By Haruna Mohammed SALISU
IN Ningi Bauchi State, local politicians are enabling massive felling of trees in forest reserves despite Nigeria’s pledge to protect its forests and stop deforestation as part of the measures to combat climate change.
WikkiTimes, partner of the ICIR, has learned that the chairman of the Ningi local government area, Mamuda Hassan Tabla is aiding and abetting loggers who engage in deforestation.
The chairman told WikkiTimes that the state governor approved the destruction of Lame Burra Game Reserve by allocating hectares of land in the reserve to his allies for profit.
But Jibrin Ahmed Limi, a councillor representing Burra Ward at the LGA told WikkiTimes that the chairman has been destroying Lame Burra Game Reserve for personal gains.
“The major source of looting for our LG Chairman at the moment is the massive tree felling taking place in Lame Burra Game Reserve,” Limi said.
“The chairman has destroyed the forest. I can tell you authoritatively that the chairman has a surrogate association acting on his instructions who are in charge of the massive tree felling.
“Let me tell you, an association was purposely formed to champion tree felling in Ningi.”
That association, according to Limi, is the Coalition of Burra Herders/Farmers Forum.
“What is even more painful is that the chairman is not only involved in tree felling, but he is dubiously championing illegal sell and allocation of land in Burra and unfortunately, he is selling the land to strangers from Katsina, Kaduna and other northwestern states and denying the original owners of the land to even purchase their land back,” Limi said.
“Look, I’m the councillor representing Burra ward, therefore I’m an authority who is making these submissions, and I don’t mind sacrificing my seat as councillor for the truth to prevail.”
When our reporter informed Limi that the chairman had denied involvement in the illegal felling of trees during a recent media briefing, the councillor countered by saying: “He is a complete liar; everyone in Ningi LGA knows that he is involved in this dastardly act. I know it, and I have seen it with my naked eyes and I challenge anyone who is denying this to come out with a superior argument and proof.”
Abdul Ahmad Burra, an environmental activist from Burra did not mince words in describing the ugly trend.
He said: “The scandalous sale and allocation of the historic Lame-Burra Game Reserve and Burra-Tamba Grazing Reserve by a group secretly formed by local government officials and local politicians is the heaviest blow we have ever suffered as a community and environmental activists.
“About two decades ago when we started our activism to protect our forests and reserves against deforestation and other harmful activities so as to avoid environmental disasters and other negative effects, we thought by now, the problem of deforestation in our area would have been reduced or eliminated completely.”
Abdul regretted that despite these efforts put in place by decades of activism, “the menace would not only grow beyond our capacity but would reach the level that even the forests and their components would be put to sale by people who have the mandate of protecting them.”
Burra’s major concern was how the state government looked away and allowed local government officials and their cronies to continue to destroy the Lame Burra Game Reserve despite repeated calls from residents on the need to take urgent action.
“One will never expect that this Game Reserve, one of the greatest treasures and tourist attraction sites of the state will be carelessly managed and left to the hands of local politicians who subsequently decided to sell it to the highest bidders.
“The intensive atrocity against our environment started after the local government election last year. The new local government officials and some local politicians set up the so-called anti-deforestation committees that masqueraded as tax collection outfits to collect monies from loggers,” he added.
How the deforestation is being carried out
Coalition of Burra Herders/Farmers Forum led by Uba Ahmad, an Imam of JIBWIS Mosque in Burra was initially formed to help farmers get more land allocation from the LGA for farming purposes.
Then the association allegedly metamorphosed into a surrogate body acting on behalf of the local government chairman for massive tree felling.
The Iman himself conceded that the illegal tree felling in Lame Burra Game Reserve is taking place, but denied that they were collecting money on behalf of the chairman.
“We don’t collect money from loggers,” he said.
“We only collect between N10,000 and N20,000 that we used to prepare and submit security reports at the LGA on issues relating to the breakdown of law and order.”
But WikkiTimes finding reveals that the Iman is neither a member of the vigilante nor involved in any security-related issues at Burra ward.
The Chairman of the vigilante in Burra ward, Mallam Ubale Sule told WikkiTimes that the Chief Imam has never been involved in any security-related issues, adding that his claim that he was collecting money from loggers for security-related affairs was untrue.
Findings by WikkiTimes revealed that Burra ward has a divisional police station, an army base and a joint task force unit.
Our investigation has also uncovered how the Imam collected millions on behalf of the chairman.
WikkiTimes is in possession of reliable documents, one of which is a list of people who paid hundreds of thousands of naira in cash and via bank transfers to the representative of the LG chairman.
Aside from using a surrogate association, WikkiTimes is also in possession of certificates of occupancy signed by the LG chairman where he issued hundreds of hectares of land to his political friends, including Governor Bala’s associate Idris Shuabu Burra.
Idris was allocated 212.2 hectares of land at Dajin Tamba Game Reserve designated for grazing and preservation of natural habitat. This medium also learned that the chairman has allocated hundreds of hectares of land in the reserve to his allies.
LG Chairman says state governor approved his action
Mamuda Hassan Tabla, Ningi LG chairman in an interview with WikkiTimes, admitted to have allocated the hectares of land to Mr Idris when our reporter told him he was in possession of a certificate of occupancy signed by him.
But in an earlier interview with reporters on the matter, he denied issuing any certificate of occupancy to any individual.
Instead, he told WikkiTimes, that the recent allocation of land designated at the game reserves was approved by Bala Mohammed, the governor of Bauchi State.
“Since I became chairman, I have signed three certificates of occupancy including that of Idris that you made reference to.
