Lake Chad, in danger of extinction

The rise in global temperatures will impact Nigeria in a big way, and the House of Representative’s Committee on Climate Change has a big task at hand, in terms of cushioning the country against the consequences, writes Solomon Elusoji

In December 2015, the largest ever single-day gathering of heads of state was achieved in Paris, France. About 150 presidents and prime ministers, from every part of the world, had come to attend the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21), to rub minds on a particularly distressing issue – climate change.

At the end of conference, history was made, as nations of the world came to a consensus to limit global temperature increase to well below two degrees Celsius. Interestingly, the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, was part of the historic conference.

Although Nigeria is not one of the top emission producing countries in the world, the impact of climate change means that the country has to pay attention to what happened in Paris. Currently, the country is experiencing adverse climate conditions with negative impacts on the welfare of millions of people. Persistent droughts and flooding, off season rains and dry spells have sent growing seasons out of orbit, on a country dependent on a rain fed agriculture. Alarm bells are ringing with lakes drying up and a reduction in river flow in the arid and semi arid region. The result is fewer water supplies for use in agriculture, hydro power generation and other users.

For example, Lake Chad used to provide means of livelihood for over five million people, either for fishing or irrigation farming. But over time, due to the inaction and lack of determination to confront the problems that was staring its dependants in the face, nations allowed Lake Chad to continue to dry up. The effect of that drying up is that farmers, fishermen, other artisans that previously depended on Lake Chad for means of livelihood now poured into nearby cities like Maiduguri and some cities in Yobe, looking for a way to survive. But these people were not equipped to live in cities. And to live, anybody who gives them food became their master, their god. That was how these individuals became murder weapons in the hands of terrorists.

The encroaching Sahara Desert that is racing down around one mile per annum has also depleted the grazing area previously depended on by herdsmen for feeding their cattle. These areas have dried up, as desertification kicks in. And the country has not been able to arrest these things. The result is that the herdsmen are moving southwards, looking for areas where they can graze and feed their stock. Now, instead of grazing areas prepared for that purpose, they now come to graze in the farms. They destroy crops that took farmers months and years to prepare. This has led to the regular violent confrontations involving Fulani herdsmen.

This is why it has been said that climate change has varied implications, among which are national security, health, famine, and even malnutrition; because if people cannot get what to eat, they eat things that are not good for them.
In January 2016, President Buhari addressed the World Future Energy Summit at Abu Dhabi and pointed out some of the tragic effects of climate change.

“Africa is already suffering from the consequences of climate change, which include recurrent drought and floods,” he said. “In the middle and southern part of Nigeria, land erosion threatens farming, forestry, town and village peripheries and in some areas, major highways. Constant and abrupt alteration between floods and droughts prove that climate change is real and therefore a global approach and cooperation to combat its effects are vital if the human race is not to face disaster in the 21st century.”

The problems that are caused by Climate Change, as outlined above, are numerous and complicated. This was why a Committee on Climate Change was created at the Federal House of Representatives.

The Committee’s jurisdiction covers the provision of oversight for structures, institutions, laws and policies that make up Nigeria’s response to Climate Change; ensuring accountability on Climate Change issues, and ensuring legislatives scrutiny and oversight over treaties and agreements that are likely to arise from the coordinated efforts under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The committee is headed by Hon. Sam Onuigbo, who represents Ikwuano/Umuahia North/South Federal Constituency. In an exclusive interview he granted THISDAY in Lagos, recently, Onuigbo noted that it was time to focus on the impact of climate change.

“We have a responsibility as a nation to act fast to arrest this situation,” he said. “Today, we have come to some kind of agreement that we must be proactive in containing the negative effects of climate change, and where possible, go ahead to take advantage of the opportunities that abound.

“That is why we came up with the National Policy on Climate Change which is to guide the different sectors affected by climate change, so that each sector is able to prepare to face the impending threats and, where possible, to benefit from the problems. For example, if we want to grow a green economy, we will have to invest in solar and hydro energy.

“We encourage each sector to do a sectoral variability assessment, for each sector to know how variable they are. When they do this, they have a scientific basis for taking action, for moving ahead. But if this is not done, we continue to move in the dark. That’s why we encourage different sectors to do this and get prepared.”

Onuigbo, who was also at the COP 21 in Paris, noted that challenges in combating climate change are multiple.

“The first one is finance,” he said. “We need finance to be able to contend with the problems and execute solutions. And another challenge is how to create the needed awareness for people to know that this is a genuine threat. We would like to see the Ministry of Information using the National Orientation Agency, to create awareness and sensitise the public on the effects of climate change.”

Also, the Committee is at loggerheads with some federal government MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agencies), who are dragging their foot in fighting climate change. For example, a ministry, which is directly impacted by climate change, made a massive provision in its 2015 budget for climate change, when Nigeria had not even made a national commitment to the problem. But after the country had made a national commitment to climate change, the same ministry now inexplicably slashed its climate budget from 12 per cent in 2015 to 0.43 percent in 2016.

“Such a scenario is disturbing, and we have to take action,” Onuigbo said. “We have seen the devastation in Ogoniland and in Bayelsa. The impact of gas-flaring is visible in the South-south. These are things that we are screaming about; that we must take action. We do not have to wait until the negative effects of these things catch up with us. There is a provision to stop gas-flaring in 2030, but that’s a long time. We must really take action.

“We have not seen the political will to take far reaching productive actions. That’s why we are hoping that as we go forward, with the kind of passionate leadership that has been shown by leaders of the National Assembly, we will be able to get in place laws to really push the executive into action.”

And President Buhari regularly reinstating the country’s commitment to the climate change fight, Onuigbo is worried that the MDAs, who are saddled with the responsibility to implement policies to match the President’s commitment, are not doing enough.

“This is one of the reasons why my committee has held several interactive sessions with climate change impacted MDAs,” he said. “This is why we invite them over and over again. During our interactions, some of these MDAs even admitted that they had not been doing anything regarding climate change. Some ministries that are negatively impacted by climate change do not have a climate change department or unit. But, through our interactions with them, we are correcting this malaise.
“We would like to see verifiable, practical actions, taken by these MDAs, to match the commitment that Mr. President has made on behalf of the good people of Nigeria. Mr. President has repeatedly talked about climate change and how Nigeria must fight it. If Mr. President is taking the pains to make these pronouncements, those saddled with the responsibility of taking action must do so. We are very optimistic that we will continue to record progress going forward.”