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Environmental Challenges in Northern Nigeria: the Way Forward

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A position paper submitted to Northern Delegates at the National Conference Abuja


Yusuf Abdullahi Rigasa (PhD) An Associate Chief Lecturer at the Department of Environmental Science Kaduna Polytechnic, currently on secondment to National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, NOSDRA, Federal Ministry of Environment Abuja.

Northern Nigeria was a British protectorate which lasted from 1900 until 1914 and covered the northern part of what is now Nigeria. The protectorate spanned 255,000 miles (410,000 km) and included the states of the Sokoto Caliphate and the Kano emirate and parts of the former Bornu Empire, conquered in 1902. The protectorate was ended in 1914, when it was unified with Southern Nigerian Protectorate and Lagos Colony, to become Northern Province of the colony and protectorate of Nigeria or the Northern region.
The Northern Region was one of Nigeria's federating units. It was created before independence in 1960, with its capital at Kaduna. In 1962, it acquired the territory of the British Northern Cameroons, who voted to become part of Nigeria. In 1967 the region was split into states - Benue-Plateau State, Kano State, Kwara State, North-Central State, North-Eastern State and North-Western State. Currently, the region comprises of 19 states and Federal Capital Territory Abuja.
The climatic conditions in the northern part of Nigeria exhibit only two different seasons, namely, a short wet season and a prolonged dry season. Temperatures during the day remain constantly high while humidity is relatively low throughout the year, with little or no cloud cover. There are, however, wide diurnal ranges in temperature (between nights and days) particularly in the very hot months. The mean monthly temperatures during the day exceed 36°C while the mean monthly temperatures at night fall, most times to below 22°C.
While much of Nigeria experiences two rainy periods as the intertropical convergence move north or south, in the north the two rainy seasons merge to give a single wet season between July and September.
The few high plateaus of Jos and Biu, and the Adamawa highlands, experience climatic conditions which are markedly different from the generalised dry and wet period in northern Nigeria. Temperatures are 5 - 10°C lower due to high altitude than in the surrounding areas. Similarly, the annual rainfall figures are higher than in areas around them, particularly on the windward side.
Northern Nigeria is predominantly occupied by Hausa, Fulani, Gwari, Berom, Kanuri, Tivs, Jukun, Yoruba and many others, a diversity of over 250 tribes of different faiths and values. They are mostly farmers, livestock rearers and artisans. In sophisticated communities with established hierarchy of power and administration, scholarship, industrialization and trade flourish with little impact on neighbouring communities and environment. The north is endowed with environmental assets which include arable soil, grassland surface and ground water source, unique ecosystems and biodiversity, pollution free air quality and diverse community with unique history and heritage. Overtime environmental assets in the north have deteriorated as result of desert encroachment, deforestation and loss of soil fertility and productivity. Other emerging human induced environmental challenges are water pollution, urban solid waste, sanitation, air quality issues and soil erosion. Modern Northern Nigeria is characterized by rural-urban migration, rapid urbanization, inequality and depravation and violent communal conflicts. On the side of Nature the north is exposed to climate change induced droughts, floods and seasonal shifts with grave implications on rain fed agriculture. These challenges have aggravated communal and individual competition for scarce natural environmental assets leading to violent conflicts.
The rise agitation for derivation, control and ownership of natural resources has increased the national and particularly northern consciousness of natural assets and their socio-economic status in Nigeria. The exploitation of natural resources comes at a cost. These could be social, economic or environmental. The Social and economic consequences are temporal and short-term but environmental costs spans generations. This article is a summary of existing and emerging environmental challenges in the North. It is aimed at the conscience of Northern delegation to the National conference, to help them make the right choices for the north and the nation in general. Each environmental challenge is accompanied by prioritized solutions.
The environmental challenges are as follows;
Desertification is a land degradation in which a relatively dry land region becomes increasingly arid, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife. It is caused by a variety of factors, such as climate change and human activities. Desertification is the major cause of rural – urban migration as it destroys local agriculture, biodiversity and water resources. About 20% of Nigeria’s landmass is already exposed to exposing 43.3% of the country at risk. Currently, desertification affects Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kano, Jigawa, Kebbi and Sokoto states. Others include Yobe, Katsina and Zamfara states. The risk of desertification in these states ranged from 50% to 75%. Nigeria is has lost about 351, 000 km2 to desertification, a figure representing 38% of its total landmass. It is estimated that more than 30 million people in Nigeria live under the hardship of desertification (Audu 2013)
Desertification is characterized by extreme droughts, over-population and deprivation in urban centres, over grazing and over-exploitation of marginal lands for fuel-wood further accelerating the process. The Great green wall is the major response of Federal government to the challenge, however, it not enough. Sustainable short-term solutions should include subsidy for kerosene, cooking gas and other domestic fuels. Communities in collaboration with governments, needs to accept desertification as a permanent feature of the environment by integrating mitigations and adaptation strategies into policies and life style. Mitigation measures are short-term solutions such as fuel subsidy, planting trees, water efficiency and control grazing. Adaptations are long-term solutions that may require new policies and regulations. This may include a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind and new policies on integrated water, soil and livestock management. New regulations may also be required on Deforestation and energy efficiency and waste management.

