Climate Change as a source of conflict in Nigeria

Climate change is often disregarded as a source of conflict both by academic literature and civil perception. Nigeria has a long history of inter-ethnic conflict, North-South division between a predominantly Muslim North and a predominantly Christian South, a history of military involvement in politics, and contrast between massive oil revenues and the poverty of local communities in the Niger Delta. Competition for wealth and power among ethnic groups is based on a complex political game of alternating control of the presidency among religious and regionally based elites. Political contestation and succession frequently have been neither democratic nor free of conflict.

In recent years the attention to the connection between civil unrest and climate change has been more and more evident and Nigeria is an obvious example. The Northern states of Nigeria have been plagued both by terrorist threats by the extremist Islamic group Boko Haram and both massive floods and progressive desertification, which led to a massive internal migration towards the South. And the progressive drying up of the Lake Chad basin (caused in part by diversion of water for irrigation) and the steady encroachment of desertification, along with deforestation, soil erosion, gullies, loss of pasture, and increasingly difficult access to water sources and firewood, have severely disrupted the livelihoods of farmers, herdsmen, and fishermen in northern Nigeria. The Niger Delta region has been environmentally exploited for extracting oil since decades resulting in soil erosion, lost of agricultural land and pollution of air which makes life almost impossible for the indigenous population. This has resulted in a massive migration towards the Nigeria’s Middle Belt and the south.

Lagos is a megalopolis of around 21 million inhabitants, of which 70% live in poor and often illegal settlements lacking basic sanitation and located in low-lying areas subject to flooding. More than once this flooding has proven to be fatal for a lot of people living in such areas. Although the issue has been taken into consideration by both the state and the federal government, the path towards peace is still long. There is lack of disaster prevention in case of flooding. The city government suggested the relocation or institution of safe areas where people could move to but no step in identifying those areas has been made. On the other side of the hand, the massive project of Eko Atlantic Wall has started in the richest part of Lagos, thus exacerbating social frictions between the economically divided population. A small positive step forward has been the institution of LAWMA, the Lagos Waste Management Authority, a network of private-public partnerships to collect industrial, commercial, medical, and hazardous wastes while also generating thousands of jobs for uniformed employees who can be seen at work throughout the city. Another step forward has been the institution of two environment days  compulsory for everybody, every Thursday morning and one Saturday per month, where citizens are encouraged to clean their shops and homes. But in absence of proper education and facilities they turn out to be not so beneficial.


Since our arrival in Lagos we were negatively shocked by the lack of bins and proper solid waste management as well as the lack of proper drainage in some of the communities we visited both in Lagos and other cities. The combination of the two results in the blockage and overflowing of existing drainages and externalities towards homes.

There is a lack of collective action in this sense, as some residents may reasonably ask, “Why should I trouble myself with the time and effort required to find ‘sanitary’ means of disposal when no one else is doing it? My efforts will change nothing.” Physical infrastructure needs to be accompanied by “social infrastructure” – education and awareness campaigns; government services to enable and support constructive environmental behaviors; and formal and informal institutional arrangements that allow for the expression of citizen grievances or concerns about environmental problems, climate risks, and participation in the formulation of solutions.1

During our stay in Ibadan, Oyo State, we were able to know about the case of Akingbola community in Bodija. When it rains, the water brings all the waste from the community and the neighborhood, as well as the garbage from an informal landfill appeared in a school nearby, to the gutter which flows down to the lower part of the community. The garbage is not only blocking the path of the water but also overflowing to the closest houses and filling them with water and dirt, because the gutter is not deep enough. This has caused a loss of property to the community. Moreover, the community relies on wells for fetching water from underground, which is the same filtered water running in the gutters full of dirt. The community has no proper drinkable water and the 70 % of the community is constituted by children, which are the most affected by the flood and the disease from the dirty water.

We talked to the community chiefs to know about their challenges and how they are trying to solve them. The community hosts different ethnicities which make communication difficult amongst the members and the flooding problem is affecting all of them. There we met Adewale Olasupo and Benedict Okolie, two 18 year old activists who together started the Greenhouse Project. Last year they started talking with the Akingbola Community and learning about their needs. They first did a small clean-up by themselves to see the outcome and as it turned out positive they decided to involve all the community as well as other associations such as ‘One African Child’, ‘wecycler’ , ‘We are Mad Initiative’, ‘Areai’ and ‘JumpStart Academy Africa’. All together they did a big clean-up and also the government came represented by a special adviser to the Oyo State government on media, OYONMA (solid waste collection agency of the state) and BGOS (Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State) were invited to document the action.

Adewale and Benedict have a lot of ideas for a final resolution of the problem, but because of the lack of funding they have not been able to implement them yet. They want to provide waste drums for the community to use and waste pipes, together with an education program, which will include all ages. The community chiefs are favorable to this idea because they think that the youth have to gain skills so they do not engage in violence or crimes. Another step to follow is making a proper drainage system by improving the gutter and they are already prospecting the cost of this action for a near future implementation. The idea is to bring all the people together for the making of it, so they will learn and put in use what they have learnt in their daily lives.

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Another positive action has been implemented by the NGO Stephanie Peacebuilding and Development Foundation from Abeokuta. In 2006 they started to work on environment with the West African Network for Peacebuilding on an assessment in Ogun State. They realized there were many areas affected by climate change impact, such as erosion, flooding and river overflowing; assessed this problem and submitted it to both Nigerian and local government and then started community peace education and organization for environment. With the help of the community chiefs they went around the communities to teach self-help, so they do not have to wait for the government for help but they can start working themselves for a better condition. In Ibagbeto, Idgebu-Ode, they have worked with 47 communities that share the bank of Owa River. The wedge of the river was too narrow and when floods came, it was expanding and overflowing. After discovering a particular area where the river wedge was especially narrow, they gathered the youth there and together with them pulled down the concrete barrier, so the water could move freely.

The government was supposed to do the wedging but at every level the project was discarded for lack of funds. The community development associations of the area got involved and they started to send letters to the federal government to make pressure, and they finally succeeded. The work started in 2009 and is still going on because of public work slowness, and now new threats are emerging.

As the society and the government are not ready to respond to climate change challenges, there is a need for more environmentally sustainable future through resilience and education made available for everybody at a grassroots’ level. The local governments and community associations should work together on assessing the environmental risks and find long term sustainable solutions. The NGOs must be involved to promote awareness and trainings to all the population.



  1. Climate Change and Conflict in West African Cities: A Policy Brief on Findings from Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana. USAID, November 2013.
  1. Climate Change Adaptation and Conflict in Nigeria by Aaron Sayne, 2011.
  1. Waste management towards sustainable development in Nigeria: A case study of Lagos state. Adewole, A. Taiwo, 2009.