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Nigeria: Adding Climate Change to a Security and Humanitarian Disaster

Nigeria, the African continent’s most populous country, is by many accounts a security and humanitarian disaster. A corrupt and unstable government driven by oil revenues, an armed insurgency in the Niger Delta aimed at defying that government, a desperately poor population that sees little to none of the country’s oil wealth, deep post-colonial religious divisions in the center and north, which have led to dramatic and large-scale violence in recent years (see the Christmas Day bombing in 2011, for example), all conspire to make life in Nigeria hazardous, to say the very least.

Environmental stresses, including climate change, threaten to make matters even worse.

Indeed, in Nigeria’s recently-concluded 4th Lagos State Summit on Climate Change, the security dimensions of climate change were in sharp focus. According to an article in Leadership, one of Nigeria’s national papers, the stakeholders in attendance “unanimously affirmed that the looming desertification in the Northern part of the country and devastating effects of coastal erosion and flooding in Southern Nigeria could cause a major disequilibrium in the settlement pattern of residents in the country if nothing was done to arrest the situation.” In a goodwill message, Peter West, the Deputy British High Commissioner in Lagos, noted that “climate change is a fundamental threat to the world’s prosperity and security.” He then went on to highlight Nigeria’s particularly difficult challenge, stating: “Nigeria as a country and Lagos as a city are at the frontline of vulnerability to climate change..”

A recent publication by the Center for American Progress and Heinrich Böll Stiftung also places an earnest spotlight on the security dimensions of environmental stress and climate change in the country. Tracing an “arc of tension” across Northwest Africa, the authors Michael Werz and Laura Conley begin in Nigeria, stating that “Nigerians are already seeing early signs of climate change in a rising sea level, more frequent flooding, and outbreaks of disease in the southern megacity of Lagos, home to more than 10 million people. In the northern part of the country, expanding desertification—which refers to the degradation of land productivity in dry land areas—has caused 200 villages to disappear.”

Given the Nigerian government’s limited legitimacy and capacity to govern within its own borders, there will almost certainly be spillover effects into the broader region, particularly in terms of migration. This is a worrying prospect when we consider the significant vulnerabilities of other nearby states, such as Niger.

In this context, international observers and policy-makers who have an interest in the stabilization of Nigeria should ensure that climate-resilience is treated as a key priority, along with other critical conflict-resolution and governance reform programs. A recent study by Raheem Usman Adebimpe in the Environmental Research Journal concluded with a recommendation for increasing Nigeria’s “response-capability,” which would involve developing systems to collect “information on seasonal forecast to enable…preparedness to climate variability as well as longer term climate prediction data to ensure that strategies to reduce vulnerability also reflect the underlying longer-term climate trends.”

This sounds like a good start. However, as Werz and Conley note, a much greater scale of attention and investment from those who are concerned about the stability of Nigeria and northwest Africa is needed. Promoting improvements in sustainable natural resource management – including the equitable distribution of those resources, providing disincentives for corruption and incentives for fair play, advancing conflict resolution between warring parties, and increasing international financing for building Nigeria’s climate-resilience, are all necessary steps for keeping the country on its feet.

The security of Nigeria, and of the entire region, is at stake.

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