Is Nigeria Already in Climate Change/Resource Wars?
Is it possible that Nigeria slipped into environmental conflict/resource wars since? That is to say that much of the violent conflicts, particularly Niger Delta militancy, Boko Haram insurgency and herdsmen violence are, in the last instance, wars driven by struggle over access, control and consolidation of resources?
Defenders of climate change as a threat to human existence do so with passion. Those who say it is nonsense are equally passionate about their position even as it becomes more and more difficult to deny that something is snapping at a worrisome level about the carrying capacity of mother earth as a result of how human beings have used (and misused) it. Global climate change consciousness predated 2008 but the most dramatic recognition of the reality of climate change might be Kurt Campbell’s disclosure in Climatic Cataclysm published by The Brooklyn Institution that year. The book editor along with and Christine Parthemore opened the first chapter with reference to how the managers of the “Doomsday Clock”, the global imminent risk thermometer, cited climate change as one of the reasons for moving the minute hand to two minutes to disaster hour in 2007. By then, experts from the Centre for a New American Security, (CNAS), the organisational base of the intellectual commanders of the now recuperating ‘Neocons’ along with those of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies had been meeting on climate change which they said is so complex as to stretch “from atmospheric science and agricultural hydrology to energy economics and international relations theory”. The team they assembled to re-imagine a vaguely emerging climate change – national security nexus was brimming with experts of climate science, foreign policy, Political Science, Oceanography, history and national security.
Climate change politics in the US today has reached where even the US military talks of ‘Climatisation of Security’ in the sense that they have to build into their military theories and operations the ability to take on board the challenges of definitive features of climate change such as rising sea level, unusual storms drastic weather. In the language of Pentagon, these are threat multipliers that could and have drawn US troops into humanitarian and ‘humanitarian’ interventions or challenges. All these puts the United States at the centre of climate change, be it in terms of the sensational, scary or the involving dimensionality of the subject matter.
The ingredients of the sensational, scare and challenge in climate change comes from the thesis that is the source of violence that could result from large movement of people running away from the impact of such features as floods, droughts, heat wave, storms, earthquake, volcanic eruptions, hurricane and so on. Meanwhile, all these are side effects of change in the climate from human use (and misuse) of mother earth over the ages in such a way that the earth’s original dynamics has been disturbed. The disequilibrium is such that the climate is not what it used to be. Changing slowly through history, it has reached a level where the temperature component is so high that ice is melting, for example. Rising temperature and melting ice leads to sea level rise which makes flood a national security threat to countries such as Vietnam, Pakistan, Thailand, Bangladesh and many of the Small Island States.
Rising temperature also means higher rate of evaporation or precipitation and, therefore, higher degree of dryness, drought, heat wave and storms that makes the entire African continent, for example, vulnerable. Inter-Press Service has just published a piece last week about threat to human habitation in the Middle East. Much of North Africa and the Sahel as well as the Mediterranean are already in trouble and a huge movement of human beings and animal are in motion towards wherever they can guarantee their survival.
The fear is that such a mass movement of people could precipitate hazards, vulnerability, risk, violent conflicts and such phenomena one finds in the reports of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations’ body on climate change. It could assume an ethnic dimension which Dafur conflict is said to typify between Arabs and Berbers. Similarly, some researchers dismiss explanation of genocide in Rwanda as simply Hutu-Tutsi tribal hatred but a climate change driven conflict. A German academic said in Austria in 2010 that in Kenya and Nigeria, herdsmen’ clash with farmers as well as the pressure on government to act were risks in gestation.
There is an estimated rate of desertification for basically northern Nigeria that has not been challenged. It claims that Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Yobe and Zamfara, taken alphabetically, suffers an annual loss of 350, 000 hectares of land to desertification, translating to an average of a 4% increase in the rate of desertification every year since the mid 1980s. That’s not all. The trend is fast catching up on the nearest set of states, stretching from Kaduna, Plateau, Taraba, Nasarawa, Niger, Abuja FCT, Benue, Kogi and Kwara. By now, these states are accounting for more than 40 million people in population and 40% of Nigeria’s land mass, according to the study under reference. Rural banditry connected to mining in Zamfara and targeted attacks also speculated to new found in nickel in Southern Kaduna have since become part of the story.
