Conflict with the Earth: When Mother Nature fights back
By Omeiza Balogun
When 64 years old, Mr. Iyasele Emonyon of Idunwele-Ewu, Esan Central Local Government Area in Edo State, Nigeria, returned home at about 3:00pm, 22nd May, 2017, his wife was nowhere to be found and his lunch was not served. He was a little bit angry but thought that his wife may have rushed to the market on her return from the farm to get some items for the household or she has left for the meeting of her association. As he awaited her arrival, a woman (a member of the wife’s association) came to inquire about his wife complaining that they are yet to see her in their meeting, Emonyon on hearing this he became agitated and suspicious.
He quickly moved around the neighbourhood asking if anyone had seen his wife but the last time anybody did was when they saw her leaving for the farm.
Without waiting further, Mr. Emonyon rushed to the farm and after much search he found the lifeless body of his 60 years old wife, Mrs. Martina Emonyon a victim of persons suspected to be Fulani herdsmen.
Lifeless body of Mrs. Martina Emonyon
On that same day in a neighbouring community of Eko-Ewu about one kilometre from Idunwele-Ewu, 82 years old Madam Christiana Aliu Ikheloa’s body was discovered on her farmland land gruesomely murdered by the same suspected herdsmen.
Obituary announcement of Madam Christiana Aliu Ikheloa
The recent clashes between Farmers and Herdsmen in Nigeria have been on the increase in the last seven years with different narratives being adduced as the reason for this vicious cycle of attacks and counter attacks. The situation has led to the death of thousands with women, children, and the vulnerable recorded as the highest victims; while others are forced to flee their homes resulting to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the country.
Farm product and home destroyed in one of the attacks (sources: African Courier and News Express Nigeria)
The sudden surge in the last seven years seems to have rejected all possible solutions thrown at it leading to some analyst describing it as an attempt at imposing the Islamic religion on the country.
Most of these analysts base their narratives on the inability of the government to arrest and prosecute those involved in what they described as crime against humanity.
According to the Ihaza of Ewu, Chief Priest Francis Ubene, the death of these two women sent a shocking wave of fear around the ancient city of Ewu as farmlands, schools and other social activities where abandoned for fear of more attacks.
‘’People started going to their farmlands recently. Everyone was scared going the farm, then if you have to go to farm, it was advisable that people go in groups or accompanied by community hunters or members of the community vigilante groups. It led to hunger as farmers could not plant and the few that did have their crops destroyed’’.
Chief Priest Ubene – it led to hunger in the community
What seems to puzzle most analysts and citizens on the attacks by these herdsmen is the ease at which they carried out their crime and stealthy move to other parts beating even the security agencies. This inability of security agencies to check the violent attacks and killings created an impression that the attacks may have been orchestrated by the top politicians with the intention of ethnic cleansing.
As part of finding solution to the menace, a Nigerian Lawmaker, Zainab Kure sponsored a bill in the country’s Senate aimed at securing areas for Fulani Herdsmen across the country for mapping out grazing routes. But the bill did not get the nod in most states of the federation as their lawmakers (States) could not convince their citizens to give blessings to the domestication of the bill in the states.
According to available research these conflicts are not unconnected with the impact of climate change in the Northern part of the country.
As part of effort to address the growing challenge of Climate Change in Nigeria, President Muhammedu Buhari made concerted effort at the international level when he addressed the United Nations on need to provide funds for regeneration of the Lake Chad Basin as it would go long way in tackling issues of Climate Change and Desertification. The President went further to sign the Instrument of Ratification of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change on 28th March, 2017.
President Muhammedu Bhuari (Source: The Guardian Nigeria)
According to the Chief Responsibility Officer, Josemaria Escriva Foundation, Comrade Jude Obasanmi, most Civil Society Organisations rejected the Bill because the way it was packaged it did not take into consideration the interest of host communities and farmers as well.
‘’Government is not prepared to put in place proper regulations to curtail the activities of these herdsmen’’, Comrade Obasanmi alleged.
According to Comrade Obasanmi, Nigeria government should as a matter of urgency domesticate the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) document to arrest the growing gap of inequality in the country. He maintained that inequality serves as the major problem stating that it was a major reason why the grazing bill by the National Assembly failed to receive the blessing of most states’ House of Assemblies and the Civil Societies.
