Minister Adeosun’s coal technology

It would be an understatement  to say that  Mrs. Kemi Adeosun has had a rough time at the helm of Nigeria’s Finance Ministry. Her tenure as minister has coincided with a calamitous plunge in the value of the Naira. For this, and indeed for the perceived lack of clarity on how she proposes to get Nigeria back on a sound economic footing, Mrs. Adeosun has drawn fire from various quarters. Some critics, adjudging her to be incompetent, have in fact demanded her sack. While some of the criticism clearly smacks of envy and gender bias, others are totally legitimate.

Following her comments last week in Washington, D.C., USA, at a discussion of the problems of infrastructure in developing countries, the Finance Minister may have strengthened the hands of her political enemies and given ammunition to observers who have argued all along that there is no coordination between the office of the President and the Finance Ministry. During the meeting, at which top officials of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were in attendance, Mrs. Adeosun accused Western powers of sabotaging Nigeria’s efforts to build coal power plants as a way of tackling the nation’s energy crisis.

Reiterating the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s desire to find a lasting solution to the problems of power generation and supply in the country, the Minister lamented that: “…we are being blocked from doing so, because it is not green. This is not fair because they (i.e. Western nations) have an entire western industrialisation that was built on coal fired energy. This is the competitive advantage that was used to develop Europe, yet now that Nigeria wants to do it, they say it’s not green, so we cannot. They suggest that we use solar and wind, which is more expensive. So, yes, Africa must invest in its infrastructure, but we must also make sure that the playing field is level.”

On one level, the Finance Minister has a point. For instance, she is right to condemn the hypocrisy of Western countries who, in ramping up the rhetoric about clean energy alternatives, conveniently forget that, but for coal, they wouldn’t have gotten to where they are today. But here is the problem: it was only two weeks previously in Marrakesh, Morocco, that Mrs Adeosun’s boss, President Muhammadu Buhari, signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change committing Nigeria to the reduction of “Green House gas emissions unconditionally by 20 percent and conditionally by 40 percent.”

Put differently, the president gave his word to the international community that the country would steer clear of coal power, notorious for its emission of carbon dioxide (CO2). How could Mrs. Adeosun accuse Western nations of blocking something that the country’s first citizen has promised not to do? This is not the first time that the president and his Finance Minister have contradicted each other, and it raises serious questions about the coherence of policy making at the country’s highest level.

Mrs. Adeosun’s comments would seem to suggest that Western countries are blocking Nigeria’s progress towards adequate energy generation. But it is unclear how the West could actually stop Nigeria if the country were really determined to tackle its energy and related problems head on. In any event, why is the same West unable to stand in the way of China and South Africa, two countries which continue to rely on coal for most of their energy needs? And why would the United States, say, stand in the way of Nigeria when coal power accounts for 39 percent of its electricity production? Finally, if building coal power plants is so onerous an undertaking, what about natural gas, a resource that  Nigeria possesses in abundance, and on which currently there is no Climate Change lien?

The Finance Minister’s comments, while unlikely to endear her to her sworn enemies, appear to have strengthened doubts about her capacity to chart a path to economic revival. At this difficult moment, the country needs bright, concrete ideas, not the same tired excuses, blame games and slashing at phantom enemies.