Climate Change and Social Conflict in Nigeria's Democracy

Academic Paper, 2020

18 Pages


Table of contents

1.1 Introduction
1.2 Conceptual Clarifications
1.3 Theoretical Framework
1.4 Methodology
1.5 Impact of Climate Change on Social Conflict in a Democratic Nigeria
1.6 Climate Change and Social Conflicts in Nigeria: Progenitors and Victims
1.7 Role of Stakeholders in Addressing Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Challenges Especially Social Conflict in a Democratic Nigeria
1.8 Conclusion and Recommendations



1.1 Introduction

Climate change is seen as a conflict trigger in Nigeria, Africa and the entire global community. Experts and policy makers have identified climate change as the greatest threat to human civilization and international peace and security. This is because; it stimulates both domestic and global tensions, thereby aggravating societal conflicts. The intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) identified Nigeria as one of the seventeen most vulnerable countries in Africa to climate charge variability and as a high risk trigger to social conflict.

The Commission on Human Security (CHS, 2010) also identified three sources of threats to climate change in a democratic Nigeria, Africa and the rest of the world. The first threat is the exploration, exploitation, refining and utilization of fossil fuels and the attendant pollution in both urban and rural areas in Nigeria. The second is the over use of fossil fuels and other industrial and mechanical activities in the environment that resulted into soil erosion, desertification, environmental degradation, deforestation and biodiversity depletion. The third is the build-up of Green House Gas emission (GHG) arising from gas flaring, emission of gaseous substances in petrochemical industries and burning of fossil fuels and other hazardous substances. These climate threats have also been identified as conflict trigger in a democratic Nigeria, Africa and across the globe by conflict experts and analysts. (Annan, 2016; Ki-Moon, 2007; Saul, 2009). They contended that climate change is an all encompassing threat to humanity. Climate change whether natural disasters, sea level rise or fresh water pollution etc has negative consequences on the health and safety of the people, the food supply chain and the socio economic and political well-being of the people. Climate change threats should be seen in the same prism as those in conflict, poverty, unemployment, corruption and proliferation of deadly weapons etc, as it threatens the foundation of life, peace and security in a democratic Nigeria and the entire globe.

In Nigeria, environmental experts and analysts have identified environmental degradation, the deterioration of resources such as air, water, soil compound etc, to have been caused by the exploitation, exploration, mechanization and industrialization of fossil fuels and its refining. The Niger Delta region of Nigeria (South-South) is one of the regions in a democratic Nigeria mostly affected. Urban growth and other developmental challenges have, through agricultural, industrial, socio-political and economic activities, made the region to be named one of the most threatened regions in the West-Africa sub-regions by the United Nations in 1999. The impacts of human induced climate change in the Niger Delta, visible through air pollution, soot, crop poisoning, farmland degradation, wildlife destruction, loss of biodiversity, damage of the aquatic habitats in the ecosystem etc, with health and socio-political and economic consequences have also become a centre of social conflicts, aggression and counter aggression in a democratic Nigeria. The execution of Ken Saro Wiwa, a Noble Peace Price nominee and eight other Ogoni environmental activists by the brutal and dictatorial military regime of General Sani Abacha in Nigeria in 1995 after 39years (1956 - 1995) of oil exploitation and exploration in the region may have triggered the new wave of social conflicts in a democratic Nigeria that have claimed thousands of lives and property worth billions of dollars destroyed.

Furthermore, the influx of cattle herdsmen from the Northern Sahel region of Nigeria and the West-Africa sub-region to the middle belt (North-Central), the South East and the South-South regions of Nigeria (Benue, Taraba, Plateau, Nasarawa, Ebonyi, Enugu, Delta, Edo, etc) in search of herbage for their flocks, and the request for “rights of way” for unhindered movement; the subsequent destruction of farmlands and other means of livelihood of these states, have also created another threat of social conflicts in a democratic Nigeria with thousands of lives lost and property worth billions of naira also destroyed. The movement has been attributed to both anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic factors that resulted in deforestation and desertification of the Northern region. The influx of herdsmen down South which has resulted in herders/farmers clashes with socio-economic and political consequences has not been resolved the same way militancy and environmental problems are yet to be tackled in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

Scholars have also identified the nexus between climate change and social conflicts in the society (Raleigh, 2011; Eze, 2012; Smith and Vivekananda, 2007; Brown and Crawford, 2009). The contention here is that climate change triggers land-use and environmental migration conflicts. This is visible in a democratic Nigeria today. The consequences are drought, water scarcity, soil compartment, erosion, food scarcity and social conflict. The rising sea level, flood disasters and global warming etc would cause downstream water supplies, decline in agricultural productivity and competition for available scares resource. These are also potential conflict triggers especially in Nigeria. The question therefore is “How can these challenges and consequences of climate change be adopted and mitigated to avoid the escalation of social conflicts in a democratic Nigeria?”

