Environmental Problems and Issue of concern in Northern Nigeria by Baba Ali Mustapha


For much of my research I was deeply indebted to Dr Haruna .K. Ayuba, a Professor and Dr .A. Dami both of university of Maiduguri Department of Geography.


Environmental problem in the Northern Nigeria generally comes under two conflicting classes namely: i. Those associated with the geographical location of the region such as drought, desertification, deforestation, erosion, amongst others, and ii. Problems caused by activities aimed at economic development such as urban waste, mining activities, irrigation projects, construction projects, e.t.c. The combined effect of population growth, urbanization, industrialization and poverty has been that the environmental problem in this region are growing and becoming more difficult resolve.

Northern Nigeria is one of the most threatened land areas
of the country. The region was largely within the semi-arid zone, which is recognized as dynamic ecosystem as a result of highly variable and unpredictable rainfall, overgrazing, seasonal fire and other anthropogenic influences. In addition, poverty, increase population growth and the poor resource endowments makes it difficult to find solution to those problems without comprehensive policy changes and public enlightenment programmes.

Some of those environmental problems are highly interactive and interlinked with health, water supply, nutrition, poverty, unemployment, and poor agricultural productivity that adhoc and sectoral solution may not work. Successive governments in the region have tried to solve environmental problems in the past by compartmentalizating them into segment thereby breaking the interconnecting links. More so, the interdependence of natural cycles and natural processes have often been discounted in the urges to improve the economic standard and therefore long-term issues are neglected at the cost short-term gains. This chapter highlights some of the major environmental problems in Northern Nigeria and examines issue of concern to the region in particular and to the country at large.


The United Nation Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED,1992) define desertification as land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities. Desertification is now recognized in the arid and semi-arid zones of the world as a major threat to ecologically productive systems. The area affected include the arid land (200-250mm annual rainfall) and semi-arid lands (250-800mm) representing more than 30 million square kilometers (20%) of the earth’s surface (Grainger, 1982). It is estimated that Nigeria is losing about 351,000sq,km to desert representing 38% of its total landmass, which corresponded to the landmass of the desert threatened frontline state of the country (Borno, Bauchi, Yobe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto,and Kebbi States). It is estimated that more than 30 million people in Nigeria live under the hardship of desertification (UNSO, 1989). Following Dregnes (1983) classification, the level of desertification in the Northern Nigeria range from moderate to severe as one move northwards. The major causes of desertification are group into two: physical or natural factors and anthropogenic factors. The physical factors comprises of rainfall, variability, drought and aridity. Those factors either individually or in conjunction with one another lead to the destruction of the biological potential of land. The anthropogenic factor on the other hand, include socio-economic activities that directly or indirectly induce desertification. Those are deforestation, excessive cultivation and grazing, bush burning, mining, e.t.c. The increasing human and livestock population in the region accelerate this problem there by placing more demand on the already fragile ecosystem.

The system of the desertification in the region include decline in the land productivity, progressive lost vegetation cover, general lack of fuel wood, decrease in surface and ground water resources, excessive evaporation malnutrition and southward and migration of man and animals. Other geomorphological indicators are shifting sand dunes into agriculture fields, roads and homesteads. All local government areas in Northern Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Yobe, and Sokoto States have discernible symptoms of desertification.

2. Drought : 
One of the most significant climatic variations has been the persistent decline in rainfall in Northern Nigeria since the late 1960s (Mortimore, 1989). The persistent drying trent has caused concern among development planners regarding how to cope with losses of food production, episodes of food insecurity, displacement of populations, declining water resources and constraints on hydro-electricity. Drought connotes a condition of insufficient precipitation and soil moisture within a given ecosystem. Four types maybe identified: meteorological ,hydrological, ecological and agricultural droughts. Metrological drought is the delay in rainfall expectation or concentration of rainfall within a few month as against the long –term normal rainfall regions . Hydrological drought is the decline in underground water level. Ecological drought is the abnormal decrease in rainfall amount that causes inbalance in a given ecosystem. Agricultural drought refers to inadequate or too little moisture at specific stages of plant growth. All types of drought have been experienced in North Nigeria (Mortimore, 1918.). The manifestation included withering of vegetation and crops, dehydration or death of animals, low river discharge and retreating levels of the lake Chad and other water bodies.

During the 1983 and 1986 drought ,the lake Chad’s water level had fallen below 239m. River Yobe completely dried up thus leaving the irrigation scheme base on it unproductive (Ibrahim, 2003). There were losses in crop production and livestock population. For example during the 1983 drought , about 1447512 tonnes of crops and 9.8m livestock were lost in the former Borno state (Now Borno and Yobe states). This can affect the regional or national capacity to supply food for the country. Also many villages around Kaska, Yusufari, Yunusari, geidam and damasak had to migrate owing to crop failure, famine, diseases , and general talk of water consequent upon the drought.

