Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade, a lawyer, is a professor of Environmental Sciences. Last year, he led a delegation of governors from Africa to the Climate Change Summit in Paris, France. He was the only African governor listed to speak at the event by the United Nations Secretariat. In this interview with Legal Editor John Austin Unachukwu, he discusses the realities and effects of climate change and how to combat climate change through environmental laws and legislations.
How do you appraise state environmental laws?
How do we drive this campaign through appropriate legal frameworks?
We can do this through our town planning laws; for example, we, in Cross River, are ensuring that in every house, you must have a minimum of four trees on each side to ensure that there is a way, there is a full interaction between the plants and the residents in the house. Therefore, public campaign by way of advocacy, doing it physically, laws, legislations, radios, adverts, physical door-to-door campaign are the things you do to sharpen the consciousness of the ordinary man to the realities of climate Change. And, of course, they also must have some posters that must show them the risks, the incidental implications of climate change. I do know that where I grew up from, most of the streams that we used to play with as little children have all dried up. Those are the effects of climate change because all the water sheds have all gone. These are the things we must distill down to the grassroots for them to appreciate that this climate change is real, it is not a theory, it is not academic, it is real.
As a lawyer, what informed your interest in environmental protection and climate change?
I actually feel that I am living out my dream. I am giving back to humanity. First of all, I am a Professor of Environmental Science and I do realise that the issue of climate change is real and Nigeria is affected seriously. I also understand that global problems are like environmental issues, even though global in nature, the solutions are local. And so, in my own little way as governor of Cross River State that has 58 percent of the entire forest cover of Nigeria, I owe Nigeria and, indeed, all Africa the responsibility of demonstrating that indeed, we can actually reverse the cataclysmic effects of climate change and instead of speaking, I am doing the working, talking. So, I talk it and I do it.
What do you mean by this?
I mean that I talk it and I do it, that is why we demonstrated commitment to plant five million trees, that is why we have a dedicated Ministry of the Environment and Ministry for Climate Change and Forestry. The truth is that the approach to climate change, particularly when you look at it from the global perspective, has been on adaptation and mitigation. That strategy is what I am advocating for a change, that truly if you want to mitigate against climate change, one practical thing you need to do is to actually put the trees on the ground, plant them, training people on how to manage them, do forest inventory, do stock taking is not adequate, capacity building is good. But, most importantly, let us convert the environment into a form of resource, give people money to grow trees, to plant trees, as they are planting trees, they are reducing the volume of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, they are reducing the amount of noxious gases in the atmosphere making the climate better and safer for us.
As the global ambassador for climate change, how can the man on the street contribute to protecting the environment and ozone layer against climate change?
The immediate one is aforestation and, of course, training them to be able to prohibit or reduce or attenuate deforestation.When you are deforesting, because most communities are dependent on their forest resources for their means of livelihood and the issue of absolute conservation means that you are dislocating the communities from their dependence on the forests. And so, the critical thing that is the right thing to do now, is forest management as opposed to conservation. So, when it comes to forest management, it allows the community to harvest from the forest in such a way that is a sustainable manner, so you take such trees that are old, tired and are of no value while replacing them with the young ones. It is different from conservation where it is absolute ban of some sort. And for the rural poor and for the general public to add value to the climate change, they must start from keeping their small nurseries, planting their own trees and ensuring that they live in green economy.
Environmental awareness has not been in the front burner of our national life. How do we sensitise our people to be environment conscious in their actions, how do we get our people to key into this crusade?
The major one is advocacy, which has to do with training, enlightenment and public campaigns. We, in Cross River State, under my watch for example, have reintroduced the green carnival which means one day, everybody in Calabar would be on green, everybody with one tree at least and planting a tree. We are also starting an urban aforestation programme. In doing urban aforestation, we are championing and campaigning for people to be conscious of the environment, the slashing and burning of forests, the anaerobic digestion from our open sewers, open drains and gutters leading to noxious emissions into the atmosphere had become a major precursor for global warming.
What is your advice to Federal, states and local governments on how to key into and sustain the global crusade for climate change?
The Federal Government has already started the great green wall, state governments like my own government are already introducing green carnivals and I know that most states too are following suit. So, all they need to do is to wrap up their activities and also carry the people along. Let them follow in the campaign and programme to ensure that the consciousness sinks down and distills to every citizenry, that is the only way we can actually ensure that we are leaving the society, the system and the environment better than we met it, otherwise, the level of deterioration that is occurring , state of cataclysm will reach very soon.