By Vincent Ujumadu, Awka
IN the last one month, Professor Boniface Egboka, a hydro â€“ geologist and Vice Vhancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University , Awka has been raising alarm over some burning national issues bordering on manâ€™s environment which is his special area of study.
First was his concern over the condition of the 50-year-old Niger Bridge linking the rest of Nigeria with the South East in which he warned that despite assurances of officials of Federal government, the bridge may collapse due to abuse.
As that issue was still being discussed by experts, he took up the issue of gully erosion and warned of the impending loss of more homes and farm lands to gully erosion in many states in the South East zone this rainy season if a definite action is not taken.
Now, after touring some parts of the country in the past few weeks, he raised another alarm that the entity known today as Nigeria may become a desert soon unless various tiers of government and the international community do something urgently to stop the menacing advancement of Sahara Desert from the North to the coastal area of the country.
Most of the north and parts of the east are gradually being taken over by desert in the sense that the Sahara desert is moving down into the country at a reckless speed. And the present efforts being made to check the movement of Sahara desert are more or less palliative. In the last three months, I have had course to travel to Ilorin , Kano , Abuja and Jos on various academic exercises.
I did these journeys by road and I had time to take a very careful environmental critical look at the situation. As a hydro-geologist and a fellow of Nigerian Mining and Geo-Sciences Society and Fellow of Nigerian Association of Hydro-Geologists, I have had course to study, research, investigate and write on the Nigerian total environment that involves possible changes in the air, on land, vegetation, water, on soils and rock formations.
Desertification is the gradual movement of the desert into a non-desert environment thereby converting the Savannah of the rain forest belt into a desert. Nigeria is aggressively being desertified from the north to the south.Â The federal state and local governments and communities are not doing much to stop the movement of the desert.
In terms of historical geology, there was a Saharan sea and the present Sahara Desert had a thriving vegetation. But as a result of adverse climatic changes, the place became a desert. Sometime ago, the Sokoto area had a lake and that lake was lost to desert. Also in recent time,Â the Chad Basin area used to carry the great lake Chad which has gradually reduced to small body of water and evidently Lake Chad will dry up one day as had been projected.
The reduction in the size of the lake has also contributed to the boundary disputes between Nigeria and her neigbours as the large area that was water now has mass of land. Parts of the very rich Savannah regions in the North before have become parts of the Sahara Desert . Right now, parts of Benue State , Enugu and even Anambra state have fallen into the Savannah grassland.
These are areas that are supposed to form part of the great forest belt of West Africa . Therefore, as the desertification progresses down south, Savannah conditions develop and gradually turn into desert conditions.
Why is this happening?
There are very serious climatic changes occurring in the world. There is excessive drought and heat. And even when there is rain, there is flood disaster and the usual rainy season pattern has become irregular and resulted into devastating gully erosion. The heat causes high evaporation and dryness. As a result of these developments, plant and aquatic lives are lost which has resulted in total change of the environment.
There is also the anthropogenic influence which really occurred in earlier years but very highly activated and catalyzed in recent years. There are lots of socio-economic activities unguarded, unguided and undirected by man in the form of excessive application of agricultural and fertilizer activities such that these fertilizers run off with water and cause death of plants.
As a result of heavy irrigation activities in parts of the North, there is excessive evaporation and removal of water by atmospheric changes. And in the southern part there is so much death of plants.
Also, excessive deforestation activities in the north and south east do not help matters.
The only area rain forest could be properly seen is in the south west area. Urbanization is also contributing to the problem as there is uncontrolled felling of vegetation. Criminal bush burning is also another factor that is destroying the environment.
This is more rampant in the middle belt and the north. Some forest reserves had been deliberately set ablaze to chase rodents. Cattle menace is also another factor that is helping to destroy environment as the animals pollute the water and destroy farmlands. Because parts of the north had been desertified, the cattle rearers move down south and the same destruction has continued.
Various governments help to destroy the environment in the name of development without replacing felled vegetation.
If we take into consideration all the changes that had taken place from Chad Basin down to Sokoto and to the southern part of the country, it is very clear that desert will take over Nigeria if care is not taken.
If we integrate all the ecological problems, it becomes necessary that the federal and state governments should take a holistic view of the environmental situation of the country. As far as I am concerned, the situation is very bizarre because we are yet to see any action in this regard.
What should be done?
There should be a stop to the present desertification going on. Laws should be enacted to try bush burners and those who cut vegetation for firewood. There are enough coal and gas for use in cooking. All the open spaces should be planted up, including urban towns. Foreign agencies should be asked to assist in the planting.
There should be awareness creation throughout the country, including in the churches and mosques to inform people of the dangers in environmental degradation because many people have lost their homes to desertification and gully erosion. Non-governmental agencies should also join in creating awareness. Experts in these areas should not be discouraged in talking about the problem. In my own little way, I will continue to talk about these problems until something is done.
One of the best things that had happened to the country is the creation of ministry of environment and that ministry should coordinate effective actions to ensure a healthy environment The ministry of environment should be adequately funded to enable it carry out research and take control measures that would halt the dangerous movement of the desert.
The problem cannot be solved by mere talking. There must be action and the sooner the action is taken, the better for the country..