DESERTIFICATION: NORTHERN NIGERIAS ECONOMIC EXTERMINATION PROCESS IN SLOW MOTION

The federal government of Nigeria under the leadership of president Goodluck Jonathan has shown the evidence of having woken up to the huge shock that is chilling the bones of world leaders as a result of the Environmental Armageddon that stares humanity in the face. ?He has demonstrated this by the kind of front-burner-development-issues attention his government has given to the Green-Wall project aimed at halting the desert in its track as it matches on the Nigerian nation in a more ferocious manner than any African nations armed forces can do in a frontal warfare.

In less than five months, the Federal Ministry of Environments Position Papers and recommendations to the Federal Executive Council on the economic significance of the Green Wall and how the government can stand up to its responsibilities on the project were reportedly considered and approved, with the ministry promptly setting up a Special Committee on its implementation strategies; and the National Economic Council giving the project its mighty node.

These bold steps on an issue that has continued to be bedeviled in the past with inexplicable foot-dragging needs to be given all the public encouragements it deserves for very many reasons, the most significant of which is its huge financial implications and the fact that when it comes to the issue of the Environment, socio-political morality is often pushed into a distant position both at the international and national bargaining tables.

For the Green-Wall against the Sahara Project to be carried through its logical conclusions, the various levels of the national and international publics, and even more importantly, new arrivals on the scene need to be brought up to date on what happened on the issues yesterday, if only as a guard into the future.

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (2nd Earth Summit) otherwise called RIO + 10 which took place in South Africa in August 2002 was outstanding for two main reasons: George W. Bush, then U.S. Presidents derogatory absence on one hand and the reality of the Environmental Armageddon that stared third world nations in the face as a result of the Environmental injustices perpetrated by the industrialized world on the other hand. RIO + 10, was billed to usher in the near-belated era of protection programs implementation drive all over the world in fulfillment of the spirits and letters of the UN Agenda 21 which is one of the most outstanding outcome of the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992.

The Agenda amounted to a clarion call on all levels of governments and allied organizations to collate and disseminate valid information on the state of the Environment for the purpose of effectively planning for their protection. For Africa and Africans, Agenda 21, which was viewed as a well articulated process towards finding the solution to an existential problem almost turned out to be a lullaby composed by the industrialized nations to send the continent to a century of sleep and exploitation.

As the international community hollered itself hoarse in condemnation of America’s bolt face from her commitment to the Kyoto Protocol on green house emission under George W Bush, which merely required her to do what a rape artist would not find difficult to do -cover his victim with her own clothing-the world’s only surviving supper-power pulled a joker from her pocket and held it out to wailing Africa. America sent one of their own, Collin Powell to offer his black strong shoulders to Africa to cry on. Sorry, no cookies for you just yet?, he said between his official message to the Conference.

There was no official retraction from the objectives of UN Agenda 21 at the South African conference. In that light, no one can therefore substantiate an accusation of America’s sponsorship of such a plot. This is how tricky, the subject of treachery or the lack of it can be on the terrain of international diplomacy and the corridors of power often times on Environmental issues. Between America and her allies at such treacherous times on one hand and the environmentally vanquished peoples of the world on the other, the game has become akin to that of the proverbial big cat and the imperiled rats that seek to bell it.

Coming home to Nigeria on the issue of the Environment, late president Umar Musa Yaradua, and president Goodluck inherited one of the most daunting albatross from their predecessors in the form of the Environmental injustices perpetrated in Nigeria over time. Just as things stand between western nations and third world countries, the proverbial chicken has come home to roost in Nigeria , only with a slight deviation from its original meaning.

As Nigeria’s accusing finger, in conformity with those of other third world nations is pointed towards the industrialized countries of the world, accusing them of unfair deals on the issue of the Environment, the country stands condemned in her own conscience in view of the Federal government’s past history of nonchalant altitude towards the Environmental travails of her northern region.

While various federal administrations in Nigeria over the years but particularly the resent democratic dispensations under president Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck  Jonathan  have done nearly all they could possibly hope to do to alleviate the oil-exploration and exploitation related Environmental degradations that occur in the Niger- Delta region of Nigeria, the exact opposite can be said to be the case with the frontal war-fare the desert has waged on Nigeria from her Northern front.