This research addresses the impact of climate change on social conflict in a democratic Nigeria by identifying its progenitors and victims. It also tries to identify and suggest the roles of stakeholders in addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation challenges especially in relation to social conflicts in a democratic Nigeria. The questions this research aims to address are:

1. What is the impact of climate change on social disharmony in a democratic Nigeria?
2. Who are the progenitors and victims of climate change in a democratic Nigeria?
3. What roles can stakeholders play in addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation challenges especially social conflicts in a democratic Nigeria?

These questions will be answered within the conflict analysis perspective, using the social conflict and the anthropogenic global warning theories as theoretical compass. By identifying stakeholders who can logically, intellectually and professional contribute meaningful to this discourse, especially the nexus between climate change and social conflict in a democratic Nigeria, this research hopes to contribute to national harmony, unity, cohesion and mutual coexistence of Nigerians of different socio-cultural and religious diversities for collective mitigation and adaptation strategies to climate change that would enhance national peace, solidarity and sustainable development in a democratic Nigeria. This will be done however, after conceptual clarifications.

1.2 Conceptual Clarifications

The trust of this research is primarily focused on two variables: climate change and social conflict. These two independent and dependent variables respectively require clear understanding for a simpler comprehension of the task of this research. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007. p.2) defined climate change “as a change in climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activities that alter the composition of the global atmosphere and which are, in addition to natural variability observed over comparable time period”. This definition identified the anthropogenic global warming factor (directly or indirectly) as the cause(s) of climate change. However, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNDP) observed that climate change occurred when there is an extreme reaction of the weather phenomenon which creates negative impacts on agriculture, water resources, human health, depletion of the ozone layers, vegetation, soil and doubling carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (Ezra, 2010). The combination of the human and non-human components of climate change was captured by Ozor (2009. p.3), as “the change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity and is widely recognized as the most serious environment threat facing planet earth today”. Earth’s natural variations and man’s activities increase global warming through the emissions of Green House Gasses (GHGs). Global warming has increased the earth’s temperature by 0.74oc for the past 100 years. Scientists warned that more increase in the earth’s temperature would make it difficult for humans’ habitation. The outcome of climate change as visible in a democratic Nigeria is social conflict in various parts of the country.

Social conflict is the prism of looking at society built on reasonable consensus, and on endless conflict or dissension among groups due to pursuits of incompatible interests and goals. Conflict, the pursuits of incompatible interests and goals in the society - the entity for sociation and dissociation (Francis, 2006; Anugwom, 2009); results in unhealthy rivalry between groups for scarce resources. The society is the common denominator where progenitors and victims of conflict reside. In a democratic Nigeria, the social conflict that this research is concerned about is the conflict arising from the impact of climate change in the society. This social conflict arose in the society as a result of the anger of nature against human activities on its natural endowments, and the reactive consequences on how human beings and their agents have directly and indirectly abused and destroyed the material and mineral resources freely provided for man’s economic and social sustainability through series of competitive and anthropogenic activities without recourse to the implication of such actions.

Climate change has both natural (astronomical) and human (anthropogenic) causes (A.-W., 2017) the external factors to climatic system such as change in volcanic activity, solar output, ocean current and orbital changes are not anthropogenic in nature. However, burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, desertification, bush burning, environmental degradation through; oil spillages, gas flaring, biodiversity depletion, aquatic destruction, industrialization, erosion, conversion of land for forestry and agriculture, and general destruction of the ecosystem etc are anthropogenic in nature. The energy sector scientists noted is responsible for about ¾ of the carbon dioxide emission, 1/5 of the methane emission and a large quantity of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere (A.-W., 2017). Agriculture alters the earth’s land cover with its (earth) inability to absorb or reflect heat and light. However, scientists observed that land use change such as deforestation and desertification coupled with the use of fossil fuels, are the major anthropogenic causes of climate change in the world today. This is why this research investigated the anthropogenic causes of climate change as the major trigger of social conflicts in a democratic Nigeria today.

