Herdsmen-farmers’ crisis in Nigeria has left deep wounds in the heart of many. The thought of the hundreds of lives that have been wiped off the face of the earth or the several viable communities deserted in the middle-belt region of the country is black and unbearable. Furthermore, the crushing experience has thrown the entire country into a quandary about the cause(s) and finding a lasting solution to the ‘genocide’ or ‘crisis’, as various schools of thought have tagged it.
While several analysts have limited the discussion of the causes of the crisis to Tribalism, Resource Control, Religion, Land and Trade, the nexus between herdsmen migration southwards and the effects of climate change has not received enough attention.
Over the years, there has been a change in global or regional climate patterns, in particular a change apparent from the mid to late 20th century onwards and attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels. According to NASA, the evidences of rapid climate change such as the rise in temperature, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, sea level rise, among others, are compelling.
The effects of climate change have caught many countries off guard, posing major challenges to the socio-economic and political spheres. The occurrences of natural disasters are like never before; hunger owing to drought; migration, land and territorial disputes. Because of the limited natural resources available, groups go to war over water, vegetation, and sustenance. A classic example would be the feud between the Fulanis and the other tribes in West Africa.
Speaking on Climate Change at the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is the Co-chair of Global Commission for the Economy and Climate, had expressed serious concern on the handicapping impacts of climate change on Africa. According to her, though Africa was not primarily responsible for the high carbon emissions taking place in the world, Africans are suffering the largest impacts of changes in weather patterns and the environment. Dr Iweala’s position is spot on, giving the millions of people losing their livelihoods, lives, livestock and crops to drought.
The Fulani herdsmen are nomadic and habitually migratory, moving annually from North to South in search of grazing fields for their herds. However, the movement which used to be seasonal has been altered due to expansive desertification, drought and unchecked deforestation in Northern Nigeria. The herdsmen now seek greener pasture southward. As migration intensifies, so also do violent clashes over grazing lands between local farmers in the South and pastoral herdsmen, who are guilty of devouring crops and forcefully appropriating lands.
Unfortunately, it is unbelievable that the government’s response has ignored climate change as the source of conflict exacerbating the herdsmen grazing crisis. This is characteristic of the nonchalant attitude of the African leaders to the present challenges of climate change. Okonjo-Iweala lamented in Davos, “I am not convinced that the awareness of the climate risk is as deep and high as it ought to be. People on the ground are feeling the impacts of the climate issues, but policymakers are not talking about it as much as I think we need to.”
Recall that there is an ongoing disagreement between the Federal Government and concerned Nigerians over cattle ranching and cattle colonies. This, in my view is not a necessary debate when placed side by side the urgency of the need to deepen discussions on climate change and what should be done to develop resilience to the phenomenon.
Interestingly, the clamour for ranching against cattle colonies which the government plans to implement is as light as a feather in the eyes of the executive, who believes cattle colony is a large-scale ranching system.
While defining cattle colonies, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, said, “A colony is much larger and viable, cheaper and safer because the colonies will have several ranches in them where the government is ready to provide water and feed at subsidized rates for the herds with the view to increasing their yields.”
He added, “While ranching is more of an individual venture for the herdsmen and those wishing to invest in the livestock sector, cattle colonies is a larger project where up to 40 ranchers can share same facility that will be provided by the government at a reduced cost.”
While I am not inclined to joining that particular debate, it is pertinent to state that urgent attention to climate change is required, even for the sustainability of ranching or colonies, which, obviously, are not needed in all the states of the federation.
Without ‘colonizing’ Nigeria with cattle, grazing can be limited to the natural territories of the Fulani Herdsmen by intensifying the pace of the Great Green Wall project. This is a reforestation plan for sub-Saharan Africa to fight desertification by planting trees at desert-prone areas. The implementation of this project in the 11 northern pilot States will help return green vegetation to the North.
Furthermore, implementing the Paris Climate Agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to be achieved by holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. And to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change; increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development in a manner that does not threaten food production. And making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is not yet a member of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF); a 43-nation group of most vulnerable countries that negotiate as a bloc at the UNFCCC. It speaks to the lethargy that characterize the way our leaders handle such issues of great importance. Joining the CVF will give Nigeria the opportunity for knowledge-sharing with countries facing similar challenges.
The best way to tackle climate change problems is to approach them with the aim to explore the opportunities they present to empower people. Investing in the power sector to cut down gas emission and exploring opportunities in wastewater recycling for irrigation in the northern part of the country will not only improve the standard of living of Nigerians, but also create jobs and stop a naturally-induced crisis from becoming politically explosive.
David Emoche is a Public Analyst from Makurdi, Benue State.