Recent developments in the polity are indicative of the unfolding reality that insecurity in Nigeria is finally, albeit subtly, redefining Nigeria’s state of the union. This can be seen in no better instances than the emergence of a regional security outfit in the south-west entitled Amotekun and the subsequent immediate efforts in some parts of the north to create similar outfit named Shege-Ka-Fasa as announced during a press conference in Kaduna last week by a northern group. This is as we await more reactions from other zones, having seen a successful establishment of Amotekun to guard the south-west.
It is indeed most unfortunate that today, nearly every geo-political zone of Nigeria is faced with one form of insecurity challenge or the other despite federal government’s untiring efforts to end the scourge.
While the south-west governors cited rising incidences of gun violence, with emphasis on herdsmen-farmers clashes as reasons for the creation of Amotekun. It is a fact that competition for natural resources, particularly vegetation and water, is at the center of this and many others across the nation. It is against this backdrop that we find it worthy to sound this long overdue alarm that, if no urgent actions are taken to halt and reverse the trend of destruction to the fragile ecosystem in northern Nigeria, chances are high for irreversible system failure in the country.
NATURE OF THE PROBLEM
The northern region is the food basket of the nation. Vast majority of population in the north are engaged in either crop cultivation or animal rearing. When oil lured Nigeria into abandoning agriculture shortly after independence, it took away with it our conscience for the protection and preservation of our second most important asset (the land) after our population. In addition to other environmental improprieties like indiscriminate tree feelings, deforestation, and bush fires, more pressure from the threat multiplier climate change, desertification and population explosion succeeded in sending more nomadic herders southward from the far north in desperate search for greener pasture.
Amid soaring annual population growth (of 3.2%) and sluggish growth (of 1.5%) in food production in Nigeria, the desertification frontline States of northern Nigeria are jointly losing 350,000 hectares of land (largely farmlands) to desert encroachment annually, that is according to a report entitled Special Report on Desertification in Nigeria: The Sun Eats Our Lands, as published by The Vanguard of 3rd May, 2014; that is too big a lost to give sleepless nights. This happens when dryness and freefall decline in biodiversity, orchestrated by indiscriminate tree felling, uninformed agricultural practices, etc continue taking toll on livestock production and the peasantry by yielding poor harvests, exacerbating poverty, joblessness and food insecurity in the region.
Consequently, growing competition for limited environmental resources between the nomadic herders and the agrarian population, first in the north central and later in the west and east occasioned violent conflicts that continue to change colouration and erode trust between the citizens far and near.
Eventually, south west stepped forward with the formation of Amotekun to check the ugly development. Although, the federal government has rejected the move by the west as illegal, but if the region succeeded in withstanding the pressure, it will provide a good precedence for other regions to follow suit, and that is likely going to set the stage for actualization of the long time agitations for restructuring Nigeria.
As evident in various agitations in the heat of 2014 national conference and beyond, various zones in the country have different positions on whether Nigeria needs restructuring. And even among those advocating for the restructuring, their definitions of the term in Nigeria’s context varied respectively. However, it is noteworthy that common to those various definitions by the restructuring advocates is the need for States’ control over their respective natural resources.
This wish is also closely related to the persistent calls for establishment of State Police; something like Amotekun, if you like.
While body languages in the polity suggest that restructuring Nigeria, with States controlling their naturally endowed resources, is just a matter of time, the rate at which technology is fast changing the narratives for global energy priorities clearly shows that sooner or later, oil economies would either look for alternative means of survival or just crumble, and, the north will then be weaned off oil money. When that Rubicon is crossed, agriculture is unarguably going to be the last resort of the nation.
It is in light of the above that, we are afraid, given the rate at which the north is losing resources to drought and desertification, the south restricting access to nomadic herders, ineffectual nature of government environmental programmes against drought and desertification, insecurity, intolerance and high level unemployment among the youths, a prospective semi-autonomous northern Nigeria may not have leg to stand on. We cannot see Nigeria or the northern region sustaining a population in famine and mistrust.
Our prayers is for a movement of all northerners; the political class, business communities, civil society organizations, traditional rulers, students unions and every group and individual towards an eco-friendly investment pattern. There is an urgent need for well thought-out and properly coordinated campaigns for preservation of the remaining forest and water resources in the region, restoration of biological diversity and reclamation of our lands from desertification. This can lessen the pressure on the north central by holding many nomadic herders in other parts of the north and returning many peasants back to even year-round farming. The region cannot risk further delay to avoid sliding into an irreversible socioeconomic, political, cultural and environmental blackout. As an ex-US president Franklin D. Roosevelt would say, “A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people”. It is a fact that the agric sector, if properly harnessed, remains the largest employer of labour for skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers in both rural and urban settings.
There is an urgent need to revive the defunct Frontline States’ Forum of Commissioners of Environment and to push for presidential assenting of the Climate Change Bill which will help in bringing to the fore environment-related pressing issues and scientific information that can guide policy makers and administrators towards better environmental management.
Mannir Musa Yisin is the CEO Green Environmental Promoters Society (GrEPS)