1.3 Theoretical Framework

Two theories were used to anchor this research through a conflict analysis respective. The conflict analysis perspective is a particular interpretation and understanding of a conflict, usually by parties to the conflict but also sometimes by independent observers, of what is happening in that conflict and from the perspectives of experts and parties to the conflict (Best, 2006). The analysis in this context is “those activities undertaken by any person doing anything, either directly or indirectly to know as much as possible about what is going on in a given conflict” (Fisher et al, 2000). Conflict analysis perspective helps researchers in conflict studies to be focused, and to understand issues critically, clearly and logically and to comprehend deeply everything possible about such issues in order to arrive at a proper understanding and possibly judgment on such issue(s). In the context of this research, the impact of climate change on social conflict in a democratic Nigeria, the progenitors and victims, citizens’ persecution of such conflict and efforts individuals, government and other non-governmental stakeholders are making in addressing social conflicts arising from climate change are what this research aimed to address.

The Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) and the social conflict theories are used to guide the direction of analysis in this research using the conflict analysis perspective. The Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) Theory proposed by Joseph Fourier (1824), discovered in 1860 by John Tyndall and further investigated and expanded to the universally known and acceptable standard now by Svante August (1896), a Swedish scientist; explained how human related activities causes climate change through burning of fossil fuel, deforestation, transportation, industrialization, bush-burning etc. AGW contends that human emissions of Green House Gases especially carbon dioxide (Co2), methane (CH4) Nitrous Oxide (N2O), Ozone (O3) Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and Water Vapor (H2O) into the atmosphere in large quantity, alter the natural climate order. (Blast, 2010; A.-W., 2017). The sun’s energy travels through space and reaches earth’s atmosphere that is transparent to the incoming sunlight, thereby allowing it to penetrate the surface of the planet. The sunlight that is allowed to penetrate the plant’s surface is absorbed and reflected back as heat into the atmosphere. When this happens, certain gases trapped in the atmosphere called the Green House Gases (GHGs) absorbed the outgoing reflected and internal thermal radiation, resulting in earth’s atmosphere temperature becoming warmer than expected. Blast (2010) called this the mechanism of enhance Green Gases effect. Most of the social conflicts in a democratic Nigeria today are within the context of Anthropogenic Global Warming theory whether directly or indirectly.

The social conflict theory attributes social inequality to human actions and inactions. The necessities for structural changes in the society make conflict an inevitable occurrence. This implies that social structures in the society and the changes thereof, are the progenitors, escalators and mediators of social conflicts. Social conflict theorists emphasized that social conflicts are triggered by structural changes, inequality challenges and the problems of distribution and redistribution of societal scarce resources. One of the social conflicts theorists, Ralf Dahrendorf (1959) opined that a social conflict arises in the society because of “two faces of equal reality” in the society. The two realities are “stability, harmony and consensus” on one hand, and “change, conflict and constraint” on the other hand. (Coser and Roseberg, 1976; Dahrendorf, 1959). Dahrendorf (1959) argued that consensus in the society examined value integration, while conflict focused on coercion and conflict of interest that unifies the society.

Furthermore, he contended that the creation of “subordinate and super-ordinate” in the society through the “differential distribution of authority” imbued with sanction. This invariably becomes the determining factor of systematic social conflicts with dichotomous contradictory interests, creates latent (unconscious) and manifest (conscious) dissociation of conflict in the society. This is further enunciated by G. Simmel, a German social conflict theorist who contended that conflict is both natural and unavoidable in every human society. He noted that conflict and consensus (peace and unity) complement each other naturally and are systematically interwoven, interdependent and form the bases for social interaction. Conflict is therefore critical in resolving social contradictions as a sociation (interaction among men). (Coser and Roseberg, 1976; Anugwom, 2009). Climate change, hatred, desires, needs, interest etc cause conflict in the society. These challenges (sociation and dissociation dualism) would logically use conflict to resolve the dualism and achieve peace, unity and harmony in the society.

