….Why RUGA, National Livestock programme will fail

…Asks about erosion in S/ East, environmental problems in S/South, S/West,

…Proffers solution to desertification, herdsmen menace

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta

CELEBRATED Environmental Crusader and Founder, Fight Against Desert Encroachment, FADE, Dr. Newton Jibunoh is livid at   leaders of his country, Nigeria, and if you were in his shoes, you could be more enraged.


Chief Jibunoh says he foresaw the problem that has escalated today to rampaging herdsmen-militias causing mayhem all over the country, making the Federal Government to contemplate Rural Grazing Area, RUGA, and warned about it but nobody took him serious then.

To be sure of his facts and propositions, the adventurist and famous conqueror of Sahara Desert, revealed that he enrolled at a foreign citadel of learning, Ben Gurion University in Israel, to study aspects of desertification and control and offer expert advice on how to tackle it before it consumes the nation.

According to him, he knew that desertification, which he saw at the formative years, eating up communities in the North and other African countries, would cause massive disorder in future. Therefore, he documented his findings and solutions in a book, “Bridging The Sahara Desert: A Different Perspective.” He was telling affected African countries the actual cause of the predicament and what to do to cut back desertification.

Jibunoh said he initiated a successful pilot project at Makoda community, Kano State, one of the Northern states and reclaimed desert lands, after his study, yet government and leaders of Nigeria looked the other way.

He is aghast that government of the country, bereft of accurate diagnosis, and not bothering to consult experts, is applying wrong solution to the problem. That is his concern.

“I have crossed the Sahara three times, two solo expeditions at ages 29 and 62, founded FADE, an international non-governmental organization to fight environmental degradation and I know what I am talking about because I saw the problem early enough,” he asserted.

He spoke as a guest on Vanguard’s Niger-Delta platform in Asaba, Delta State.

CONQUEROR  of the Sahara Desert,  Dr Newton Jibunoh has said that the planned Rural Grazing Area, RUGA by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government for Fulani herdsmen, was a malfunction of leadership, not the solution to desertification and global warming that affected communities in the northern part of the country, resulting in loss of grazing lands and migration.

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Chief Jibunoh, a well-known green activist and engineer, who was  guest on Vanguard’s Niger Delta Platform in Asaba, Delta State, pointedly said, “RUGA is failure of leadership, over the years, and a blatant attempt at executive land grabbing for nefarious purposes.”

He said it was regrettable that proponents of the contentious RUGA programme did not even know the real problem they were dealing with, lamenting that officials diverted billions of dollars allocated in the past to tackle desertification caused by the advancing Sahara Desert.

He said: “As far back as the 1930s, well before Independence in 1960, Nigeria had become aware of the southward migration of the Sahara and the problems posed to land management, land production and human settlements, but the billions of dollars allocated to the intervention programmes were mismanaged, as the programmes were not truly people-oriented.”

His straightforward advice to Buhari on way out:    “Restore the farmlands and grazing fields in the North by providing water and  front-line  trees. And while you are at it, please find out what happened to the River Basin Authorities and their mandates and a number of initiatives known as saving Lake Chad.”

He averred that it was disgusting in the 21st  Century for leaders of Nigeria to say that the way to solve the encroachment of Fulani herdsmen into the South “is by establishing RUGA colonies in the South.”

The elder statesman said he spelt out a Pan-African Desertification Project, including land reclamation and tree planting programmes in his book, “Bridging the Sahara Desert: A different Perspective,” which the government of Nigeria ignored since it was published.

Executive approval of impunity

His words, “It is official endorsement of impunity, land grabbing at the highest levels for Nigerian leaders to tell the people in the 21st  Century that the way to solve the encroachment of the Fulani herdsmen into the South is by establishing Ruga colonies in the South.”

Situating the problem caused by southward migration of the Sahara, the renowned environmentalist said, “Sad, very sad, RUGA is a badly thought- out programme devoid of adequate compensatory elements and sustainability. It was a tone-deaf reaction to all oppositions to a scheme that was discussed in various shades prior to the recent elections.”

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“It ignored all cultural practices and ancestral ownership of land by indigenous peoples of Nigeria. Appropriating other peoples’ property under wrong guise could be corruption. Moreover, for a government that has made the fight against corruption its creed, that ‘executive order’ beggars the question.

Chief Jibunoh cautioned, “All Nigerians, particularly the National Assembly, must note that neither the National Livestock Transformation Plan nor the Rural Grazing Area has the force of law. They are both unconstitutional, both of these programmes are faulty, designed and meant to fail, will not bring the desired peace and are riddled with corruption.”

