Reporting Climate Change in Nigeria
Reporting Climate Change in Nigeria
By Tunde Akingbade .
It’s now 23 years since Jean-Marc Fleury who was Editor-in-Chief of the International Development Research Centre, (IDRC) in Ottawa, Canada wrote his treatise tiled; Reporting African Science. Fleury wrote about “The Great Expectations” from African Science writers and he observed that one of the obstacles considered by African governments as very important to science reporting “has been lack of journalists with specialized reporting skills necessary to present such information to the public accurately and interestingly. “In the early 1980s in Nigeria, many university graduates from a wide range of disciplines outside mass communication joined the journalism profession. The establishment of The Guardian Newspaper, an elitist and urbane Newspaper, creatively designed with specialized beats fostered the growth of specialized information, specifically science reporting. Many graduates were employed to man these beats and other newspapers who wanted to remain in contention followed suit. I am one of the beneficiaries of “The Guardian School” not only in the field of environment reporting, but in investigative journalism as well. Specialized reporting in the past three decades has improved tremendously although there are many inhibitions to growth and expansion. Today, top flight professionals such as; microbiologists, geologists, town planners, agriculturists, medical consultants in teaching hospitals etc have also taken trainings in journalism in order to be able to disseminate their information to the public.
It is pertinent to mention that specialised news agencies in Europe such as Gemini, Earthscan and Panos, flooded African media houses with specialized information that helped in the growth of the media in the 1980s. During this period, the American Association for the Advancement of Science also commenced aggressive drive through conferences and workshops to bring together science reporters including the academics all over the world to share knowledge and information. They related with the International Science Writers Association based in Boston’s Center for Astrophysics and I have attended some of their meetings in the past. Before we go into issues and challenges involved in reporting Climate Change in Nigeria, there is need to understand the media environment in Nigeria: who the environment/climate change reporter is; the challenges and how to communicate climate change information effectively to the public. About two decades ago, Mr. Frank Barton, the British renowned reporter who was part of the faculty that gave me formal training in Environmental Journalism in Berlin with Peter Pruefert, the German environment journalism trainer insisted that the environment reporter must strive to write for the “man in the biscuit factory”. In other words, the environment reporter must be able to understand the issues very well in order to write in the layman’s language because his audience such as the man in the biscuit factory does not have to seek a dictionary to understand the meaning of his words. You find such technical words in climate change and environment reporting.
Akingbade (1999) wrote that a specialized or science reporter must possess adequate training and be able to determine how best to disseminate the information and must have access to information worldwide and be able to effectively position himself within a network of colleagues so able to receive as well as provide information.
The Climate problem
What is climate and what is climate change? Climate plays an important role in survival of man and the ecosystem. Climate, according to experts is the average weather that is experienced in a particular area or region. Dr. Anthony Anuforom, Director General of Nigerian Meteorological Agency, NIMET notes that climate change occurs when there is “difference over a period of time (with respect to a baseline or a reference period) and corresponds to a statistical significant and of mean climate or its variability, persistent over a long period of time (e.g. decades or more). Climate change results from man’s activities against the environment. Experts have confirmed that the world’s climate has been changing due to the release of greenhouse gases (GHG) such as Carbon Dioxide, Methane, and Nitrous Oxide and in another complex chain of reaction through man made destruction of ozone layer through the release of CFCs. In some natural instances, the climate of some areas can change briefly through volcanic eruption. Some of the basic meanings and interpretations of these technical terms are simplified in my book, The ABCs of Hearth and Environment in Africa a Quick Guide for schools and colleges (Tintune Environmental Services, Lagos, 1996).
About Nineteen years ago, at the celebration of World Meteorological Day in Nigeria, one of the Nigeria’s Meteorological experts sounded an alarm in Lagos that the sun was getting hotter and radiating more energy to the earth than it has done since creation. Very few people, including the media thought that was something alarming that needed a space in the newspaper or television. The following year in 1991, the WMO secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland released a book entitled, Climate Change – World Leaders viewpoints Professor G.O.P Obasi, former Secretary General of UMO in the foreword noted that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, WMO was concerned about the changes to the world’s climate and to the composition of the atmosphere.
It was however in February 1979 – thirty years ago that the UMO convened the first World Climate Conference with other organization in the United Nation Systems.
Since that year, new bodies and conferences have been held under the umbrella of the WMO, UNEP, and UNFCCC to tackle climate changes.
The WMO book contains interviews conducted with ex-presidents Fernando Collor de Mello of Brazil, Franco Mitterrand of France, King Hussain of Jordan, Prince Munster, Edward Fenech – Adami of Malta, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and Flavio Cotti of Switzerland. Specifically, the Brazilian President disclosed that data collected by experts indicated that the total deforestation of the rich Amazonian forest corresponds to 254tons of Carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere – or 3.7 percent of the total emissions throughout the world. “That was the president that hosted the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Brazil which set the current global agenda for sustainable development.
The former French president who had been part of the Summit on the Protection of the Global Atmosphere in The Hague (Netherlands) agreed that the world needed to limit the emissions of green house gases as well as protect the ozone layer. King Hussein of Jordan admitted that the earth’s atmosphere was endangered with problems such as; deprecation, desertification, depletion of freshwater resources all which affects the Middle East.
President Robert Mugabe observed that “with the rivers becoming heavily silted up, the flood danger is increased adding that in 1978 when the visited Somalia, he could have wept to see trees being choked by the advancing desert, rather like people being drowned in flood.”