Social conflict theorists placed much emphasis on societal conflicts. They create the transformation of the Marxian unconscious class (class in itself); to the conscious class (class for itself) in the adaptation and mitigation of climate change challenges (3c) in the society. They are the outcome of the rejection, arising from the theory of societal stability of the functionalist and system theorists. The thrust of their argument according to G. Vold (1958), and other notable scholars like G. Lukas (1968), Ralf Dahrendorf (1959), Robert Merton (1968) and Karl Marx among others, is that conflict is part and parcel of modern society because of competition, protection, domination and the quest for achievements. Conflict therefore represents a universal form of interactions whereby, individuals and groups, in trying to protect their interests, goals, resources, and land etc, overlap and encroach on each other. These competitive interchange in the society makes changes in the society possible, thereby promoting and enhancing development and growth for peace and progress. Therefore, the constant friction or struggle between different groups in the society like farmers/herders, clashes, host community/multinational corporations, militants/government clashes etc, should not always be negatively conceived, since it is the dynamism the society needs to progress and reach consensus for peace and unity for sustainable development of both the human and material resources of the people. It is within the context of conflict been seen as sociation and dissociation that the impact of climate change on social conflicts in a democratic Nigeria would be interrogated.

1.4 Methodology

This research adopts a descriptive research design. This is aimed at interpreting the impact of climate change on social conflicts in a democratic Nigeria as an ongoing issue. This present reality of social disharmony arising from climate change challenges should be understood historically and logically and by examining present and future consequences. This is done within Nigeria, with an estimated population of 180 million (NPC, 2015). However, the flash points of the analysis would focus mostly in the Middle Belts (North-Central), South-East and South-South geopolitical zones of Nigeria. Simple random sampling technique was used to identify places of interest while experts were selected purposively for a qualitative, logical and in depth insights and interrogation of the nexus between social conflict and climate change in a democratic Nigeria. Oral interview of five (5) individuals who are capable of analyzing and interrogating the impact of climate change on social conflict in Nigeria were conducted. The interview formed the primary data, while review of relevant literature on books, journals, newspapers etc formed the bulk of the secondary data. Content analysis was used in the interpretation and dissection of the data available for analysis.

1.5 Impact of Climate Change on Social Conflict in a Democratic Nigeria

Climate change has had and is having political, socio-economic and religious impacts on the corporate existence of a democratic Nigerian state. The farmers/herders clashes for examples have claimed more than 1,300 lives in six months in 2018 in Benue, Adamawa, Nasarawa Plateau and Taraba States (Elegbede, 2018. p.6). On all fronts, there are high level political killings. The International Crisis Group (ICG) observed that, “in the first half of 2018 (January-June), more than 1,300 Nigerians have died in violence involving herders and farmers”. The ICG observed that the farmers/herders crisis is already six times deadlier in 2018 than Boko Haram’s insurgency in Nigeria. This they contended “poses a grave threat to the country’s democratic stability and unity, and could affect the 2018 general elections” (Elegbede, 2018. p.6). Furthermore, over 300,000 people have fled their homes. There is large scale displacement and insecurity in Adamawa, Plateau, Benue, and Nasarawa and Taraba. The socio-economic implication is the threat to farming and herding and this drives-up food prices.

Between September and December, 2017, 200 people lost their lives to farmers/herders crisis in Nigeria and between January and June, 2018, 1,300 people lost their lives. This amounts to 1,500 between September, 2017 and June 2018 (ICG Report, 2018). In Bassa, Bokko, Barkin Ladi, Riyom, Mangu and Jos South Local Government Areas of Plateau State, 500 lives were lost within the period. Adamawa, Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba, 200, 400, 300 and 100 lives were lost in the same period respectively. This poses socio-economic and “gravest security” challenges to Nigeria’s democracy. The ICG said this could undermine national democratic stability and 2019 general elections because it has created and sharpened ethic, regional and religious polarization in Nigeria. Three factors, environmental degradation in the far North, and the encroachment upon grazing grounds in the Middle Belt, militia attacks by Fulani herdsmen and poor government responses to distress calls and failure to punish past perpetrators as well as laws banning open grazing in Benue and Taraba States, were also identified as immediate triggers to the conflicts.

