Insecurity: Why Nigeria must address environmental degradation

November 10th, 2019

CHUKS OYEMA-AZIKEN writes that one of the ways to tackle the alarming rate of insecurity is for all stakeholders to proffer solutions to challenges in the environment.

President Muhammadu Buhari in an address at the United Nations in 2018 cited climate change as one of the greatest challenges of our time.

He said climate change has drastically shrunk Lake Chad and was parching otherwise fertile, arable lands.

Buhari said Lake Chad was a major source of livelihood to more than 45 million inhabitants of the region. He explained that its shrinking has taken jobs, rendered people poor and vulnerable, and exposed to extremists and terrorist elements.

He added that instability has also intensified internal displacements, leading to intense economic competition, especially between farmers and herdsmen.

Again in New York in 2019, President Buhari in a meeting with the Nigerian Youths Climate Group gave some insights into the severe climate challenges confronting the country.
According to the President, Nigeria is a neighbour to the Sahara Desert; Lake Chad is shrinking while population is exploding. It’s a challenging situation. With less land, less rainfall, these are very unique problems for the country.

Just as the President attempts to link the insecurity crisis in the North East to climate change, other writers also continue to link insecurity in some other parts of the country to environmental degradation which is manifest in different forms in all parts of the country.

The National Coordinator, Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ), Comrade Sheriff Mulade in his contribution identified worsening climate change as the major cause of crisis between farmers and herders in communities across Nigeria.

He said the crisis has caused many deaths and losses of properties in communities most affected.

The UNDP Report in 2013, said the Niger Delta region is suffering from administrative neglect, crumbling social infrastructure and services, high unemployment, social deprivation, abject poverty, filth and squalor, and endemic conflict.

UNDP added: “The majority of the people of the Niger Delta do not have adequate access to clean water or health-care. Their poverty, in contrast with the wealth generated by oil, has become one of the world’s starkest and most disturbing examples of the resource curse”

Among several causative factors of insecurity is the struggle for land resources. Some have been forced to abandon their lands due to desertification, degradation, dwindling fortunes of Lake Chad (North-East), pollution (Niger-Delta), erosion (South-East) etc.

Some definitions of Environmental security as offered by scholars clearly reflect the critical situation Nigeria faces in addressing insecurity, within the contexts of environmental factors.

Summary of some definitions states that the condition of environmental security is one in which social systems interact with ecological systems in sustainable ways, all individuals have fair and reasonable access to environmental goods, and mechanisms exist to address environmental crises and conflicts.

From the above definition, in the case of Nigeria, the interaction between the social system and the ecological system may be said to have broken down leading to conflicts.

This is what President Buhari seek to explain when looking at the conflict in the Northeast.

Similar explanations can be used to account for the conflict between herdsmen and farmers. In simple terms, the struggle for scarce land.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature identified oil spills, loss of nature and desertification as the greatest environmental challenges of Nigeria.

According to the Norwegian group, 70 – 80 percent of Nigeria’s original forests have disappeared due to human activities such as logging, city expansion, expansion of roads etc. It says this has led to loss of plants and animals. With the expected consequences of climate change, these losses are expected to increase. It also said that Nigeria is losing 0.6 kilometres of land to desertification each year

Some say the inability to address the failure in interaction between the social system and ecological system accounts for the challenges in the Niger Delta region.

Babatunde, Abosede Omowumi in “Landscape of Insecurity: The Intricacies of Environmental Changes in Nigeria’s Oil-rich Niger Delta Region” said the region has one of the most delicate and sensitive ecological zones in the world; any adverse impact quickly runs through the entire ecosystem.

He said: “The region has been identified by international environmental experts as one of the world’s most severely petroleum-impacted ecosystems due to the extraction of oil by multinational corporations without adhering to global environmental standards. This extensive environmental degradation creates economic hardship for local people as their ancestral lands are rendered agriculturally useless, depriving them of their traditional livelihoods. He said further, “After decades of frustration, the environmentalist and playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa championed the nonviolent campaign for environmental justice in the 1990s through the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, bringing the plight of the Niger Delta into the international limelight. Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were subsequently arrested in 1994 by the Nigerian military junta for allegedly murdering four Ogoni chiefs—the activists were charged with treasonable felony and hanged on 10 November 1995.

“This changed the contours of the nonviolent campaign and set in motion complex, multidimensional conflicts that launched a vicious cycle of violence and insecurity.

Babatunde said the violent agitations by militants sometimes turned to illicit activities such as illegal oil bunkering, kidnapping, and the destruction of pipelines, making the region a global center of violent conflict and criminality. The struggle assumed complex dimensions, bringing to the fore various actors, including the local women who were noted for their traditional supporting roles in the sustenance of the family. There is increasing evidence of women’s restiveness and active involvement in violent militancy—not only against the oil multinationals and the Nigerian State, but also against the excesses of traditional authority structures.

From the foregoing, it is evident that the government with support of foreign partners should take urgent steps to fashion out policies that will address environmental challenges holistically and in so doing restore normalcy in the interaction between social and ecological systems.

Director-General/Chief Executive Officer, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Idris Musa states that there is a serious need to strengthen the Federal Ministry of Environment and her Agencies by bringing them to the front burner.

“In particular, the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) should be strengthen through an amendment to the Act that established it. The Agency has the potential to stem the oil spillage ravaging the entire country ranging from the upstream to the downstream sectors of the petroleum industry.”

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