The Implications of Climate Change-related risks on Nigeria’s National Security

By Abdullahi Murtala and Muhammad Ibrahim Abba

Climate change is one of the major global topics of discussion because of its multi-dimensional consequences that include food security, environmental degradation, border security, intermittent communal violence, species extinction, biodiversity loss, and an increase in global temperatures.

The impact of climate change is quite noticeable as one moves across the north-south divide of Nigeria. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has posited that while there are two distinct causes of climate change,—natural and anthropogenic—human activities have been directly linked to being the chief cause through factors like greenhouse gas emissions, overgrazing, burning of fossils, over-grazing, unstainable land use, and tree felling.

Concerned about the prevailing problems affecting the environment, the World Metrological Organization (WMO), in 1988, set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide well-researched information about climate change and its impacts while formulating adaptive climate policies amongst member-states. Many reports released by the IPCC predicted a change in climatic conditions in such a way that, due to mostly anthropogenic activities, climate change will cause drought in some parts of the world and flooding in other parts.

The IPCC report on October 6, 2018, was the last warning to global policymakers on the need to cut emissions by 45% before 2030 to restrict global warming to 1.5°C to avoid a rise of up to 2°C in temperature.

Although the planet is only 1°C warmer than pre-industrial times, we are already witnessing a chain of catastrophic climate-related extreme events across the world. In 2016, world leaders assembled in Paris, France, for the Paris Agreement meant to tackle climate change and to adapt to its adverse effects. The main aim of the Paris agreement is to devise a response that would ensure that global temperature rise falls below 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. In that regard, the signatories agreed to reduce carbon emissions.

Impact of climate Change-related risks on Nigeria’s National security

Climate change is a direct threat to Nigeria’s national security despite its low contribution to global warming. The depletion of environmental resources and the disruption of socio-economic activities induced by climate change-related extreme weather events and risks exacerbate and introduces new threats to national security.

Climate change amplifies pre-existing natural risks, environmental degradation, vulnerabilities, inequalities, unresolved conflicts, cross-border threats and affects military operations.

Coastal and inland flooding

The problem of coastal flooding due to sea level rises and storm surges are a significant threat to life, property, livelihoods, and infrastructure in the Niger Delta region. The oil industry in the region is equally vulnerable to climate change-induced extreme weather events such as storm surges that threaten off-shore rigs, ongoing modular/existing refineries, and oil tanker shipments. For an industry that is strategic for Nigeria’s corporate and fiscal survival, the impact of such climatic disruption on the oil industry in the Niger Delta will cascade disastrously through the Nigerian economy[1]

Southern Nigeria’s coastline is already changing as a result of erosion caused by sea surges and tidal waves. A 2009 study by Britain’s Department for International Development predicted a possible sea-level rise from 1990 levels to 0.3 m by 2020 and 1m by 2050, under a high climate change scenario.  A sea-level rise of 1m could result in the loss of a significant percentage of the Niger Delta. Indeed, the oil industry in the Niger Delta is equally very vulnerable to climate change-induced extreme weather events.

Inland flooding over the years has had negative impacts on food security, livelihood, infrastructure, national assets, public health, and human security in both rural and urban areas in Nigeria.

The heavy rainfall and flooding in 2018 were reported to have affected no fewer than 826,403 people. The Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency had indicated that the rivers Benue and Niger had almost reached high levels which resulted in the deadly flooding in 2012 where two million Nigerians were displaced, 30 states affected and 363 died. This is in addition to the destruction of homes, farmlands, and other diseases that later greeted the affected areas in the aftermath of the 2012 flood. Between 2015 and 2017 a series of floods had displaced more than 100,000 people and were responsible for scores of deaths.

Flooding destroyed crops in many states in north-central, southwest and northwest Nigeria as farming land was flooded and submerged which affected agricultural activities and posed a serious threat to food security. This led to higher food prices, food insecurity, and negative impacts on the livelihoods of farmers. [2]

According to the Hydrological Services  Agency 2019 Flood prediction no fewer than 74 Local Government Areas, n 30 states in Nigeria would experience severe flooding while 279 local government areas would experience minimum flooding across the country.