 

To cast the issue in its proper perspective, it needs to be restated here that the Environment, which desertification forms an integral part of, has come to be accorded its rightful place on the agenda list of the international community even if some of the industrialized nations choose to play the ostrich when it comes to rising up to their obligations on its protection. Since as far back as 1972, Environmental problems has been accorded the status of a global problem by the United Nations.

This was way ahead of other pressing existential issues such as Population (Bucharest1974) Food (Rome 1974) Women (Mexico city 1975) and Human Settlement (Vancouver 1976) to mention just a few essential needs of humanity.  While the international community and the Federal government of Nigeria have recognized the environment as the second most important issue in the world, coming second only to the general economy on any viable development agenda list in the world, past administrations in Nigeria have been deliberately cold-footed as far as the particular issue of combating the desert in Northern Nigeria was concerned.

Every day that passes by, Nigeria looses about 958 metres of her total land area permanently to the desert. Nigeria therefore looses about 0.6 kilometers of her national land to the desert every year. In the nineteen Northern states of Nigeria, more than 25 million people may be rendered homeless in the next 20years by the desert. Already more than 1/4 of inhabitants of these states live lives that are way below that of refugees in war ravaged countries in various parts of the world. In Jigawa state, children and their parents live permanently under temporary structures in many council wards in Maigatari Local Government Area.

This is because sand- duns that make the erection of any form of permanent residential structures impossible for terribly poor rural dwellers have become part of their lives. In Babura Local Government Area of the state, sandstorm had continued to destroy schools and homes for years leading to significant decreases in school enrolment figures as the population increases. Wind-Sound Africa visited up to 29 families in Birniwa council area of the state who are permanently on the move because of one form of desert related problems or the other. For example the family of Mal.

Abudulahi Adamu who offered our reporter a meal of fura da nunu when he passed their settlement on a camel back to a nearby village recently was no longer there when he went back there two weeks later. Their former home had been leveled to the ground by sand storm and in its place; a long stretching sand dun was the only visible feature. The bubbling community of herdsmen that had enthusiastically welcomed our reporter a few days earlier had been sacked. No sign of life was visible within a kilometer radius of the former village.

 

Our reporter’s escort told him he had no hope for success should he decide to embark on a search for Abudulahi and members of his family. This is for the bizarre reason that in Birniwa local government area, as in many other areas in the state, not more than 30% of inhabitants enjoy the privilege of living in permanent   homes where one could go and enquire from them which way Abudulahi   and his family had headed. Enquires later confirmed the escort’s alarming information.

Apart from residents of towns where local government head quarters are located and two or three major settlement areas per local government area, the vast majority of indigenes of desert encroached states in Nigeria do not have permanent roofs over their heads. They keep moving in accordance with the severity with which the rampaging desert bares it fangs at them.

In Kebbi state , our research teams found that while the creation of the state in 1996 brought a high level of stability to the largely itinerant lives of indigenes, up to 70% of the population still lives in destitute conditions because of the desert. This is despite their individual efforts at improving their own standard of living . In fact a week of inter-active investigations proved that the average rural dweller in Sakaba Local Government Area of the state sets out to work harder for an improved income everyday more than his or her counterparts in Olamaboro Local Government Area of Kogi State in Middle-Belt Nigeria; Isu-Uzo Local Government Area of Enugu State in the South- East; Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa State in the South-South and Ileje Meje Local Government Area of Ekiti State in the South-Western part of the country.

Despite this fact , the lot of the rural dwellers in Kebbi State can never be believed if it is recounted to his or her less industrious counterpart in these other parts of Nigeria. The desert is their bane. The mother of four children in Sakaba leaves her children at dawn, milks the cows, prepares her fura da nunu for sale and sets out on long distant treks that sometimes takes all of two hours before she reaches any government offices or government recognized cattle markets patronized by people from other parts of the country who are her major customers.

She stays in wait for customers for hours before setting off for the hours of trekking back to her family home. Often, because of the high number of other women from other long distant homes who go to these few government markets with the same product, the journey- weary Fulani woman realizes an average amount of #700 from her hours of trekking and waiting upon customers in the market. Her counterpart in other parts of Nigeria who do not use a quarter of the time she uses to etch out a living realize an average financial return of not less than #1500 from her family farm produce and other minute commercial engagements per day.