Figure 1 desertification in progress
Deforestation is the removal of a forest or stand of trees where the land is thereafter converted to a non-forest use. Deforestation occurs for many reasons: trees are cut down to be used or sold as fuel (sometimes in the form of charcoal) or timber, while cleared land is used as pasture for livestock, plantations of commodities and settlements. The removal of trees without sufficient reforestation has resulted in damage to habitat, biodiversity loss and aridity. It has adverse impacts on bio-sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
The major cause of deforestation in Northern Nigeria is fuel wood consumption. The demand of fuel wood in Nigeria’s urban areas has been increasing, due to the fact that other sources of energy are experiencing hike in prices. Also, between 1991 and 1994, kerosene and cooking gas rose by about 900 percent (Momah and Soaga 1999), and today it has risen by more than 1000 percent. This has pushed many households down the energy ladder. Many households could no longer afford to buy kerosene and cooking gas as such, they resorted to the use of fuel wood. At present, fuel wood constitutes the main source of fuel for cooking by over 76% of the Nigerian population (Babanyara and Saleh 2010).
Impact of deforestation in Nigeria includes the following
Erosion: When trees are cut down, the land becomes vulnerable to erosion and hence land degradation in the form of desertification. Nigeria is currently loosing 351,000km2 of its land to desert and is increasing south wards, (Wikipedia, 2008) a situation if not checkmated will put agricultural production in crises.
Economic Problems: Since agriculture is the major occupation of rural dwellers and urban centres depends on the rural areas for food, a decline in production means a decline in the economy of rural dwellers and hunger for Nigerians.
Loss of Valuable Flora Species: The indiscriminate felling of trees creates loss of valuable tree species which could be used in improving crop variety and increase agricultural yield. Loss of Valuable Fauna Species: The reduction or disappearance of the flora (loss of habitat) could sometimes lead to the extinction of some fauna species.
Fuel Wood Scarcity: In Nigeria, the total fuel wood consumption in 1985 was 87.587 million cubic metres. According to Obuah, (2000) 55million tons of fuel wood and charcoal were burnt annually in the last decade (90’s). This has recently (2000 onward), increased to 80 million cubic metres (43.4 x 109 kg) of fuel wood for cooking and domestic uses (Sambo, 2005).
The solutions to deforestation include change in lifestyle requiring a shift to renewable fuels for cooking. The renewable energy sources include solar, wind and bio amass. Although the green wall project and tree planting campaigns in the North are laudable projects. The switch to renewable is the most sustainable solution.

