Buhari’s mind on Lake Chad

October 15, 2015
2 mins read


ON Monday this week, President Muhammadu Buhari received the report of the Environmental Audit on the Drying-up of the Lake Chad, carried out by the member nations of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) member-countries. He remarked that Nigeria does not only contribute 40% of the Commission’s budget, but was also committed to offering effective leadership in the fight against insurgency and other environmental issues of the Sahel region.

Significantly, Buhari expressed “personal knowledge”, on the basis of an article which he read, about a 1925 forecast by a University of London professor, indicating that Lake Chad was endangered and could dry up. He had handed former President Obasanjo the article, while Obasanjo’s administration had spent $5million on the study on diverting waters from rivers in the Central African Republic. It is a significant development that President Buhari has shown an interest in the environmental, economic and security implications of the state of the Lake Chad.

The Nigerian National Audit Report pointed out that the Lake Chad is fast disappearing, from 25, 000 sq. km in 1963 to about 1, 500 sq. km today. The Lake Chad basin area is estimated to have a population of about 37 million people and over 60 million heads of cattle are also located in the region. Similarly, some statistics show that annual fish production on the lake ranged between 130, 000 and 140, 000 tons during the 1970s; these had shrunk to an average of about 84, 000 tons between 1986 and 2013. The lake has been severely hurt as a result of unregulated human activities such as excessive water extraction, construction of dams, often without environmental impact studies as well as the diversion of rivers. Many of those who have studied the Boko Haram insurgency have pointed to the huge environmental disaster in the Lake Chad basin and the impact on the lives of millions of people as one of the many trigger points for the Boko Haram insurgency. In the same way that migrating nomadic groups have been locked into often, violent conflicts, with sedentary farming communities  far away from their homes, in the centre and south of Nigeria.

Lake Chad and security issues

It is therefore clear that the fate of the Lake Chad and the livelihood it has always given to millions of people have a very central role in the security architecture of Nigeria and other countries in the basin. This has become very urgent with the Boko Haram insurgency and the ways it has affected countries in the basin. One of the most important issues remains the diversion of waters from rivers in the Central African Republic, estimated to cost between $13billion and $15billion. And in order to be able to pull through this ambitious project of water diversion, there would be need to allay fears of the countries in the Congo Basin on the environmental impact while they must be politically mobilised for support for the project to divert waters to the Lake Chad. The money needed is a lot and the economic condition of the Lake Chad Basin countries makes it almost impossible for the project to divert water to be carried out, unless support can be secured from donors, who are not believed to be enthusiastic about the project.

It is therefore a thing of joy that President Buhari seems to understand the importance of the Lake Chad Basin and has taken a very early interest in it. It is a problem that I have also been worried about over the past few decades. We had commissioned a number of reports on the lake over the past couple of years as well as written editorials on the reclamation of the lake. The Lake Chad has supported more than forty million people and millions of animals over a long period and its crises today affect the wellbeing of millions of our compatriots.

In truth, it is an environmental, economic and security crises which demands the most farsighted leadership and forthright action to begin a process of retrieval and restitution that can redound to the benefit of the peoples of the basin and our country. That is why we should thank God that President Buhari is thinking about the Lake Chad so early in his presidency.

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