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Tuesday, 05 December 2023 07:11

[OPINION] Nigeria’s Delegation at COP 28 in Dubai - Reuben Abati

The biggest story in Nigeria at the moment is the size of Nigeria’s delegation to the Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Summit on Climate Change, otherwise known as COP 28. In simple terms, the objective of the Conference of Parties is to secure multilateral, bilateral agreements on the consensus by a panel of international, intergovernmental, climate change scientists (IPCC) that for our world to be save, global temperatures must be kept at a level not above 1.5C, as adopted in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, beyond which the whole world will be at risk. Before this year’s conference, it was disclosed in a UN Report that the world was indeed endangered and that the threshold could go beyond 2 degrees C. By September 2023, the world had exceeded the projected limit, far above pre-industrial levels.


This was meant to put pressure on world leaders to pay more attention to the threats of carbon emission, climate change, and the impact on human communities, that is challenges induced within the global ecosystem by the rise in sea levels, hurricanes, floods and environmental disasters, occasioned by man’s abuse of and neglect of the environment: man-made, man-conditioned environmental crisis. Climate adaptation, carbon markets, and climate financing are issues that have been atop the global agenda in the last three and more years. UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, said the “emissions gap is more like an emissions canyon”.


From COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, to COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, the Africa Climate Week organized by the African Development Bank Group in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2023 (Africa’s 11th Conference on the subject), and now the COP 28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the goal has been to keep global warming to a limit of 1.5C or 2 C.– the second threshold in the Paris Agreement. High income countries account for the bulk of green-house gas emissions. At COP 26, commitments and pledges were made across the public and private sectors. At COP 27, in Egypt last year, many key arrangements remained unresolved, especially the demand by the developing countries for a loss and damage fund to compensate low-income nations. The main achievement of this year’s event would be the resolve on Day One to agree on a loss and damage deal for green-house gas emissions. Payments are to be made into the fund on a voluntary basis. The World Bank will host the fund for four years on an interim basis. A number of countries have already made pledges: Germany ($100 m), UAE ($100m), United States ($17.5 m) and Japan ($10 m). It is still a far cry from what is required, but it is a historic, hard-fought achievement.


For good reason, Nigeria is a participant at COP 28. We showed up in 2021at COP 26, where during the presentation of National Statements, President Muhammadu Buhari pledged Nigeria’s commitment to a net-zero emission policy. Buhari was not in Egypt for COP 27, the country was represented by Mohammed Abdullahi who was then Minister of Environment. This year at COP 28, Nigeria’s new President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu is fully on the ground in Dubai for the World Climate Action Summit scheduled for a total of 13 days – November 30 to December 12. President Tinubu has been very active, participating at high level sessions where he has shared the platform with world leaders including the COP 28 President, Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, former US Vice President and Climate Change activist, John Kerry and the Chinese Envoy on Climate Change. President Tinubu has also met on the sidelines with Chancellor Olaf Scholz with whom he discussed Nigeria’s energy needs and the need to deepen collaboration with Germany, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, President William Ruto of Kenya, President of Namibia, Hage Geingob, and climate activist and philanthropist, Michael Bloomberg. He has made statements about Nigeria’s commitment to end gas flaring, reduce carbon footprint and commit not just to an energy mix, but an eco-friendly future driven by sustainable, alternative energy to turn Nigeria into an investment friendly environment for carbon market investments. He has also been using every opportunity to ask for collaboration with other nations. At the African Green Industrialization session on Saturday, President Tinubu further made a strong case for Nigeria and Africa.


It is most unfortunate, however, that Nigeria’s participation which should have turned out as one of President Tinubu’s major outings on the international scene from the perspectives of economic diplomacy and sovereignty affirmation, has now been marred, irretrievably by reports of Nigeria’s large delegation at the conference- the largest from Africa, the fourth largest globally after the host country, UAE, Brazil and China, attending a 13-day event. There has been some quibbling and tittle-tattle over the exact size of the delegation. I am familiar with that. In our time, when the Naira exchanged for less than N150 to the dollar, and Nigeria was a high performing economy in Africa, with an annual GDP growth of over 6%, Sahara Reporters constantly complained about the size of the President’s delegation to conferences.