Figure 3 fuel wood marketers in the far North
Over grazing
Overgrazing occurs when plants are exposed to intensive grazing for extended periods of time, or without sufficient recovery periods. It can be caused by either livestock in poorly managed agricultural applications, or by overpopulations of native or non-native wild animals. Overgrazing reduces the usefulness, productivity, and biodiversity of the land and is one cause of desertification and erosion. Overgrazing is also seen as a cause of the spread of invasive species of non-native plants and of weeds.
Migrant pastoralists in Nigeria are made up of many ethnic groups and the largest being the Fulbe or Fulani; constituting over 90%. The Fulani are well integrated amongst the sedentary Hausa farmers, who emigrated into Northern Nigeria from the Senegambia Valley several centuries ago (Adebayo, 1995). The availability of ecological, economic, environmental as well as social factors explain the need for posture, market proximity and the reciprocal social relationship with the host community. A combination of these factors increases the potential for conflicts in northern Nigeria (Fabusoro, 2006).
The combines impacts of desertification and deforestation has reduced availability and access to valuable pastures in the North giving to increased south ward migration of the Fulani and increased competition and conflicts with farmers for productive arable land resource. This trend if unchecked may lead more violent conflicts and instability in Northern Nigeria. Currently, there is increased agitation for the creation of government control grazing reserves. This demand by the Fulani is being resisted by sedentary farmers nationwide.
The solution to overgrazing short term is the creation of grazing reserves. In the long term, integrated sustainable agriculture, commercial dairy farming and ranching remain the best options for long term ecological stability and prosperity of Northern Nigeria.

Figure 3 Fulani in search of greener pasture
Flood and erosion
Erosion is the wearing process by which materials are moved from a particular area of the soil and deposited elsewhere. This usually occurs due to transportation by wind, water or ice. The down slope creep of the soil, other materials under gravity, living organisms and burrowing animals can also contribute to erosion. Flooding and erosion are serious ecological problems in Nigeria. National and state governments have tried to give the problems the attention they deserve because of the serious negative impact they have on agricultural productivity, lives and properties in both urban and rural environments. There are two factors responsible for erosion .These factors are either climatic or biological. Climatic factors have to do with changes in temperature, season, wind speed, storm frequency etc.
The flood of 2012 has changed the perception of communities and government response strategy to erosion and flood. Communities and governments were unprepared. Flood I urban centres is caused by clogged drains and unregulated developments in risky flood plains. Small and medium size rive are stressed and degenerate by solid waste load beyond their carrying capacity. Most states in the north currently have agencies for emergency relief and disaster management.
Erosion sheet erosion in the extreme north is mainly due to wind. However in the savannah its major cause is deforestation which exposes top soil to storm water leading to washout. Topsoil is the most productive part of the soil and once washed or blown away becomes less productive and unsuitable for agriculture, grazing and human settlement. .
The solutions include sustainable drainage systems and land resource management, water and soil conservation techniques and protection of threatened ecosystems. Physical planning laws need to be strengthened and enforced. Drains and River systems need to cleaned and regenerated. Vulnerable communities should be prepared and engaged in safeguarding themselves and the environment.

Figure 5 Flooded parts of Makurdi in 2012

Figure 6 Gully erosion in an urban centre
Loss of soil fertility - agricultural productivity
The term soil fertility is the intrinsic ability or capability of the soil to provide plant nutrients and water in adequate amount and when required, for good growth and development of the crops (Terminski 2012). While soil fertility decline (also described as soil productivity decline) is a deterioration of chemical, physical and biological soil properties and subsequent reduction in providing the crops with adequate nutrients and water. The main contributing processes, besides soil erosion, are; * Decline in organic matter and soil biological activity. * Degradation of soil structure and loss of other soil physical qualities. * Reduction in availability of major nutrients (N, P, K) and micro-nutrients. * Increase in toxicity, due to acidification or pollution.
According to FAO (2001), Nigeria is one of the countries with high declining soil fertility. The country was estimated to be losing an average of 24 kg nutrients/ha per year (10 kg N; 4 kg P2O5, 10 kg K2O) in 1990 and 48 kg nutrients/ha per year in 2000, that is, a loss equivalent to 100 kg fertilizers/ha per year. However this figure is postulated to have dropped appreciable since the government and other foreign organizations started investing heavily on fertilizer. Soils in most of Nigeria have inherently low fertility and do not receive adequate nutrient replenishment. With Nigeria falling under sub-Saharan African countries with low mineral fertilizer consumption, about 10 kg nutrients (N, P2O5, K2O)/ha per year, compared to the world average of 90 kg.
Declining soil fertility can be adequately managed by proper practice of soil rotation, bush fallow, application of the right fertilizer and general proper management of the farmlands.

