Over the years, I have realized that distressing about environmental issues in Nigeria is “a lonely exercise in abstract worry.” Yet, I am very worried. I am worried about pragmatic things that other people may consider irrelevant. For instance, I am worried that the contribution of changing the climate to the herdsmen-farmers conflict in Nigeria has not received adequate attention.
The location of most of the “conflict-free” grazing lands for herdsmen at the transition zone between the desert and semi-desert regions of Nigeria, makes is vulnerable and sensitive to change. The drought that makes these herdsmen migrate south is linked to human and climatic drivers that are continually modifying the wetland’s geomorphology and ecosystems.
The last time Nigeria experienced the worst drought in living memory in this region was in the early 1980s. One of the remarkable lasting effects of that drought was the desiccation of Lake Chad. There was also desert encroachment and increased southward migration of herdsmen in search of pastures. This is climate literacy 101 every Nigerian should have at the back of their minds as we look for solutions to this perennial problem.
The science of climate variability in our region points to a return of severe drought by 2032. Animals cannot survive when disconnected with the water cycle that is maintaining the green pastures. So, irrespective of our narratives about herdsmen, they will always attempt to move south in search of green pastures during dry seasons and severe drought. So, even when we cannot see climate change, understanding the link between herdsmen-farmers conflict and regional climate change is an elementary knowledge we should store away in the hippocampus part of our brain.
What will happen in the event of severe drought like the type Northern Nigeria experienced in the early 1980s? Will different sectors in Nigeria that depend on water availability have the capacity to respond? If the answer is no, what should we be doing now in order to build that capacity? How can we communicate the risks of not preparing now? How can Nigerian governments make sense of and respond to the risks related to changing the climate?
This risk of not adequately preparing for the severe drought will mean another wave of herdsmen on the march southward in search of greener pastures 15 years from now. To prevent the risks associated with having the herdsmen encroaching on farmlands, we need factor in the element of climate change in proffering solutions.
The majority of Nigerians agree that the quickest way to resolve the herdsmen-farmers conflict is to get the herdsmen off our streets and farms. Those that are already stationed near and around farms should be prevented from roaming around and constituting a nuisance by destroying crops. Now, the big question; how do we ensure this?
Resentment is weapons that can be used to advance a politics of apocalypse. Equipped with the understanding of this basic climate change science relating to drought and why herdsmen are increasingly moving south, we should play the politics of possibility and overcoming.
It is good to observe the Emir of Kano and Governor of Kano State, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje, prominent Fulanis and herdsmen admit that it is no longer safe and economically rewarding for herdsmen to wander from the Northern part of the country to other areas in search for pasture. I hope that this understanding will spur state governments to fast-track the policies that will halt the nomadic culture of the herdsmen. However, failure to factor in the future impact of regional climate variability on water resources in the region will be catastrophic.
With the prospect of another round of severe drought in our region increasingly likely about 15 years from now, our response to the herdsmen-farmers conflict in Nigeria should factor in the element of climate-changing the climate. The northern states with the majority of these herdsmen should build nomadic education around making sense of climate change and its responses at the community level. This demands attention to the cultural and political processes that shape how risk is conceived, prioritized and managed.
The state governments after due consultations with host communities should work with Miyetti Allah to identify locations for ranches as part of the solution to the recurring clashes between herdsmen and farmers. For this to work effectively, provisions should be made for such ranches to facilitate modern cattle breeding, provide access to water and other facilities that will change the nomadic and the seemingly disadvantageous lifestyle of the herdsmen.
In addition, President Buhari should, as a matter of urgent national importance, demonstrate the same resolve in fighting Boko Haram with these “killer” herdsmen. Presently, the barbaric acts of the herdsmen are not being matched with a needed response by our security forces. Culprits are equally not being prosecuted and sentenced to deter future occurrences. It’s unfortunate. For president Buhari to succeed, however, we need to depoliticize this conflict.
Progressive people and nations come together to find solutions to perennial issues. In Nigeria however, we play political games to score cheap points. From Agatu to Ukpabi-Nimbo to Taraba to Southern Kaduna to Benue, we refuse to agree on concrete steps on what should happen until another massacre. Then, we come back and play the blame game all over again. This, unfortunately, has been our sorry response to this conflict for decades.
Finally, the climate science of the past and present effect of climate modes modulating regional rainfall in the Northern most parts of Nigeria points to a return of severe droughts in about 15 years. If we fail to act now by including the capacity to respond to changing climate in any solution, a new wave of herdsmen will move south in search of green pasture by 2032.
This should be a concern to every Nigerian currently throwing punches without articulating a clear solution to the farmers-herdsmen bloodbath. An understanding of the element of climate change that contributes to the southward migration of herdsmen will hopefully add renewed urgency and result in a holistic approach on how we respond to the menace.