If the number was anywhere near 30, Sahara Reporters would raise an alarm, and if I called to complain about a deliberate attempt to de-market the country and the Presidency, the publisher Omoyele Sowore would tell me that he was an Ijaw man who had no reason to de-market his own brother, and that in any case he had a copy of the delegation list. I put it all down to sabotage from within. But this time the situation is slightly different. The information out there in the public domain about President Tinubu’s delegation to Dubai is extracted by the analysts from the COP 28 website, and from reports by Statisense, a leading AI data company, and instructively from State House list. Whereas the details and figures may differ just slightly, what is clear is that Nigeria has a total delegation of 1, 411 persons in Dubai for COP 28. One newspaper reported that the main delegation travelled to Dubai in three plane loads – chartered flights, and the worst part of it is that the Nigerian government did not give the contract for the air freight to any domestic airline.


The total cost of the air ticket for the 590 delegates on the Federal Government’s account is estimated at N880 million. To be added unto this is the vast expenditure on hotel accommodation and estacodes. In a Statisense report, estacode per night for a Minister is $900, Special Adviser $800, Director General of MDAs - $900, House of Representatives member - $900… and so on. The only category that I did not see is the estacode for mistresses, family members and confidantes who according to the opposition parties, notably the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party (LP) are all over Dubai as delegates. Ovieteme George, Arise News Correspondent reporting from Dubai, has claimed that he has not seen most of the delegates at key events that he has covered so far, not even at the Nigerian Pavilion: at most, the President and a few persons are the active ones at the event. Our investigative journalists would do well to check the shopping malls of Dubai, or cozy hotel rooms where far more pressing and important climate change discussions may be taking place among Nigerians!


Debo Ologunagba, speaking for the PDP has complained about an “over-bloated delegation” brimming with “cronies, political minions and mistresses at huge expense to the nation”. Peter Obi says Nigeria’s capacity to compete with China should be in the area of productivity, rather than the waste of resources on delegates to conferences, junkets, as well as unnecessary ceremony and showmanship as a mode of government behaviour - at a time more Nigerians are living in multi-dimensional poverty. Waziri Atiku Abubakar, PDP Presidential candidate, says Tinubu is in Dubai for an “owambe” party, an all-comers jamboree, that is ridiculous and indicative of a lack of governance, awareness and responsibility. The only voice of protest that I have not heard is that of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) who have been championing the call for accountability in the management of state resources. Someone has since whispered to me that they too may have their representatives in Dubai as part of the COP 28 party!


The tone of the response by the Federal Government is to dismiss the protests as opposition gimmickry. I doubt if this is politics. Temitope Ajayi, spokesperson to the President, was the first to offer a defence along the line that most of the delegates in Dubai are from the private sector and civil society organizations who paid their way to the conference to promote their respective causes, and that in any case, it is standard practice for all delegates to be registered against their country of origin, in addition to Nigeria being the most populous country in Africa. Ajayi was responding to reports that the Nigeria Council on Climate Change has 54 persons in Dubai, 53 from the Ministry of Environment, 36 from the National Assembly, and the Presidency- 138 and so on and so forth, making a total of 590 on the government list. Yesterday, the Minister of Information, Mohammed Idris fouled up the waters further in a press statement, in which he argued funnily that the Federal Government-sponsored delegation “is made up of a total of 422 persons.” He even tried to revise the breakdown in an even funnier manner. Would anyone ask the Minister, what exactly is the difference between 422 and 590? Can he tell Nigerians the difference between Okeke and Okereke? Sometimes, it is better for our leaders to keep quiet than to open their mouths and embarrass government. Minister Idris obviously does not get the point. He even mixed up the numbers in trying to “set the records straight”.


