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Why Geography Matters: The need of geospatial technique in addressing Nigeria’s security challenge-Murtala Uba Mohammed


By Murtala Uba Mohammed (PhD)

Recently, Nigerian government took an audacious step by throwing a baby and its bath water not only into a river, but to a deep and distant ocean.

It was in 2013 that the country in its  attempt to reform its educational system particularly at secondary school level, relegated some important subjects to the background; bringing up some newer ones.

Subject such as geography and history suffered from this restructuring of making these corner stone subjects- in terms of what they offered in the understanding of man and his physical environment as well as the historical explanation of the past to build the future.

Making these subjects optional at the crucial level of building an imprint of human-environment relationships in the minds of our younger is synonymous to drawing the country in terms of a better well-informed society.

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While, one may not completely agree with the argument advanced by the authorities , that the reform was made to introduce subjects that aimed at fostering self-reliance and entrepreneurship with a view to curving the rate of unemployment in the country.

It is important to note that the reasons given were quite inadequate to justify the need for the replacement. It is imperative to note that a lot were written to convince the government on the need to revert back the curriculum to the status quo, especial considering the importance of the subjects in creating national consciousness and self-awareness in the case of history and on learning about the country and of being foundation to most environmental related discipline in the case of geography.

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This writing decides to differ a bit, approaching the issue from the perspective of national security challenges.

Nigeria is currently witnessing the most difficult challenge it ever faced in its history and territory; no part of the country is presently spared from one or more security threats.

From its relatively wetter southernmost part to its most-drier north, the country is at war with itself, facing threats such as banditry, armed robbery, ethno-religious bigotry, tribal clashes and political thuggery.

The threats of Boko-Haram, IPOB and to a lesser extend Afenifere are sufficient enough to sink the already overloaded and about to crash ship called Nigeria. Most worrisome, is the daily reportage of killing of its citizenry by both known and ‘unknown devils’ that terrorize almost all part of the country.

This is most especially in North-western Geopolitical Zone where daily killing and abduction for ransom has become a norm, more especially in Katsina, Zamfara and Sokoto States.

In the mid of crisis at the periphery, one hopes the centre to be secured; but in the case of Nigeria the ailment has afflicted all her body.

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Niger state is now so powerless that ‘bandits’ are now having their field days in many parts of it. Just like Niger, Kaduna to Abuja Road is so unsecured that travelers to and from Abuja were compelled to go for rail.

Even in the nation’s state, the suburb is unsecured as most part of the country. While most people end up in nostalgic mood, recollecting mainly the past peaceful experiences the country witnessed and some such as general TY Danjuma had long time condemned the country as ‘failed state’, this article hopes the issue will be addressed by deploying the knowledge of this important subject. It is (without any doubt) through geography that colonialism was achieved in the past and it is through it that societies were both dissemble and assemble, creating new states and modifying many ones. The subject can equally be used as discussed below, to arrest the security situation of Nigerian State.

While the values of the geography are so much, this piece highlights some of security related areas in which geography would be of critical support:

Regional Planning

As a discipline geography focuses on space which includes location and its attributes. In order to achieve the aim of place description, geography pays attention to detail of location and try to distinguish one location from another.

Doing this helps in identifying uniqueness of  an area which form the basis for regional planning. Because each region is unique, its planning is based on its distinct characteristics which are used to harness its economic potentials.

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A vast country like Nigeria that traverses many climatic, geological, edaphic and demographic regions. Each of these is blessed in some way and have a particular advantage that can be tapped. The inhabitant of the region might have idea about this opportunity(ies), but it is government initiatives that can foster the best use and utilization of them.

Regional planning especially at moderate to large scale is a domain of geography, and candidates with sound knowledge of geography particularly its regional sub-field will help a lot in regional planning which is conspicuously missing in the country.

The way we are today is that the various entities that make up of the country are lacking in unique contribution each can offer to the country’s development. While governments are doing a lot, they hardly consider regional specialization in their programmes. They are rather imitating one another, and in many instances compete in urban based project.

Recently, states in North-western Nigeria were suspected on competing in building bridges and underpasses in urban areas rather rural and agricultural development projects. This urban based development may only worsen the situations of the already poverty striking states by encouraging rural-urban migration which put more pressure on urban infrastructure and deprived hinterland its able builders.

