LAST week, I wrote that election campaigns can’t be issue-based in Nigeria because politicians speak ignorantly yet arrogantly on “issues”.  One major culprit is Bola Tinubu, presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress, APC, who often blusters and talks frivolously. The latest victim of his verbal incontinence is climate change, an existential threat to Nigeria and many other countries. 

Speaking at the Arewa Joint Committee’s forum in Kaduna last week, Tinubu made ridiculous and thoughtless comments about climate change. On the Richter scale of absurdity, his metaphor of “church rat” and “poisoned holy communion” was mind-blowing. Describing the climate change issue in Nigeria, Tinubu said: “It’s a question of how do you prevent a church rat from eating poisoned holy communion.”


Obviously, the “church rat” is Nigeria, which, to use the popular phrase, is “as poor as a church rat”. And the “poisoned holy communion” is climate change, caused by burning fossil fuels, which may have immediate benefits but come with devastating consequences.

The short-term “benefit” of burning fossils is that they are cheap sources of energy, especially if a country has large reserves of coal, oil and gas. That “benefit” is Tinubu’s “holy communion”. However, the “holy communion” is “poisoned” because fossil fuels are the drivers of climate change, which has wreaked havoc in many countries, including Nigeria.

Some took offence at the religious insult in Tinubu’s “church rat” and “poisoned holy communion” metaphor. But far more offensive is that, for someone who wants to be Nigeria’s president, he lacks the capacity to think deeply about the implications of what he says, especially when he speaks extempore, unscripted. Essentially, Tinubu was saying that because Nigeria, the “church rat”, is poor, it must “eat poisoned holy communion”, that is, live with climate change and commit hara-kiri; after all, poison kills!

Well, not every “church rat eats poisoned holy communion”. Not every poor country chooses to live with climate change. For instance, Kenya is poorer than Nigeria, with a GDP of $98bn (2020), compared to Nigeria’s $432.3bn (2020) and a GDP per capita of $1,550 (2020), compared to Nigeria’s $2,097 (2020). Yet, Kenya has achieved real success on climate change. It set a target of 100 per cent renewable energy generation and has nearly reached it.

Why? Because it prioritises tackling climate change. But Tinubu is appallingly ignorant about climate change. In the Arewa Forum comment, Tinubu said: “We are a poor nation. They banned coal. They say firewood is not to be fetched. They say we need to plant trees and they are not giving us money.”

Continuing, he said: “We need to open our eyes. We need to tell the West, if they don’t guarantee our finances and work with us to stop this, we are not going to comply with their climate change,” adding, with a dismissive shrug of his shoulders: “They will do it.” A key plank of Tinubu’s campaign strategy is to portray himself as clever, knowledgeable. But smart people are not frivolous or reckless with words. So, how clever and knowledgeable is Tinubu? Well, let’s unpack his climate-change comment!

First, he said “their” climate change, that is, the West’s. He gave the impression that if Nigeria takes action to tackle climate change, it’s doing so for the West’s sake, because climate change is the West’s problem, not Nigeria’s! But really? Did Tinubu miss President Buhari’s speech at the 26th United Nations’ Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow, United Kingdom, in November last year?

Well, if he missed it, here’s President Buhari’s statement at COP26. “I do not think anyone in Nigeria needs persuading of the need for urgent action on the environment,” he said, adding: ‘‘Desertification in the North, floods in the centre, pollution and erosion on the coast are enough evidence.”

Continuing, he said: “For Nigeria, climate change is not about the perils of tomorrow, but what is happening today.” So, which part of that statement does Tinubu disagree with? Large-scale floods are currently devastating lives and communities across Nigeria. Yet Tinubu went to Kaduna, one of the states badly affected, to mouth utter gibberish about climate change. 

He vowed that “we are not going to comply with their climate change”. Well, we’ve dealt with the offensive word “their”. But Tinubu said Nigeria won’t “comply” with climate change rules, which betrays utter ignorance of Nigeria’s international and domestic commitments.  I mean, is Tinubu not aware that Nigeria pledged at COP 26 to reach net zero by 2060?

President Buhari declared: “Nigeria is committed to net zero by 2060.” Also, is Tinubu not aware that, in November 2021, President Buhari signed the Climate Change Bill into law; that Nigeria now has a Climate Change Act that incorporates the 2060 net zero target? Furthermore, is he not aware that Nigeria recently introduced the Energy Transition Plan, ETP, which has the twin-goals of tackling the climate crisis and energy poverty?

So, would Tinubu throw all these away if he became president? Well, he said Nigeria will not “comply with their climate change” only if they, the West, did not give us money. But he’s confident the threat would work. “They will do it,” he said matter-of-factly! You must wonder which fantasy world Tinubu inhabits. Why would the West succumb to Nigeria’s threat? Well, “they will” because it’s “their” climate change. How ridiculous!

Tinubu claims he’s a genius in attracting foreign investors. “I brought Enron to Nigeria,” he often brags. So, why can’t he see the opportunities for climate investments, for investment-driven low-carbon economy? Last week, International Finance Corporation, IFC, an arm of the World Bank, said Nigeria could get $70bn share of the $1trn climate change investment opportunity coming to Africa.

Of course, Nigeria needs international support, multilateral and private finance, to reach net zero carbon. But it won’t get it through threats, but with a credible plan to decarbonize its economy. That wisdom eludes Tinubu, who has an overblown sense of his own ability!