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Anambra forest reserves are disappearing, but nobody cares

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By Alfred AJAYI


“At Ossomala now, there is nothing like timbers or growing trees. You no longer can call it a forest,” says Benedict Obinkpu, a forest guard at Ossomala Forest Reserve in Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State. His lamentation illustrates the level of environmental degradation in the state. 

Obinkpu, who could not meet the reporter in person, due to ill health, spoke further in a telephone conversation recorded on September 10, 2021.

When I was posted there last year, it was just barren. We tried to plant trees there, but this flooding happening every year always carry them away.  We have a milliner to plant, but we are waiting for the flood to go. We are also in need of special trees that can resist flood”. 

Ossomala is still being referred to as a forest reserve, but the truth is, the reserve areas is bereft of trees.

The current situation at Ossamala reserve and other community forests in Anambra is linked to indiscriminate logging which has been going for several decades.

The deforestation is all evident right from the road leading to the reserve area. Fire woods and timbers are displayed for sale on both sides. When The ICIR visited the reserve, the whole area was flooded.

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It will be better if you can come again after the flood, which is around December or even January, you will be able to see everything as it is,” Raphael Njoku told the reporter.

Flooded road leading to Ossamala Forest Reserve
Flooded road leading to Ossamala Forest Reserve

A resident, Stephen Igbokwe, said the campaign for forest landscape restoration in the area may not yield meaningful results except drastic measures are taken by the government.

“It is impossible to stop people from cutting trees except there is no more tree in the forest. In this area, we have no alternative to firewood. If Government does not want us to continue fetching firewood from the reserve and even our community forests, let them provide us with alternative,” he said.

The reporter asked Obinkpu and Njoku about where the timbers and firewoods sighted along the road were sourced from. They both responded that they were mainly from community forests.

“You know we can only control and manage the forest reserve, we don’t have control over what the people do with the forests in their various communities,” Obinkpu said.

Forest reserves are established to serve certain purposes, which are divided into three broad categories, namely: ecological, social and economic.

Ecological reason speaks to helping to keep certain animal species from going into extinction while social purpose addresses using forest reserves for religious gatherings among other purposes. They also serve as revenue earners with the proper harnessing of their tourism potentials. Besides, about 25 per cent of active ingredients used by pharmaceutical companies are said to have come from forests.

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Nigeria was once blessed with abundant forest resources. But, this situation is changing.  According to the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA 2020), the forests are presently contributing about 2.5 per cent to the Gross Domestic Products. These forest resources provide employment for over 5 million people through the supply of timber and non-timber products (flora and fauna), while over 800,000 people are working in the log processing industries, especially in the southern forest zones of the country.

Fixer, Mr Njoku showing ICIR part of the reserve without mature trees
Fixer, Mr Njoku showing ICIR part of the reserve without mature trees

According to the report, forests, as of today, occupy less than 8per cent of the total land area of 923,763 km2, made up of close to 1000 Gazetted Reserves, 7 National Parks, 32 Game Reserves and 1 Strict Nature Reserve. The forests are distributed over the five main ecological zones of Freshwater/mangrove, the lowland rainforest, the derived savanna, Sudan and Sahel savanna.

However, the forest estates from which wood and other products are obtained have been subjected to over-exploitation leading to forest and land degradation, including de-reservation for agriculture, industrial development, urbanisation etc

This reality  underscores the compelling need to preserve the forests, especially those that have been gazetted by the government at all levels. However, the current state of forest reserves in Anambra State is a reflection of the disregard that people have for forest reserves.

According to a conservation expert and National Vice President,
International Society of Tropical Foresters (ISTF), Nigeria Chapter, Mr John Ogbodo, deforestation is at an alarming rate in Anambra.

“Data based on satellite imagery reveals increasing deforested areas in Anambra State, especially, areas that were naturally covered by forests. There is a continued loss in biodiversity of indigenous forest plants and wildlife found within such forests.”

