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Nigeria could gain by promoting more biodiversity awareness among its citizens

A violet turaco / violaceous plantain eater perched on a tree branch with lush green plants in the background. The bird is native to West Africa.
Despite its numerous benefits, biodiversity is still not well appreciated in Nigeria. Philippe Clement/Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Poachers recently killed an elephant in Ogun State, south-west Nigeria. This was the second in the area in two years. It raises concerns about Nigeria’s dwindling elephant population. This is important as Nigeria is now one of Africa’s primary export hubs for ivory.

It also raises concerns about Nigerians’ attitude towards biodiversity conversation.

Awareness and understanding of biological diversity determines the conservation of threatened species in many regions of the world.

Based on this, in 2010 the Convention of Biological Diversity set new targets for achieving biodiversity action plans at various levels. These are known as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

First among the targets is raising people’s awareness of biodiversity conservation. This is the first step towards achieving conservation success and Sustainable Development Goal 15 – halting biodiversity loss.

Biological diversity benefits are enormous. Plants and animals provide many services. These range from food to shelter, medicine, aesthetics, ecotourism opportunities and jobs.

A visit to natural sites to view endangered or rare animals is also one of the mainstays of economies of some African nations like Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Such visits also have benefits for people’s health.

Despite its numerous benefits, biodiversity is still not well appreciated or promoted in Nigeria. People don’t bother about the conservation status of such animals before killing them for food or money. Poaching of rare and endangered animals does not receive a corresponding level of punishment in Nigeria. It is also not perceived as crime by many poachers. This is not the case in East and Southern Africa. There, poaching is criminalised and arrests are publicised to serve as deterrent.

Furthermore, there is little or no data on poachers for Nigeria unlike some East and Southern African nations.

An example of poaching in Nigeria was the 2019 killing of a whale washed ashore in the Niger-Delta region. Also, the killing of manatees in the Benue River and the Niger-Delta region.

What Nigerians said about biodiversity

My research group sought to appraise the level of biodiversity conservation awareness by Nigerians, using a structured questionnaire.

A total of 1,124 respondents which included 839 professionals (those with tertiary education) and 285 non-professionals (those with basic or no formal education) participated in the survey. The respondents were drawn from the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory. They were asked different questions to test their knowledge of biodiversity, conservation, National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, and their understanding of the importance of biodiversity to the nation’s ecology and economy.

As a party to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Nigeria formulated a policy document towards realising those targets. This document is known as National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. It has 14 targets, 21 impact indicators and 67 actions. The first target aims at raising the level of awareness of biodiversity conservation among Nigerians to 30% of the entire population by 2020.

Our findings revealed that Nigerians still don’t know enough about biodiversity or why it’s important. Awareness is low (less than 30%) among those with basic or no formal education. Many of our respondents were unaware of any national biodiversity action plan (43.8% for professionals were aware and 12.1% for non-professionals). The ecotourism potential of many states is not being promoted enough, in the opinion of the respondents.

Some of the respondents’ comments showed the level of awareness as very low:

I have never heard of biodiversity conservation. If it is important there should be proper awareness.

Another said:

I thought biodiversity was about different culture until today. Please it is high time we helped educate others.

And one remarked:

This is the first time I am having a full glimpse of what biodiversity is all about in full.

This research outcome speaks to the need for federal and state governments to do more to promote biodiversity and optimise its potential for present and future generations.

Many state governments rely substantially on the federal allocation from oil revenues, while many ecotourism sites with huge economic potential remain untapped. An example of such sites is the highest waterfall in West Africathe Oowu Waterfalls which is located in Kwara State.

The nation needs to move from policy formulation to policy implementation to achieve this goal. My research group offered some recommendations.

Improving biodiversity awareness

Issues such as biodiversity, conservation and biodiversity action plan must take their due place in the public discourse. They should also be taught as compulsory subjects at various levels of education.

Electronic media promotion of these issues in local languages must also improve to reach out to people who can’t read.

Graduates of botany, zoology, forestry and wildlife conservation should be employed where their expertise is needed, rather than allowing non-experts to take their positions in the relevant ministries, departments or agencies of governments.

To start with, such graduates could be employed during their national youth service, and thereafter as career officers to educate people in their respective communities. They could also help in implementing Nigeria’s biodiversity strategy and action plan.

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