“How can a solution to loss of farmlands be the appropriation of another person’s land, the Federal Government of Nigeria is acting as if the South has no land problems? Have they addressed the erosion in the Southeast, the hydrocarbon pollution of the land in the South-South and the issue of loss of bio-diversity and the over-logging in the South-West?  He fumed.

He asserted, “Bad farming practices and deforestation have both depleted the rain forests in the South, the presence of the Fulani herdsmen and their cattle are causing over-grazing as it is currently doing, and as usual, the herdsmen have no replenishment programme for these grazing lands they are invading.”

What if there is no more land to graze down south or in Nigeria?

He posited that the Federal Government’s National Livestock Transformation Plan, NLTP and RUGA, which were defective, have no force of law and designed to fail.

“These have been their pattern all through the ages. Grazing and taking until the land is bare, building nothing and moving on to the next green field, so ask yourself, what happens when there is nothing to graze anymore in Nigeria; will they wade across the ocean to Brazil?

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“Maybe unknown to many the overgrazing in the South will bring about more desertification of the land in the Middle Belt down to the greenbelt. We are not stupid, and some of us that have followed this issue of land degradation for over 40 years must speak out,” he declared.

“As far back as the 1930s, well before Independence in 1960, Nigeria had become aware of the southward migration of the Sahara and the problems posed to land management, land production and human settlements, but the billions of dollars allocated to the intervention programmes were diverted, as the programmes were not people-oriented. The President can find out.”

“In the year 2000, after retiring from active business life, I embarked on my second solo trip across the Sahara, mainly to draw attention to the problems of desertification. On my return, I went to Ben Gurion University in Israel to study aspects of desertification and its control.

“I was subsequently invited to spend time at the Nevada Desert Commission in the United States by the US Department of State, and to the Gobi Desert by the Chinese Government through the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, CAREER.

Makoda community experiment

“I set up the Makoda Garden of Trees at a village in Dabata local government that lost its farmlands to sand dunes from the desert with my resources and donations from sponsors like International Energy Insurance Company, IEI, British High Commission in Nigeria and Kano state government with the knowledge and experiences gathered from these institutions.

“At the commissioning ceremony of the project, the then British High Commissioner with his wife, the governor of Kano state and the Emir of Kano attended. The project was so successful that the only secondary school in the community rose from 30 students to 300 students in three years.

“Farmers started returning to Makoda and others came to study and replicate the projects elsewhere. My team and I showed that reclamation is achievable and it could be profitable for farmers to remain in their indigenous habitat.

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“After my third expedition across the Sahara, Governor Raji Fashola’s administration in 2010 sponsored a Desert Warrior Reality Programme designed by my nongovernmental organization, NGO, to teach young Africans about land management in the Sahel regions. The aim was to produce awareness to the dangers of desertification, and to produce an army of youths that would later take the fight to contain and drive back the desert.

“In the same year, I published the book, ‘Bridging the Sahara Desert; A different Perspective’. The book showed how we could build the Trans Saharan Highway, complete with train services, tree corridors, community settlements and farming communities stretching across the Sahara. Water for such a pan-African project would come from the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. So we already know how to solve the problem of desertification,” he asserted.

Fashola recognized my warning sign

Jibunoh said the Fashola government supported and financed efforts to combat desertification because he understood the human, economic and security implications of doing nothing and “was able to see a good percentage of the migration from the desert ending up in Lagos, which is what we have today.”

“He was able to understand that the food basket from the North and Middle Belt that sustained Lagos state was going to disappear,” he added.

The environmental activist, however, expressed dissatisfaction that from the 1930s until date, several agencies created to deal with the imminent problems ended up wasting resources.

“Among these agencies are: Border Emirate Council, Shelter Belt Commission, National Committee on Arid Zone Afforestation and the Great Wall Technical Committee, to mention just a few.

“Each of these agencies had in turn launched, initiated or advocated several programmes and interventions that were meant to provide viable solutions to the loss of arable lands and human settlements to the advancing Sahara.


“Some of these progammes include distribution of seedlings and tree planting in Shelterbelt regions, establishment of Forestry I and II projects, formulation of the Nigerian Forest Action Programme, NFAP, and establishment of a Green Belt stretching from Kebbi state in the North West to Borno state in the North East.

“And Launch at the national level, the Nigerian version of the Great Green Wall Project for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative in Africa, which stretches from Senegal to Djibouti,” he added.

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Dr Jibunoh asserted, “It is worth noting that these programmes, in spite of the tens of billions of dollars spent on them, have not stopped or slowed down the southward drift of the Sahara and the attendant migration of people, who have lost their lands to the desert dunes.”

“The programs failed because the monies allocated to them were not well spent, there were very little supervision and follow-ups, and the programmes were not well designed to be truly people-oriented. They administered the programmes as government interventions and gifts to people, who felt they needed no participation in their outcomes,” he said.