Comrade Obasanmi’s position could be summary by agreeing that to address the root cause of the Farmers/Herdsmen clashes, government should design policies that would reduce inequality and take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts as contained in goals ten and thirteen of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Comrade Obasanmi – Nigerian government needs to do more
Edo State Commandant, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC (the security agency saddled with the responsibility of mediating between farmers and herdsmen in the country), Mr. Ayinla Makinde debunked the insinuation stating that the manner migrating herdsmen operates is a challenge to security agencies. He pointed out that many factors are responsible for the increase in the attacks noting that most pressing is the issue of the migrating herdsmen.
‘’The issue of herdsmen/Farmers clash has been a headache all over the world. Climate change is part of the driving factor in its recent increase. During dry season, these herdsmen migrate to where they can have green land for grazing. Most of this movements happens at night when others are asleep they move from one geographical locations to another, so when they get into a farmland their graze and they are gone.’’
On finding permanent and lasting solution to the menace, Mr. Makinde opined that ‘’until we curtail or restrict these movements, it would be difficult to conveniently arrest the activities of the herdsmen.’’ Mr. Makinde – movement restriction is the solution
Mr. Makinde observed that the growing crisis of migrating herdsmen is not particular to Edo State. In 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted that the greatest single impact of climate change might be on human migration warning that it would displace millions of people. While Nigerian government including the Military have constantly pointed out that the killer herdsmen are not the traditional peaceful Fulani Herdsmen with their bow and arrow. They had constantly blamed it on migration occasioned by climate change affecting many lakes in African mostly that of Lake Chad.
Traditional Herdsmen and Gun Carrying Herdsmen (Sources: Alamy.com and Daily Post Nigeria)
Agreeing with Mr. Makinde, an environmentalist and Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey, said it is sad that the United Nation’s system does not recognised climate refugees.
‘’Many people have argued that because there was no international covenant on refugees in the category of those displaced by climate change, they cannot be classified as refugees and that’s the danger. Now it is real. Climate change is leading to conflict and displacement. In Nigeria we have real impact of climate change in Northern Nigeria and in Southern Nigeria and both have led to displacement of population’’.
Mr. Bassey – if action is not taken more people will be displace leading to more conflicts
Mr. Bassey explained that because of drought and the shrinking of the Lake Chad that had millions of farmers, pastoralists, and fishermen that depend on the Lake for their livelihood, the high rate of unemployment leading to crime and criminality in the Region. He pointed out that the surge in the conflicts between farmers and herdsmen could be traced to the impact of climate change on the environment.
According to West African Science Service Centre on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use, WACAL, in their 2010 – 2014 report, the Lake Chad which hitherto served as source of water for irrigation, fishing and other uses providing livelihood for millions around the region has lost over 90% of its water. According to available reports, the Lake which measured more than 25, 000 square kilometres (9, 700 square miles), now covers just 1, 500 square kilometres (580 square miles).
The shrinking Lake Chad Region (Source: ECC Platform)
On the way to avert the crises Mr. Bassey said real climate action is needed to address the spate of violence.
‘’We have pockets of forests and dense area in the Sahel. This can be scaled up across the region. Our relationship with the environment has been so careless and carefree so much so that Southern Niger Republic is greener than Northern Nigeria’’.
To reverse this unfortunate situation, Mr. Bassey said it was time to build resilience by reducing inequalities as most people that suffered this impact are rural dwellers.
Practical way forward
Goal 10 and Goal 13 of the Sustainable Development Goals (The UN)
Policy makers in the country should design means of macroeconomic stability, strengthen institutions and business environment, and to also close the infrastructural gaps between rural dwellers and urban dwellers to discourage rural/urban migration. The desert encroachment in Northern Nigeria should be given urgent attention. Nigeria government should also expend easy and quick access to financial services especially to grow microbusinesses especially targeting rural dwellers in agriculture. Easy access to quick and affordable healthcare, educational facilities and skill acquisition for the children of the poor and the vulnerable. Perhaps the fight against corruption should be all inclusive as implementation of policies cannot be successful in a country where contracts for projects are awarded base on nepotism rather than professionalism.
As rightly observed by Mr. Bassey our attitude towards the environment has been so careless and carefree and if urgent steps are not taken to reserve the trend, Mother Nature naturally has a way of fighting back.
Omeiza Balogun is a journalist based in Benin City