The German Bundestag in her 592 – page book. Protecting the Earth’s Atmosphere – an International Challenge noted that the rain forests in Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire and other countries located in savannah regions have been destroyed”. There are evidences from the Director of forestry in Nigeria twenty years after that the country’s large trees have been depleted at an alarming rate and there is cause for concern.
Greenhouse gases and climate change
The import of this is that the destruction of forests has contributed to the release of Co2 one of the GHG. What are GHG? These are gases such as Co2, Nitrous Oxide, Methane (released from dumpsites) etc into the atmosphere. These gases warm the atmosphere and cause the earth’s climate to change. More importantly, the major culprit in the release of GHG is industrial process and emissions from machinery.
Since the industrial revolution, more Co2 and GHG have been released into the atmosphere – causing he earth’s climate to be changing studies by the IPCC, have confirmed that earth’s climate is changing.
Climate change, Rivers and Oceans
What has the Ocean got to do with global warning? What has the rivers got to do with it? And what has maritime or marine environment got to do with global warning or climate change. The man – made spewing of Co2 into the atmosphere has changed the natural pattern of Oceans, sea, courses of rivers, lakes etc.
The environment journalist
However, let us refresh our memory as African environment journalists or journalists who desire to specialize in reporting climate change to discover that our world is facing one of the 21st century’s biggest challenges. It is very deadly. Its worse than AIDs. Why? AIDs may be by choice. But when the terror of climate change comes, it wipes out communities, villages, towns and cities at once. Think of the Tsunami or the New Orleans’ Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Here lies the challenge to the mass communicator, the environment journalist.
Kenji Makino, Professor of Sociology at Science University, Tokyo Japan and member of Japanese Association of Science and Technology Journalists observed in his presentation at the second World Conference of Science Journalists in Hungary that poor science reporting occurs in the country despite her economic advancement.
Makino recalled how the nation and the people of Kobe, a western port town were caught napping when earthquake killed more than 6,000 people. He blamed science journalists and the mass media for overlooking the possibility of earthquake in the region because journalists often reported the high possibility of a big earthquake in the central part of Japan, near Tokyo -the capital. Despite the fact that seismologists has warned that earthquake may happen in Kobe, no science journalist took the matter seriously. This is one of the challenges for the climate change reporter. While the environment reporter might write a warning signal given by a climatologist, or oceanographer, environment scientist or weather officer, his editor who has a bias for political economic, society, fashion may throw his story into the trash can or accuse him of writing about birds and butterflies and insects. About ten years ago, I wrote an article about Nigerian’s erratic weather warning that Nigeria may be having another third season I tagged; Rainmattan. Some editors poked fun at me in another story where I mentioned studies by university experts at ABU Zaria that certain birds known to some parts of the Savannah have been driven to the rain forest region. You know birds are bio indicators that can be used to determine what is happening to an area. I was accused by an editor for writing about butterflies! There was also the case of an editor who was informed about 2,000 dangerous chemicals that entered Nigeria freely and he told me to allow the chemicals to kill people first. But trust The Guardian, the story was lead story the following day. Nigeria has about 850 kilometers coastline. Nigeria is under threat from climate change. The desert is encroaching into communities in the north and rivers are drying threatening life stock. These are fertile grounds for reporter to write and relate findings from experts to people on living and survival strategies.
There is no doubt that the media is out to make profit and stay afloat. As such some have specialized in what is known as “Junk” Journalism which Fred Omu (1997) noted is characterized by sexual permissiveness, social frivolities and irresponsible and reckless invasion of privacy”. In the mid 1980s a foremost newsmagazine had based the cover story on farming. But it did not sell. Many specialized magazines have collapsed. The Heath care magazine published by Dr. Bola Olaosebikan is resting. The African Science Monitor published by Chief M.K.O Abiola which I once edited is no more due to the lack of vision by come of the recipients of the baton and the June 12 imbroglio. Media Rights Agenda, an NGO based in Lagos studied newspapers of November 2001 and found that issues related to politics and democratic governance dominated coverage in both print and electronics media. According to the study, the press gave more coverage to the 36 state governors, their functionaries and agencies. The survey covered five radio stations and six televisions stations. Denloye et al (2002) at the Lagos State University, Ojoo went through 2,646 newspapers and 580 newsmagazines in Nigeria. The papers were; The Guardian, Daily Times, Punch, Vanguard and defunct National Concord. The Magazines were African Concord, The News, Tell, published between 1990 and 1998. The study showed 17.5 percent of the newspapers carried environmental reports. These stories were reported as news items and the focused on;
Wildlife and conservation.
Ogunleye (2002) in her Environmental Democratic Dispensation, the Awareness imperative noted that two environment programes in Oyo State only gave five minutes and one minute jingle on dust bin usage. This means that Climate issue is hard to sell to the public. But the reporter must remain focused and dogged. The Climate Change reporter must read widely on every issue and relate his stories to governance and people in order to sell his story to the editor. In the tradition of the Media, when dog bites a man, it’s not a story. But it’s a story when man bites a dog. The media in the 21st century should not wait for man to bite the dog and face calamity from climate change before sending an alarm and saving man from killing himself by daring to bite the dog.
. Tunde Akingbade, investigative environment journalist with The Guardian and author is the Founder of Heroes of the Environment International Foundation.
This paper was presented at the First Media Roundtable on Climate Change organized by the Federal Ministry of Environment/Special Climate Change Unit, Abuja on December 1, 2009 as a pre- COP 15 event in Denmark.