without doubt contributed to the rise of Boka Horam and conflicts in the country. The big question now is if Nigeria’s new President have the means to change his country.
People will be demanding that Buhari starts to eradicate corruption and give people a sense of inclusion and benefit.

Promises have been vast by African leaders through the years, but corruption and vested interests have led to very few of those promises having been met. Only time will tell if Buhari is of a different calibre.

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