Fulbright Scholars and Climate Change

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Fulbright scholars from 23 Nigerian universities listed in the Fulbright Commission of the United States Embassy, rose from a three-day conference at the University of Ibadan with a resolve to be more proactive in the fight against the phenomena of global warming and climate change. The theme of the conference, “Development, Environment and Climate Change: Challenges for Nigeria”, could not have been more apt and timely, as the ravages of global warming are increasingly evident in Nigeria: the Lagos and Ibadan floods that killed many and destroyed tens of billions of naira worth of property being the most instructive. The scholars, under the umbrella of the Fulbright Alumni Association of Nigeria (FAAN), had plenary and technical sessions, identifying the problems and seeking solutions from the global and local contexts to address the peculiar Nigerian challenge.

FAAN is a group of grantees/recipients of US Government-sponsored scholarships or fellowships, who have spent some quality time in the American intellectual community and returned to make a difference on the domestic plane with new ideas and skills they have learnt from their fellowship experience. The Fulbrighters, as they are called, meet once a year in different host universities, exploring new themes and discussing prevailing socio-economic or political issues, with a view to finding lasting solutions to them. The University of Ibadan conference was the 10th of such annual academic meetings.

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The choice of the premier university was informed by the fact that FAAN started in Ibadan ten years ago. Ibadan as venue was also a smart place to discuss the theme of environment and climate change given the August 26 floods that almost washed away the relics and unique ancient civilization that the city is known for, which were reminiscent of the 1980 flood disaster. The conference had the founding fathers of the FAAN in attendance, including Fulbrighter Professor Babatunde, the founding President, and Fulbrighter Professor Ogundipe, one of the oldest Fulbrighters in Nigeria. The conference was colourful and successful. Covenant University, represented by Fulbrighters Folarin and Olukanni, made a bid and won the hosting rights for the next FAAN Conference in 2012. Covenant University, known for its track record of successfully hosting important local and global meetings, has the task of challeniging and surpassing the bar raised by the University of Ibadan. The Local Organizing Commoittee (LOC) led by Fulbrighters Professor Ologbojo, Dr. Oladele and Dr. (Mrs.) Oladele of the UI FAAN Chapter deserve special commendation.

The climate change issue has become a real monster in Nigeria. There are increasing cases of flash floods and deforestation in the Forest Belt, erosion in Eastern Nigeria, drought in Northern Nigeria. As rains are washing away farmlands, fish farms and homelands; there is yet lack of rains in some other places, leading to drought, famine and extreme economic situations. The peculiar climate change effect in Africa and Nigeria is land hunger, leading to struggle for very scarce land and water resources, thereby culminating in more social conflicts.

Indeed, many of the conflicts in the continent are caused by the manifestations of climate change. The Tiv-Jukun conflict may have social and political undertones, but first it must be understood as arising from struggle for land. The conflict in Jos is explained away as an ethno-religious one with multiple and endless reprisals; but the killings started with the search for and desperation to covet land or to preserve ownership. That is why the problem involves the nomadic Fulani and the autochthonous Christian tribes. The Darfur and general Sudanese conflicts are basically land wars, which have become ethnicized and sectionalized. The north suffers harsher climatic conditions that have made land inadequate for the production of food. The oil in the South is an environmental resource that the North did not want to let go of. It is the same story in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Congo. Environmental resources are increasingly becoming scarce because of climate change, and social conflicts are erupting more and more.

Considering all these manifestations of climate change, which goes beyond the ordinary sense of instability in climatic conditions, one has to commend the FAAN for showing concern for and bringing all of their expertise to bear on exploring panacea. Climate change extends to the extreme weather situations that alter farming and fishing seasons, harvest, mining, and so forth, which cause hunger and economic depression. Scholars looked at it from different perspectives, including scientific, social, legal, political and global. It is hoped that all the findings and policy recommendations would find their way to the appropriate stakeholders to arrest the monster of global warming and climatic change.

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Dr. Folarin, a lecturer in Covenant University, was at the Fulbright Alumni Conference at the University of Ibadan

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