DESERTIFICATION: THE STRANGE WAYS OF OUR LEADERS
The time-proven attitude of the average Nigerian politician towards his people and country is evidently a veritable source of consternation to even the most prolific mind analyst anywhere in the world. The Nigerian politician, when challenged, can draw tears out of a rock if the point to be made is for him to prove his knowledge of his people's needs or his intellectual capacity to hold a job, especially a political post.
But his heart is always too far away from his head. There is no other area of the nation's life that the above scenario has played itself out more succinctly than in the area that matters most to the future well being of the people of this nation-the Environment.
As more than 50% of Nigerians wallow in avoidable poverty due mainly to environmental degradations whose negative impacts are more devastating than that of a conventional warfare, a keen watcher of key political players at the Federal and State Government levels would be left with a sense of looking into a kaleidoscope.
The exhibited attitudes of political leaders in desert-ravaged states of Northern Nigeria, for pointed reasons, qualify for thorough investigation to ascertain if their intensions and actions do not amount to economic crimes. For the purpose of clarity, there is the urgent need for fingers to be placed on the history of these attitudes, which have combined to push Nigeria backward, away from achieving climate change effects mitigating capacities necessary for survival in the nearest future. While these acts of insensitivity have a national outlook, the near-conspiratorial roles of Northern Nigerian politicians on desertification control deserve special examination. Pinpointing specific instances of leadership failures on this issue is good for history.
As was almost traditional with Olusegun Obasanjo's civilian administration, he blazed the trails in a number of economic fronts and then, often deliberately, threw everyone else off their balance on the way forward. Following this tradition, he created the Federal Ministry of Environment, giving the issue the centrality it deserved. At the outset, he put square pegs in square holes in the Ministry and it rose up to its challenges, theoretically speaking. In the year 2000, at the United Nations organized Conference on Combating Desertification in Nigeria and Niger Republic which took place in Germany, Dr. Ime Okopido, then Minister of State in the Federal Ministry, could have drawn tears from those who listened to him as he reeled out fact-based figures on the catastrophes that stared Nigeria in the face if the totality of her external debts were not written off by the industrialized nations, so the nation could use such funds to combat the desert. With the benefit of hindsight, the world took Okopido serious. Nigeria's external debts were consequently underwritten. But even before then, on the World Desertification Day 2001, Obasanjo informed the world that he had approved the release of a paltry sum of 11 billion naira for the establishment of a shelter belt across all the desert threatened states in Northern Nigeria.
Paltry as the amount was, compared to about 30 billion dollars the government eventually got the international community to write off on behalf of deserving Nigerians, that amount of money's worth of desert control work never got to the scorched desert lands in Northern Nigeria. This traverse the desert ravaged states of Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara and Katsina in the North western zone to Brono, Yobe and Adamawa in the North-eastern axis, quizzing Federal and state government officials on the whereabouts of the 11 Billion naira Shelter-belt. Nothing was evident in that regard and the only event a Yobe State government official could faintly remember was the last-minute cancellation of Obasanjo's trip to the state to launch the project. Strangely, governors, federal legislators and other politicians from the benefitting states have not said a single thing on the issue over the years, even in this era of probes and investigations of past economic misdeeds. Perhaps those who ought to go to equity on this issue do not have clean hands. Was the 11billion naira released? Is there any evidence on how it was spent, if it was released? Persisting silence on this issue in the midst of strident outcries on other issues, is strange.
In December 2008, during the presidency of President Umar Musa Yar Adua, the Federal Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a German field engineering company, Hagen and Co Engineering Services GbR through her Nigerian affiliate for the implementation of a 1.5 Billion Euro Green Wall Sahara Shelter Belt project that had been initiated by Obasanjo's administration, but kept in the cooler for reasons that would not stress an Obasanjo keen watcher to put his fingers on. The MoU, as reported in Nigerian newspapers, radio and television stations, represented the best any government with the slightest interest of the suffering but voiceless Northern Nigerian farmers would embrace with both arms, as Yar Adua did. The day after the news of the MoU signing hit the waves, this writer put congratulatory calls through to very senior political office holders in many states in Northern Nigeria who should have been jubilating at the turn of events. It turned out they were hearing it for the first time from me.
Three months, six months, almost two years later, the Hagen Desert Farming Project which sets out to empower farmers in desert encroached Nigeria not only to plant trees but to improve on their standard of living at no cost to any level of government, is yet to take off. It is yet to take off because governors of Northern Nigerian states whose states economies stand to benefit from the project, are said to have done nothing to create the necessary enabling environment for the project to take off. At a National Conference organized by the Leadership Group of Newspapers in April 2009, with the aptly selected theme: 'Beyond Oil', the project was stridently put before governors and Northern politicians and traditional leaders who attended the conference. Almost 1? years after the conference, target state governments are still 'searching' for solutions to the rampaging desert without asking a single question about the Hagen Desert Farming Project. Katsina State Government on behalf of the Northern Governors Forum, organized a summit on Desertification and Environment last July at which the project, which aims to save billions of naira for state governments and create employment for hundreds of thousands, was forcefully put before the governors of Northern states. After the conference, at which the host governor spoke eloquently about the threat the desert represents to the survival of Northern Nigeria, efforts to get the northern state governors to create the enabling environment for the project's take-off in their states is yet to become evident.
Documented evidence are known to exist in relevant ministries and Government Houses of environmentally disadvantaged states of Yobe, Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina and Plateau, amongst others, which go to prove that the 1.5 billion Euro Climate Change Mitigation project has been made available for these states to take advantage of. Surprisingly, and most likely unknown to some of the governors of these states, these relevant Ministries and Departments have done almost everything to keep the project away from the masses of citizens the project is targeted at. Indeed, these are strange times as far as desertification and its control are concerned.