Militancy, insurgency and banditry in the Niger Delta and Northern Nigeria have placed Nigeria on the map of most insecure regions of the world known for violent crimes such as bombings, manslaughter and kidnapping of innocent people for heavy ransoms.
The menace of the Fulani herdsmen, largely shielded terrorists by the political establishment, in the Middle-Belt and Western Nigeria, has further rubbished the reputation of the country.
Many concerned citizens believe that the authorities have not given adequate priority to tackling the country’s environmental challenges which will ultimately check the high level of insecurity in the polity.
It is even being said in environmental human rights circle that the country’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) document which holds industries accountable for the pollution and other environmental problems they cause in the process of their operations has not been effectively implemented.
Also, a Climate Change Commission Bill which seeks to galvanise actions of the relevant stakeholders to address climate change blamed on desert encroachment, flooding, loss of biodiversity and other environmental changes is yet to receive presidential assent.
Many environmentalists consider such delays in the promulgation and implementation of required policies as a major setback towards creating a sustainable environment in Nigeria.
However, there is a growing consensus among environmental activists and experts why insecurity is rocking Nigeria. For them, a large chunk of the global insecurity is directly linked to environmental issues such as pollution and desert encroachment.
It is being argued that environmental pollution adversely affects farmlands and water supply, and erodes the people’s sources of livelihood, which in turn makes them susceptible to violence.
Citing the case of the Niger Delta, where protesting youths blow up oil pipelines and kidnap oil workers, to express their grievance over environmental pollution caused by oil exploration and exploitation, an environmentalist, Dr Desmond Majekodunmi, says that is an indication of how environmental issues fuel insecurity.
Majekodunmi is insisting that one of the major causes of insecurity in Nigeria, and indeed in other African countries, is environmental degradation.
“When you have a situation like the one in northern Nigeria where climate change and unabated deforestation have caused the desert to move relentlessly and take over villages, definitely we are going to have hundreds of thousands of environmental refugees.
‘’So I am not surprised when they say that some hungry people in the north were given peanuts to carry out terrorist activities. Apart from those that are used by terrorists, take a look at the recurrent problems between the Fulani herdsmen and Plateau people.
‘’The Fulanis are looking for grasses to feed their animals, because the far north has been taken over by the desert. And the attempt by Plateau State residents to resist them (the Fulanis) has led to several fights, killing many people and destroying property”, he said.
Before the explosion of the Fulani herdsmen menace in the Middle-Belt and Western Nigeria, the insecurity situation in Nigeria was concentrated in the Niger Delta and the North-East.
While the peoples of the Niger Delta have lost their farmlands and the water meant for drinking and fishing to widespread oil pollution by the oil and gas majors, those in Northern Nigeria have lost farmlands to rapidly encroaching desert.
Ayo Tella, another environmentalist, believes that insurgency across the globe is environmentally induced. “Over the years, youths in oil producing areas have posed serious security threat in the region, citing the destruction of their ecosystem by oil companies as their grievance”, he says.
Environment stakeholders recently in Bayelsa State staged a protest which served to renew the call on oil companies to clean up the pollution they caused or else vacate the oil region. The protesters complained of the destruction of their sources of livelihood, such as fishing and farming which sustained them before oil exploration began in their region.
In communities like Akumazi, Umunede, Ute-okpu, Ewuru, Idumuesah and Ejeme in Delta State, all water bodies there are coloured with patches of oil. Similarly, many lands in the areas have been excavated for oil.
In 2013, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report 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.
‘’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.”
On the other hand, terrorist activities are concentrated in the northern states and perpetrated mostly by a group known in Hausa language as “Boko Haram” which literally means: Western education is forbidden.
The sect, believed to have been formed in 2002, allegedly launched military operations in 2009 to create an Islamic state in Nigeria.
Before former President Goodluck Jonathan declared a State of Emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states in May 2013, an estimated 741 citizens had already died in coordinated attacks, according to a report by the University of Sussex in the UK. The report also says that at least 2,265 have died while about three million people have been affected as at April, 2014.
The devilish activities of Boko Haram include the multiple bombing of military barracks, media houses and busy bus stops in Abuja, the UN House in Abuja, and the abduction of nearly 300 girls from a government secondary school in Chibok. The abduction grabbed global attention, giving rise to widespread protests under the twitter platform BringBackOurGirls.
Analysts believe that endemic poverty caused by desertification turned farmlands into barren lands and made the region a fertile ground for terrorists. There is an allegation that unemployed and hungry youths gladly accept peanuts from the masterminds to get involved in terrorism.
The rate of desertification in the country is reported to be high with the attendant destruction of about 2,168sq km of range land and cropland each year in the north. In Yobe, a study revealed that, in 1986, the rate of desertification which stood at 23.71 per cent increased to 31.30 per cent in 1999 and, by 2009, it had covered almost half of the state.
The report says that crop cultivation and animal rearing are no more productive in the state, because the soil has lost its fertility, while various infrastructures had collapsed as windstorm from the neighbouring Niger Republic and sand dunes had taken over the entire place.
In an interview, some northerners, who now reside in Lagos, claimed they fled the area and were engaged in menial jobs such as shoe mending, manicure, cart pushing and others, because the encroaching desert destroyed their farms.
Nigeria is being rated by the World Bank Group as among the world’s extremely poor countries, alongside India, China, Bangladesh, DR Congo, Indonesia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya, even with the country’s huge economy, the largest in Africa. However, a map of the country shows that its poverty index is concentrated in the North where desert encroachment is more pronounced.
For Majekodunmi, “we have always had beautiful policies to create shelter belts to tackle desertification in the north. We had one about 21 years ago, during the military era which, if implemented, would have saved us the problems we face now.”
He was optimistic that the Shelter Belt project which was inaugurated by Abuja and championed by credible stakeholders (such as renowned environmentalist, Newton Jibuno), will be successful. It was expected that the Federal Ministry of Environment would take over the project as well as the Great Green Wall programme so that they do not die like the ones before it.
The Great Green Wall (GGW) programme, in Bachaka, Kebbi State was flagged off in July 2013. It was meant “to create a contiguous greenbelt from the North-West to the North-East zone in the desert states with the objective of rehabilitating about 225,000 hectares of degraded lands, enhance food security, reduce rural poverty and generate employment for about 500,000 people in its first year of implementation”.
The 11 most affected states, commonly called frontline states, are Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Kastina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.
At the time, 43.3 per cent of the total land area of the country was prone to desertification, which exposed 40 million Nigerians then to the threat of hunger and total starvation. There has not been any official confirmation of the extent of work done on the GGW project. Many concerned citizens are in doubt if the worsening security problem in the region could allow any meaningful project to take place there.
A security expert, Wilson Esangbedo, has been wondering “how a place under such serious security threat and heavy military deployment will welcome any development project”. According to him, “what is required is for the government to go to areas where there is relative peace and make its presence felt”.
Although oil companies are required to clean up their areas of operations, they cite the insecurity in the region as the excuse for failing to abide by the code. This explains why it is a welcome development that one of the giant companies operating there, ExxonMobil, announced plans to commence high sea clean-up of oil spills.
Environmental rights advocacy groups have been urging for the country’s Environmental Impact Assessment to be rigorously enforced to make oil companies account for the pollution that they cause.
Experts hold the view that getting oil companies to clean up their spills would not only encourage companies to buy and install pollution-control equipment, but would also help in creating jobs for the people.
Obviously, it is important that Abuja should have the will power to implement all its policies on creating a safe environment that is conducive for humanity to work and earn their living, in order to shun every temptation to disturb public peace.