Figure 7 soil degraded by a combination of flood, erosion and desertification

Waste management
Solid Waste management is increasingly drawing attention especially in state capitals and population centres of the North. Though collection and dumping of municipal waste has been outsourced to waste contractors, recovery and recycling of end-of-use and end-of-life resources by the informal waste managers is the major drivers of opportunities and sustainability in waste. These waste managers ranged from waste collectors (barrow boyz), scavengers and itinerant walking northern cities to buy or recover unwanted materials. The informal sector though unrecognised by governments reduces cost and of volume of waste management and drives the evolution of significant value chains as resource for small enterprise. The market for scrap metals and recovered plastics is highly lucrative. Improper management of solid waste may spread disease, clog drains and degrade environmental quality. Generally, the average rate of solid waste generation in Nigeria is estimated as 0.5kg/capital/day.
The way forward for the North is to recognise and integrate informal waste mangers by mainstreaming them into existing management strategies. Waste to wealth schemes (biogas, compost and other waste products) should be encouraged. We need more pantekas in our cities. Waste management standards needs to developed and enforced. Waste management behaviour of an average Northerner is poor. Environmental education and public awareness campaign should be intensified. All these require increased government funding and investments in waste management personnel and infrastructure.

Figure 7 an informal waste manager (Barrow Boy) in Kaduna

Figure 8 a waste contractor at work in Kaduna
Loss of biodiversity
Biological diversity commonly referred to as biodiversity is the variety of life forms on earth which is composed of the number of species of plants, animals and microorganism, the enormous diversity of genes in these species, the different ecosystems on the planet, such as deserts, rainforests, savannah and coral reefs (The Beehive, 2011).
Nigeria is rich in biodiversity as the country is well endowed with a variety of plant and animal species. There are about 7,895 plant species identified in 338 families and 2,215 genera .There are 22,000 vertebrates and invertebrates species. These species include about 20,000 insects, about 1,000 birds, about 1,000 fishes, 247 mammals and 123 reptiles (FGN, 2010). Among these animals about 0.4% are threatened while 0.22% is endangered (Adeyinka 2010).
The direct causes of biodiversity loss in Nigeria include economic policies, rising demand for forest products, poor law enforcement and weak laws (FGN, 2010). Factors such as rapid urbanization have collectively increased deforestation and biodiversity loss. Increased export demands for primates and birds for research and trade in timber and non-timber species are direct causes of biodiversity loss in various parts of the country. Other causes include agricultural practices such as bush burning, fuel wood collection, logging and over grazing. Some State governments are removing the protected status from forest reserves without regard for the biodiversity. Most of the laws that control the management of several species are outdated and their enforcement is inadequate. The consequence is overexploitation of resources and subsequent loss of biodiversity (FGN, 2010).
In the North the loss of biodiversity is not taken seriously because the impacts are long-term. As result there is need to create awareness and local laws need to be strengthened to protect northern biodiversity against being threatened or extinction. There is need for more parks and protected game reserves. Communities should be encouraged to exploit natural resources sustainably.

