Our planet faces unprecedented and interrelated crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and a global pandemic. Nationally, Nigeria is also confronting our complicated history of ethno-religious upheavals, which now dovetails into widespread atmosphere of angst and hopelessness amidst ingrained political corruption. Worryingly, the maladies are more cancerous among the country’s youthful population. This is because they are the ones that would have picked up the gauntlet to help the nation fight climate change and environmental degradation.

Therefore, the imperative of embracing youth-oriented climate change and environmental initiatives can never be overemphasised. A fortnight ago, the Ewah Eleri Climate Justice Fellowship was unveiled to a global audience by the award-winning indigenous non-governmental organisation, Connected Development, popularly known by its initials, CODE. Five young Nigerians – three journalists and two climate activists – emerged as the inaugural fellows.

The winners will serve as technical advisers to the Nigerian government at the ongoing Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, which started on November 6 and is expected to end on November 18, 2022. The fellowship will also serve as an opportunity for the fellows to engage signatory governments on plans for nations of the world to jointly address climate change and its impacts; as COP27 presents the chance to turn the Glasgow outcome into action through implementing climate change adaptation, mitigation and financing strategies.

In order to understand the complete outlook of the fellowship, it is important to examine the concept of climate justice, and to also situate the relevance of the person for whom it was named after; Ewah Eleri.

Climate justice is a concept that addresses the just division, fair sharing, and equitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of climate change and responsibilities to deal with climate change. Historically, marginalised communities, such as low-income, indigenous communities and communities of colour often face the worst consequences of climate change; which means that the people least responsible for climate change suffer its gravest consequences. They might also be further disadvantaged by responses to climate change which might reproduce or worsen existing inequalities. Moreover, the failure to address the social implications of climate change mitigation transitions could result in profound economic and social tensions, and delay necessary changes.

This is where climate justice champions come in. They spearhead advocacy pathways that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a socially just way – known as “just transition.” Through the media, social and legal systems, these citizens continue on the trail to prove that a just transition is possibly a more effective vehicle to a sustainable future. A special focus is placed on the role of ‘Most Affected People and Areas,’ that is, groups overall disproportionately vulnerable to or affected by climate change, such as women, racial minorities, young, older and poorer people. The main factor in the increased popularity and consideration of climate justice was the rise of grassroots movements – such as Fridays for Future, and Extinction Rebellion (which this column has discussed in previous interventions).

Interestingly, CODE is a regional leader in grassroots movement. With a presence in more than 10 African countries, the organisation works to improve public governance in Nigeria and across the continent by empowering marginalised communities to demand high levels of accountability and transparency from their governments. With its Follow The Money Initiative, CODE has directly impacted millions of lives by enabling grassroots citizens to demand better from their government and directly influencing government policy to ensure that public funds work for public good.

Hamzat Lawal, a young Nigerian, is the founder and chief executive of CODE. Exactly 10 years ago, the Nigerian government was moved into action by Lawal’s voice which reverberated over the entire global digital space, hinged on the #SaveBagega when more than 400 Zamfara children died as a result of lead poisoning in their community. Through this young Nigerian’s eco-advocacy, monies were mobilised and the contaminated rural communities, ravaged by lead-ridden artisanal gold mining, were remediated in order to prevent further deaths and health impacts.

However, young ‘Hamzy’ did not fall from the sky. He is an ordinary Nigerian who was privileged to come under the tutelage of a climate champion who built his capacity, raised his confidence, and gave him a place in the global climate niche. The philosophy for the fellowship is encapsulated in the words of Lawal:

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“Over 15 years ago, Ewah Eleri gave me an opportunity. I remember that ICEED will not hire you if you do not have at least a master’s degree. I was the first to be hired with a secondary school certificate; perhaps, because of my ICT skills, values and whatever Ewah saw in me at that time. I have never said this before, but Ewah actually enrolled me into the university. He bought the university admissions form for me and enrolled me at the University of Abuja, from where I now have a degree in Political Science.

“Ewah has continued to show transformational leadership, building the next generation of climate justice leaders. At that time, he pushed me to all the relevant green networks, providing funding and recommendations, and putting me on the global map.

“Ewah embodies values. These are values that talk about service, not for self, but service to the community and environment. This is a true example of a godfather. Someone who ensures that you have the right mind, right skills. I believe that Ewah is a model for mentorship, where people should come and learn. My career started as a climate change activist because of Ewah Eleri, so let’s start this fellowship in his honour.”

As a matter of fact, the story of the Nigerian environmental sector will not be complete without bringing into the picture the efforts of Ewah, founder of the International Centre for Energy Environment and Development, who after being trained oversees came home to provide green solutions to sustainable development challenges in his country.

ICEED, with the World Bank, worked on the first-ever rural electrification strategy for Nigeria in 2001 and provided technical assistance for the establishment of the Rural Electrification Agency and the Rural Electrification Fund. It supported the Energy Commission of Nigeria in the development of the Renewable Energy Master Plan. It designed efficient biomass cookstoves and trained today’s successful entrepreneurs. It established the first Nigerian International Standards Organisation-accredited stove-testing laboratory, and has project footprints in more than half of all the states in the federation. It formed and launched the Nigerian Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, made up of Nigerians delivering services in the budding cookstove industry.

Perhaps, the most fundamental of ICEED’s contributions is its direct influence on Nigeria’s response to global climate change, as it provided the research that underpinned Nigeria’s positions on climate change negotiations and trained our negotiators at the UNFCCC system. From 2007 to 2011, it produced policy research for Nigeria’s positions on international climate change negotiations.

Even now, at the ongoing COP27, Ewah is one of the developing world’s green experts who came together under the World Future Council’s platform to blaze sustainable pathways towards a renewable energy future by exploring multiple opportunities to make renewables a political priority for energy, climate action and development in countries most affected by climate change.

In view of this, there is a need to design relevant mentorship channels for the Ewah Eleri fellows, even as they return from Egypt, so as to empower them with the knowledge and networks to birth younger and eager climate champions. This is the way to impact future generations, while replicating the “Hamzy phenomenon,” which I believe is the vision of the fellowship from the get-go.

By Vision

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