Nigeria has a diverse range of challenges to deal with in providing a decent livelihood and prosperity to its population of over 140 million. One issue that gently bubbles in the background and occasionally boils over is environmental degradation; made worse by a population that has tripled in the last 50 years and the ‘power problem'. Despite the huge volumes of crude oil that are extracted from the Delta, decades of mismanagement means that hardly any electrical mains power is available and most natural gas is flared, rather than being made available for domestic consumption.
Traveling last week through scrub and forest south of Kano en route to Jos, the scale of deforestation was immense: tree trunks a metre in diameter being split for firewood and loaded onto trucks for sale in urban Kano. Army checkpoints with F1 style chicanes and machine guns had worked wonders deterring roadside bandits, but they had made no impact on the rape and pillage of the woodlands.
Arriving in Jos we passed lines of burnt out cars from last year's riots that had claimed several hundred lives. On the surface religious-ethno-political clashes are to blame, but competition for natural resources in an over-populated, depleted environment must be one of the underlying causes, just as it was in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
DFID works in collaboration with the British High Commission (BHC) and British Council (BC) in Nigeria, raising awareness on Climate Change is one of the themes in which our programmes converge. At the BC library in Kano - nestled next to the ancient Emir's Palace, I attended a roundtable on climate change at which the British High Commissioner Bob Dewar was leading a debate with Kano stakeholders. Participants outlined problems echoing those I had witnessed on the Jos road: deforestation, pollution and desertification - all were being raised over the constant hum from the CO2 emitting diesel generator outside providing the auditorium power.
One interesting theme that emerged from the Climate Change round table was the critical need for awareness raising and education, both of children and communities to understand the causes of climate change, adaptation steps and our respective roles in tackling the manifest problems. Panelists from both the Islamic and Christian faith spoke powerfully about the environment messages to be found in the holy Qu'ran and the Bible. For example I learnt that the Qu'ran teaches the importance of tree planting, even on Judgement Day.
Integrating these environmental messages into school books and lesson plans is one way to raise awareness amongst the young and using religious authority for backing can be persuasive, especially in the numerous Islamiyyah community schools that are widespread in Kano.
Bob Dewar and I visited one run by the SAHAWA Youth Development Association Tukuntawa (SYDOT). The school doubles as a community learning centre and has been growing rapidly with support from the State government, community and a donation from the BHC for computing equipment. Early in the day the school was empty and cool, but the head-teacher warned us of the heat to come in crowded small classrooms. Electrical fans to cool the rooms? Too expensive as we can only afford enough diesel to turn on our small generator for IT lessons in the evenings.