The Atlantic Ocean and the Sahara
The four nations bordering Nigeria were formerly French colonies and all French speaking countries and if I may recall one of the reasons why we as a nation changed from driving on the right to driving on the left was because we needed to flow with all our four friendly neighbors. The countries are by the South-East the Cameroons, Chad and Niger Republic by the North and Benin-Republic by the South West but as a moving phenomenon bordering the Nation are the Atlantic Ocean by the South West and the Sahara from the North.
I have travelled in and out of all these boarders in the last 50 years and cannot stop worrying about the possible invasion from one of the above boundaries or some of them getting together to invade us. The four countries were formerly in the French colonies and still maintain political and economic relationship with their former colonial master France. But, my first and biggest worry would be a likely invasion by the Sahara because I first entered the Sahara over 50 years ago driving from London across the length and breadth of the desert to Nigeria.
I was a fairly young man and I sounded an alarm about a likely invasion of the sand dunes that I witnessed in the desert flowing into Nigeria and bringing about desertification but my alarm did not sound loud enough for those in authority to understand. So 35 years later with the coming of climate change discourse and desertification becoming a tropical matter, I decided to approach the Sahara once again, this time driving from Nigeria across the Sahara to Europe. Amazingly enough, my alarm became louder because CNN and Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) covered the expedition throughout the five weeks that the expedition lasted.
I reported the disappearance of farmlands and grazing fields that also affected water bodies and irrigation canals, I reported also the receding of the lakes and the likely migration that might occur. Apart from the migration, there will also be an increased rate of unemployment and further conflict. Soon after I started to write this column in the Sun newspaper every week, I wrote in two separate columns few years ago with the title, “Beyond the herdsmen and farmers crisis” and “The Sahara and the Global Economy.
On “Beyond the herdsmen and farmers-crisis”, I was of the opinion that Nigeria has been grappling with varied security challenges, chief among them in recent times is the herders-farmers crisis. Underpinning the escalation of this crisis is a confluence of environmental and demographic forces. With the confidence, comes a rapid depletion of arable land for subsistence farming, especially along the Lake Chad basin, which in turn, ignited the violent clashes between herdsmen and farmers. Thus, the surface treatment that is being given to the crisis is unacceptable, as these violent clashes overgrazing lands between local farmers and pastoral herdsmen has resulted in the daily loss of human lives, the destruction of people’s livelihood, and the serious threat to the security of the nation. The nation is at a crossroad because we are not prepared to accept our past mistakes and the neglect we have subjected our land to – neglect that is causing the land to fight back.
For many years, we watched Lake Chad receding, and we did nothing to check it. We built over six river basin authorities for the supply of potable drinking water and irrigation. The irrigation was also to promote two seasonal cropping in the year, which would bring about food security in most of the dry land regions that have lost their capacity. However, that didn’t happen. Thus, the communities that were to settle around the Chad and river basin authorities were left stranded.
In the 80s and 90s, after the great drought, almost all the states in Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, embarked on ceremonial tree planting campaigns. If the trees had survived, most of Nigeria would now be a big forest; instead, Nigeria lost over 35 percent of its forest cover between the 60s and 2000s.
Nigeria had tried various strategies in the past at tackling desertification and the effect it has on rural development, but failed to achieve much because of the various political, economic, and social characteristics of the Nigerian population. Instead, we watched as the advancing Sahara brought desertification and rendered arable lands infertile, causing all the greenery and grazing fields to disappear. My numerous journeys across the Sahara vividly portrayed the deteriorating conditions of the people of the desert and the continuing consequences of desertification. I have seen how towns and communities heading south in search of better living conditions, leaving their homes to the advancing desert sand.
In over 40 years of my exploration of the Sahara, I have seen it grow in size. What we need to remember is that it has not always been like this. History tells us that the Sahara once had a very different environment. Researchers report that the Sahara shows signs of ancient rivers and traces of plants and animals deep beneath its sands – evidence of the plain’s greener past. However, crop farmers grew diverse species of plants that left the Saharan soil exposed. They also brought livestock that ate the vegetation without replenishment, further uncovering the soil, much like what is happening in the northern region of the country currently. The implication of grazing the greenery without replenishment is that the land becomes vulnerable to the encroachment of the Sahara, giving rise to migration. Historically, the Fulani herdsmen are nomadic and habitually migratory, moving annually from North to South in search of grazing fields and markets for their herds. However, the movement which used to be seasonal has been altered due to expansive desertification, drought and gully erosion in Northern Nigeria. The herdsmen now seek greener pasture southward, wreaking havoc as they devour crops and forcefully appropriate lands.
I also had my views pointed out in the article, “The Sahara and the Global economy”, It takes me back to the advocacy that I started over 40 years ago that pushed me to repeat that arduous expedition 3 times risking my life every single time because what I saw during those expeditions gave me really serious concerns. Concerns that have been portrayed in my publications, lectures, awareness sensitization programs and more on the deteriorating conditions of the people and lives of the 16 frontline states in Africa and 11 States in Nigeria that live on the fringes of the Sahara. Over the years, I have seen how towns, villages, communities have dwindled in size and most often disappearing altogether in some cases taking with them their peculiar cultures, traditions and diversities. I have seen massive movement of people and animals in millions going from the North to South and the attendant conflicts, clashes and wars caused by these migrations all because of the unchecked advancing of the Sahara.
Some of the writings in today’s article are a repetition of some research that were published years ago from me and was enough to prepare the country for mitigation rather than wait for displacement and the conflicts that we now have on our hands. Looking around the entire nation, I fear that if these challenges are left unchecked Nigeria would soon move from settlement centers to refugee camps. In my future article, I will explain the threat we face from the Atlantic Ocean following global warming, the rise of the sea level and those of us that live by the ocean, the creeks and the fishing villages.