By Rev. Fr. Paul Irikefe
We have been hit and very badly by the worst flood disaster in living memory. By one estimate, about 350 communities have been submerged, and 1.3 million Nigerians have been displaced in 30 out of 36 states of the federation. With internally displaced persons filling up what makeshift arrangements they can find in schools, churches, and town halls, we might be facing the worst humanitarian crisis since the civil war: famine, hunger, inflation, starvation, epidemics, and in many cases death.
Nigerians were not surprised that their president was caught flatfooted, that in fact, he had to jet out of the country in its wake, only to return following its trails or that the Central, State and Local governments had no plan in place even when NEMA had issued a report back in June this year effectively warning that 19 states might likely be disrupted by the impact of wild weather.
So much for the bankruptcy of leadership. The crisis we are witnessing is also more than the failure of infrastructures – blocked drainage system, reverse gradients and flows of canals, and so on. Clearly these were critical to the crisis, not least the conventional overflowing of the Niger River, and the opening of the Lagdo Dam on the upper reaches of the Benue River. But we are faced by a much bigger crisis, one in which extreme weather (both in intensity, frequency, and spatial extent) is only part of the foreboding.
Climate Change is perhaps the greatest threat to the survival of the human species and the human civilization as we know them. It is real, rising, and universal, with dangerous and ominous potential to tilt the balance of life on planet earth and lead to a mutually assured destruction. It is seen in global glaciers decline and melting ice sheet, in rising sea levels, in the extinction of rare species, in chaotic destruction of human habitat and in the threat to human health that comes with excessive warming.
There is certainly a broad scientific consensus today that this is not a mere scientific hoax, that indeed our climate is changing, and changing sooner than expected, earlier than forecast, as a result of human activities. The truth is that because of fossil fuel addiction beginning intensely with the Industrial Revolution, the atmospheric concentration of Carbon dioxide has risen to crisis proportion, from 280 (ppm) to 380 (pp), a level certainly higher than at any time in the past 20 million years. As a result, enormous heat is trapped within the earth surface, leading to global warming.
Climate Change is a perfect x-ray of the systemic risk and shock that accompanies much of today’s problems, from the global financial crisis to pandemic disease, and to drug trade. We are living through a brave new world. Take terrorism. It has redefined what an enemy is and what constitutes national security. In an era when nations were threatened by rival or enemy states, security meant studying your enemies’ frontiers, weighing the strength of their army, or even their base, as the United States did to Japan in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. ‘Threats emerged slowly, often visibly, as weapons were forged, armies conscripted, and units trained and moved into place.’
Not anymore. A group like Boko Haram could recruit from Borno state, have a safe haven in the border between Nigeria and Chad, successfully train in Somalia, and launch a lethal attack on the UN building in Abuja with just a handful of men on the ground without even as much as secondary education training. When the Nigeria army tried to use regular troops to disrupt and dismantle it, it turned out to be a disaster. But it also marks a learning curve in counter terrorism for the Nigerian military. They were beginning to learn that global terrorism has rendered redundant a whole body of doctrine in military warfare, alongside the vision and assumptions that undergirded it; that the military now lives in competitive learning environment where you have to become like your enemy: decentralized, networked and syndicated.
One more thing. Because terrorists need a safe haven to recruit, radicalize, plan and execute mission, every failed state (whether nation state or a subunit) becomes a threat to world peace and security. It means we all stand and fall as one, and anybody’s insecurity is in some way everybody’s problem.
That brings up the issue of Climate Change again. The whole of Africa by a 2009 estimates emits 1,122 million tons of CO₂, whereas China alone emits 7,711 million tons; the United States, 5425 million tons, and India 1602 million tons. And so, with China and India holding half of humanity between them, our fate as a nation, our ecological security as a people of the African continent and even of the world now stands or falls depending on what they do regarding their greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, even as a country our own security has gone from being connected to interconnected to interdependent with the rest of the world.
But that has even left Sub-Saharan Africa, especially Nigeria, more vulnerable. The statistics above show for example, a classic case of what economists call negative externality: a non involved party bears the costs of a third party’s actions. Africa as a continent contributes less to greenhouse gas emission, but it stands the greatest risk from the impact of climate change so far as it lacks credible and accountable governments, industrial base and the economic resilience that comes with it.
In the present flood disaster, Nigeria has definitely lost its ecological innocence, and once more, caught off guard. But as ecological disasters push the world from environmental consciousness to political cohesion that engenders global cooperation in initiating a wave of revolution in our energy dependence, are we prepared to make that transition from a rentier economy to a non-oil future? That future may already be here.
Rev. Fr. Paul Irikefe is a Catholic priest from the Diocese of Warri, Delta State.
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