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Averting an impending ecological war


H.E. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President, Federal Republic of Nigeria

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s recent alarm over a perceived Fulanization and Islamization of Nigeria by the Fulani ethnic group raised dust, and rightly so, because of the apparent incursion of the nomadic tribe into Southern Nigeria. Obasanjo’s statement elicited much political and religious concern and was perceived in some quarters as an attack on the Buhari administration. The crux of matter is that Obasanjo merely pre-empted an impending ecological war if nothing is done to avert it.

The crossing of major ecological boundaries, at a scale never seen before, by the Fulani herdsmen, is what Obasanjo may have interpreted as Fulanization and Islamization of Nigeria. If anything other than cattle grazing, that is yet to be established. Different narratives are being advanced by pundits and commentators. That is a subject for another day.

My take on the issue, at this juncture, is that the loss of vegetal cover in the north as a result of desertification iås a dangerous development. It is the root of the southward advance of the Fulani herdsmen. The frequent bloodletting and clashes between the herdsmen and indigenous farmers in the Middle Belt and parts of Southern Nigeria is an indication of more dangerous confrontation over ecological resources. The imbalance occasioned by climatic factors is bound to escalate, thereby, forcing the Fulani, in particular, to seek desperate way for the survival of their cattle.


The conflicts we are witnessing today will be a child’s play in the near future, except something is done urgently to address it. The likelihood of the north turning into arid and semi-arid landscape cannot be ruled out. What I am saying is real, for those who care. In about two to three decades from now, a full blown ecological war would ensue as the north goes bare of vegetation and the Fulani would be desperate to graze their livestock in the remaining forest zones of southern Nigeria. This would happen irrespective of who is president of Nigeria at the time.

I don’t know why the entire north is fast turning into desert and nobody cares. What are the authorities doing about this? Is anybody thinking about how today’s ecological dependence would be sustained in the next three decades? This dependence is already unsustainable.

Many ecological and near ecological dependent farmers and herdsmen have already lost grip of their ecosystem and are becoming desperate. Unfortunately, there is no official governmental action to give support to the affected communities.The authorities should take cue from what is happening with the near-extinct Lake Chad and relate that to the entire north that faces the same climatic predicament.

As a matter of fact, the impending ecological predicament would affect not only the Fulani but the Hausa farmers and other ethnic groups in the north. A look into what used to be the ecological landscape of the north that sustained livestock grazing and what it is today will convince anyone about an upcoming a real time danger.

Geographically, Nigeria used to be covered by three broad vegetation types, namely forest, savannas and montane. That map has changed! The forests consist of mangrove swamp along coastal areas and the massive rain forest that thins towards the Niger-Benue trough.

The savannas consisted of Guinea Savanna, Sudan Savanna and Sahel Savanna. The Montane vegetation is found mainly on the high altitudes formed by the hills and highlands. The savannas, which comprised mainly grasslands and scattered shrubs is the traditional grazing land of the Fulani.

In the past, Fulani herders practiced what is called transhumance or seasonal migration with their cattle. They roamed the entire northern landscape in search of grass and water.During the rainy season, they grazed in the core northern eco-zones, which is a large region covering states like Kano, Jigawa, Zamfara, Sokoto, Yobe, Adamawa, and other areas within the same latitudes.

But during the dry season, they moved further southwards with their livestock but hardly crossed the Niger-Benue trough boundary. It was uncommon for the Fulani to move beyond the Niger-Benue borderline into the south that was considered to be infested with tsetse flies and other harmful insects, in addition to hostile weather, which is unconducive for cattle grazing. And of course, there was no need for the southward movement since there were enough pastures for the animals in the north.

The Fulani were contented with the existing ecological equilibrium. Thus, only cattle meant for slaughter were moved through designated cattle routes to the south in the ever booming cattle business. There were no clashes between farmers and the Fulani herdsmen.

But all that has changed, especially, since the past two decades. Climatic factors have depleted the traditional Sahel region ecological home of the Fulani.Virtually, the entire Guinea Savannas that hitherto provided grazing land for the Fulani have gone, thereby forcing the herdsmen to move southwards. The Fulani are audacious as they move, hence, the clashes with indigenous farmers along their migratory route.

It was unfortunate that Obasanjo’s statement, apparently, gave the impression that the Fulani were out for Jihad, to overrun Nigeria and establish Fulani culture (Fulanization) and religion (Islamization).This line of thinking forced leaders from the major ethnic groups in Nigeria, especially, in the south, to issue statements, expressing their readiness to resist any attempt by anybody who attempts to take over their land by force. Those statements and counter reactions, expectedly, have put tension on the polity and the dust is yet to settle.

While the concerns being expressed may not be altogether out of place, understanding the context that may lead to this is the issue. Why the Fulani are leaving their traditional northern eco-zone to migrate to the south is the issue that should be addressed.Maybe, these developments would help to draw the attention of leaders in the north to the problem of desertification instead of dwelling on the politics of it. With the impact of climatic change being felt, the process of desertification is bound to escalate into the future.

Consequently, an ecological war is bound to occur in Southern Nigeria that would be the only region left with vegetal cover. Then, the Fulani would be left with no option than to move into the nooks and crannies of Southern Nigeria in search of grass for their livestock. When that happens, the ethnic nationalities in the South – Igbo, Yoruba, Ijaw, Ibibio, etc, – will resist the incursion into their land and that would ignite the crisis.

The impending ecological mayhem could be averted if the authorities in the north, especially, are serious to address the problem. The first solution lies in adopting a systematic reforestation programme across the entire north. While the Federal Government should be supportive through the Ministries of Environment and Water Resources, the states and local government councils should take the lead. Desertification is a real time problem ravaging the north. The states and local government authorities should mobilise the teeming unemployed youths, including youth corps members to plant trees.

Engaging the youths in tree-planting could provide millions of jobs if the authorities are willing to take the initiative. There are success stories of reforestation programmes around the world, of which Kenya and Senegal are examples in Africa.While Kenya’s Green Belt Movement (GBM) founded by Professor Wangari Maathai in 1977, has reportedly planted over 51 million trees across Kenya; in Senegal, cooperative members in CREATE!’s partner communities are said to plant 19,000 tree seedling every year to support reforestation.


Again, the Federal Government should explore the benefits of the Great Green Wall of the Sahara launched by the African Union (AU) in 2007. This ambitious environmental project aims to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030. Several multilateral agencies are partners in the project. Nigeria should key into this project to derive is benefits.

Finally, cattle ranching should be adopted by the Fulani pastoralists. A ranch is an area of land with facilities and structures set up for raising grazing livestock such as cattle, for meat or wool.There were reports in 2018, that the Federal Government and some states have agreed to set up cattle ranches in 10 states — Adamawa, Benue, Ebonyi, Edo, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Oyo, Plateau, Taraba and Zamfara, to end herders, farmers’ crisis in the country. The 10 states were said to be in the first phase of the national ranching project.

But ever since then, nothing again was heard about it, even though, there were those who opposed the establishment of cattle ranches in the south as that would amount to ceding lands to the Fulani.Faced with desertification, there is no other option left to the Fulani other than ranching if the cattle economy, which is their traditional occupation, is to continue. Ranching is the short term measure among the other solutions.


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Olusegun Obasanjo
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