Environmental Crisis in Nigeria: Capitalist Rule Incapable of Lasting Solutions
President Muhammadu Buhari may join other world leaders in their cosy conference room during the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) between 31 October and 12 November 2021 in Scotland’s Glasgow. He may likely add his voice on the need for governments globally to protect the environment by embarking on activities that would mitigate the catastrophic impacts of climate change on the environment. However, back home, in Nigeria, every action and inaction of his government is doing the exact opposite!
By Eko John Nicholas
The increasing temperatures also have devastating effects on Nigeria. Nigeria’s case is even compounded being a neo-colonial third world nation, with largely underdeveloped economy. This means unlike what obtains, to a certain extent, in developed nations, Nigeria is largely devoid of social safety nets to cushion the devastating environmental impacts of climate change on the working people and poor. Nigeria is presently faced with Intractable perennial problems arising from climate change. Already, the concomitant effects on agriculture, water resources, energy production, human health, ecosystem and security, across regions are breeding conflicts and tensions
The impacts of climate change due to warming temperatures have meant that excessive rainfalls, draughts, flooding, pollution, extreme heats, erosion, ocean level rise, are now frequently experienced by the people. Added to this is ecological disasters resulting from gas flaring and oil spillage in the Niger Delta region occasioned by exploration and exploitation.
Water Shortage and Flooding in Lagos Metropolis
Lagos is a paradox! Perhaps, nowhere else is the contractions of the rule of capitalism more exemplified than the city of Lagos. A state of aquatic splendour: located along the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by lagoons and many rivers and streams that empty their waters into the lagoons. In fact, Lagos state is water! Yet, access to clean, safe and affordable water for the mass majority is presently unavailable.
Water Aid Nigeria estimates that 55 million Nigerians, or one in every 3 Nigerians, do not have access to clean water. In Lagos, the water demands are far beyond the production by the municipal Lagos Water Corporation (LWC). The utility doesn’t even deliver half of the needed amount of over 540 million gallons per day, leaving a huge shortage of more than 320 million gallons! This is a city of an estimated 22 million inhabitants! Many residents currently rely on the informal water supply to cater for their water needs, including rain and stream waters! Common water borne diseases like cholera and typhoid fever are not uncommon in the city!
Interestingly, the same Lagos, the former Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, is the commercial nerve centre of the country, and unarguably the richest state in the federation, with a monthly internally generated revenues running into several billions of naira! If it was a country Lagos would be the 7th biggest economy in Africa. But the response of the Lagos state government to this water crisis in the state in its Lagos Water Supply Master Plans was to privatise water supply. In order to guarantee super profits for the investors, the Lagos government went as far as proposing to the state assembly in 2017 a bill criminalising the informal water supply. The proposal was later defeated through mass campaigns by the populace.
There’s no doubt that as the impacts of climate change continue to exacerbate by increasing temperatures, heavy downpours, flooding, ocean level rise and its attendant negative polluting effects on water bodies, access to safe drinking water would be in jeopardy for the working poor masses of Lagos state, unless investment in water needs over profits are made by the government. Already, due to excessive torrential rainfalls and floods leading to sea level rise, there are predictions that the possibility of Lagos Island being submerged by water in the next 30 years is real! A dress rehearsal of this was witnessed on August 10th, when Lagos Island was taken over by floods due to torrential rainfalls that lasted over 24 hours!
Rather than embark on the massive investments in activities that would mitigate the impact of climate change and its associated ills like ocean surges, the government is doing the exact opposite. It prioritises profits and luxury of a few over the needs of humanity and environment, through its indiscriminate and undemocratic plans to develop more artificial islands through land reclamation from the waters, namely, Diamond, Orange and Gracefield Phoenix Islands. This is besides the Eko Atlantic City project involving the reclamation of large expense of land in the designated area which, most likely, would upset the natural equilibrium of the flow of water bodies there by diverting them to accommodate the new construction This undoubtedly would heighten flooding and endanger people’s lives.
Damaging Effects of Erosion in South Eastern Parts of Nigeria
In the south eastern parts of Nigeria, the damage done by erosions leading to land degradation continues to worsen the living conditions of the working poor majority of the Easterners. According to the World Igbo Environmental Foundation (WIFE) findings in 2018, over 2800 active erosion sites in the south east of Nigeria. Anambra state has over 1000 active erosion sites. In Imo state, there are about 300 active sites, while Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi have about 500 sites of active erosion each!
The implication of this, is that, besides rendering residents homeless – turning them to climate refugees – soil erosions are a major factor for desertification with the capacity, if unchecked, of turning the whole region into a waste land cum deserts! This would lead to loss of biodiversity and massive loss of nutrients needed for plants and animals growths.
To prevent this pending catastrophe, the need for environmental remediation through massive investments in tree planting to shield the soil; introduction of mulch and rocks to the soil to reduce on the slope, and creating of long fibre to curb soil from being washed away become inevitable. But, the ruling capitalist elite in the south east and nationally can’t be relied upon to execute these aforementioned remedies to save the environment and the poor affected communities, due to their self-serving interest and profit first motives. In few instances, where the devastating effects of erosions in south east region have gotten the attentions of the state and federal governments, inflated and sometimes phony contracts are awarded to cronies, who end up corruptly enriching themselves while the problem remains unsolved.
