Why everything is wrong with proposed Nasarawa coal power plant


If you are visiting Mararaba, a conurbation of towns stretching 25km east of Nigeria’s Capital City, this September, I have good news for you: there is the likelihood that you will be trapped.

The damp, fetid seepage simmering beneath the sole of your feet is likely to morph into a huge mass of water until it submerges roads, knocks down bridges and overflows buildings. As you scurry for safety, you would be confronted with a flood, stretching far above the knee, and ready to wash you away along the dingy estuaries of Mararaba River in Nasarawa State.

If that scenario is scary enough, environmental experts believe the situation could be worse by the time the state government completes its proposed 1000-megawatt coal power plant. The government says it is working with General Electric to generate power from its coal reserves in the state.

“They should stop it (the project),” warned Mike Karikpo, Program Manager and energy expert at the Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria.

“So far, it’s clear we don’t have the infrastructure to withstand climate crisis. More so, there’s currently no federal emergency management system with competent manpower and technology to handle mass flooding in Nigeria.”

“We can’t survive in a dead environment; we end up as the victims if we destroy our environment.”

Karikpo is also shocked that the state government is pushing an initiative that could worsen Nigeria’s standing on the carbon emission scale. “Nasarawa State government,” he observes, “is clearly not aware of global trends as far as energy is concerned.”

“I understand that most governments would do whatever it takes to bridge their energy gaps. But it makes no sense to worsen our seemingly frightening climate reality.”

And while there’s now a global coalition to combat climate change, owing to its consequences for human survival, the government of Nasarawa State in North-Central Nigeria might be out to frustrate such efforts by agencies and governments.

The bitter-sweet journey to Nasarawa coal

On Thursday October 13, 2016, the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development, led by Dr. Kayode Fayemi, announced Nigeria has untapped repository of 44 minerals in over 500 locations spread across the country, including Nasarawa State.

As though aware of these huge mineral deposits in the 23-year-old state, its governor, Abdullahi Sule, promised to lead the state to the next phase of development earlier in August this year.

“My happiest day will be when we start generating coal-powered electricity here; the coal deposit here has the capacity to generate electricity that can serve the entire state,” Sule said.

But for the next four years of his tenure and perhaps after, citizens of the state could watch that promise slip away. Even though the coal-fired project would meet the state’s energy needs in the short term, it is likely to leave many residents more miserable, more vulnerable to the vagaries of a huge climate crisis.

“Coal-fired power plants could worsen Nigeria’s carbon emission thresholds,” warns Otto Canon, Nigeria’s climate activist and founder of CleanCyclers.

Canon says such projects could impede modest efforts by governments and humanitarian organizations to combat the present climate crisis in the country.

“Coal is certainly not the best way to go at the moment,” added Canon, who is currently working with international agencies and partners to drive sustainable energy across Africa.

“Consider that Nigeria has one of the most disturbing waste challenges in the world. And consider too that we don’t take environmental sustainability seriously here. The government could consider converting this burgeoning mass of waste into energy. That’s more sustainable and more environmentally friendly.”

‘Coal is Africa’s silent killer’

Karikpo, who recently led a team of environmentalists to clean up Ogoniland in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta, says Nigeria should look to alternative energy sources and quit coal.

“Africa is already at the frontline of a climate crisis. What is the sense in complicating the situation? Everywhere, you find critical environmental issues like drought, excessive flooding, diseases and even deaths caused by these harmful practices,” he says.

Air pollution is responsible for about 600,000 deaths every year in Africa, with 12.6 million of global deaths linked with environmental causes.

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change could be responsible for nearly 250,000 more deaths caused by heat stress, malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea, according to the World Health Organisation.

The situation is likely to be worse following plans by some African countries to build dozens of coal-fired plants across the continent.

Already, a 1000-megawatt coal power plant, as noted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, generates an annual global warming emission equivalent of about 1.2million cars.

Founder and Executive Director of African CleanUp Initiative, Alex Akhigbe, is worried that despite the growing clamor to end coal-fired power plants and embrace renewable energy, African leaders, like Nasarawa State Government, are still fixated on coal.

Africa alone accounts for seven (7) of the top 10 countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change, and Nigeria is one of them.

Environmental activist and lawyer, Adebayo Caleb, believes Nigeria already contends with a huge pollution crisis which has yet to receive adequate attention from governments.

Caleb, who is also the founder of Earthplus, a non-profit focused on the environmental sustainability, urges Governor Sule to flip the page to renewable energy instead.

““We need to consider the long-term implications of our actions. Coal power plants have devastating impact on human beings; the sort of emissions from these plants contain dangerous chemicals. Narasawa state should not go ahead with this project.”

Pollution,” he said, “should never be the price for progres”