3. Deforestation÷ 
Deforestation is the indiscriminate felling of trees with little or no effort at replacement. Olofin (1993) observed that drought , desertification, and deforestation have more in common than the letter ‘d’……….they are the three dare- devils that constitute an ending nightmare to an environment conservationist. They merge to produce another dreaded ‘d’- degradation. Deforestation is a serious environment problem in Northern Nigeria even though afforestation continues to be a priority of successive governments . It is estimated that about 90-95% of the rural household and 85-90% of the urban household in the region using firewood ( Odo et al, 2002; odili,2003). The estimated rate of deforestation in Borno and Yobe state for example, ranges from 4.6 X 103 tonnes/ yr to 19.6 X 103 tonnes/yr (Odili 2002). Most of the area gazette as forest reserve have become de facto open access areas. The study by Ayuba et al (2002) for the borno state revealed that out of nine many major forest reserves, six have witnessed 60-90% degradation due to encroachment by farmers.

The major causes of deforestation include demand for fuelwood, overgrazing, construction project, poor effort to forest regeneration in term of inputs and investments, increase in human population and urbanization. Deforestation is a complex problem that is also intricately linked to poverty, illiteracy and underdevelopment. The consequences can manifest in several form such as erosion, fuelwood scarcity, sedimentation, drought and changes in microclimate.

Livestock grazing is a dominant economic activity in the Northern zone of Nigeria. It is estimated that over 90% of cattle and 60% of sheep and goat in Nigeria are concentrated in this region with increasing number of people and livestock, large part of the zone have severely been overgrazed, leading to gross modification of the natural vegetation and serious soil erosion. This has led to decline in productivity of the range land resources. This is the true of tree and grassed both fodder resources. This is also true of grazing resources which are affected by a probable change in species composition of annual grasses. Overgrazing has resulted in a very great decrease in the palatable species, increase in unpalatable and poisonous pieces, erosion and intensification of the process of desertification thus forcing the migration of pastoralists southward.

(5) Flood and Soil Erosion 
The major agents of soil erosion in the region are water and wind. Agricultural soil in the region constitute some of the most marginal fragile soils because they are inherently low in nutrients and have poor structure that cannot withstand the high erosive power of rain and wind. Hammanjoda and Baba Lola (1997) reported that during dry periods, the desillating winds act directly upon the finetilth of prepared seedbed removing loose soil materials. Usman (1995) estimated that soil loss due to wind erosion in the region varies from 5.8 to 30 tonnes/ha/year for clay and loamy sand respectively. Soil removed during the dry season is further increased by the short crop duration of the rains, complete removal of crop residues from crop fields, overgrazing and other anthropogenic factors.

An endemic problem in Gombe town for instance is gully erosion, some measuring up to 15 metres in dept. Vast tract of arable land, building and roads have been destroyed by the gullies. Those gullies contributed a great deal to the flood that affected Gombe town in August 2004 which led to death of animals and human, and massive destruction of property. Another noticeable feature is the degradation of arable land consequent upon flooding of the major rivers (Gongola, Ngadda, Yedzeram, Dajin, Hadejia-Nguru, Komadugu-Yobe, Challawa, amongst other). The construction of dams such as Kiri, Bagaada, Alau, Challawa and Tiga, have changed the hydrology of such areas especially flooding regimes. The impacts of flood are both immediate and longterm. Arable lands, roads, building and human lives have been lost in the region. There have been increases in communicable diseases such as cholera, hepatitis A, caused by the ingestion of contaminated water. Unfortunately, many people see those environmental problems as “act of God” and therefore do little or nothing to check the situation.

(6) Solid and Liquid Wastes 
Man, in every stage of civilization generates wastes, however, the rate of generation and methods of disposal vary from individual to individual, city to city and nation to nation. The generation of waste is an inevitable consequence of man’s attempt to survive on the earth’s surface through his productive and consumption processes. One of the challenges of the 21st century is how to achieve cost-effective and environmentally sound strategies to deal with the global waste crisis confronting mankind in both developed and developing countries. The crisis has threatened the carrying capacity of the life support systems. It is an indisputable fact that refuse or municipal waste is the most visible and intractable environmental problem in our urban centres. This is manifested by the refuse heaps which some people call mountains of refuse that dot the road and disfigure the landscape as one crisscross our Urban centres. Waste generation and disposal have overtime, caused environmental pollution with disastrous health consequences.