There are several implications of these conflicts arising from climate change in the socio-economic, political and religious lives of the people. U., N. from Gombe who lives in Benue, Dr. Owoeke G., Senior Assistant Registrar (SAR) FCE(T), Omoku from Rivers State, HRH E P., Traditional Ruler of Mgbede Community in Egbema Clan, Rivers State, H. G. from Benue and A.-W. C. (GER) Admin Secretary from Rivers State all noted that farmers have loss of production since the crisis hindered farming. There is also an increase in food price and livestock. Furthermore, they contended that ethno-religious sentiments fueled most of the killings thereby resulting into religious intolerance. This, they concluded, is not just a destabilizing factor, but a grave security challenges that could make or mar Nigeria’s democratic corporate unity and existence if not well managed.

In the Niger Delta, several scholars have reported thousands of civilians, militants and security agencies arising from militancy in the region. However, these killings have their origin. The Ogoni Bill of Rights (OBR) of 1990 by late Ken Saro Wiwa, the leader of the movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) was aimed at protecting the people and environment of the Ogoni and by extension, the Niger Delta region against abuse by government and the Multinational Corporations (MNCs). Its major concerns were the oil related sufferings of the people, government neglect, lack of social amenities and political marginalization (OBR, 1990). The autonomy, environmental protection and control of a fair share of the revenues from the resources of the region and cultural rights sought were as a result of climate change and its anthropogenic impacts arising from oil exploration and exploitation (HRW, 1995; Okaofor, 2006). The oil companies operating in the region were also given an ultimatum to immediately stop environmental degradation with a mutually negotiated agreement on all future drillings in their land. MOSOP also demanded Ten Billion Dollars ($10billion) from the MNCs as royalties, damages and compensations based on the many years of oil exploration and exploitation in the region. The then military government ignored these legitimate demands, barred protest and declared that disturbance of oil production were treason offences. The Ogoni Day on January 4, 1993 was in defiance of the military threat. The results were deaths of over 3,000 innocent civilians, more than 100,000 internally displaced, 30 villages completely destroyed and over 600 persons detained between 1993 and 1995 (HRW, 1995).

However, the death by military execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists on November 10, 1995 drew international condemnation and triggered new waves of militancy in the entire Niger Delta region to this day. Such that:

Fifty years of oil exploration in the Niger Delta region without corresponding investment in infrastructure had devastated the environment, impoverished the indigenes and turned the youths of the region into militants agitating for fair deal. The consequences of killings, commercial kidnappings, vandalism and sabotage of oil and gas pipelines across the Niger Delta region reduced Nigeria’s crude oil export per day by third and denied the power stations gas, causing a drastic decline in power generation and distribution (CASS Report, 2011: p.197).

The implication are massive killings, instability, corruption, destruction of forests and farmlands, kidnapping, piracy and vandalism, desecration of sacred institutions and places of worship, disunity, religious intolerance, biodiversity, depletion, loss of crop production, communal crisis and disrespect for government and constituted civil authorities. These socio-economic, political and religious impacts are visible across Nigeria today due to the impact of climate change and social conflict in a democratic Nigeria.

1.6 Climate Change and Social Conflicts in Nigeria: Progenitors and Victims

The global community is the victim of climate change perpetuated by human (anthropogenic) and natural (astronomical) causes. Human beings, animals, aquatic habitats, the forestry and the natural vegetations are the direct victims of climate change and social conflicts in the society. In Nigeria, both humans and nature also cause social conflicts arising from climate change. The farmers in Nigeria cause climate change through bush burning and deforestation. The conversions of land for agriculture, construction, industrialization, transportation etc have changed the land surface and emit various substances to the atmosphere (Lohmann, 2006).

In Northern Nigeria, climate change effects the distribution of rainfall and temperature during the year and this determines the growing season of annual crops and also influences crop yields and productivity of these crops cultivated under rain-fed conditions (Thurlow, 2009). In the southern part of Nigeria, excess rainfall leads to the destruction of fertile land, impairment of cultivated crops and increase in the growth rate of weeds, post harvest losses, erosion and flooding. However, reduction in water level in streams and rivers due to high rate of evaporation, dry land, water irrigation and loss of crop yields are the consequences of significant reduction in rainfall (Ozor, 2009). Therefore, increase or decrease in rainfall caused climate change.


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Climate Change and Social Conflict in Nigeria's Democracy
University of Port Harcourt  (Faculty of Social Sciences)
Political Science
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climate, change, social, conflict, nigeria, democracy
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Leo Ebenezer (Author)Dr. Chioma Ugwu (Author), 2020, Climate Change and Social Conflict in Nigeria's Democracy, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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