Feature Article


The World Igbo Environmental Foundation (WIEF) is the platform for mobilizing manpower and material resources needed to arrest and reverse widespread degradation and decay of the living space of inhabitants of tropical rainforest in Southeast Nigeria and contiguous territories of the Niger Delta and southeastern coastline states. This decay is aided by neglect and failure to adopt proper design, construction and maintenance protocol for coping with natural wear and tear as well as mitigate environmental challenges posed by increased population growth, urbanization, deforestation, intensive cultivation and heavy rainfall over unprotected terrain. Inhabitants of the target area and rest of the country habitually wait for government to lead in development of environmental policies, programs and projects as well as provide the oversight to monitor implementation and compliance. Failure in government's leadership role, as obtains in the target area and elsewhere around the country, means that very little or nothing gets done while our environmental nightmare deteriorates with each passing season.


Some concerned citizens insist that working to improve governance in the target area is the only rational way for ensuring that any effort made to arrest the pace of decay and degradation can succeed. They reason that maintenance of livable habitat for the citizenry is a bona fide responsibility of government because it controls the resources with which to do all that is necessary to get the job done. Government has both the revenue and legislative muscle to handle a major undertaking like building the substructure for urban waste management, for example. It also has the enforcement crew with which to monitor and discipline violators of established codes. But bringing about good governance has proved elusive in a country like Nigeria where a long history of autocratic military rule and a polity polarized by ethnic loyalty have grossly distorted citizen's perception of the true role of government in their lives. The elite struggle tirelessly to gain political power for reasons that are invariably less than altruistic. Billions of dollars are pumped into the target area annually, for example, but almost entirety of that sum is spent for other purposes without paying any heed to conservation and maintenance of a healthy living habitat of its residents.
That government fails to perform and gets away with it in Nigeria is predicated on the fact that the governed feel so powerless to do anything about it. Majority of the population is handicapped by material poverty and ignorance despite the nation's enormous wealth-generating potential. The minority elite jostle for access to the corridors of power while the majority at grassroots level makes do with whatever they can find for meeting their daily subsistence needs. Nigerian brand of democracy is that which is practiced by the elite for exploitation of the grassroots who are only called upon during the election season to authenticate mandate for politicians competing for power at the top. Elections, under these circumstances, are not real measure of popular support within the electorate but rather a test of which politicians have what it takes to grasp power or retain it with whatever means at their disposal. Rigging of elections is, therefore, the norm in Nigeria rather than the exception and shall continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Attempting to bring about good governance in this type of political culture by seeking to change leadership at the top is akin to going fishing in the middle of a desert or expecting the sun to rise from the west.
Those who occupy the top echelon of government in Nigeria have historically been the main beneficiaries of the status quo and thus have no interest in changing anything. Sometimes, elements within the elite corps, who are incensed by deleterious consequences of bad governance on the populace, stridently criticize government bureaucrats and politicians at the helm. Some go as far as utilizing mass media publications and press releases to pressure for change without much success because their public outcries are not backed up by any credible action plans which have the potential of threatening those in control at the top. With the multiplicity of political parties in the country, it is always easy for those in control to dismiss protests, even the well meaning ones, as just another variant of partisan politics being played, out of envy, by opposing camps to replace them. In this rat race within ranks of the elite, the vast majority of grassroots population is completely left out of the equation. The vocal opposition usually gives up when it runs out of gas or is enticed to compromise thereby allowing the status quo to rejuvenate itself and continue with business as usual. It has been proven in Nigeria , many times over, that unsustainable episodic demand for change by the few who lack grassroots following is the reason why governing elite have neither the interest nor the sense of urgency for tinkering with the status quo.
Politicians and government bureaucracy accede to change only when the governed, particularly the occupants of the lowest rung of societal ladder who suffer the woes of deprivation most, persist in their demand for change. The missing link in the quest for change in Nigeria is the exclusion of deprived masses in the struggle to force those in authority to make amends or else. The strategy of appealing to the conscience of those in power to do the right thing out of their own volition has not softened any hearts within Nigeria's ruling elite. Rarely do persons in authority volunteer to unravel the status quo based on conscience alone. Throughout history, rulers of society embraced change only when it became clear that resisting it could result in their total loss of control over the ruled. It is, therefore, extremely important that whoever is intent on bringing about substantive change in real time must first build in some element of inevitability into the struggle for realizing it. An enlightened and mobilized grassroots population is such a powerful political force that no one in position of authority can afford to ignore for long. Having the message, agenda and practical programs with which to engage and mobilize the grassroots must be seen as the first order of business in planning of any meaningful undertaking to bring about substantive change.
