Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The minister of state for Environment, Ibrahim Jubril, resigned from the federal cabinet recently to resume as the 13th emir of Nasarawa emirate, in Nasarawa State.
He was the fifth minister to resign from Buhari’s cabinet since 2015 and the third who resigned to take up another appointment. He speaks about his stewardship in the environment ministry and his new role as an emir.
You just resigned your position as minister of environment to resume as the new emir of Nasarawa emirate, give us an account of your stewardship?
It is with mixed feelings that I am leaving the cabinet but I am thankful to Mr. President for the honour and privilege given to me to serve our dear nation. The last three years have been full of activities and I must thank God for giving us the strength and courage to serve under President Muhammadu Buhari’s leadership. There is no doubt I personally learnt a lot from his leadership and fairness to all, his commitment to the entire nation and his desire to fight corruption to a standstill. I have learnt a lot from his sterling qualities. It’s been a wonderful experience for me.
In my sojourn in the last three years, I was privileged to virtually tour the entire country; there is hardly any state I have not visited in the last two years to look at environmental issues. One thing remains clear to me, there is no part of this country that has no environmental issues in one way or the other and there are three locations that will remain indelible in my heart till the end of my life. First of all, we took a tour of the North East and I have seen the devastations of war. I have traveled from Maiduguri to Baga, every part of that landscape up to Monguno, there is no village that was not destroyed. When we look at the consequences of war we also have to look at the environmental impact, the long term effect on the lives of the people in that location. I was also privileged to travel to Bama and I have seen an entire community destroyed within a period of two days because of the madness of Boko Haram. I was again privileged to travel across four local governments in one day and I have seen the devastation of climate change. The issue of sand dunes moving south wards covering villages and houses has remained permanent feature in my life because I have seen how helpless people could be and that has put a lot of strain on me to make a difference.
Going down south, I was privileged to travel to the creeks and in February 2016 there was an oil spill and we were there with my former colleague now in the United Nations. I have always said to people that I am used to seeing fish fried in vegetable oil but in the Niger Delta, I have seen fish and crab fried in crude oil. This has made a lasting impact in my life and made me more determined to do the best I could. We have the instrument in our hand with the promise made by Mr. President that the oil pollution in the Niger Delta will be cleaned. And we have the Ogoni cleaned up which was sanctioned by the United Nations Environment Programme in 2011 but was not taken seriously. To the credit of Mr. President, he gave us the support and today we have taken that project to the point of issuing letters to the contractors who will do the remediation work. Before now, contractors were reluctant to release anything but after seeing the seriousness with which Mr. President has given the instruction to pursue this project, they were compelled and we put all the necessary structures in place and they were encouraged and as I speak today, they have released $180 million for this project. There are a lot of speculations but as at today $170 million is right now in the Escrow account. Out of the initial $10 million we still have about $5 million in the account.
I’m saying this because the previous administration did not get to the level we have reached and the oil companies had no confidence to release their money. But because of the integrity of Mr. President and the manner with which he so guided this project assiduously, we were able to get to this level and I thank Mr. President for giving me the rare honor to move this project to this level, I believe people are more confident now. This is not the only project in the ministry of environment but it is the highest profiled and more politicised project.
What will you miss as you leave the Federal Executive Council?
When you are a member of a family and you are leaving a big scene like this, there will be some nostalgic feelings, we have been together for about three years, we have bonded, and definitely you will miss your colleagues. But you are not going to be in isolation, I am going to meet the people at the grassroots, so it is a form of compensation at a different level this time around. My routine won’t be the same but we are grateful to God that we were given opportunity to serve our dear country at the highest level. This is a rare privilege, it’s not everybody that gets that, you are not the best out of an entire state, there are many others but God has given me the opportunity and I am glad that we have utilised it to serve our nation. We will continue to serve even at the grassroots. We believe in what the president is doing, we believe he has the passion to serve the country, to serve the people selflessly. I’m leaving with mixed feelings; I will miss President Buhari’s sterling qualities, his wise counsel. But I am not leaving Nigeria and so I will continue to benefit from his wise counsel.
What is expected of you as the new emir?
I am expected to lead justly and fairly too, I am expected to carry everyone along, I’m expected to be fair to all and that is exactly what I hope to do and by the grace of God I will do it.
The ministry of environment seems to be unlucky as the appointed ministers keep leaving to take up new appointments, won’t it impact on the ministry negatively?
I do not think the ministry is unlucky. Before we were assigned the ministry, it was more of a low profile ministry, it was a low budget ministry but we have been able to move that ministry to a higher level. At the risk of sounding immodest, I think we have tried our best. When we came on board the total capital budget of the entire ministry was not up to N1 billion and even at that you don’t get up to 50 percent release. But as at today the budget has moved to N9 billion and that shows the commitment and concern the Federal Government has for environment and the confidence the president has in us to handle that. So I don’t think the ministry is unlucky at all. The man, Sulieman Hassan (former minister of state II for ministry of power, works and housing) taking over is someone I know very well, he is an environmentalist, a land surveyor; he will improve and probably go beyond what we have done. I am sure he is up to the task and will perform creditably well.
What is the landmark achievement in the ministry you have been able to make?
I just told you that the ministry was regarded as one of the low budget ministries with a capital budget of only a billion naira, the president has moved that budget to over N9 billion in the past three years. That has enabled us to carry out more activities and today, as if to give me a parting gift Federal Executive Council approved additional funding for the World Bank to the tune of $400 million to serve the Nigeria Erosion State Management Project, which is a landmark achievement as far as I am concerned. Thirdly, the Ogoni clean up that has been on paper; recall that four local government areas in Ogoniland in Rivers State were severely impacted by oil pollution. The government in 2006 asked the United Nations Environment Programme to do an assessment study; they came up with a report in 2011. And since then nobody had done anything serious to implement that report. The president promised and we took it up in 2015 and today, we have gotten to a level where contractors have been asked to move to site and there are 21 sites up for remediation and soon they will be handing over their site to commence work on the remediation exercise. So this is a dream come through particularly for the people of Niger Delta who have suffered serious land degradation and oil pollution. These are just few of the landmark achievements of this administration. I believe they will move further and therefore by 2019 when the president will resume for a second term hopefully, more things will be done. Lastly, no president has given the environment attention the way President Buhari has done. Last year alone, he signed three instruments of ratification on international treaties on climate change, great green wall and mercury and many other things. So since his coming, he has signed at least four instruments of ratification, he has signed into law the forest research institute bill, the institute now has a law backing it to carry out its assignment and to expand further in the country.