Despite the benefits of forest resources, studies have shown that they can become diminished and exhausted with their stocks if the rate of exploitation exceeds their regenerative capacity. This is the reality in various forest reserves across the state, where deforestation is worsening the erosion and shrinking the size of land used for various purposes.

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Sir Mike Opia, the Co-ordinator, Earth, Environment and Climate Care Ambassadors, EECCA, a Non-Governmental Organization, committed to reducing the negative impacts of climate on the economy and human community, attributed the above development to certain peculiarities of the state, worsened by governmental failure.

He said: “In Nigeria, Anambra State is the second smallest state in terms of landmass after Lagos and it is densely populated. So, there is tension on the forest. Trees are felled and bushes cleared for development purposes, agriculture, road construction and other reasons.

“However, our greatest concern is that there is no direction, no guideline from the government. Existing laws are not enforced. And that has worsened the ecological challenges confronting the state. You see devastation by gully erosion everywhere”.

Individuals, families, clans and kindred claim ancestral rights to the forests, which emboldens them to go in there and do whatever they like, mindless of the ecological implications of their actions. Such lackadaisical attitudes are not restricted to community forests but also the forest reserves managed by the government.

Searchlight on other Forest Reserves  

Road leading to Akpala Forest Layout
The road leading to Akpala Forest Layout

A tour of Akpaka, Nkissi and Mamu forest reserves and other forests located in different parts of the three senatorial districts of the state, revealed an alarming spate of deforestation and de-reservation.

Driving from Nkelle junction through the popular 3-3 area was hectic as some portions of the road had totally collapsed, resulting in traffic gridlock almost every day.

On arrival at what is formerly known as Akpaka forest, its present state presents an incredible nostalgia of the past. The forest reserve spanning 479.93 hectares, established to serve as a watershed to the River Niger in the Onitsha axis, has changed.

Standing on the reserve is now a fully developed estate with buildings including worship centres, shopping malls. A handful number of milliner trees which were seen scattered all over the place, remind residents and visitors of the lost status of the area, now called Akpaka Forest Layout.

Commercial transactions in full stream along the bank of River Niger
Commercial transactions in a full stream along the bank of River Niger

More disheartening is the disregard for the buffer zone of two hundred metres mapped out by the government from the bank of the river, with a view to serving as a watershed for the River Niger.

As at the time of visit, commercial activities were in full swing at the bank of River Niger. Yams were being brought from neighbouring communities were being offloaded. The deforestation, as argued by one of the residents, who pleaded to hide his identity, has worsened the vulnerability of the area, to flooding.

As you see active commercial transactions here now, it is just because the flood has not come. Any time there is flooding, nobody stays around here and every commercial transaction stops abruptly as people count their losses. But, it is impossible to ask people to evacuate this area. I agree people are not supposed to build houses close to the river bank. But, you blame the government that has failed to enforce relevant laws. You can’t imagine that this whole area was a forest many decades ago”.

Same fate has befallen the Nkissi forest reserve also located within Onitsha. The forest has disappeared and replaced with blocks of flats, a condition that has made the area prone to erosion.

Despite the situation around Akpaka and Nkissi forest reserves, they still exist on the list of forest reserves in Nigeria and experts say that will not change until the laws that established them are repealed and the areas officially declared de-reserved.

Apart from Akpaka and Nkissi forests which had been fully but illegally de-reserved, other reserves across the state face the same fate unless something is done urgently, to address the challenges.

The ICIR could not ascertain the current condition of the 14,571.27 hectare Anambra Forest reserve covering Anambra East and West Local Government Areas due to flooding, but Mamu Forest Reserve hosted by Ozzu and Ubani villages of Ndiukwuenu and Okpeze, both in Orumba North Local Government Area, spanning 4636 hectares, now presents the next erosion challenge unless the activities of developers, as witnessed during the visit to the place, are checked.