Comparative hydrographs for the agency’s hydrological measuring station downstream the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue in Lokoja, for 2012, 2018 and 2019 show that flood level starting from May 22, 2019, the corresponding values in 2012 and 2018 respectively.


In other parts of Nigeria rainfall is diminishing, freshwater bodies disappearing, semi-arid lands rapidly turning into arid land, and the Sahara advancing.

Northern Borno via Brenda Uji

Nigeria is estimated to be losing over 350,000 hectares of land out of 909,890 km and 13,879 km of water area to environmental degradation as a result of climate change, unsustainable anthropogenic activities such as poor water management.  Tree felling for domestic fuelwood and charcoal, which serve as the main source of cooking fuel to almost all the rural population and a large proportion of the urban dwellers.


The IPCC, in a comprehensive study by DFID titled Climate Change Adaptation and Conflict in Nigeria, described Nigeria as a climate change hot spot zone. What this means is that Nigeria is going to face a massive change in rainfall pattern with the north experiencing a change in landforms whereby some certain areas will turn into a semi-arid zone, while some will experience an increase in temperature and reduction in rainfall. Sahel areas like Borno and Yobe already experience very low rainfall distribution.

The report added that Nigeria is going to experience land shortages, especially in the north because most of the land is lost due to desertification.

States like Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Kaduna, Sokoto, Yobe, Adamawa and Zamfara, in northern Nigeria, are referred to as desertification frontline states and researchers have prognosticated that two-third of these states are going to turn into descant or semi-descant zones in the 21st century. As vegetation cover reduces drastically, through overgrazing that is worsened by drought, cropland becomes unproductive and previous settlements and occupation become unlivable as a result of the climatic shift. 

Harsh environmental conditions such as drought, desert encroachment, and desertification mix with weak adaptive capacity and increasing population which forces locals to either migrate or compete for available arable land and water. Desertification, water shortages and insecurity in the far North have made the seasonal movement of the mostly Fulani cattle herders more permanent. The pastoralists traditionally migrate towards greener Savannah zones to feed their cattle.

This change in migration patterns tends to cause instability. When the capacity of the receiving communities is stretched or interactions and relations become conflictual due to demographic changes or other dynamics such as the presence of criminal elements in host or visiting community.

The risk of communal violence also increases as a result of politics and governance failure.

According to a report released by the International Crisis Group in July, the violence between Nigerian farmers and herders killed at least 1,300 people in the first half of 2018 – “about six times more civilian lives than the Boko Haram insurgency”. The report (Stopping Nigeria’’s Spiraling Farmer-Herder Violence) stated that the decades-long conflict has been aggravated by, among other factors, “climate-induced degradation of pasture”.

The complex rural banditry problem in the north-west Nigeria axis is a result of the multiple underlying factors mutually reinforcing each other. These include the influence of environmental resource depletion, revenge killings, cattle rustling and uncovered spaces.

Climate change exacerbated vulnerabilities and risks in the North East and Lake Chad region.

Image of Lake Chad via NASA EarthObservatory
Lake Chad via NASA Earth observatory

The violence perpetrated by Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah which began an insurgency and terrorism campaign in Nigeria in 2009 and its splinter group Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) is another multi-dimensional prism of climate change to the extent that shocks created by extreme weather events and environmental resource mismanagement increased fragile and vulnerabilities of communities.

For example, the Berlin-based think tank Adelphi’s recent report ‘Shoring Up Stability in the Lake Chad Region: Addressing Climate and Fragility Risks highlights the complex link between climate change, increased competition for natural resources, economic livelihoods and instability in the region.[3]

Rising temperatures and increasingly erratic rain patterns have created conditions that have affected the local population’s ability make use of their farmlands thereby threatening livelihoods, food insecurity and increasing vulnerability to recruitment by armed groups in the region.

