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How Increasing Desertification is Fuelling Security Tensions in Nigeria

The surge of militancy in the northern part of Nigeria began with the Maitatsine. That died a slow but painful death. Its carcass was, however, woken up by the Boko Haram, a group of thugs originally loyal to and used by a notorious politician from the North East. The group later turned ideological and evolved to an even dreaded version/faction now called Islamic West African Protectorate (ISWAP) – which is strongly affiliated to the ISIS.

Aside the fact that the Nigerian Army and other security forces tackling the carnage being wrought by the Boko Haram for more than a decade now has been largely lackluster, the oppressive and ineffectual government (local, state and federal) has given the locals too little to cheer about. In fact, tales have been told of how residents of communities overridden by Boko Haram/ISWAP gave up vital information and intelligence which led to the town’s capture. General Sani Abacha once remarked that any war, of a national tone, lasting more than two days has the support of the locals embedded in it. It is quite revealing that same was true for the situation in the northern part of Nigeria.

But in all of these and mostly contributory to the new wave of insecurity being felt in the southern parts of the country is the issue of climate change. A major reason for this trend shift may not be unconnected with the dwindling fortunes of the once Great Lake Chad. In the 1960s, Lake Chad was the sixth largest freshwater lake in the world, bearing an oasis and boasting a major commercial hub in the arid Sahel region. Water from the lake and the fertile lands which surrounded it was once shared by farmers, herders and fishermen without rancour. Now, the vast Lake Chad has shrunk from 25,000 km² to half the area.

Of course, many foot soldiers of the Boko Haram sect aren’t even Muslim fanatics but poor kids who have been turned against their corrupt country by a charismatic leader. This is no longer only about an Islamic agenda which the press sometimes makes us believe; it is now about survival versus the ineffectiveness of the government in alleviating the root causes.

Around 200,000 people who were once farmers, fishermen and herdsmen had lost their livelihoods due to the displacements by severe drought and food shortages in the neighbouring countries of Niger and Chad. They were facing starvation, so many of them who were on the other side of the Nigerian border crossed over to Nigeria to become mercenaries who fight for Boko Haram and ISWAP – which they believed had their best interest at heart. This group of mercenaries cannot help but believe the promise that they would profit by sharing from the spoils of war in any of the captured territories.

It is ironical but primal to note that as ISIS is waning in the Middle East, Boko Haram/ISWAP is being strengthened here in West Africa. The newer offshoot of the terrorist group ISWAP has not only been making inroads into claiming land from within the territories of Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, but it has also begun to establish irrigated farms for the citizens within seized territory. ISWAP also now collects taxes from the traders plying trade routes in seized territories while conducting and authorizing merchandise.

By providing basic amenities for the populace within seized territory, the terrorist group succeeds, therefore, in showing the people that they are capable of running a better government which guarantees better a livelihood for them. The major effect of this is that the war refuses to abate. Many residents of hitherto peaceful regions are pushed to flee southwards if they are lucky to escape being killed.

Farmers way down south are also increasingly wary of strange herdsmen whose cattle grazing in and around their farms and communities. In their migration for survival, these herdsmen who have been forced out of their communities are subsequently forced to raise arms against unsuspecting victims down south, therefore, wiping out villages in the process. The flame of xenophobia might begin to get fanned anew if all of the causative factors fuelling these herdsmen migrations are not quickly curtailed. Migrants and residents will begin to get more protective and aggressive, thereby raising tensions not only economic but tribal. It is an ugly trend with vivid origins.

It is unclear if the Buhari-led government is aware of this gambit being employed by ISWAP. We are not in the know if the concerned governors in states where these pockets of small scale or large scale violence takes place are taking pragmatic steps towards countering the rise of the Boko Haram-ISWAP.

It is high time the authorities found a way to mitigate the climate change causing the flight and forced migration, as well as for the government to deliver topnotch governance so that the people can benefit from the abundance of the land.

References

Economist

The Guardian

Featured image source: The Guardian Nigeria

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Adedoyin Tella

Adedoyin is mostly a farmer in the day who also dabbles into technology at night, in search of other cutting edge intersections. He's on Twitter @i_fix_you

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