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A combination of edaphic, eco-climatic and relief factor alone can be used in zoning the country for agricultural production which will not only cushion the current poverty level in the country, but foster regional complementarity and economic diversification. The country is also rich considering the various mineral resources gift of its diverse geology which can also the basis for planning. Also its cultural landscape and physiography can form the base for regional planning.

Identifying and Modelling the Crime Hotspot

One of the recent and most used geographic tools is the geographic information system (GIS). As an information system GIS is unique in that it gives emphasis to location in all its analyses; it is the capability of GIS to analyse, display and model location-based events and situations that makes it appealing to all other fields and disciplines. Crime and conflicts have both temporal and locational attributes and can therefore be addressed through GIS. With GIS pattern(s) of conflicts and criminal activities can be established in more robust way, and can be arrest in a better way. GIS can tell the areas of high crime probability often known as hotspots with high level of precision. Modelling and prediction can be done for various crime types.

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This is essential for security and safety of the territory. With good data recording, digital based maps can be produced to inform users on security situation as they travel via road or train. GIS integrates various layer of information which can be used to explain and describe why crime happened in a location or time trajectory. When GIS is employed with it multi-layer combination capability, it has higher tendency to explain three key security questions of when, where and why. With answers to this question management of crime become becomes better. Doing all these require manpower with good background in geography.

Adding Precision to military and security operations

In order to keep a state secure, a good policing system is very fundamental. Large scale maps, and of recent GIS digital spatial maps are imperative. Historically maps are tool for military operations and surveillance. As nature is dynamic recent and up to date maps are always needed, so also the people with skill to make such maps.

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With the replacement of geography by other disciplines, one was left with a big question as to who will draw and interpret the maps for the military? Another question is that of how can we ensure high precision operation with only subject teaching location at basic schools been relegated to the background. With country now battling to secure full control of its territory, military issues become most important. Any discipline that will aid military operation is therefore very important. With country currently planning for population census, the discipline has a role to play in cartography and creation baseline maps for enumeration area as well as creating spatial maps of population tracks. This is very fundamental in security and economic development of the country.

Disaster Management, Emergency and Rescue

Next to security is the emergency response. In fact (in)security itself is emergency issue. The knowledge about location is important not only on in improving the emergency efficiency in case of disaster such as war, flood or fire, also on issues to do with disaster prediction, mitigation and prevention. Data set such as land use, land cover, river networks, road network and historical record of past disaster have a central role in emergency management.

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In case of rescue during crises and attack, knowledge of spatial analyst techniques such as shortest path analysis can be deployed to get to the location in time; tools such as location and allocation can be used to zone facility such as military camps, health care, police station, fire service station and even rescue camp (such as IDPs) for a location. GIS to be specific, together with current and most recent development in information technology such as artificial intelligence has important role to play. A sound analytics space is of far amount importance.

Site Specific Agriculture

Food crises is linked to most crises witnessed in the country. Many experts linked the crises to decline in land productivity and increase in landlessness in the country. Common resources such as forest and grazing reserve, water points and stock route were largely overtaken due to population explosion and unprepared and unplanned urbanization. These had deprived many resource users making them more susceptible to crime and radicalization most especially in Northeast and Northwest geopolitical regions.

In spite of all the problems of productivity decline and climate change related uncertainties, the country had a good agricultural potential. This is most especially with agricultural researches now coming up with more resilient seed varieties.

While one will see this as domain of agriculture, geography can play role in ensuring site specific choice of crop and cropping system and for high precision farming which is location specific. Remotely sensed tool and other spatial technique had important role in this case. In-situ measure can be done by farmers at a farm level.

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Location result can be matched with information in order to identify the most suitable crop and crop management requirement. Just like in the case disaster management knowledge of location here is important as the information technology which is vital for data capture, storage and processing.

As recap, this paper highlights the importance of geography in national issues with focus on security which is the most agent need now for Nigeria as a country. The article concludes with appeal for those handling the country’s education to consider the re-instating of the subject at secondary school level.

Murtala, teaches geography at Bayero University, Kano and can be reached via email:

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