Evidence of deforestation along Atani-Ogwuikpele road
Evidence of deforestation along Atani-Ogwuikpele road

The community, according to a credible source, has been calling for the reversal of what they termed the questionable release of 1,500 hectares by the Governor Willie Obiano-led administration to an indigene, Henry Onwurah. In March 2019, hundreds of men, women and youths from Ozzu village stormed the Government House in Awka to protest the ceding which was done without their consent.

As at that time, the forest reserve was in dispute between Anambra and Enugu States. The boundary dispute was later decided by the National Boundary Commission, NBC, in favour of Anambra State, a development the President General of Ndiukwuenu, Mr Ezechukwu Okoli, believed has emboldened the beneficiaries of the re-reserved part, against the generality of the people.

You see, that Mamu Forest is Government property. But, when our community was donating the land to the government, there was an agreement that says that if you want to do anything else apart from that forestry, you must consult the donor community. But, somebody from the community convinced or confused the government and one thousand, five hundred hectares of the land was released to him. He tried at first under Peter Obi’s administration, he did not succeed. He then again tried during the present administration and it was given to him without the consent of the community,” Mr Okoli regretted.

When the ICIR visited the forest reserve on September 29, 2021, vehicles could move around the ceded portion, because developers had already created link roads in various parts of it. However, that development left many farmers with tales of woes as they lost their farmlands. One of the victims who is the Chairman of the community, Mr Sunday Onwu, recounted his experience. “Part of our agreement with the government then is that the villagers will be permitted to farm within the reserve. You have gone round and you saw how our farms were bulldozed by those people. My farm was also affected. They uprooted crops – yams, cassava and others, both matured and pre-matured ones. We are in loss now”.

Erosion eating up part of the forest reserve alerady bulldozed by developers
Erosion eating up part of the forest reserve already bulldozed by developers

The reporter also observed a borehole also being drilled, apparently to aid development efforts. But, the host village is not happy with the development due to what its Chairman Mr Onwu, termed “violation of agreement”.

“Government disregarded our agreement with them on this forest reserve. They did not seek our consent before giving our land to an individual. Even if they claim to have any approval to de-reserve, it is fake because the community is not involved and the ministry in charge was not aware of such approval.

Apart from the breached agreement, PG Okoli argued that the development has put them at the risk of erosion. “We don’t want that area de-reserved because in the letter the administration of Peter wrote back to them which the community got a copy of it, the government said that they cannot grant the request because the place is erosion-prone. If granted, our community will be at risk of erosion. And even now that they have not fully started whatever they want to do there, there is an element of erosion coming in”.

“Government is not doing anything about it and that is the most unfortunate thing. That is why we have gone to court. It was the former Commissioner for Lands, Mr Nnamdi Onukwuba that gave out this land in dispute now. So, if we will be able to preserve or conserve the forests, campaigners have to talk to the politicians because they are our problem,” Mr Okoli submitted.

Chairman, Ozzu Village, Ndiukwuenu, Mr Sunday Onwu, describing the situation at the Reserve
Chairman, Ozzu Village, Ndiukwuenu, Mr Sunday Onwu, describing the situation at the Reserve

The ICIR gathered that the ceding of 1500 hectares of Mamu Forest did not follow due process as there was no approval to that effect from the Commissioner for Environment, Mr Obi Nwankwo, as dictated by extant laws. Section 26 of chapter 51 of the revised forest law of 1988 explicitly resides the power to de-reserve a forest solely with the Commissioner, stating that: “The Commissioner may by notice in the Anambra State gazette, direct that from a date named therein, any lands or any part thereof, constituted a forest reserve under section 17, shall cease to be a forest reserve or part of that reserve and thereupon from that date such lands shall cease to be a forest reserve or part of such reserve”.

Beyond the claim by the aggrieved people of Ndiukwuenu, evidence of erosion were seen in various parts of the forest where developers had carried out some activities.  The investigation further revealed that since the community resisted the ceding of the land, it has seen an unprecedented spate of insecurity, with accusing fingers being pointed to the beneficiary of the ceded portion, Mr Onwurah.

