The abuse of power by Nigerian elite has become so common place that we all ignore a much worse on going abuse in Nigeria – the abuse of our environment. Ironically, the ultimate consequences of environment abuse are even more devastating on our society than the abuse of power.
Desertification in Nigeria is a good example. Experts quantify the amount of arable land lost to desertification at an average of 8-10 kilometres per year. The adverse effects of this in Nigeria are almost endless. Those whose arable land is lost often drift to cities in search of a better life. Such movement worsens the social situation in the cities where the scramble for limited social facilities and jobs creates its own tensions. Those who remain in the rural areas soon become victims of violent conflicts between pastoralists and sedentary farmers as they compete for the depleted greenery.
Desertification has thus led to massive population drift not only from the provinces to the cities but from the North to the South. The current clashes between the nomadic Fulani pastoralists and the sedentary farmers in Plateau, Nasarawa, Benue and Taraba states are a signal of the mass movement, stimulated by desertification. These clashes have added another stress to the delicate ethnic and religious crack lines in the Middle Belt of Nigeria with serious political implications.
All these problems are avoidable if we check the desert’s advance into our greenery. In Jigawa there is an ambitious afforestation programme with the immodest target of creating a 250 kilometre shelter belt in the eastern part of the state. This project is close to Governor Lamido’s heart and he has left all his local government chairmen know that any of them that refuses to share his passion for it will surely be in trouble with him. This project is being implemented ahead of the Great Green Wall initiative of the African Union which cuts across Jigawa and 10 other states in Nigeria. In Jigawa, the Great Green Wall cuts through six local governments and despite insufficient funding from the federal government, the state government has gone far in implementing the scheme in two of the local governments.
At his swearing in 2007 as Governor of Jigawa state, Sule Lamido made this pledge to give environmental challenges priority. It is a promise he kept. While on a visit to Jigawa last week, I was able to verify that the man’s government has distributed free 23 million seedlings from the 27 nurseries he established since he came to power. You do not need to take the pains of an old school journalist that I am to verify the statistics. The trees, products of these seedlings are visible everywhere as you drive along the high ways, around government offices, schools and housing estates in Dutse. Even private homes have been caught by the bug.
Another strategy of checking desert encroachment is the distribution of stoves throughout the state. So far, as of March this year, 85,000 stoves were distributed since the scheme began in 2011. The advantage of the stoves is that they provide an alternative source of energy and help check the indiscriminate felling of trees for use as cooking fire by the people of Jigawa.
Last week, I asked Governor Lamido what motivated him into the tree planting frenzy. “I grew up as a Fulani boy, rearing cattle in the bush. That defined my values; I enjoyed communicating with nature and that reinforced my belief that the best ornament is nature,” he replied.
In a country where environmental issues are not considered as anything serious, Lamido’s romantic relationship with nature which has become the arrow head of his government policy comes as something of a surprise. But it has paid off – positively. Jigawa remains the only state in the North that has not been afflicted with the malady of clashes between itinerant Fulani cattlemen and sedentary farmers.
Governor Lamido’s government has not only succeeded in checking the aggressive invasion of the Sahara desert, he has established a Herdsmen and Farmers Board, where issues that have degenerated into bloodshed in Plateau, Nasarawa, Benue, Taraba and many other states have been amicably addressed between the two groups. The Board working in collaboration with non governmental bodies like Miyetti Allah, religious bodies and neighbouring countries have created grazing reserves and cattle path along the high ways.
The love for natural environment has led to the creation of Baturia World, a wetland in Jigawa that has caught the attention of UNESCO. Birds from Asia and Europe flock there during winter and migrate back once the winter is over. The Nigerian National Park has already indicated its intention to take it over and develop it into a tourist venture.
The priority placed on environmental issues was aptly demonstrated when disaster struck in the form of a 2012 flood that ravaged many parts of Nigeria, Jigawa included. Yakasawa village of Ringim local government of the state was the worst effected. Under the directives of the state government, the local government provided 250 plots of land on which the state government built houses and provided boreholes. The facilities provided by the government did not satisfy all the needs of the victims but they helped in giving succour to a population in great distress. This was a clear demonstration of care for the poor and a marked difference from what happened in other states in the North where top government officials had no answer to the disaster but greedily embezzled even the assistance that was sent from the federal government and other donor agencies. And when the floods came again to Yakasawa in 2013, it did not find anybody to victimise.
Jigawa is a predominantly Muslim populated state where the role of women in public affairs is relegated. The unusual thing with Sule Lamido is that in implementing his environment agenda, he relies mostly on women. When he came to power, he quickly established contact with Wangari Maathai, the extraordinary Kenyan woman who won the Nobel price for peace because of her environmental activism. The hope was that she would help out in fashioning an environmental agenda for Jigawa. Unfortunately she got so engrossed in the politics of her country that she had no time for Jigawa. She contested elections and lost. Then she took ill and died in 2011 leaving Lamido in the lurch.
Last week in Dutse, I met Dr Hassana Hussain the Jigawa state Commissioner for Environment and the driving force behind Sule Lamido’s environmental miracle. I never met Wangari Maathai in my life but I found in Dr Hassana a formidable woman of extraordinary intelligence. Governor Lamido couldn’t have found a better replacement for Wangari.