Waste may be defined as substances or objects discarded, worthless, unwanted, defective , or of no value from a manufacturing or production process. They may also be defined as substance or objects, which are disposed of , or are required to be disposed of, according to the provision of a national law. The solid contents are technically referred to as refuse while the liquid contents are called effluents. Based on biological composition, solid waste is divided into three main types. Those are biodegradable (vegetable, paper, food, etc), semi-biodegradable consisting of rubbish, and non-biodegradable (scraps, junk, vehicles, etc). The liquid substance (effluents) are categorized into two based on chemical composition namely toxic and non-toxic. Toxic waste are those containing significant quantities of a substance or substances, which may cause danger to the life or health of living organisms when released into the environment, or to the safety of human or equipment in disposal plants if incorrectly handles, or have the potential for severely polluting and damaging the environment. Wastes may also be classified according to sources, physical form or chemical properties as follows: Municipal (comprising domestic, institutional and commercial wastes), agricultural waste, mining and mineral industrial waste, radioactive wastes and industrial waste (Ibrahim, 2003: Oyediran 1977: Pickford 1978). Among these sources, industrial and municipal waste are the leading ones in terms of the volume of waste generated annually, and the most troublesome to manage. Waste disposal means the final placement, discharge or deposit of waste in the environment, or the destruction of waste without residue.

Population explosion, uncontrolled urbanization, rapid industrialization, policy inadequacies, weak institutional and legislative framework, weak enforcement of existing legislation, low capacity and capability as well as poor funding have exacerbated the problems of waste generation and disposal in Nigeria. Oyediran (1997) reported that the per capital waste generation for the country is 0.5kg/per person per day although the waste composition varies depending on source, consumption pattern, cultural practices and seasonal regimes in the area of generation. The task force on Environmental Sanitation of Kano State in 1993 reported that Kano city with a population of 1.5 million generated 500 tonnes of refuse daily, but less than 30% is evacuated due to lack of machinery and equipment leading to a rapid build up of refuse (Ololobou 1994). Kagu (1997) noted that the total volume of refuse generation daily in Maiduguri Metropolis with a population of 929, 586 is 125, 897.2kg. Many other cities in Northern Nigeria have heaps of heterogeneous solid that have not been removed for many months due to lack of removal truck and lack of equipment. A visible feature in most capital cities and urban centres in Northern Nigeria are the refuse mountains, which have taken over part of motorable roads, and river channels. These constitute breeding grounds for pathogenic agents. Other effects include odour, atmospheric pollution, and environmental degradation. The emergency of an army of human scavenges who make their living from refuge damps is another cause of concern. Those youth (particularly the Al-Majirai) who comb refuse dumps are prone to exposure to toxic and dangerous chemicals.

The salient features of solid waste disposal in Northern Nigeria may be summarized as follows: (i) Household solid waste is not really disposed of, but is transferred from one location to another without environmental consideration.
(ii) Resources (trucks and the technical know-how) for refuse disposal are insufficient and inadequate.
(iii) The responsibility for waste disposal between the states and local government is not closely defined in terms of full control of funds in order to enhance accountability and efficiency.
(iv) A national approach to waste control was non-existent until when FEPA was created by Decree 58 of 1988, then states began to establish SEPA.
(v) Educational issues of raising public awareness and creating a public that is adequate enlightened on waste management matters and
(vi) Government’s Commitment

There are four universally accepted methods of waste disposal. Those are incineration, composting, sanitary landfill and dumping. Incineration is the reduction of solid waste to ashes under high temperature. It is very expensive and requires highly skilled labour. Composting is a method of converting organic materials into a drier non-odoriferous form through bacterial action, primarily to supply humus to the soil. Sanitary landfill (also called controlled tipping) is one where refuse is confined to the smallest practical area, is reduced to the smallest practical volume, and then is covered with a layer of earth at the conclusion of each day’s operation, or more frequently. If need be, it is probably the best method. Unfortunately, no landfill meets those specification in Northern Nigeria, rather, they are either open expanse of land used as official large scale open dumps, or where they are excavated, they are used carelessly until they overflow. Waste management quite technically involves three ‘Rs”, Reduce, Reuse or Recycle. Since waste are generated with every form of production activities, ways must be sought to reduce, reuse or recycle the waste generated. The effectiveness of any country to manage it’s wastes depends on it’s level of technological development, level of environmental education/awareness and the political will.

It is apparent that not all environmental problems facing Northern Nigeria was discussed, as the environment itself is a holistic concept and there are several elements involved. Only a few are highlighted here. However, it is worth noting that there are other problems, which require equal attention by all stakeholders in Northern Nigeria. These include mining of various minerals, loss of surface and underground water resources, pest and pesticides, agrochemical effluents, siltation of streams and rivers, duststorm, decline in fisheries in the Lake Chad area, border conflicts, and a host of other. Regardless of the problems, there are basic feature to note about environmental problems:

(1) They are complex, interacting and multidimension. For instance, some are interlinked with health, water supply, poverty, nutrition, unemployment, population density, etc and cannot be solved independently, yet the existing public administration on system tries to solve environmental problems by compartmentalizing them into segments thereby breaking the interconnecting links.
(2) Their effect are long termed, spanning generation.
(3) Their consequences can be irreversible.
(4) Causation is usually spread over a large number of subjects.
(5) The interdependency of natural cycles (e.g hydrological, atmospheric, mineral, ecological cycles) and natural processes are often discounted in the urge to improve the economic standard. Also, long-term issues are often neglected at the cost of short-term gains.