The heart wrenching part of the story is that the returning Fulani woman who lives in the jaws of the desert might not find her family where she left them in the morning when she gets back to her previous home. Our investigations revealed that 1/6 of the families that dwell in the desert encroached areas of Northern Nigeria have to move homes at least four times every year because of sand dun invasion. During our last investigation in Borno, Adamawa, Sokoto, Kebbi, Kano and parts of kaduna states, our research findings show that farm yields have continued to nose dive by as much as 10% to 15% every year as a result of deteriorating environment.

In Taraba, Bauchi, Gombe and Plateau, the deterioration was still minimal. Katsina and Jigawa returned farm yields deteriorating figures of between 15 to 16%. Kogi and Kwara States which have peculiar ecological problems returned farm yield-deteriorating figures of 13% every year not due to desertification as much as soil sequestration arising from surface and gully erosion. Nasarawa, Benue and Niger returned deterioration figures of 14% per year. It is essentially unavoidable that these states will face famine in the next 15 years if urgent steps are not taken to halt the desert in its track.

The sum total of the implications the uncontrolled desert poses to Nigeria is that the nation would have ceded more than 30% of her total land area permanently to the desert in the year 2030. This would be worse than what the Nigerian civil war of 1967 – 1970 set out to avoid. It would be three times worse than the implications of the Liberian war, on which Nigeria spent hundreds of billions of Naira to flex muscles. In fact it would be worse than the implications of any frontal warfare that Nigeria has ever undertaken.

A former Minister of State, Federal Ministry of Environment, Dr. Ime Okopido while addressing a United Nations organized conference on combating desertification in Niger and Nigeria which took place in Germany in the year 2000 rightly informed the international community that the entire Northern Nigeria could be wiped out soon if the international community did not cancel Nigeria’s total external debt so that the country could use the conserved fund to combat desertification. Okopido mixed no words in conveying his well-grounded reasoning at the gathering in Germany and his audience could have taken him seriously. However, hard nosed Briton woods and Paris Club decision makers must have waved off Okopido’s watertight argument as mere rhetoric in view of the wide disparity between the utterances of the federal government of that era on desertification on one hand, and their actual action. For instance, Nigeria’s external debt figures as at the time Okopido held the world spellbound in Germany on the nation’s dilemma in the hands of desertification hovered around 30 billion Dollars. Half of that amount can enable Nigeria take the fight to the desert. So on that basis the request Okopido placed before the international community made a lot of senses.

However, when almost one year later, president Olusegun Obasanjo launched an attack on the desert on world desertification day 2001 with the sum of #11billion Naira earmarked for the establishment of a shelter belt across all the desert threatened states to be expended within an unspecified number of years in Northern Nigeria, those who had taken Okopido serious in Germany would have been convinced that the country was just grandstanding at the conference. Unwary analysts would of course try to draw the conclusion that the pittance Obasanjo threw in the way of the desert winds in June 2001 only goes to prove how broke the country is in the face of its many needs.

But a critical observer would easily put the lies to that conclusion if cognizance is taken of the billions of Naira the government spends on other capital projects that are deemed likely to yield political mileage for the politicians in Aso Rock and other government quarters.

The voiceless 19 states in Northern Nigeria that stand threatened by the desert do not just need the belt that Obasanjo wished to put across the area. What they need is a people-focused and comprehensive forestation and traditional farming project OUT OF WHICH THEY CAN EARN A LIVING for themselves . Nigeria’s army of unemployed youths in the North need to be gainfully deployed into the desert to engage in a daily supervised tree planting and farming exercise which would cost not less than 10 billion Naira per month for a period of one year. Then, Nigeria will be seen to be worthy of all international assistances it desires because of her desire to halt the desert.

The chunk of Nigeria’s land mass the desert has set out to yank off in the next twenty years is too frightening to contemplate. In this light, President Goodluck Jonathan needs to resist any and all competing reasons that would seek to hamstrung the GREEN WALL project.

 

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