COP 28’s official published list says more than 97, 000 participants are attending COP 28 in person. In order to justify his spin, he cuts the number to “more than 70, 000”! Very bad optics. African leaders have often been criticized for rushing to any International Conference to mark the attendance register whereas they should be insisting that some of these conferences should be held in Africa. This year, Morocco has sent a delegation of 823 persons to Dubai, Kenya, 765; Tanzania 763, Ghana, 618! Nigeria has a low GDP compared to other countries, the country’s currency is over N1, 000 to the US dollar, inflation is 27. 33%, Nigeria is planning to borrow almost 100% to fund its 2024, 27.5 trillion, budget. Nigeria has now been said to have the same number of delegates with China in Dubai but while China is the second largest economy in the world, Nigeria runs a bankrupt economy. It is so bad that Nigeria imports traditional African batik, popularly known as adire and cassava flakes, garri, that our grandmothers used to produce from China! We even import toothpicks, and yet we have 1, 411 persons attending a conference in Dubai spending to help build the UAE economy. The Tinubu administration tells Nigerians to tighten their belts and make necessary sacrifices for the country to regain and restore hope.


Our leaders must lead by example. Malawi is not in Dubai this year. This is because its President, Lazarus Chakwera, in November, decided to suspend all foreign trips by himself and government officials till March next year. He cancelled his attendance at COP 28 as part of a number of austerity measures that he announced. Malawi recently took a four-year loan from the IMF – about $170 million. The country also devalued its currency, the Kwacha, by 44%. The country faces a cost-of-living crisis. The President says the country needs to save money, and the responsibility for doing so includes every one in government. In Zambia, President Hakainde Hichilema, upon assumption of office, refused to collect salaries for eight months, stating that he was more interested in serving the people. He refused to buy new cars for the Presidency. These are living examples for Nigerian leaders to emulate. Most of our people in Dubai COP 28 at government expense have no business being there. We can only hope that all the 1, 411 persons attending the party in Dubai will return home and not use the opportunity of the UAE visa to “Japa.” When all is said and done, Nigeria must institute regular mental health checks for public officials. I simply cannot understand why as part of the main highlights of Nigeria’s participation at COP 28, top executives of two government agencies with headquarters in Abuja - the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) and the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) are in Dubai to sign a joint Memorandum of Understanding and make a song and dance out of it. This is the very height of buffoonery and stupidity!


Now, the main event itself: the success of COP 28 would depend on what language is used in the final agreement – whether there would be an agreement to “phase out” fossil fuels or to “phase down”. This is one of the most controversial issues at COP 28 despite the fact that 100 countries already support a phase-out of fossil fuels. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told COP 28 last Friday that “the science is clear…Not reduce. Not abate. Phase out with a clear time frame.” Many other countries have a different attitude. UAE’s Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, President of COP 28 was not joking at all when he thundered at a high-level meeting that there is “no science behind the demands for a phase-out of fossil fuels.” His country is in fact planning to ramp up oil production. He insists that a phase-out decision would block sustainable development.


Some progress may have been made with regard to loss and damage funding, Article 6, climate adaptation/financing, but the looming failure to reach a consensus on the future of fossil fuels by December 12 may well be the major story of COP 28. Other countries may not have voiced their hypocrisy openly but there are many of the privileged, developed countries, and Big Oil companies that are just window-dressing on climate issues and the scale of the energy transition. In September, the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak did a U-Turn on net zero emissions. He had earlier approved 100 new licences for oil and gas drilling for the North Sea. Green groups in the UK were aggrieved; they subsequently launched an attack on his North Yorkshire home. He could not be bothered. It should therefore not be surprising that the UK has pledged just a mere $60 million to the loss and damage fund. The US even did worse: $17.5 million, and Japan - $10 million. Payments to the Fund are voluntary, keeping the devil at the centre of the details.

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