A fully loaded truck carrying timbers from Achalla Forest Reserve
A fully loaded truck carrying timbers from Achalla Forest Reserve

As at the time of visiting the Achalla Forest Reserve (276.09 hectares), in Awka North Local Government Area, massive logging was going on in different directions, with at least three chainsaws sighted and more than ten persons working for different contractors. There were signs to establish the fact that massive logging is not new to the forest as some parts of it are now being cultivated.

One of the workers, who would not give his name because he has no authority to speak, about the activities inside the forest said: “The shadow in this place will not allow us to start something here. So, we have to cut down some trees. You see this one now, they cut it by seven, this one eleven, different sizes. This one you see here is condemned because it is not straight. As they cut their own and go away, we come here and arrange the leftovers.

Although the man claimed that the logging was approved by the government, investigations from the Ministry of Environment revealed that there was no such approval. However, ministry sources smelled connivance between traders and some government officials.

Teak trees, according to foresters, need up to ten years to mature, but the ones being cut down in Achalla Forest Reserve are not more than five years. They decried the economic loss the government has incurred due to illegal logging. “It is a huge economic loss to the government since it was not approved by appropriate organs of government,” one of the experts regretted.

Fire woods cut from Achalla Forest Reserve
Fire woods cut from Achalla Forest Reserve

One man’s gain is another man’s loss. While the government counts the loss of millions of naira in revenue, individuals involved in the business have been smiling to the bank for the past one month or thereabouts as revealed by another worker, who hails from the Northern part of the country.“We came here one week ago. But, work don dey go before we came. I fit don reach up to three or four weeks them start work for here. Our oga no dey around, na him go fit answer your questions”.

Nkachu-Ituku Forest Reserve is located at Umuoye village, Ebenebe, Awka North Local Government Area. The 109.67-hectare reserve is officially said to be protected. This might have informed the establishment, of the National Green Bond Afforestation by the Federal Government, three years ago. The ICIR gathered that the current status of the reserve is threatened occasionally by developers and youths from the donor village. But, one of the elders of the village, Chief Felix Ndubude, said his intervention has always been helpful in this regard. “My family, Nwigbo family, donated the land for the forest reserve. They no dey make trouble. We are in control. But, he get some people who go there to buy land. I push them back. Nobody they give a problem for that place”

Logging of trees without official permission contravenes section 21 sub-section 1 of the State Revised Forest Law of 1988 which says – without the consent of the Commissioner first obtained, it shall be unlawful for any person or community to alienate, by sale, mortgage or transfer, any right admitted in an order made under section 17 while sub-section 2 adds that any sale, mortgage or transfer effected without consent shall be null and void.

Also, section 9 of the law sees all who are involved in the illegal trade in various forest reserves across the state as guilty of an offence. The section states that “any person who is in possession of or who sells purchases or exports any timber or minor forest produce which has been taken in contravention of any provision of the law shall be guilty of an offence”.

The workers engaged to log the timbers and cut them into pieces even for firewood are equally not free as Part 8 of the law, (sections for regulations), states among other things that “anyone who takes any timber or protected tree or any protected minor forest produce or uproots, destroys or injures any protected tree or protected minor forest produce or any tree or plant from which any protected minor forest produce is obtained, is viewed as guilty of an offence”.

The Achalla Forest Reserve had witnessed fire outbreaks on two occasions in recent years due to the unwholesome activities of some villagers. It was gathered that each of the fire incidents threatened the lives and property of those residents nearby. However, of greatest concern to those, who appreciate the essence of forests, is the plan by the community to relocate the entire forest reserve to virgin land. Mr Peter Nwadinigwe, who represented the traditional ruler of the community at a forum in Awka, explained that the relocation will among other things pave way for development and help to prevent the risk to the lives of those residents around the reserve.