According to him, “Many great Nigerians have continuously called the attention of the Federal Government to the destabilizing potentials of desertification. When the government appears to be listening, they use their interventions as a means of settling political debts and obligations.”

“There never were genuine attempts to solve these problems and the people and these politicians and public servants were meant to provide for were simply left to their survival instincts, but there are other Nigerians, who have spent part of their lifetimes and resources seeking genuine solutions to these problems,” Jibunoh stated.

I saw towns, communities dwindle in size, disappear

In a lecture, he gave in 2010 during the Earth Day celebrations of 2010 organized by the United States Embassy in Lagos, contained in his book, already translated in French, Jibunoh said, “My various journeys across the Sahara have vividly portrayed the deteriorating conditions of the people of the desert and the continuing consequences of desertification.”

“I have seen how towns and communities are dwindling in size and disappearing altogether in some cases. I have seen people migrate away from their communities, heading south in search of better living conditions, leaving their homes to the advancing desert sands. In over 34 years of my exploration of the Sahara Desert, I have seen it grow in size. What we need to remember is that it has not always been like this.

“History tells us that the Sahara once had a very different environment. In Libya and Algeria from at least 7,000 BCE, there was pastoralism, herding of sheep and goats, large settlements and pottery. Cattle were introduced to the Central Sahara (Ahaggar) from 4,000 to 3,500 BCE… Trade in Islamic times was conducted by caravans of  camels…

“Runners would be sent ahead to oases so that water could be shipped out to the caravan when it was still several days away, as the caravans could not carry enough water with them to make the full journey. However, all that changed with desertification and global warming…,” he said.

Missing link

Dr Jibunoh said in the 20th  century, with most African countries becoming independent from their colonial masters, it was desirous to continue the age-old trade between the emerging economies and the African Union, AU, resolved to build nine major trans-Sahara highways to pave, improve and ease border formalities on an existing trade route across Sahara desert.

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“It runs between North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea in the north and West Africa bordered by the Atlantic Ocean in the south; from Algiers in Algeria to Lagos in Nigeria, giving it the alternative names of the Algiers-Lagos Highway or Lagos-Algiers Highway,” he said.

The environmental crusade, however, said the trans-Sahara highway project though well conceived, they poorly executed the project and it required different designs that would take into account the nature, terrains and climate regime.

“The only way to improve life is to provide vegetative cover, the same vegetative cover will also protect the road from the severe effects of the desert sand storms,” he noted.

My blueprint

He clearly pinpointed the various problems in his book and gave a detailed plan of action of how Africa, not just Nigeria, could tame the Sahara Desert.

“My proposal therefore is to provide tree corridors along the routes of the Trans-Sahara Highway. This will require a massive and sustained programme of tree planting in all the constituent countries for decades to come. Planting trees is the easy part; the difficulty is in nurturing them to maturity…

“Speaking about sustainability, which of course is the key foothold for this programme, we need to look at the second part of my proposal, which is to provide water to the desert through piping of oceanic water from the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Indian Ocean to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north.

“This is not new as Libyans and Saudis are doing it. What is new this time is the scale of it and the fact that it will be employed to protect the trans-Sahara highway, sustain life and communities, while transforming the desert by taming it and creating conditions that will probably bring rainfall to parts of the desert.

“The third component of my proposal involves building of desalination plants and pumping stations in selected locations along the pipe routes. These will de-salt the oceanic water, making if safe to use for agriculture and tree planting.

“The pumping stations will boost transportation of the water to the places where it is required. I have examined the option against that of sinking over 10,000 boreholes along the route of this highway. Besides, the huge costs of the borehole option, between 35,000 to 50,000 dollars, the likely impact of lowering of the water table beneath the desert sands will most likely be devastating to the geology of this region.

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“A fourth component of this proposal, however, requires that domestic water supply only, for settling communities will be provided through adequately located deep boreholes in suitable places. These will both keep the costs of desalination down as well as preserve the underground water system for many more years,” he asserted.

Jibunoh stated the financial considerations for the project, cautioning, “Make no mistake, the battle to save the planet Earth is a life-long one, so also is the battle to green the Sahara desert. My proposal is borne out of the desire to save humanity and our planet, while providing sustainable development for our people.”

“I have always believed that Africans can solve their problems. It does not matter if we do it with the help of others. We do not need to re-invent the wheel, what we need do is to make the wheels roll faster and efficiently in our Africa.

“Obviously, the first step in evaluating this integrated approach to the development of the Trans-Saharan Highway as enunciated above is to commission a study for its costing. That study can be done in a matter of weeks and the findings made available to the constituent countries, the United Nations and the Desert Commission in Bonn,” he said.

He assured that despite the missed opportunities, “FADE remains available to offer its services to this project in more places than one.”



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