But, it is not exclusive to Africa. The Americans smelt trouble earlier. Observers in the United States noted some unusual features in the farming system in the late 1990s. Their scientists looked in and said it was climate change at work. It must be an understatement to say that the thought of the ‘wheat basket’ of the world being vulnerable to climate change stung the American establishment. In an April 2015 edition, Newsweek wrote a cover story titled “California Frying”, talking about how “low rainfall, and record-high temperatures have created a historically devastating climate. The narrative gave the messier side as follows: Governor Jerry Brown had one look at the snowpack results and took the unprecedented step of issuing an executive order that requires cities and towns throughout the state to cut back water usage by a staggering 25 percent. At an April 1 press briefing announcing the first mandatory water restrictions in California’s history, he talked smack with some of his typical rough-hewn candidness: “The idea of your nice little green grass getting lots of water every day, that’s going to be a thing of the past.”
There is hardly a more referential name in climate change-conflict nexus than Thomas Homer-Dixon. In his pioneering Environment, Scarcity and Violence in 1999, he gave an account of Haiti’s environmental crisis, a portion of which is irresistible in being quoted at length. It goes as follows: The irreversible loss of forests and soil in rural areas deepens an economic crisis that spawns internal migration, social strife and an exodus of boat people. When first colonized by the Spanish in the late fifteenth century and the French in the seventeenth century, Haiti was treasured for its abundant forests. Since then, Haiti has experienced one of the world’s most dramatic examples of environmental despoliation. Less than 2 per cent of the country remains forested and the last timber is being felled at 4 per cent per year. As trees disappear, erosion follows, worsened by the steepness of the land and harsh storms. The United Nations estimates that at least 50 per cent of the country is affected by topsoil loss that leaves the land unreclaimable at the farm level. So much soil washes off the slopes that the streets of the capital, Port –au-Prince have to be cleared with bulldozers in the rainy season”.
Haiti is lucky to find in Homer-Dixon a sympathetic narrative that links its environmental travails to history, the history of colonialism and foreign capital. West Africa didn’t find that in Robert Kaplan whose immensely influential The Coming Anarchy had almost nothing to say regarding the origin of the over population, over-crowding and rage that he constructed as a threat to Western security. Without denying much of the rich empirical stuff of his book, many hold his failure to locate the anarchy he sees in Liberia and Sierra Leone in history against him. His intellectual mindset or ideological agenda is subsequently contrasted with that of Christian Parenti who says in his 2011 book, Tropical Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence that vulnerability to climate change in the African context must be linked to the legacy of Cold War militarism and neoliberal economic restructuring.
The catastrophic convergence is thus his own way of saying how the three distinct forces are combining. Generally, the bandits, ethnic nationalists, religious fanatics, etc we see in action today were the bands of armed men trained in the arts of asymmetrical warfare like assassination, extortion, ambush, smuggling, torture and so on for the cold war. Neoliberal economic policies and climate change effects such as ‘droughts, floods, crop failures, freak El Nino became an alibi for these same forces.
Tragically, the climate change-conflict nexus has an African dimension and a frightening one for that matter if Dafur, Rwanda and what is already going on in Nigeria, (Niger Delta, Boko Haram, herdsmen violence) are truly resource wars. It seems that the question of how best resource wars might be mitigated depends a lot on the quality of the state. Otherwise, such plausible approaches to management of resource such as training local experts arising from the belief in knowledge as a tool for managing change; radical review of land use policy; empowerment and so on could still make no sense. It would look like a normatively powerful state has more chances of managing the conditions that produce resource wars. A normatively powerful state can get many problems solved without much ado.