Although the traditional ruler, Igwe Ositadimma Sunny Nwokedi, later reaffirmed the planned relocation, it was however learnt that such request may take some time to be granted or may not be granted at all, considering the procedures for de-reserving a forest reserve or a part of it, chief among which is the approval of the Commissioner for Environment and the repeal or amendment of the law, which established the reserve. However, sources from the ministry of environment submitted that it is more likely to address all issues of safety of lives and property raised by the community, than relocating the reserve.

Although the over 222-hectare Aguaba Forest Reserve in Awka is said to be protected, it was gathered that there are threats emanating from unwholesome human activities around the area. In fact, these activities are said to be beyond the current manpower and logistic capacity of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife. Such challenges include trespass by developers and ownership tussle with community people.

Why forest reserves are in pitiable conditions

Experts have argued that the problem confronting the forestry and wildlife sector of the state is a pointer to the level of neglect of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife in the Ministry of Environment, saddled with the responsibility of managing the forest reserves. The department is currently bedevilled by acute manpower shortage, which has made enforcement of relevant laws very weak with only five forest guards in the whole state some of whom are either weak, sick and close to retirement. This has undermined the potential of the forest reserves as revenue spinners as well as its ability to mitigate destructive impacts of climate change on the area.

The Head of Department of Forestry and Wildlife in the Ministry of Environment, Mrs Onyinye Achugamonye, acknowledged the shortage of personnel when our reporter spoke to her “The number of forest guards we have now is a far cry from what is needed. We need up to one hundred forest guards to effectively police the forest reserves and also generate income for the government,” she stated.

She said poor management was mainly a result of manpower shortage and logistic inhibitions, which undermine the ability of the staff to stand up to very mobile individuals involved in various crimes around the forest reserves.

Commentators have also blamed the failure of the statutory organ to discharge its obligations as dictated by-laws, on lack of political will by successive administrations, which have failed to recruit forest guards, provide necessary logistics and strengthen the department in every necessary way in order to maximize the revenue-generating potential of the forest reserve among other benefits.

“There is no will from the government to stop deforestation because sometimes the government uses some of these places as political favours to their political jobbers. But, at the end, the revenue generated from losing the forests would not be able to pay back for the disaster that will follow. As a state being ravaged by gully erosion, the forests should serve as the place of safety for the environment,” a Conservation Biologist, Dr Daniel Onoja said.

Close to political will is connivance between traders and some government officials, as alleged by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Dr Emmanuel Okafor. He said: “some unscrupulous government officials are doing what they are not sent to do. They go and connive with some traders and maybe for a fee, they will now allocate some parts of the forest reserves to them and they will start cutting the trees down. But, officially, for you to de-reserve a forest reserve, you have to go through the Commissioner for Environment”.

Dr Okafor’s position was corroborated by some experts, who traced such connivance to weak laws and poor management, caused primarily by inadequate and untimely funding as well as boundary disputes.

Deforestation and Climate Change

According to the United Nations, Food and Agricultural Organization in its Global Forest Resources Assessment report (FRA 2020), 178 million hectares of forest has been lost worldwide over the past three decades. The FRA report was designed to turn the tide on deforestation or conversion of forest to other uses such as agriculture.

In that report, FAO Deputy Director-General, Maria Helena Semedo remarked: “The wealth of information on the world’s forests is a valuable public good for the global community to help facilitate evidence-based policy formulation, decision-making and sound investments in the forest sector,”.

Deforestation, FAO further stated, has robbed the world of roughly 420 million hectares since 1990, mainly in Africa and South America. Countries like Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Angola, Tanzania, Paraguay, Myanmar, Cambodia, Bolivia and Mozambique have recorded average annual net losses of forest area over the last 10 years.

In the same vein, the estimated annual rate of deforestation at 10 million hectares between 2015-2020, compared with 12 million during 2010-2015, while the area of forest under protection has also reached roughly 726 million hectares: nearly 200 million more than the figure in 1990. This, FAO remarked, is yet a cause for worry.

