We live in hazardous times. The climate crisis has taken the shape of a living being and no one can claim that the giant is not visible. As long as the eyes can see, we are confronted by wet horizons. Indeed, raging floods have turned our country into a liquid graveyard. Yet, one good thing that is happening to Nigeria is that we are being flooded while the campaigns are kicking off. So, we do not need to manufacture political talking points. Mother Nature has supplied us enough. The question is will we be able to take advantage of this moment?
Ordinarily, we would have missed the opportunity. But this week, providence helped nudge us in the right direction via a seemingly offbeat remark in a political discussion. The presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, is trending on social media for his remarks on climate change. While fielding questions at the Arewa Joint Committee interactive session on Monday at the Arewa House, Kaduna, he described climate change as “a question of how do you prevent a church rat from eating a poisoned holy communion. That is the way!”
I particularly liked the way the man known as Jagaban emphatically validated his newly manufactured climate metaphor, “That is the way!” To me, it shows he has thought about this concept. He did not just come up with the idea off-the-cuff in Kaduna. He believes what he just said. Remember, this is an accomplished politician who trusts his political views and strategies because they have mostly led him to victories throughout the decades he has been navigating the treacherous waters of Nigerian politics. If his manoeuvres and schemes have not failed him, naturally his new vision about climate change will not. This is why we need to deconstruct his statement.
He said, “We are a poor nation. They banned coal. They say firewood is not to be fetched. They say we need to plant more trees and they are not giving us money. We need to open our eyes. We need to tell the West, if you don’t guarantee our finances and work with us to stop this we are not going to comply with your climate change. They will do it.”
Some opposition politicians have criticised Tinubu, saying he is out of context and offensive. Some others said he should have used some other metaphors that would resonate with the people. In fact, one particular non-governmental organisation released a press statement that Tinubu’s words showed that his notion about governance is archaic. The statement argued that the politician should have used the platform provided by the Arewa House to “enunciate his concern and empathy for the victims of flooding,” but rather wasted the precious opportunity and his comments were “an instrument to blackmail Western countries.”
First of all, we need to understand Tinubu’s use of imagery. A politician appreciates that there are some ideas that are best discussed in the realms of metaphors and symbols. More so, climate change is now a very contentious issue at the global level. A church rat could only be used to refer to a poor country (Nigeria). It lives in a church, and, definitely, the workers will not want it there. So, in order to kill the rat, the sacristan would poison the food that the rat usually comes to nibble when everyone has gone. The rat, which has no other food to eat, cannot help but eat the poisoned food set as a trap for it. In most cases, the food makes up the crumbs that fall from the Holy Communion elements – the only edible in a standard sacristy. I write as a former altar boy.
I know where Tinubu is coming from. The developing world is told to stop emitting carbon because they contribute to global warming. To reduce our carbon footprint, we need to stop cutting down trees. We need to stop bringing out crude oil from the Niger Delta. We need to stop driving our fuel-consuming vehicles, and embrace electric and hybrid cars. We need to invest massively in renewable energy.
The question is, can we? We know that we should do all these in order to help the global fight against climate change. But we are like the church rat, which may or may not know that the sweet crumbs are poisoned. But it has no other food to eat. Just like the church rat, we do not have any other option than to continue using dirty fuel, felling our trees for charcoal – kerosene is out of the reach for the poor – and feeding from our oil and gas. We must eat the poison or die!
Tinubu then sent a cryptic warning to the West by saying the West should fund our energy transition or we would continue on the dirty path. In 2015, the world signed a Climate Pact in Paris, and one of the outcomes is the establishment of the Green Climate Fund, through which the rich countries of the world will donate annually $100bn in assistance to the poor nations for their climate action initiatives. But the West is still dragging its feet. Meanwhile, Africa is the most impacted from climate change, and the irony is that we contribute the least to global warming.
Those who think Tinubu should only be empathising with flood victims should also remember that he is contesting to represent Nigeria at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Nigeria is the biggest in Africa. For the powers-that-be, his comments are important. We must also note that because of the Russia-Ukraine war, these rich countries are reopening their coal plants – a dirty energy source the world had long agreed to do away with.
Second, these are desperate days. There is nothing sacred anymore. Climate change has desecrated our holy of holies, and those saying Tinubu’s church rat metaphor is an insult on Christians should go and check out what climate change has done to the Church of Christ. Worship centres have been submerged, and consecrated elements have been seen floating on dirty water. Last week, a video circulated from the Lokoja floods where a Roman Catholic Church parish was seen conducting Mass in a flooded church building. The church members were floating on canoes while the priest managed to set up an altar on a small dais island. When it was time for the Holy Communion, the communicants had to wade through the water to meet the priest whose legs were also submerged in dirty water.
In fact, it is not only the Christian faith that has received this climate insult. In India and Pakistan, citizens were seen wading through flooded streets with their sculpted gods and goddesses on their backs; trying to save their idols from being swept away by the raging floods. In a moment of irony, the gods, who usually save the human from the rage of nature, are now helpless and have to be saved by their worshippers. Indeed, what climate change cannot do does not exist.
Even the African Traditional worshippers are not spared. As the floods swept through the villages, sacred animals like pythons were chased out of their covens, the same way totems and pots of “alusi” were uprooted and upended in a most unholy manner. The most dreaded “dibia” and “spokesmen of the spirits” stood helpless as their shrines and innermost chambers of spiritual contact were brazenly exposed to the eyes of the uninitiated. It was like war-time. Nobody looked back to see who was left behind. Nobody cared whether you were running naked or covered. It was all man – and spirit – for himself.
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