President Muhammadu Buhari, in response to the Environmental Audit Report on the Lake Chad Commission submitted to him by the Auditor-General of the Federation, Mr Samuel Ukura, demanded certain explanations.
He wanted clarifications as to why the report failed to mention previous efforts by the then military administration of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo to prevent the lake from drying up.
Available literature shows that Lake Chad Basin spans through Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon — countries which comprises the Lake Chad Basin Commission.
Statistics reveal that Lake Chad, which hitherto provided support to the livelihood of over 30,000 inhabitants who engage in agricultural, livestock and fishery activities, is fast drying up from a record high of 25,000 square km in 1960 to 1,500 square km at the moment.
Buhari, however, recalled vividly that the Obasanjo-led military regime then commissioned a study, as part of designed efforts to save the lake from shrinking, following a proposal for the diversion of some rivers from Central African Republic into Lake Chad basin.
He specifically recollected that the military administration spent about five million dollars on the initiative.
“I have to digress here based on my personal knowledge of this. I saw an article in a journal in 1978 that a professor in the University of London in 1925 had foreseen what we are just seeing now.
“I handed over the article to Gen. Obasanjo and I understand that he took the initiative some time ago; it is on record that he is the only Nigerian who has presided over the country for more than 11 years.
“He (Obasanjo) gave five million dollars for the study, and the study reported that unless some of the rivers from the Central Africa Republic are diverted to empty into the Chad Basin, Lake Chad would dry up.
“I understand that this report, which was sponsored by Nigeria, has been submitted. I am a bit disappointed that in the speech of the Auditor-General, there was no mention of this report that five million dollars was given.
“One of the recommendations was that at the time the report was submitted, the cost of diverting one of the rivers to empty into Lake Chad would be between 13 billion dollars and 15 billion dollars.
“I will like the Auditor-General to comment on this: whether they or the Ministry of Water Resources have received this report. I think this government will like to see this report and see how we can ask our foreign friends about how they can help us.
“This is because if that river is diverted to empty into the Chad Basin, I think it will affect, at least, two million Nigerians and another two million people from Cameroon, Chad and Niger to resettle; and perhaps, that will help us to stop the activities of Boko Haram around that area.
“This is because once we identified the number of people there and their activities, we have to check desertification there,” he said.
Admitting that the recession of Lake Chad was partly caused by human activities and climate change, Buhari noted that the drying up of the lake had negatively affected the sources of livelihood of people living in that neighbourhood.
The president also pointed out that the recession of the lake, coupled with the desertification of the area, also contributed to the evolution of the dreaded Boko Haram insurgency in the North East.
According to him, the drying up of the Lake Chad has dislocated between 30 million and 47 million persons who are basically fishermen and pastoralists.
Nevertheless, Buhari restated Nigeria’s commitment to ensuring the implementation of the report’s recommendations.
He, however, called on the National Assembly to expedite the domestication of the Lake Chad Basin Water Charter, which was adopted by the Summit of the Authority of Heads of State and Government in April 2012.
“As a member of the Lake Chad Basin Commission Summit of Heads of State and Government, the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has been giving maximum support to Lake Chad Basin Commission to enable it to discharge its mandate.
“In addition to funding the Lake Chad Basin Commission’s ordinary annual budget through the funding formula in which Nigeria contributes 40 per cent; Niger seven per cent; Libya 18 per cent; Chad 11 per cent; Cameroun 20 percent and Central African Republic four per cent.
“Our government is determined to offer effective leadership in the fight against insurgency and other environmental ills of the Sahel region.
“Since the audit reports have been fully submitted to Lake Chad Basin Commission’s Summit of Heads of State and Government, we will ensure that the recommendations are considered for implementation,’’ he said.
Restating Nigeria’s commitment to leading the war against insurgency in the Lake Chad Basin, Buhari pledged that the Federal Government would not relent in its support for the Lake Chad Commission.
He particularly lauded the initiative of the governors of Bauchi, Borno, Kano, Jigawa, Kano and Plateau to establish the Hadeja Jama’are, Kumadugu Yobe Basin Trust Fund, as part of efforts to boost agricultural and economic activities in the areas around the Lake Chad Basin.
Under the initiative, the affected states are to contribute an initial take-off grant of N100 million, in addition to the N850 million grant provided by the Federal Government.
Reacting to the president’s enquiry, Ukura explained that the report on the previous efforts to save the shrinking lake from complete extinction was not made available to his group.
He said that the report was only made available to the Lake Chad Basin Commission, saying that “may be, the commission would be in a better position to comment on it.
“The key message of the National Audit Report of Nigeria is that Lake Chad is drying up very fast from 25,000 square km in 1960 to 1,500 square km as at present; we must save Lake Chad from extinction,” he said.
Ukura stressed that the importance of water to food production could never be over-emphasised, underscoring the need for the urgent efforts of all stakeholders to find lasting solutions to the lake’s desiccation.
He, nonetheless, said that the audit report identified weak control of human activities such as construction of dams and excessive diversion of rivers as some of the factors responsible for the increasing desiccation of Lake Chad.
He also highlighted poor water management decisions, particularly those that ignored scientific data, and inability to enforce sanctions on indiscriminate violators of Lake Chad’s preservation measures as other factors responsible for the drying up of the lake.
Shedding more light on the environmental audit report, Malam Sanusi Abdullahi, a representative of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, said that the report was a public document.
He said that the report had been in the public domain ever since the conclusion of the study, adding that relevant departments of the government of Nigeria and other member states had also received copies of the report.
“The situation is that the study had been completed. The cost estimate for the project is 14.5 billion dollars.
“We have been consulting with the Congo Basin authorities to allay their fears on the environmental impact assessment which they want us to also provide; we, however, need additional political support to be able to convince them that it is also in their interest to see that the river is diverted to Lake Chad.
“We have made efforts to liaise with the champion of the `Save Lake Chad Campaign’, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, to sensitise the international community, particularly Europe, which perceptibly have some unfriendly attitude towards the water transfer project,’’ he said.
All in all, environmental experts are, however, quick to point out that it is imperative to conduct more detailed social and environmental impact assessment studies before the commencement of the water transfer project aimed at saving Lake Chad from shrinking.
They, nonetheless, underscore the need to pay particular attention to the eventual quality of the water resulting from the fusion of the water of Lake Chad with that of River Congo and the effect this will have on the ecosystems.
There are also public health concerns about the wholesomeness of water transfer canals which can inadvertently serve as conduits for water-borne diseases.