However, the report also revealed that the global total forest area, which stood at some 4.06 billion hectares, has continued to decrease substantially over the past three decades. Apart from the annual rate of deforestation which has reduced from 10 million hectares between 2015-2020 to 12 million during 2010-2015, the area of forest under protection has also reached roughly 726 million hectares: nearly 200 million more than in 1990.

Be that as it may, the Senior Forestry Officer Anssi Pekkarinen, the report’s Coordinator, warned that global targets related to sustainable forest management are still at risk. According to him, “We need to step up efforts to halt deforestation in order to unlock the full potential of forests in contributing to sustainable food production, poverty alleviation, food security, biodiversity conservation and climate change while sustaining the production of all the other goods and services they provide”.

The FRA report has been published every five years since 1990 to demonstrate the premium the UN agency places on forests, which it believes are at the heart of global efforts towards achieving sustainable development that benefits both people and the planet. Protecting forests is critical in that apart from providing livelihood and food for millions worldwide, they also contain thousands of different tree, mammal and bird species, among other life forms, and they help mitigate the impacts of climate change.

As the campaign against deforestation receives a boost, respondents submitted it will amount to zero sum effort without encouraging tree planting in all the nooks and crannies of the state. This is because afforestation helps to maintain biodiversity, adapt to changing environmental conditions as well as purify the surrounding air. It also assists in controlling erosion by helping to keep the soil intact and serving as a buffer for flooding. This is why afforestation is highly recommended for a state as vulnerable as Anambra.

The Director, Technical, Nigerian Conservation Foundation, Dr Daniel Onoja described the benefit of having forests across the state as long-ranging. “There is also the benefit of providing for the local people around because when you have the forests, you have the resources that they can pull from there both in terms of medicine, herbs, even animals that they will sustainably hunt. In terms of the woods they can extract sustainably. It has been shown that the forest is one of the major panaceas for the climate change ravaging the world”.

Deforestation is a huge threat to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals as it has direct or indirect link to goals 11, 12, 13 and 15. Goal 15 which focuses on life on land, views nature as critical to survival as it provides humans with oxygen, regulates the weather patterns, pollinates the crops, as well as produces food, feed and fibre. However, the land is under increasing stress as human activity has altered almost 75 per cent of the earth’s surface, squeezing wildlife and nature into an ever-smaller corner of the planet. The 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service indicated that around 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction within decades. The report found that the health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever, affecting the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide. No wonder it called for transformative changes to restore and protect nature.

Deforestation and desertification – caused by human activities and climate change pose major challenges to sustainable development and have affected the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Forests are vitally important for sustaining life on Earth, and play a major role in the fight against climate change. And investing in land restoration is critical for improving livelihoods, reducing vulnerabilities, and reducing risks for the economy.

The report also established a link between the health of the planet and the emergence of zoonotic diseases, which are transmissible between animals and humans. “This is because As we continue to encroach on fragile ecosystems, we bring humans into ever-greater contact with wildlife, enabling pathogens in wildlife to spill over to livestock and humans, increasing the risk of disease emergence and amplification”.

 All hope is not lost

All the persons interviewed, particularly the conservations experts, were of the view that forestry in Anambra State can be restored if the government will initiate necessary restoration measures and rally non-state actors to intervene. For the National Vice President,
International Society of Tropical Foresters (ISTF), Nigeria Chapter, Mr John Ogbodo, political will on the part of the government, must lead the way.

“We, first of all, demand political will from the Governor that will be elected come November 6, 2021. Secondly, the practice of governance is based on fundamental democratic principles, such as participation, fairness, accountability, legitimacy, transparency, efficiency, equity, and sustainability. So, MDAs in the state should work together in synergies. Besides, the State government should work with NESREA in actualizing effective forest protection in the state”.

