Onuigbo: Climate change fueling herders-farmers’ conflict

Samuel Onuigbo represents Ikwuano/ Umuahia North/ South Federal Constituency of Abia State in the National Assembly. In this interview with CHUKWU DAVID, the Vice President of Global Legislators Organization for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE) speaks on climate change and how it is fueling herders/farmers’ crisis across the country

What is the Climate Parliament all about?

Climate Parliament is a body or a global network of parliamentarians who have an interest on issues that concern climate change. This body is intended to mobilize the legislators to take extra interest in legislation and issues around climate change so as to work towards having a better world for us to live in because as at today, climate change has really taken a different dimension altogether. Before now, we would just say climate change and it sounded like it was Greek to so many persons.

But with the devastating effects that we are seeing all around the country and the world in general, you don’t need anyone to tell you that it is real. You feel the devastating effects, you see them. For instance in our country Nigeria, climate change has adversely affected so many things that we are doing especially our agricultural efforts, the work of herders; that’s the cattle rearers, fishermen, gully erosion, drought and desertification, they are all coming at the same time, as a result of negative impacts of climate change. And consequently, they have generated other problems like insecurity. When we were drafting the bill on climate change, which I sponsored in the Eight Assembly, we included that in the Governing Council, the National Security Adviser, will be a member.

A lot of people asked questions saying, what is the National Security Adviser coming to do with climate change? But they forgot that as far back as June 2009, the United Nations in Resolution 63281, resolved that the world should take extra interest in issues of climate change as well as its possible security implications. So, you can see why you have different bodies, different groups taking interest in climate change because if we don’t work together, we will find it difficult to leave a habitable world for those who are coming behind us.

That’s perhaps a little bit of the summary but it’s a whole lot. Even the problem that we are having among herders and farmers, if you look well, then you find that the problem with Lake Chad which previously provided means of livelihood for close to 30 million people, which many people across the country benefited from, these people were farmers; some were fishermen and others were merely people who were involved in animal husbandry. But they had a heavy pool of water, where they all depended, accessed and did their farming and other things.

But as Lake Chad has now almost dried up from what it was in the 60s, to about 10% of that size now, all these places have been affected, such that these individuals whose skills are not that of accountants, nurses, doctors but other means of livelihood, by taking care of their cattle, farming and fishing, these individuals today, have poured into the cities, where they are struggling to eke out a living.

You appear to be getting so much attention globally on the issue of climate change, what have you done to attract this attention?

As a matter o fact, I have been involved in this issue since the Eight National Assembly. In the Eight Assembly, I chaired the House Committee on Climate Change. Before chairing the committee, the level of awareness on climate change was very low. So, as soon as I was appointed the Chairman of the House Committee on Climate Change, I embarked on a lot of sensitization effort. And this sensitization involves people across all walks of life, and through that way, we were able to raise a level of awareness. We were also able to create some kind of interest in those who didn’t want to know what was going on before. When you do these things and it is recognized locally and internationally, there is always the tendency for people outside Nigeria and people within Nigeria to notice that you have taken extra interest in this issue that has to do with human life; that has to do with our environment and how to make this place habitable. In the Eight Assembly, I was elected the Vice President of GLOBE, Nigeria. My President then was Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim. GLOBE is in a little over one hundred countries of the world and they are for national parliamentarians alone; they don’t have room for state assembly members.

To what extent have the interventions made by the Climate Parliament brought succour to the people and the nation on environmentally related problems?

We have created a lot of awareness, and we are making effort to ensure that there is a law by the National Assembly on climate change. There are professionals on the environment and climate in general. This legislation, when it becomes law will enhance their operations. We also have thousands of such trained hands outside of Nigeria who want to come here and start their businesses. A Norwegian friend once told me that he came to Nigeria and did a feasibility study on setting up a particular business in the country. But immediately he discovered that there was no law to guide the business, he abandoned it. So, if people know that there is no law to guide the type of business they want to set up in the country, why would anybody venture into such a business? So, our efforts are geared towards creating enabling environment for people to practice.

What are you people in Climate Parliament doing to contain the progressive desert encroachment in the country?

Well, you would have heard about the Great Green Wall. That is a deliberate policy, which is not for Nigeria alone. It is a continental policy. This policy deals with looking at the speed with which this desertification is coming. But again, it’s not just talking about desertification. You talk about desertification and drought coming like that, affecting farmers and forcing farmers into migration. So, when the farmers leave their natural place where they farm and raise their children, as they are going down, they are about to experience clashes because they are moving to places that are alien to them. And there are natural owners of the places they are moving into; so they experience clashes. So, they are all interwoven or interrelated in a sense. Of course, you know that the Sahara desert is coming down at a very fast pace, that we are losing close to one mile. And when you check what we are losing as a nation such as land areas for farming; you lose the grass and you experience deforestation, these are multiple challenges. So, this is why it is absolutely important for us as a nation, to take extra interest in preserving our environment, in discussing issues of climate change. And that is why we are serious to ensure that the bill on climate change is passed into law, so as to help in raising awareness, in sensitizing the people seriously because these are issues we must address.

The country has been talking about diversification. How do we diversify the economy in such a way that we can attract natural capital and the needed economic resources for the country?

Natural capital is just the sum of all those natural resources you can easily access. We are talking about the forest we are talking about the water. We have access to these things and they are part of the ecosystem. But the question is, do we handle these things in a way that we can maintain growth sustainability and all that. Do we also capture this when we are doing valuation or determine the GDP of the nation? For instance, the only time we look at the forest is when we want to get timber and firewood. So, it is important to protect the forest. The forest provides other critical services. Some of them are not easily discernible. For instance, the forest provides a place for butterflies and bees that engage in crosspollination, which generate food and all that. These should form part of the GDP of the nation. Why the issue of natural capital has become topical is because we ignored these things over time. So, we have to know that the forest contributes to the growth of a nation and we have to protect the forest. We also have to take care of the forest, and not allow people, who come, after paying small money to the traditional ruler or local people, to clear the forest, endanger the environment and pay nothing at the end of the day; and make no effort to replant the trees. So, we have a duty to protect the forest, particularly as a developing nation. There are countries that are not as lucky as we are.

How can the people in the rural areas be sensitised on the need to preserve the forest?

In the rural areas, people are largely ignorant. But in those days when we were in primary school, we were always taught to come and pick papers, to keep the environment clean. There weren’t many paper bags at that time. We used to hear of sanitary inspectors coming and everybody was conscious. Am talking about awareness or sensitization, and you are asking how we are going to do it in the rural areas. We are talking about policy formulation; conscious sensitization effort; then we now see how its implementation will go. If we don’t do this awareness or sensitization creation properly, then we will always see this laissez-faire approach towards handling serious issues.

We are talking about raising awareness at the school level. Do you think that in addition to agricultural studies we already have in schools, we should establish specialized schools for forestry matters and natural habitats?

I think we have College of Forestry in Ibadan, and they are thinking about establishing another one on issues on the environment. But see, it does not just start and end with establishing any high sounding citadel of learning. All hands must be on deck. Unless we are all on the same page on the issue of protecting the environment, we will continue to go back and forth without achieving that which we set out to achieve. And that is dangerous; it is not healthy for our nation because when you take your time to study about what is happening in the North-east, how the problem started and why it is of immense concern to everyone.


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