Climate change fuels Nigeria terrorism By EMMANUEL MAYAH in Lagos | Friday, February 24  2012 at  19:47

Boko Haram sect members arrested in 2009. FILE | AFRICA REVIEW 

Experts have identified some of the foot soldiers and mercenaries in the Nigeria Boko Haram sect violence as people displaced by severe drought in neighbouring Niger Republic.

Following the arrest of the sect’s spokesman Abu Qaqa and over 70 suspected Boko Haram members, it was discovered that a majority of the fighters were not religious fundamentalists as portrayed to the public and had no knowledge of basic verses in the Quran.

A State Security Service (SSS) source said: “Since the arrest of Qaqa, we have picked more than 70 key coordinators and members of Boko Haram for interrogation. One of the strange things we discovered is that contrary to their posturing, most of them are not well-versed in Quranic memorisation and recitation, or deep knowledge of Quran. Some have a smattering knowledge of Quran. Most of them also could not give cogent reasons for doing what they are doing.”

As one of the severest droughts and food shortages hit Nigeria’s neighbours, especially Chad and Niger, Red Cross figures have it that over 200,000 farmers and herdsmen had been provided with food rations.

With livestock decimated and harvests insufficient, farmers and herdsmen facing starvation had to cross the border in search of a better life in Nigeria.

While a good number of these men were found in major cities like Lagos, pushing water carts and repatriating their earnings to the families they left behind, others were believed to have been lured by the Boko Haram.

Mr Patrick Keku; a retired Naval officer who runs a private security firm, Pahek Security Services, said it was not a coincidence that each time there was social dislocation due to drought in Niger, there was a corresponding upsurge in religious violence in Nigeria.

“It has become a pattern; we saw it happen in 2006; it happened again in 2008 and in 2010. If you remember, President (Olusegun) Obasanjo had to deploy the military in 2006 to Yobe State, Borno State and Katsina State.

The hotbeds

These are some of the states bordering Niger Republic and today they are the hotbeds of the Boko Haram.”

An environmental activist, Mr Tunde Akingbade, recalled that before Boko Haram, there used to be the notorious Maitatsine Islamist sect that terrorised northern Nigeria in the 1980s.

The Maitatsine staged religious mayhem in Kano in 1980, Maiduguri in 1982, Kaduna in 1982, Jimeta Yola in 1984 and Gombe in 1985.

Mr Akingbade, who cited a study; Ecological Crises and Social Conflict in Northern Nigeria’s Dry Belt, by Sabo Bako of the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, pointed out that the riots broke out in towns that hosted refugees displaced by ecological disasters that ravaged the arid and semi-arid parts of West Africa in the 1970s and 80s.

Mr  Bako, who spent four years on the study, found that most of those who took part in the religions riots were originally “peasant farmers and pastoralist impoverished, devastated and dispossessed of their means of subsistence and production such as farmland and livestock”.

Security reports on the Maitatsine riot showed that “some of the fighters were from Chad, Cameroun, Niger, Mali, Sudan, Morocco and Upper Volta (Burkina Faso)”.

Mr Ousseini Issa, a Niamey-based photojournalist with Le Republicain newspaper, said in a telephone interview that with increasing starvation in his country, many young men were hitting the road to Nigeria.

“Some are even leaving their brides behind. I know that for years, our men go to Nigeria to engage in smuggling of petroleum products, tobacco and textiles. Now, with families eating wild leaves because of food scarcity, young men are such in desperate situation they can queue up for Boko Haram; especially when most of them do not see drought as climate change, rather as a problem caused by the sins of infidels and indecent women.”

Rising temperatures

In a telephone conversation from Chad; Mr Sanusi Imran Abdullahi, the Executive Director of the Lake Chad Basin Authority, warned that the violence in Nigeria could be replicated in countries next door if climate change problems were not addressed.

The Lake Chad, a resource shared by the four countries; Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon was drying up.

Mr Sanusi said the major problem of the lake was the rising temperatures as a result of global warming.

As the water evaporates, the lake shrinks in size. As global warming means less rain, less water has meant less fish. Families were desperate as fewer fish meant lesser incomes.

“About 30 million people in four countries fight for survival from the lake; nomadic herdsmen are made to travel 250km in search of water and pasture; violent clashes between farmers and herdsmen have left many dead; livestock theft and disputes over access to water and land are the main causes of these confrontations.”

As the lake recedes, communities too move in pursuit of the water and over the years, they unavoidably cross the border into another country.

In 2003, 33 Nigerian villages were ceded to Cameroon. Though the people are Nigerians, the land belonged to Cameroon. The security expert, Mr Patrick Keku, said the crisis in northern Nigeria may have been exacerbated by the proliferation of weapons after the Libyan civil war.

“There is a reflex to settle dispute with arms. Baga and Maiduguri, both Boko Haram strongholds, are the closest Nigerian towns to the Lake Chad.”