Figure 8 Gorillas in Protective custody

Rapid over population and urban degradation
The degradation of environmental resources and competition for productive arable land in rural areas are the major drivers of rural urban migration. Northern cities are not designed to accommodate huge population. As result of increased pressure on infrastructure the cities are turned to dirty slums with poor sanitation, health care, schools and housing facilities. The lack of opportunities in Northern cities is alarming and could be responsible for violent conflicts and terrorism and general insecurity. Unplanned and unsustainable urban centres increase pressure on environmental resources further aggravating damages to the environment.
The way forward is to develop physical planning standards and ensure compliance. Investment in agriculture will increase rural income and help keep rural population out of cities.

Figure 9 a public event in Kano

The rise of artisanal mining activities
Once a significant part of the economy, mining was abandoned by the government when oil was discovered in the 1960s, leaving the work to small-time diggers equipped with nothing but shovels and hand-powered stone crushers. The unregulated industry continues unabated. Villagers who make 10 times more money mining than from farming prefer to die of lead poisoning than poverty (Greentimes 2014).
Artisanal and illegal miners (men, women and children) are rural and poor and usually work without legal mining title. Their activities include mining of gemstones like tourmaline, beryl, amethyst, aquamarine and garnet and precious minerals like diamond and gold. It also includes mining of other minerals like columbite, tantalite and cassiterite. Mining of river sands, digging of burrow pits, removal of topsoil, sand and laterite for building purposes are also carried out. Other activities include removal of vegetation and cleaning of dams to produce dam sands. These arrays of activities lead to uncoordinated and unregulated mining which usually result in haphazard extraction of the minerals and eventual destruction of the environment. Evidences of such destruction are observed in the form of soil erosion, and, change in topography, and water pollution and dumps of overburden material. The resultant effects of abandoned pits and other mining sites that becomes flooded during the raining season pose health dangers to the citizens.
In order to reduce the negative impacts on the environment, it is recommended that government should accord due recognition to artisanal and illegal mining as a legitimate organization that can contribute legitimately and meaningfully to sustainable development. This will nurture them into being able to provide an alternative viable livelihood for the rural dwellers. In addition, it will give them the opportunity to be part of decision-making process and eventually part of efforts to minimize the negative impact of their activities on the environment. Closed mines especially the ones in Plateau and Nassarawa states should be properly decommissioned, remediated and restored.

Figure 9 illegal artisanal mining in the far North

Figure 10 lead poisoned pond in Anka, Zamfara state

Climate change
Climate change is a natural phenomenon that is characterised by global warming, rising sea level and other extreme environmental events. Climate is essential to ecosystem services and stability. One of the consequences of climate change is the shifting boundaries for many components and processes within the systems. Among these components are pathogens and infectious diseases. Generally, the three major components of climate change already evident and escalating in magnitude and significance are warming, altered patterns of precipitation and increased incidence of extreme climatic events (Polly et al, 2010). The stability of ecosystems may with local impacts of Climate change. In Nigeria, these impacts include flood, desertification and increased rural to urban migration. The Fulani being migrant pastoralist will be affected by the availability or lack of pasture for their livestock (Azuwike and Enwerem, 2010). Previously, the southwards migration of the Fulani was limited by the tsetse fly and its associated parasite, trypanosome
Currently the Fulani can be found in coastal states of Nigeria and other areas hitherto off limits to their livestock (Bande, 2003). One of the less visible impacts of climate change is its effect on the distribution of pathogens, infectious diseases and particularly their associated host (NEST, 2004). The traditional boundaries of these agents may be shifting without the necessary mitigation and adaptation strategy in place. Northern Nigeria will specifically experience significant yield reductions across most of the country for rain fed agricultural products. As climate change induced event become more pronounced Northern farmers will require drought resistant seedlings, the Fulani will be under pressure to migrate south of encroach to greener pasture in the North leading to conflict and the general population could be exposed to strange illnesses previously unknown.
The way forward is for governments and communities to put in place mitigations and adaptations strategies against negative impacts of climate change. So far only Lagos state documented a comprehensive climate change adaptation strategy. Northern states needs to rise up to the challenge of our time