One of the Non-Governmental Organizations leading the campaign for the restoration of forest landscape in Nigeria and in Anambra State is the Nigeria Conservation Foundation. Its Director (Technical), Dr Daniel Onoja, explained that the Green Recovery Nigeria, GRN initiative is aimed at establishing a reforestation scheme in 25% (230,942 sq. km) of Nigeria’s total landmass (923,768 sq. km) from 2017 to 2047.

According to him, “the goal will be achieved through 75% natural regeneration (173,206.30 sq. Km) and 25% afforestation (57,735.50 sq. Km). He explained: “The objectives of the Green Recovery Nigeria include: validation of the current status of existing 1000 forest estates in Nigeria, engaging stakeholders, and encouraging private and community participation in plantations and forest development, afforestation projects across the country, protection of forest reserves”.

Respondents also opined that stopping the ugly trend (de-reservation of forest reserves and deforestation) in Anambra State also calls for massive, state-wide sensitization and awareness creation on natural resource management as well as influencing policy direction on forest management. The state government is equally advised to promote self- forest governance practices, which will encourage private-sector bodies, civil society groups and other stakeholders, including local organizations, traditional rulers, religious leaders to establish and nurture community forests, parks and gardens.

With the unanimous belief that the de-reservation of Akpaka, Nkissi and Mamu did not follow due process, experts argued that it could be reversed given the fact that the laws, which established the reserves, had not been repealed. This is in line with section 26 of the revised forest law of 1988, which gives only the Commissioner for Environment the authority to de-reserve a forest reserve, a provision, which was not complied with in the de-reservation processes going on across the state.

Deplorable road leading to Akpaka Forest Layout
Deplorable road leading to Akpaka Forest Layout

While the argument about reclaiming the illegally de-reserved forests, sounds achievable for Mamu forest, part of which is being de-reserved, one wonders what else can be done to reclaim the already built up Akpaka and Nkissi forest reserves and restore them to their original state. This certainly is one of the sad realities the state will live with for years to come.

Achugamonye said, resolving the conservation problems confronting the state means that “the government should support the establishment of forest plantations and its protection through timely and adequate funding and employment of uniformed field staff, whose basic duty is to protect the forests and also encourage individuals and private organisation to invest in forestry”.

She also recommended the formulation of appropriate forestry policies to encourage conservation of forest resources, tree planting and massive afforestation programmes, which according to her, would help in achieving sustainable forest management.

The NGO, Earth, Environment and Climate Care Ambassadors, through its Co-ordinator, Sir Mike Opia, equally committed itself towards assisting in reversing the ugly trend, but appealed to the government to play its leadership role in discouraging the people, especially rural dwellers from tree felling, for cooking purpose. “We will take advocacy efforts to the government to live up to expectations and sensitize the communities on the effects of what they are doing on them and the future of their children”.

Tree felling because of the high cost of kerosene and gas should be addressed by the government. If not, people will have no alternative other than to continue fetching firewood. One or two years ago, the government started the implementation of the use of Environfit stoves. Government should revisit that initiative and popularize among the citizens especially rural dwellers”, Sir Opia suggested.

Government is equally concerned – Perm Sec

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Dr Emmanuel Okafor, told the ICIR that the state government is concerned about the present condition of forest reserves and general deforestation being witnessed in the area.

I have even written to the Ministry of Lands to convene a meeting between the key ministries that are managing these forests – agriculture, environment, lands and boundary commission so we can take a look at what is going on and see how we can control it. When this committee meets, members will be in a position to advise the government on what should be done to stop the deforestation that is going on and how to punish those who are guilty of one offence or the other”.

On shortage of manpower to effectively guard the forests, Dr Okafor was optimistic that this would soon become history. According to him, forest guards would soon be recruited for the newly created Clear Drainage and Forest Preservation Agency.

The creation of that agency is proof of government commitment to revive the forests. One of its tasks is to ensure that forest reserves in the state are being managed properly. The agency has applied to the house of assembly to be permitted to recruit some forests guards for those forests and it has been approved. I think what is holding them now is the release of funds and the civil service processes.

 

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