Hamzat Lawal: Climate Change and Canada, the top choice for emigrating Nigerians

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I was still
a child the first time I heard of Canada. This was in 1995, during the controversial
execution of the Ogoni-born Nigerian activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, by the then
military government of late General Sani Abacha. Growing up in Abuja, the newly
installed seat of power, I, like many other young people, was quite aware of
the national burning issues.

At the time,
Canada was one of the first countries to call for tough sanctions against
Nigeria, following the execution of Saro-Wiwa on November 10, 1995. I sat with
the adults to listen to the news on radio and observed keenly as they discussed
the hot issues of the day. The name, Canada, stuck in my young mind. Thinking
back now, I can understand why the country, which is also a member of the
Commonwealth of Nations as Nigeria, mounted pressure on the Nigerian military
government to make the transition to democracy.

Now that I am
grown and have become a voice among a myriad of disadvantaged citizens who
yearn for awareness and information with which to enliven their ecosystem and
hold their government to account, I now appreciate the need for deepening the
diplomatic bond between Nigeria and Canada. If not for anything, but for the
simple reason that in trying to make our way back to where we began, Canada
could help us refocus the lens.

What history
tells us is that during the military regimes in Nigeria, especially between the
late 1980s to early 1990s, there was an exodus of the middle-class citizenry to
the West, in search of a conducive and a more lucrative environment to build
their career. The interesting reality is that many of these migrants did not
return, unlike the set that travelled to study during the colonial era and at
the onset of independence, were really at the forefront of the campaign, not
only to entrench good governance, but to nip brain drain in the bud.

Today, we
face a new monster.  Because of its
global reach, climate change is worse than military rule. For instance, Lake
Chad has shrunk to less than 10% of its original 25,000 square km size,
dislocating millions of citizens in communities straddling Chad, Niger,
Cameroon and Nigeria. It destroyed people’s livelihoods and gave the insurgent
Boko Haram a safe haven to operate from. Indeed, combined with the carry-over strains
of bad governance which had found its way into our present democratic experience,
the impact of climate change cannot be underestimated. As a result, privileged
citizens leave our shores in droves; while the non-privileged struggle to
emigrate, against all odds.

Interestingly,
because of the prosperity the country enjoys, Canada has become the top choice
for emigration among Nigerians. Mid-year 2019, Nigeria had more pending refugee
protection claims in Canada than any other country globally. Also, the number
of Nigerian professionals applying for, and getting “express entry” into the
North American country has continued to balloon exponentially. In 2015, it was only
18 entrants, however, by 2017 it rose to 2,885.

The truth
is that Nigeria and Canada need to align so as to prepare for the future that
is before us. Since the United States of America introduced harsher policies
for immigrants, it would be easier for Nigerian citizens to cross into a more
welcoming Canada. On the home front, as climate change hits our habitat,
citizens who can afford it will apply to emigrate to Canada. Yet, it is only a
proper diplomatic understanding that would ensure that these emigrants travel
through the regular channels and not become a burden to these Commonwealth
nations.

As a
developing country, Nigeria has known its fair share of teething pain—military
coup d’états, civil war, and juntas were our nemeses. Today, because of climate
change, our own natural habitat has become a glitch.

Those that
used to farm ten hectares in the North of the country, cannot find even three
fertile hectares to sow their seed. The desert is taking over the living
quarters. In the South, the rivers are encroaching. According to statistic,
over 270 communities have been deluged in the coastlines stretching from Badagry
to Bayelsa. Therefore, in my country today, climate refugees are moving
downwards from the North running away from dry land, while those from the
coastal South are moving upwards, away from their swamped habitats. Soon, we
shall all meet at the center!

Undeniably,
as the country’s natural resources are shrinking, so are the fiscal assets. I
began my career as an activist in 2012 when I visited Bagega, in Zamfara State.
Today, the once peaceful Zamfara is no longer what it used to be. The young
farmers of the region who were exposed to artisanal mining suddenly experienced
a short-lived prosperity. When the opportunities provided by gold-processing
diminished, some of them could not cope with meagre incomes any longer, and
then resorted to cattle rustling, kidnapping and banditry.

It is in
finding the balance between shrinking resources and a growing population that
Follow The Money movement was born. We recognize that it is the younger
generation who is always eager to try new things, and seek out opportunities in
new frontiers. With the added tools provided by Information and Communication
Technology (ICT), young people are the first to know what is across the
borders, and link up with fellow young citizens in far-flung regions. The
challenge has always been in making a change within one’s local community, one
step at a time.

From my
experience in the field, I am positive that the African youth is ready for
leadership, but the question is, do we know the magnitude of this leadership?
My opinion is that in assisting the developing world to face the future, no one
should overlook Nigeria. My country holds the key to igniting a continental
climate action in Africa, and also mainstreaming the crucial tenets to ensure a
cross-cultural cooperation going forward.

More
importantly, given that we have barely 11 years to achieve the Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030, the teeming Nigerian youth population must
be honed to become a driving force in achieving the Global Agenda. They need to
be provided with skills and opportunities needed to reach their potential,
support development and contribute to peace and security. With a proper focus
in achieving Goal 4, aids and diplomatic support systems could help the government
structure sustainable templates for workable migration and technical exchanges.

In the
final analysis, not every Nigerian youth wants the easy way out. When my team and
I started the #SaveBagegga campaign in 2012, we were approached by an
international non-profit, The Indigo Trust, who offered us funding so we could
expand our project. When we received the 9,648 pounds, there was this
temptation to share the money among us—have a good time and abandon our
project. But we did not succumb to pressure.

I believe
that what we eventually achieved represents the story of millions of other
Nigerian youths. Yes, many of us seek a bridge to cross, but we seek not the
crooked way. We are young people waiting for sustainable platforms and support
systems through which to engage the world, and become part of the solution to
emerging global challenges.

Hamzat Lawal is an activist and currently the Founder/Chief Executive of Connected Development [CODE]. He is working to mobilize young people and build the largest social accountability grassroots movement of citizen-led actions through Follow The Money for better service delivery in rural hard to reach communities in Africa.

This content was originally published here.

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