Figure 11 predicted Climate change induce loss in yield of sorghum in Nigeria (Note some areas may actually gain increased yield long-term)

Hydrocarbon pollution
Though none of the Northern states is producing oil for now, increased vandalization of pipelines across the north is contaminating valuable farmlands and groundwater sources. Most of the filling stations in the North also leak hydrocarbons to surrounding aquifers.
The way forward is enforcing compliance with existing environmental laws, environmental education and public awareness campaigns.

Figure 12 air pollution from Kaduna refinery
Northern Nigeria is vulnerable to ecological disasters and environmental degradation. The region is behind others in virtually all indicators of environmental performance. The environmental challenges are interconnected and the north is lagging behind in terms of policy formulation and enforcement, community participation and general public awareness. Most states in the North lack the capacity to access available funding from the ecological fund office or international donor agencies. There need for every state in the north to document its environmental challenges and seek local and or international assistance in mitigations and adaptations to these challenges. Ecological fund should be shared fairly. International aids and grant should be distributed across the country. We must do our best, Doing nothing could be dangerous long term. For all northern delegates, it’s time to be counted.

Adebayo,A.G. 1995: “Of Man and Cattle: A Reconsideration of the Tradition of Origin of Pastoral Fulani of Nigeria”History of Africa 18 (1991), pp 1-21.
Adeyinka, A. 2010. Harnessing Nigeria’s Biological Diversity In An Integrated Approach To National Development, JORIND 10 (2), June, 2012
Azuwike O. D., Enwerem, E. 2010. Nigeria’s Changing Environment And Pastoral Nomadism: Redistribution Of Pains And Gains. Unpublish article, Imo State University
Bande, T. 2003. ‘A general Survey of Conflicts in the North West zone of Nigeria’ in Survey of conflicts in Nigeria. Africa Peace Review. Special Ed. Centre for Peace Research and Conflict Resolution, NWC Abuja
Beehive (2011) – biodiversity
Babanyara, Y.Y. and Saleh, U. F. 2010. Urbanisation and the Choice of Fuel Wood as a Source of Energy in Nigeria, Journal of Human Ecology, 31(1): 19-26
Fabusoro,E. 2007. “Key Issues in Livelihoods Security of Migrant Fulani Pastoralists: Empirical evidence from Southwest Nigeria”. AEGIS European Conference on African studies – African Alternatives: Initiative and Creativity beyond Current Constraints – 11-14 July 2007 African Studies Centre, Leiden, the Netherlands.
FAO (2001). Soil Fertility Management in Support of Food security in Sub-Saharan Africa. Available on
Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN)(2010) – Fourth National Biodiversity Greentimes 2014. Illegal miners: Poisoning is better than poverty, online: Report
Momah, S., Soaga, J. 1999. Biomass Energy Consumption in Nigeria: Integrating Demand and S supply. Nigerian Journal of Renewable Energy, 71: 78-83.
Nigerian Environmental Study/Action Team 2004. Executive Summary of five Multi- sector surveys on Nigeria’s Vulnerability and Adaptation to climate change, Canada-Nigeria Climate Change Capacity Development Project.
Obuah J 2000. Ecological cost of increasing dependence on biomass fuel as household energy in rural Nigeria. Boiling Point, 44: 26-30.
Polley L., Eric Hoberg, Susan Kutz. 2010. Climate change, parasites and shifting boundaries, Polley et al. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 2010, 52(Suppl 1):S1
Sambo A.S. 2005. Renewable energy for rural development: The Nigerian perspective. ISESCO: Science and Technology Vision, 1: 12-22.
Terminski B. (2012). Current Dynamics of Land Degradation in Africa: Facts and Statistics. The Nigerian Voice, Available on dynamics-of-land-degradation-in-africa-fac.html

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