In Yobe State, the Sahara desert is swallowing houses, roads, farmlands and livelihoods. Land degradation as a result of sandstorms, desertification and desert encroachment is increasing poverty and vulnerability of the local population. Human and livestock populations are severely affected in eight local government areas, in the northern part of the state. [4]

Climate change impact on the economy 

The dependence on oil rent for 90 per cent of export revenues also leaves the economy vulnerable to climate policies that seek to wean the world off fossil fuels. The growing investment in alternative energy for transportation, energy, and the acceptance of electric vehicles in response to climate change, will reduce global demand and increase the risk to Nigeria’s national income provider oil. [5].

The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA’s) 2009 study predicts that the economic cost of a mean average global temperature of 1.5oC by just after 2040 will result in meaningful economic cost equivalent to 1.7 per cent of Africa’s GDP. As the mean temperature rises to 2.2oC by 2060 the economic cost increase will be equivalent to 3.4 per cent of Africa’s GDP. By 2100, with a mean temperature rise of 4.1oC, the economic costs are equivalent to about 10 per cent of the continent’s GDP. With specific reference to Nigeria, DFID’s (2009) study predicts that climate change could result in a loss in GDP of between 6% and 30% by 2050, worth an estimated US$ 100 to 460 billion dollars. By 2020, if no adaptation is implemented, between 2-11% of Nigeria’s GDP could potentially be lost[6)

Impact on heatwave on public health and safety 

Extreme heatwaves pose a direct threat to public safety and health. Nigeria recently experienced heatwaves with temperatures rising beyond 40 degrees Celsius in coastal areas, while in more arid northern parts of the country, temperatures reached 45 degrees Celsius, between March and May

According to the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), Nigeria experienced extreme temperatures this year between March and May. The worst-hit states were Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Kano, and Jigawa. The situation also prompted fears of outbreaks of diseases such as meningitis, cholera [7]

Excessive heat and other extreme weather events also pose threats to an already weak, underfunded and stretched healthcare system– with mass outbreaks of dehydration, heat stroke and exhaustion.  This can make existing health conditions and diseases worse with low-income and elderly people suffering the most.

 Climate change impact on the military budget, operations and readiness 

Nigerian Airforce Super Pama and Army Reva MRAP

Climate change-induced extreme weather events and risks such as flooding and land degradation have led to disasters and human security threats.  These have required military interventions and increased military assistance to civil authority in the past few years in the areas of emergency and disaster response to floods, low-intensity conflict operations and peace support operations.    

 Climate change is a “threat multiplier,” exacerbating insecurity from herders-farmers’ violence in north-central Nigeria to the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast. At the same time, extreme weather events pose a direct threat to the military’s ability to respond to military and humanitarian crises. 

These threats affect military facilities, readiness and deployment. Nigerian Army and Airforce base, operations and mobility face new challenges due to climate change-exacerbated environmental vulnerabilities while Navy dry-docks and operations are exposed to severe storms and rising sea level.

These challenges and climate-related risks affect the military budget by creating new costs for training, re-constructing equipment, and deploying troops. Man-hours and resources that would have been spent on counter-insurgency and foreign peace support operations will thereby be diverted towards climate-disaster preparedness and response, protecting operational bases and ensuring troop mobility isn’t compromised due to severe weather events and trends.


Endnote: [1]. FREEDOM C. ONUOHA AND GERALD E. EZIRIM, Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa (Volume 12, No.4, 2010) Climatic Change and National Security: Exploring the Conceptual and Empirical Connections in Nigeria

[2] ABU NMODU, BERNARD TOLARIN DADA, GEORGE OKOJIE, SAM EGWU; foods: Nigerians Count Their Losses retrieved from


[3] ADELPHI BERLIN. Shoring Up Stability in the Lake Chad Region: Addressing Climate and Fragility Risks in the Lake Chad region read more retrieved from

[4] HAMISU KABIR MATAZU. Sand dunes take over farmlands, houses in Yobe retrieved from

[5HABIBA DAGGASH, Nigeria and Climate Change: Global Trends and Local Challenges retrieved from

[6]FEDERAL MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT ABUJA, NIGERIA(Special climate change unit), National environmental and economic development study (NEEDS)for climate change in Nigeria.

[7)SOLA TAYO AND ABDULLAHI MURTALA. AssessingNigeria’s Vulnerability To Extreme Weather Events

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