Draughts, Desertification and “Shrinking” Lake Chad in the Northern Nigeria
The risk posed by climate change crisis in northern Nigeria and the Lake Chad region which depend on rainfall for their livelihoods is taking a more challenging dimension, made worse by insecurity. Extreme temperatures and it attendant draughts and loss of vegetation resulting to desertification, have made farming and livestock rearing i difficult for the inhabitants. The rural poor majority of this region have always depended on the exploitation of land resources for survival through agriculture: crop and livestock. Desertification due to draughts is made worse by human activities through excessive tree falling for charcoal, firewood, folder, medicine, building materials and household items. This is compounding climate change effects, due to the emissions of carbon dioxide from charcoal and firewood in to the atmosphere, and lack of trees/plants to absorb them. It’s estimated that firewood and charcoals account for about 50 per cent of national primary energy consumption with communities burning up over 32 million cubic meter of fire wood annually!
This implication of this, is that vast expanse of land in millions of hectares are left exposed without cover. This has made availability of folders and water for animal feed and fertile land for the production of crops for both human and animal consumption inadequate or even total lacking. This has led to forced migration of both human and animals in search for pastures, southward. And in the process of moving south, the herders inadvertently or even deliberately graze their animals on farms eating up crops leading to the present farmers and herders’ clashes, in the Southern and Northcentral states. The herders and farmers clashes are now taking a new dimension, asides the attendant loss of farm produce and properties, it has led to loss of many lives, throwing up the faulty national question, threatening the very existence of Nigeria as nation.
Again, the Lake Chad, one of Africa’s largest fresh water bodies, which has historically served as a source of livelihoods for over 30 million people mostly the rural poor communities, is reported to be fast vanishing. In fact, governments of the Lake Chad areas including Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic, have been parroting the alleged shrinkage/ vanishing of the Lake Chad. While, these governments, especially Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, have been vociferous, telling anyone who cares to listen that the Lake Chad has shrunk by 90 per cent from its supposed 25,000sq km in the 1960s due to climate change, therefore needs refilling. And on this basis, they call on the international donors (a call likely to be repeated at the Glasgow Climate Change Summit) to bankroll the 2,400sq km (927sq miles) refilling project of Transaqua Canal from the Ubanji River in the Democratic Republic of Congo to Lake Chad, Central African Republic at the estimated cost of 50billon dollar (39bn pound) – roughly a third of annual global aid budget.
But the Guardian of London, Tuesday October 22 2019, reported that “our two-year study of climate change and security risks in the Lake Chad region charts the hydrological health of the lake over the last 30 years. The conclusion – uncomfortably for the pipeline’s proponents – is that the lake is not actually shrinking. True, the size of the lake did fall steeply between the 1960s and the 1990s. True, the lake fluctuates dramatically over the course of each year and across decades. However, since the 1990s Lake Chad’s size has, on average, been stable. By some measures, it has even been growing.”
While the impact of climate change crisis can’t be ruled out on the Lake Chad, what’s incontrovertible is the abject poverty and misery in the region, occasioned by the complete lack of government presence among the four countries bordering the Lake Chad, in terms of massive investments in social services and economic activities like agriculture, housing, electricity, healthcare, education, roads, water, transportation and other amenities that make lives worthwhile. As a result of the inability of governments to provide for the needs of the people in this region, they are left with no other means of existence other than those which result in the massive exploitation of Lake Chad for survival. Lack of education and jobs also account for why Lake Chad area is a rich ground for recruitment into Boko Haram in the region, throwing up one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world.
Ecological disasters in Niger Delta
The Niger Delta region is the treasure trove of the country, and It oil and gas resources account for over 90 per cent of the nation’s foreign exchange earnings, and over 70 per cent total exports of Nigeria.
The oil and gas exploration and exploitation by major multinational oil corporations, whose quests for profits over the needs of environment, have meant that land and water resources have been damaged and sacrificed, thereby throwing the people who depends on these for survival of their employment. The continuous unbridled operation has led to spillage of oil into water bodies, and gas flaring into the atmosphere, causing ecological disasters in the region. This has resulted in the pollution of the soil and waters bodies including streams and rivers; killing of wildlife and fishes; excessive heats; shrinking vegetables particularly economic trees and the complete degradation of the soil, making it unsuitable for farming and air pollution including emission of soot.
Just of recent, there was massive oil spillage and environmental degradation in the Ndokwa West Local Government Council of Delta state, leaving the poor residents without mean of subsistence. It was a sad reminder of the negative consequences of the unplanned and undemocratic capitalist exploitation of both material and human resources as represented by the multinational oil corporations and government backers. The people of Ndokwa communities rich in oil and gas wealth is surrounded by about 10 flaring racks operated by oil majors like Nigeria Ship Oil Company, Pillar Oil Limited, Energia Oil Limited, Midwestern Oil Limited, and Sterling Global Limited’s liquefied natural gas plant. Aside flaring gas and dangerous hydrocarbon emissions, which constitute major health risk to many communities in Niger Delta, there is absolutely nothing for the people to show for the wealth under their soil, save for their polluted and degraded environment!
Only a Socialist Plan of Production and Society Can Save the Planet
Flowing from the above, it’s certain, that under this capitalist system, which prioritizes profits over needs, the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation would be exacerbated, and the lots of working and poor people would continue to worsen. There must be campaigns to stop further damage, create defences against environmental damage and compensate those who have suffered from capitalism’s drive for profit. But to change this situation the big multinational companies need to be taken over by nationalising them under the democratic management and control of workers. This would make it possible to produce wealth without causing dangers to environment and humanity.
But, this would be impossible without a Socialist transformation of the society and planning of production, distribution and consumption on the basis of the needs of the majority. This would involve taking reins of political power, through working class political alternative party. Building such party with Socialist programme is the immediate tasks of the workers and all oppressed people across Nigeria and internationally.