A recent establishment of the North East Development Commission by the Federal Government is a welcome development. The setting up of the commission could not have come at a better time. Many years ago, North-East Nigeria was a very fertile land for agricultural purposes and for animal pasture. But, climate change over the years led to the drying up of many rivers and streams flowing into Lake Chad. Hadejia River was the biggest of the rivers, which also dried up. This led to the shrinking of Lake Chad to less than 25 per cent of its former size.
Borno State, in North-East Nigeria, has a high number of people who have never had any formal education at all. This large number of uneducated people was manageable some 30 years ago, when such people were still able to practise their traditional farming, fishing and animal husbandry. But as Lake Chad’s waters and the rivers that flowed into it dried up over the years, due to harsh climatic conditions, such as heat, this large population of people have little or nothing to fall back on. With lack of wetlands and water, farming became difficult.
In North-East Nigeria alone, 1.8 million people are internally displaced, and more than half of them are children. Also, some 200,000 people have fled across borders to live as refugees in the neighbouring countries
Even those who had cattle were forced by changes in the climate to go elsewhere to find pasture for them. The resulting poverty among the people was a major reason many educated and uneducated were easily attracted to radical new religious movements, particularly the Boko Haram, which emerged in the North Eastern part of the country and acted as a new magnet, both for the uneducated youth displaced from their traditional livelihoods and the educated youth attracted to its egalitarian, anti-corruption preaching.
Climate variability exerts more impact on the agricultural sector than any other. These impacts are manifested in changes in frequency and intensity of rainfall, droughts and floods. It also extends to changes in soil moisture and nutrient, increase in pests and diseases of crops and livestock, desertification, land degradation, heat stress, rise in sea level and erosions. These adverse weather events constitute important challenges to crop and livestock production, fish farming and hunting, particularly in North-East Nigeria.
Also, the decrease in rainfall over the years, especially in Borno State, which is largely in the Sudan and Sahelian Savannah in Northern Nigeria, led to a reduction in available pasture, a dip in the available surface water, and an increase in the salinity of water resources available to animals. These adverse environmental conditions have adverse effects on livestock production. It must be noted that long before Boko Haram’s terror reared its head, the impact of the vanishing Lake Chad and surrounding rivers and streams in the region was so severe that it created a string of untold calamities. The unemployment that came with it was an easy fuel for the Boko Haram doctrinaires.
Among the unpleasant outcomes of the displacement crisis in the North East is acute food crisis. Already, the UN has warned that hundreds of thousands of people may die from famine from 2018, if urgent steps are not taken by all concerned, particularly the Nigerian government and the international community, to save the millions of people affected by the combination of climate change, migration, and Boko Haram attacks.
So far, about 40 per cent more people have been displaced throughout Borno State (1.4 million) than those who reached Europe by boat in 2015 (one million). Across North-East Nigeria, the war against Boko Haram has forced more than 2.6 million from their homes, a figure higher than the number of Syrians in Turkey, the country that hosts the largest number of refugees in Europe.
In North-East Nigeria alone, 1.8 million people are internally displaced, and more than half of them are children.
Also, some 200,000 people have fled across borders to live as refugees in the neighbouring countries. While some measure of security was restored in Adamawa, Yobe, and parts of Borno State in 2016, recent months have witnessed a new upsurge in attacks by Boko Haram across the four riparian countries affected by climate change and Boko Haram terrorist attacks.
Also, across the Lake Chad Basin, some seven million people struggling with food insecurity need assistance. In North-East Nigeria alone, more than 1.8 million are food insecure at emergency levels. In Borno State, 55,000 people are facing famine-like conditions, and the figure is likely to double in the coming months.
Therefore, as the North East Development Commission begins its work, the tasks ahead of it are herculean, many and varied. With its base in Maiduguri, in Borno State, the commission will be able to organise its staff properly and put them under strict supervision. It must not be too bureaucratic if it wants to be effective. Accountability, transparency, integrity, selflessness, and honesty must be the watchwords of all the staff members of the commission as they start their work.
It is clear that without a meaningful means of livelihood, the North East part of the country will continue to be under the influence of religious zealots like Boko Haram. So, going forward, there is an urgent need by the Federal Government to channel River Hadeija, which dried up over the years, to flow into Lake Chad as before.
Also, the governments of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon must take urgent steps to improve the condition of Lake Chad and the lives of the 30 million riparian people who depend on the lake for economic activities to take root in the area again; otherwise, the area will continue to be under the threat of dangerous religious extremists like Boko Haram.