  Like many developing countries, Nigeria relies heavily on it’s environment resource base. Thus, the Nigeria environment including ( The Northern region) is at risk for number of reasons:
(i) The heavy reliance on the natural resource base.
(ii) The increasing human population.
(iii) Poverty, which is both a cause and a result of environmental degradation.
(iv) Urbanization, with all it’s attendant problems, and
(v) Evolution of market economies.
It is under the above circumstances that every region of the country must make a transition to sustainable development of the environment. The major challenges before us therefore are:
(i) Creating an effective institutional structure to holistically manage the environment on a region-wide basis.
(ii) Managing the natural resources in an integrated and sustainable manner. (iii) Reducing poverty and achieving food security
(iv) Making urbanization sustainable.
(v) Improving current state of the environment and
(vi) Tackling the problem of environmental refugee owing to incessant border conflicts.

The environmental problem discussed above are increasing because of an over emphasis on short-term gain and poor awareness of the structure and functioning of the Sudan-Sahelian ecosystem. Managing the environment in Northern Nigeria will require integrating the short-term and long-term objectives by linking economic/budget planning with the ecological aspects of natural system. Long-term perspectives must be introduced in the policy making framework in order to combat the current indiscriminate resource utilization pattern and trends of environmental degradation. Some suggested strategies to stem the tide of the devastating effect of environmental problem are discussed below:
 (i) Popular Participation 
One way of holistically tackling the problem of deforestation , desertification, drought and soil erosion in the region is a concerted, carefully articulated, vigorously pursued, long-drawn and large scale programme that goes much deeper than the cosmetic yearly tree-planting ritual. Such a programme must encompass general afforestation, revegetation, reforestation, private, family and community woodlots, special fuelwood plantation, active protection of existing forest reserves, roadside planting in both rural and urban areas, agroforestry, and tree planting in schools, government offices and other comparable locations. Communities at the grassroots must be fully involved in such programme.
(ii) Enforcement of existing legislatures 
Several legislation on the environment have been promulgated at the state, National and International levels. For instance, in Nigeria, there exists the Forestry Regulation 1943, Forestry Law (Exclusion) Notice 1943, The Forestry Law of 1963, the Wild Animals Law 1963, Endangered Species Act 1985, Harmful Waste (Special Provisions etc) Decree of 1988) and the Environmental impact Assessment Decree of 1992. Beside those, various state governments have enacted Edicts to protect the environment. Unfortunately, these laws and Edict are not fully enforced. Thus, tree are felled indiscriminately, forest reserves are encroached upon, water sources are polluted and so on. These laws and Edicts must be effectively enforced if we are to check the increasing environmental degradation in the region.
(iii) Poverty Alleviation Schemes 
Unless the poverty issue is addressed, there will continue to be environmental degradation. Specific anti-poverty and environmental protection strategies should be developed to address specific ecological situations. Such strategies should relate to:
– Enlarging and improving natural environmental resources including common property resources on which the poor depend on for livelihood.
– Improving the quality of air and water
– Finding and utilizing alternative sources of energy and
– Combating ecological disasters such as erosion, drought and desertification.

(iv) Early Warning Systems
This is an integrated part of mitigating any disaster. Environmental problems such as drought, gully erosion, and desertification creep in slowly, thereby giving sufficient and clear warning signals. While Emergency Relief Agencies are good, government in Northern Nigeria must establish and fund Disaster Monitoring Systems. GIS and Remote Sensing Centres should be set up in each state that will work in conjunction with Nigeria Sat 1 Project. Information generated by such centres on the state of the environment should be accessible to all stakeholders on the environment. Such environmental data can provide the basis for current decision-making as a means of monitoring of the outcome of past decision.

(v) Political Will
Given the magnitude of the environment problem, it may appear that government in Northern Nigeria are doing nothing to solve them. This is not so. Various state government have initiated step to halt or reverse environmental degradation but their capacity to cope with increasing vulnerability is generally low. There is need to show greater political will and commitment to solving environmental problems on the part of government. Issue of corruption must be addressed if government is to improve efficiency in the utilization and management of environmental resources. Budgetary allocations to environmental concerns must be increased substantially to address the myriads of environmental problems.

Baba Ali Mustapha is with the Department for Planning, Research and Statistics, Ministry of Environment, Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.