Nigeria Beyond the Headlines: Environment and Security [Part Two]
In the coming years, Nigeria’s cohort of unemployed youth has equal potential to “be converted into either a religious or a regional clash, as certain youths get opportunities and other youths do not,” said Pauline Baker, President Emeritus of the Fund for Peace, during the day-long “Nigeria Behind the Headlines” event at the Wilson Center on the April 25 (read part one here). [Video Below]
Youth in the troubled Niger Delta offer a case in point. Judy Asanti, executive director of Academic Associates PeaceWorks, a Nigeria-based conflict resolution NGO, said that the 2009 amnesty program the government enacted to disarm militants has, paradoxically, incentivized violence among the country’s marginalized youth as they struggle to establish livelihoods for themselves. Seeing the government pay former militants monthly stipends in exchange for disarming, marginalized youth are now motivated to take up arms against the state with the expectation that it will then have no choice but to pay them for peace.
Conflict in the country extends far beyond Niger Delta, however, and is motivated by a number of factors beyond opposition to the oil industry and its negative impact on local development. “Violence in Nigeria is unfortunately quite regular, quite intense, but also quite varied in its motives, in its scope, and in its direction,” said Peter Lewis.
“There is not a single fault line, north-south, Christian-Muslim, Yoruba-Hausa, or any other such simple division that would explain…the majority of violence in Nigeria.”
There is nonetheless a set of “critical issues” that are reflected across the country’s main centers of conflict, said Baker. In the delta region, central Nigeria, and northern Nigeria, “population issues, health issues, and natural resource issues are all critical,” she said.
Land and Climate Challenges
With so much at stake in an already unstable region, Anthony Nyong, head of gender, climate change, and sustainable development at the African Development Bank, said climate change exacerbates insecurity.
“Nigeria…is not immune to the threat of climate change,” he said. “We have seen Lake Chad dry up, we have seen people lose their livelihoods, and we’ve seen the migration that has come out of Lake Chad into Nigeria.”
How do you plan for this? The answer, Nyong said, is in figuring out how to “sustain green growth in the face of poverty alleviation.” The upcoming Rio+20 meetings will be an important forum for exploring alternatives, he argued. “We cannot continue on the development paradigm that we have chosen.”
George Akor, senior program manager at the Women Environmental Programme, pointed out the specific gendered impacts of environmental stress. “Climate change impacts, such as water scarcity, and falling agricultural productivity, may disproportionately affect women and girls,” he said, drawing from the 2010 Nigerian Millennium Development Goals Report.
“Women make up some 60 to 80 percent of [the] agricultural labor force in Nigeria – they play a very important role in this sector,” said Akor. Yet they rarely own the land because it is largely a patrilineal society. This disconnect reduces the capacity of Nigeria’s communities to adapt to challenges such as population pressure, severe erosion, uncontrolled logging, land subsidence, flooding in the coastal and riverine states, and drought and desertification in the north, he said.
“Water, land, and biodiversity are under severe pressure,” and that stress is manifested in crop failure, declining yields, and increased work time required for less food and less income. Women’s livelihoods are directly affected by these issues, said Akor.
The urban environment also faces pressure from poor land management, shoddy construction, and the continued growth of slums in major cities.
Industrial activities, such as illegal mining in the north-west, which received media attention after the discovery of widespread lead poisoning, and oil pollution from spillage and gas flares, are also serious environmental issues, Akor said.
Water Mismanagement and Government Opacity
Ameto Akpe reports on Makurdi for the PBS NewsHour
“Water and sanitation isn’t really a hot topic in Nigeria,” said Ameto Akpe of Nigeria’s BusinessDay newspaper. Yet, “every year, almost 200,000 kids under the age of five die from drinking unsafe water [and] many more fall terribly sick from water related diseases like cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever.” Akpe described challenging authorities on the lack of safe water and routinely receiving answers that were evasive and nonchalant. “It’s something you see over and over again,” she said.
“The water sanitation crisis…is less about the lack of the resource, or even the lack of funds, and more about poor and faulty management failures that have dramatic consequences,” said Akpe. She pointed to a project in the city of Makurdi on the banks of the river Benue, where tens of millions of dollars have been spent on a new water treatment facility in an area that lacks the infrastructure to actually distribute the water to residents.
How could such an oversight occur? The reasons are complex, but corruption and a lack of transparency in government financing are major issues, she said. Despite government promises that 75 percent of Nigerians will have access to clean drinking water by 2015, the water budget has been repeatedly slashed since 2010. It is now 65 percent of what it used to be, Akpe said.
Reasons for Optimism in a Rising Civil Society
The growing rift between Nigerians and their government spilled into the open in January when thousands protested the end of the government’s long-standing fuel subsidy, which caused prices for food, fuel, and transportation to skyrocket overnight. Although there have been protests in response to oil price hikes in the past – notably in 1988 and 2000 – this round was markedly different, said Akwe Amosu, an Africa policy analyst with the Open Society Foundation.
The mood of the January protests was encapsulated by a student quoted in Reuters, said Amosu. “He said, ‘the bottom line is we don’t trust the government to do what they say anymore.’” Paired with the unequal distribution of recent growth, that distrust is reorienting public opinion and galvanizing civil society. Within weeks, the protests prompted the government to reign in the cutbacks and simply reduce, rather than repeal, the subsidy.
“There is a rising level of expectations that…is changing the way that people think,” said Amosu. “People are beginning to feel more acutely the difficulties around poverty, around jobs, around lack of services.” Those rising expectations are contributing to a level of discourse on governance that is unparalleled in the country’s recent history, and which, if sustained, could help brighten the country’s future.
“Nigeria’s never been this divided since the civil war, and yet the country has never been this united in protest in its history,” she said, quoting ActionAid’s Hussaini Abdu. “And I think that speaks to the idea that people are getting a handle on the idea that they are a critical part of holding the nation to account.”
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