WIEF founders are driven by a quest to bring about a transformational change in the manner with which the average citizen perceives and relates to his living space in contemporary Nigeria , starting with the foundation's primary target area. In a decaying and dilapidated habitat, the grassroots majority always bears the brunt of anguish and suffering that pursuit of one's livelihood in such an environment connotes. Letting citizens live in inhuman conditions is the primary burden for the government which exercises sovereignty over the land on behalf of everyone. In Nigeria's case, the government has failed woefully in meeting the most fundamental responsibility of providing safe habitats for its very own citizens. The government's failure, however, does not exist in isolation. Failure of government is, first and foremost, the failure of all of us who are supposed to partake in electing representatives to oversee our affairs and wellbeing. The government, on a closer look, is like a very sick patient who has a serious ailment that he cannot adequately cure by self effort. The government, therefore, needs help at this time of great need; a lot of it and soon too. WIEF sees the government as a strategic partner in an imminent crusade to salvage Alaigbo and contiguous parts of the country from decay, degradation and ruination facing our ancestral land today. The foundation's target, however, is the grassroots population which suffers the consequences of environmental decay and neglect most, irrespective of whether they reside in the rural areas or cities.
Building a functional alliance between the community, societal institutions, and government is the best means to tackle the humongous environmental problem that confronts Alaigbo today. WIEF's operational philosophy is predicated on enabling the public to take ownership of the environment. The thrust of foundation's initial agenda at ground zero shall dwell extensively on mass enlightenment aimed at changing the long-held notion that government is solely responsible for solving all our environmental problems and no one else. The citizenry has a role in ensuring that our collective living space is made conducive for meeting existential needs of everyone at all times. Inculcation of this new mindset shall accelerate the development of a new maintenance culture at all levels of society. Working within the context of the emergent coalition, delineation of roles for all parties in upkeep of our living space shall help everyone to understand what the deal is and what to expect at all times. The government must still retain its key leadership role regarding proper budgetary allocations as well as maintenance of administrative and legislative oversight in its area of jurisdiction. Societal institutions, like schools, universities and churches as well as NGOs like WIEF and others shall focus mostly on public enlightenment and mobilization of manpower and material resources.
Each community, Local Government Area (LGA) and state in the target area as well as in rest of the country is ravaged by the consequences of environmental neglect which take various shapes or forms, depending on local conditions. WIEF's operational model is configured to have active local input in both the planning and execution stages of its agenda and programs. The average citizen shall be challenged to take control of our collective living space by partaking in maintenance of physical cleanliness and integrity of the immediate habitat. The community must be linked to the foundation's wider operational network for resource mobilization so as to ensure uniform sustainability of programs and projects that are initiated at grassroots level. Resources mobilized in the community shall be supplemented routinely with external input and deployed in executing local programs and projects utilizing locally sourced labor force. Construction and maintenance of drainage channels, retention ponds, waste management facilities, for example, shall generate new paying jobs for many communities where unemployment rate is very high, especially amongst the youths.
The engine that shall drive this socioeconomic revolution is a sustained direct influx of development resources into local communities for creation of paying jobs for millions who are presently unemployed or underemployed. People shall be helped to earn a living by working for the upkeep of their very neighborhoods. This is consistent with WIEF's philosophy of enabling the public to take ownership of the environment and in the process, bring about tangible economic empowerment of the grassroots. The end result shall be the realization of a conscientious, alert and clean community of residents who take ownership of their habitat and by so doing, earn regular income while partaking in the upkeep of their own neighborhoods. The resultant transformational change shall manifest in clean healthy environment, employment of millions of local hands, prevention of deterioration of buildings and transportation infrastructure and invigoration of domestic economy through increase in consumer earning power and general commerce. Based on above, it is clearly a win-win situation when the public, in partnership with government, is enabled to take ownership of the environment.
Perhaps, the most significant aspect of the envisioned grassroots-driven socioeconomic revolution is the multiplier effect that it will have on the macroeconomics dynamic of the entire country, particularly in the target area. Because of universal applicability of WIEF's agenda and programs, parts of the country that are not currently included in the initial target area can proceed to replicate the processes which have worked well elsewhere, with adaptations to conform to local circumstances. A successful regional implementation of a functional environmental management protocol, as envisaged, shall facilitate future collaborative development ventures by contiguous states that comprise the Nigerian Eastern Economic Corridor. Many new businesses shall emerge to meet the demands which shall be spurned by construction projects for handling storm water and gully erosion as well as waste management issues in the target area. There shall be a quantum leap in both local and foreign investment by businesses which would opt to take advantage of the re-invigorated commerce, well maintained transportation infrastructure and clean densely populated urban centers throughout the corridor. New vistas shall open up, in form of business and consumer services for example, to generate additional millions of paying jobs where they are most needed.
The revolution, which we need now, must not just be predicated on activist demands for provision of good governance without first addressing the incapacitating socioeconomic inertia which has kept out an overwhelming majority of the population from meaningful participation in the nation's political economy. Good governance does not exist in a vacuum. A socially conscious grassroots population which is morally strengthened and economically empowered is the surest means to entrench governance that derives its mandate and legitimacy from popular goodwill. The socioeconomic revolution envisioned through pursuit and meticulous implementation of WIEF's agenda, programs and projects in the target area is poised to eliminate prevalent attitudes and practices that encouraged neglect and impunity in society. A new functional alliance between the government and civil society shall cleanse the land first and empower our communities through creation of income-generating jobs for masses of unemployed at the grassroots. This revolution shall engender a conscientious as well as morally and economically empowered citizenry on which sustainable good governance can be firmly anchored.
Copyright 2006 World Igbo Environmental Foundation, Inc.
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