By Abah Matthew Abah-Eny


Twelve years ago, the United Nations Agencies responsible for combating desertification organized a Special Conference in Germany. Central on the conference’s Agenda list was the economic strangulation that stared Nigeria and Niger republic in the faces as a result of their fast-worsening desertification problems. When it became time for Nigeria to present its case to the gathering of eminent international politicians and those on whose tables the buck stopped in the Briton Woods offices and other international Donor Agencies, the feeling in the air was said to have been similar to what prevails at all unavoidable ritual ceremonies- get it over with so that those whose hands held the yams and the knifes would slice off the least possible peal of the yams.


But when Ime Okopido, then Minister of State for Environment in Nigeria’s freshly re-minted democratic government under retired General Obasanjo took the floor and began to unfold the graphic details of the Nigerian desertification dilemma, tactfully bringing to limelight, its spill-over effects on the rest of Africa, an over-bearing pin-drop silence was said to have imposed itself on the floor of the UN conference hall. By the time the Hon Minister gathered his papers to leave the podium, it was clear he had “slolen” the day. His conclusion was that, “no”, Nigeria had not come to Germany to ask for a mere slice from the yam.


Her desertification problem was too overwhelming for that. His fact-loaded presentation had proved that. What Nigeria needed and required urgently, according to Okopido, was a complete cancellation of the totality of her external debts, then said to be about 33 billion US dollars. This was required to afford Nigeria the where-withal to combat the desert whose conquering penetration towards its Southern states from its largely devastated Northern zone had already attained the frightening speed of about 530 meters per annum with about 32 million citizens, mostly farmers and their?dependents?facing desert-induced starvation.


The Briton Wood hawks at the conference must have begun to cultivate a new respect for the Nigerian position. Obasanjo, a veteran of international politics, possibly having read the hand-writing on the wall about the impending attitude of the international community towards Nigeria’s debt cancellation demand, decided to act convincingly .On World Environment day 2001, he announced the release of the sum of 11bilio naira for the control of desertification. His administration eventually secured the cancelation of the country’s total external debts, obviously in deference to Okopido’s demand in Germany.


In 2005, Nigeria, again under Obasanjo packaged and presented the Green Wall for Sahara Project (GWS) to the Sahel Sahara Summit which held in Ouagodoogou, Bukina Faso as an all-embracing multinational project to halt the desert’s match on the African nations that find themselves positioned on its way. In 2007, the African Union adopted the project in view of its existential relevance to the continent and its hunger-threatened peoples, leading to the first Summit of Heads of State and Governments of the eleven member States on the Great Green which was held at N’Djamena, Chad. The most outstanding outcome of the Summit was the signing of the Convention on the Great Green Wall.


In conformity with the Global Village Trend where the economic problems of one part of the world deserve to be given multiregional approaches in pursuit of their solutions, the European Union, the FOA and other Agencies of the United Nations have come on board with determined intentions to be part of the successful implementation of the Great Green Wall in Nigeria and other African nations in the spirit and letters of the United Nations Agenda 21 which Nigeria is a signatory to. The federal Government of Nigeria, through the Federal Ministry of Environment is presently marshalling the rest of the world behind all its own might to take the fight to the desert through the GGW project. Observable activities in the Presidency and within the Ministry in recent times seem to point to the fact that the country has learned much from the Central Nigerian words of wisdom which warns the broken-nosed orphan on how not to turn his mother’s burial ceremony into a laughing matter by the way he speaks! Or has it?



Every day that passes by Nigeria forfeits about 600 sq meters of her land area almost irretrievably to the desert. Irretrievably? in the sense that the cost of reclaiming the over-degraded land becomes permanently unaffordable to the rural dweller whose land capital has just crossed the line of economic viability, in most cases without his knowing it. He continues to put himself into debts, buying fertilizer and other farm inputs that no longer have any visible effects on his returns from the farm, only unplayable debts that ensures his children don’t go to college. He is an economic refugee on the only land he can call his own. Himself, wives and children constitute the over 40 million Nigerian citizens rendered economic destitute in the eleven frontline states in Northern Nigeria. Conservative figure for the number of cattle that perish every year around Nigeria’s desert lands is 1.3 million. About 7 million youths are churned into the over-saturated unemployment market every year as a result of desert-imposed penury, creating fertile grounds for youth violence with it implications on national security.


The talk about an urgent need for a Green Wall cross Nigeria’s desert land is as old as the Nigerian state. But in the most recent history are the 11 billion naira president Obasanjo spoke about in 2001 and the desert control content of the nation’s external debt cancellation which was achieved for Nigeria. Land degradation occasioned by the worsening state of the desert has continued to get worse while the talk for the Belt or the Wall have continued reverberate into high crescendos and sorrowful fades at unknown costs to the government and irreparable economic woes to the desert-vanquished but voiceless millions that populate the conquered lands.



Between the months of May and October this year, the Federal Executive Coincil, obviously re-acting to persistent and fact-based presentations from the Hon Minister of Environment, Mrs. Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafia, approved the implementation of the Green Wall Project in Nigeria. The National Economic Council has followed with its huge approval and a compact committee is said to be working on the strategies for the project’s successful implementation with key groups and representatives of stake- holder Ministries, Departments and Agencies(MDAs). Nigeria cannot afford to get it wrong on the Great Green Wall. Recent Environmental national emergency-rated developments around Nigeria is a clarion call for all segments of the Nigerian society, the leadership first, to stand up to the impending challenges of Climate Change Effects.



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