In my first Sun Newspaper column back in January 2018, I wrote about the origins of the herdsmen crisis. My focus then was to establish the link between the crisis and climate change. That wouldn’t be my first time taking on the issue in the media. In-fact in my numerous writings and interviews, I have discussed and proffered solutions to the stateless and homeless people of the desert who have lost their lands and boundaries to the Sahara and have migrated in thousands and millions to Nigeria. Nigeria being the big brother of the continent and in line with the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment which stipulates the right of ECOWAS citizens to enter, reside and establish economic activities in the territory of other member states saw her population grow from 60 million people at independence to about 200 million people without proper documentation and statistics of how we got there.
It is nice to be able to harbor countries that have been affected by the phenomenon of climate change that brought about desertification that damaged the grazing fields, greenery for farming and water bodies throughout the fringes of the Sahara. It is also nice to be able to harbor migration from neighbouring countries but we have to be mindful of the fact that if Nigeria should go down as a result of uncontrolled migration, a lot of these neighbouring countries will go down as well.
Permit me to digress slightly but you see, the open door policy is not the problem. Unlike a certain world leader that seems adamant at building walls and changing laws to keep people away, especially people of colours, I am pro-migration as I have benefitted greatly from the opportunity. My education benefitted from my ability to migrate. My adventures enabled me mingle with people from different parts of the world that I crossed paths with and explored the many different cultures around us. So once again, I will like to clarify that migration is not the problem. It is inevitable. The problem however, is harbouring people from sub-regional countries without proper documentation which only makes nonsense of the ECOWAS free movement protocol. It is irresponsible of a nation not to make provisions for the security and overpopulation implications of migration especially if the nation had been warned of the looming crisis. Climate change rang an early bell many chose to turn deaf ears to.
I am aware that some of the shepherds who are very skilled in animal husbandry and have migrated from as far as Mauritania, Senegal, Niger, Chad and Northern Cameroons add some value to the economy so there’s a lot that can be gained from this situation. But bearing in mind that 11 states in Nigeria are equally affected by desertification, at this point, I believe a necessary starting step at addressing the problem will require a continental review of the protocol that has imposed this crisis on Nigeria.
Another urgent and most important step is to make investments in greening projects that will create new grazing fields in the homes and lands of these migrants to encourage them to go back to their countries.
Over 20 years ago during my stint in the desert, I encountered thousands of herdsmen with their numerous animal herds. I got to know their culture, way of life and their way of travelling. It became more obvious in my subsequent desert expeditions just how much the disappearing greenery, grazing fields and water bodies affected the entire Fulani herdsmen communities. Then, the theme of my expedition, “Global warming is climate change and climate change is desertification, drought and famine” was meant to bring about the sensitization of the people and government but nobody noticed.
I visited other deserts of the world before I proffered solutions to the encroachment of the Sahara. I visited the Gobi Desert in China, Nevada and Arizona desert in the USA and then I proceeded to the Ben Gurion University in Israel to study the Science of Desertification. All these countries tamed their desert and were able to prevent land degradation in the desert because they were able to put in place infrastructures that were preemptive and sustainable. What we must understand is that climate change simply means when the climate is overheated, it brings with it intense heatwave, bushfire and turning the farmland into dust, thereby resulting in food scarcity. The overheating of the climate also leads to heavy downpour which brings about gully erosion. The sea level rises because of the warming and when that happens, the low land Islands disappear like the recent event in the Ayetoro region of Ondo state.
Most of the low land areas in Lagos that have settled below sea level because of the heavy developments that have taken place are very prone to the effects of climate change. Areas such as Victoria Island, the entire Lekki Peninsula, Banana Island, Parkview, and the fishing communities that settled along the coastal areas of the community, are under threat from heavy storms that generate waves which occur whenever the wind speed is more than 60km/hr.
Recently, the rains have been coming in fairly late and when they do, they come very heavy and stormy. The situation is even worse in some places like in the case of Capetown, South Africa where the town had gone for almost 2 years without rain. Capetown experienced one of the most severe cases of drought in over a century. They ran out of water and all the dams also receded. Without a normal rainfall, Capetown will continue to experience water shortages. Sometimes, the rain is so heavy that it claims life and property due to flooding. There’s also the big danger in the rising sea level because the rivers and streams which in Nigeria are responsible for 80% of potable water are receding and it can then be argued that, if the change in climate continues, the sea water may contaminate the underground water resources. In some parts of Nigeria, we are already experiencing flooding that has claimed lives and properties.
A lot of countries are afraid of this happening and are already introducing measures by building barrages and there’s so much to learn from the mitigation and adaptation of infrastructure that are being put in place.
With the rise in global temperatures, it is my duty to tell what I know about the nomadic people of the continent. They are like one family. In the Middle East and Israel, they are known as Bedouins. They don’t have boundaries and move across countries looking for grazing fields and water bodies. They are united by their culture and religion and they find home wherever they find greenery. In my local government area of Delta State, they have created a colony in a town that used to be known as Otulu. Otulu is a small settlement of farmers from across the Niger. The population was only a few thousands a decade ago but today, the population is over 10,000 and the original settlers are now the minority. It can be seen that the crisis of climate change, migration and the security implication that we face, is much more present particularly in the middle belt and some parts of southern Nigeria, where the leaders and security agencies looked the other way when I predicted this crisis about 20 years ago.
Still on climate change, the most important festival of my people is the New Yam Festival. This ceremony is held annually, and it starts from September and goes on for about 6 weeks after the harvest of the yams. It is a cultural celebration that glorifies the hard work of the farmers and a period of reflection that prepares them for the next farming season. The ceremony is all about planting from April after the first big rain and nurturing the plants leading on to the harvest in September. The big rains don’t come in April anymore but sometimes in May or early June. For that reason, the people can no longer have their harvest in September because it takes an average of 5 months from planting to harvesting. My people have remained resolute and have continued to have their ceremony without the yams or sometimes even importing the yams from other lands. I don’t know how long their resolve will last but it will be a pity to lose such an old tradition, thanks to the poor mitigation of climate change.
Climate change therefore is no longer a debate for the distant nations. It has affected the herdsmen, and their business of animal husbandry, and driven them away from their open space natural areas to urbanization which they never wanted. Climate change is also threatening the underground water resources and making them acidic. It is also causing the farming communities all over the country to change their farming calendar. That alone will bring about the food security and serious threat to the security of the nation if this trend is allowed to continue. Climate change is no longer a debate for the white man and western world. Only fools will even consider it a topic of debate still. Climate change is our reality and only when we all come to realize this, can we begin to take the necessary steps to survive it. A pity we are still talking survival when other countries are thriving.