“His request got to me through the Bauchi Assembly Speaker and I was told that it was the governor himself that gave him the land. I don’t even know how many hectares of land he was given. I just signed the certificate,” Tabla said.
Idris, in a telephone conversation with WikkiTimes also confirmed that the reserved land was allocated to him with the governor’s consent.
How residents were duped
WikkiTimes has tracked and interviewed several people who have handed over thousands of naira to the Chief Imam of JIBWIS and his friend who is known as Mallam Udubu in Burra.
The duos are allegedly fronting for the LG Chairman in the illegal tree felling and land allocation. The residents told this medium that at some point, they decided to contribute money to buy some portions of the land in order to increase their farmlands and save the forest from illegal loggers.
Mohammed Bello Maccu, a resident of Burra said “It’s unfortunate that we are witnessing the massive tree felling of a forest we all cherished, this is a big threat to nature and to our animals.
“Myself and my younger brothers contributed and gave a whopping N1,300,000 to Mallam Udubu on behalf of Chief Imam JIBWIS for onward transmission to the association responsible for land allocation.
“They are massively destroying the forest. We gave the money in order to increase our allocation and save the forest from the loggers, but unfortunately, that did not save the forest. We are even risked losing our money and the land at the same time,” he said.
Yakubu Sani Duburi, another resident of Burra, narrated how he was outrightly denied a portion of land “just because I was unable to mobilise and deposit N150,000 pending when I will complete the remaining money to get a portion.”
WikkiTimes is in possession of bank transfer details where Uba Ahmad received hundreds of thousands from residents and other buyers of land and illegal tree fellers.
For Instance, in August 2021, a sum of N150,000 was paid to Uba Ahmad through his UBA bank account from a customer who requested anonymity.
WikkiTimes had equally obtained a list of buyers numbering 83 who paid various amounts of money in cash and through bank transfers worth N19,700,000 to Mr Uba, the Chief Imam of JIBWIS.
The Imam in an interview denied that he was acting for the LG chairman. But findings show that he was not telling the truth.
For instance, his claim that he was collecting money to send security reports was not true, just as his claim that the amount he collected ranged from N10,000 to N20,000 was equally false.
For standing against deforestation, district head suspended indefinitely
WikkiTimes had earlier reported how the district head of Burra, Alhaji Ya’u Shehu Abubakar was suspended for standing against the illegal deforestation and unlawful allocation of land by the LG chairman. This medium later unearthed how the chairman, Ningi Emirate Council and Ministry for Local Government Affairs issued contradictory public pronouncements in their desperate attempt to justify Shehu’s suspension as the district head.
In a letter issued by the LG chairman against the district head, his suspension was attributed to “disobedience and disrespect to your immediate answerable officers.”
The Ministry for Local Government Affairs through its commissioner, Abdulrazak Nuhu Zaki said the reason for the suspension of the district head was because he often travelled outside his jurisdiction without permission from the emirate council.
For the emirate council, its suspension letter did not specifically justify why the district head was suspended. Instead, it offers the district head the chance to appoint an interim representative who will be acting on his behalf while his suspension lingers.
All these three contradictory positions as WikkiTimes would later learn were not the actual reasons for the suspension of the district head of Burra. He was suspended for opposing the consistent felling of trees and the illegal land allocation perpetrated by authorities at the LGA.
In his response to a query issued to him by the LG Chairman, Ya’u Shehu Abubakar, the district head of Burra described the query as unfounded, adding it was issued to him for speaking truth to power.
He said the situation at hand in his domain is exigent which requires the application of a flexible approach to be addressed because deforestation posed danger to the safety of the people.
“The wanton destruction of our forest resources and settlements of nomads inside Lame/Burra had been going on for about 10 years. We have various reports that the Lame portion had largely been consumed, hence their desperation to settle the nomads mostly coming from areas prone to banditry, Zamfara and Katsina States.
“Nothing has been done to evacuate them by the various governments. The settlements kept on increasing with people like Musan Gero and Yusuf Maikarfi and a host of others also moving into the area,” he said.
The district head said that the local authorities in the local government are fully aware of how one Abdulmumini Kyata along with local accomplices are consolidating efforts to turn a greater part of the Lame-Burra forest into farmlands but did nothing to halt the illegal act.
“Hon. Abdulmumin Liman Kyata together with some indigenes were establishing farmlands in the forest,” said, addressing the chairman. “You eventually called them to your office in Ningi along with Mal. Uba Ahmed and MusanGero. I don’t know what followed. The problem has persisted.”
“Recently, however, there was a strong rumour that the indigenes had also formed themselves into an association hoping to get hectares of farmland carved out for them in the reserve like had been done to their counterparts in Lame portion of the reserve.”
Alhaji Ya’u Shehu Abubakar described the query served on him as “highly unbelievable, absolutely irritating and unrepresentative of my character, nature, temperament and personality.
“To suggest of me being disobedient and disrespectful to my superior officers is uncharitable considering my almost 30 years unblemished and glorious career in both the Bauchi State service and the federal public service.”
Although the Ministry for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Ningi Emirate Council and LG chairman all issued contradictory statements slamming different accusations against the district head of Burra over insubordination, commendation letters obtained by WikkiTimes suggest the opposite.
The district head has received many commendation letters on his positive attitude towards securing the Lame Burra Game Reserve, preservation of peace and maintenance of law and order in his domain as well as other contributions towards the development of his District.
For instance, a letter dated 22nd May 2014, issued by the Bauchi State Ministry of Environment and Forestry commended the district for “conserving the biodiversity particularly on curtailing deforestation for timber and charcoal production in your domain.”
Similarly, the Kano State Police Command in a letter dated March 24th, 2016 acknowledged the efforts of the district head in the methodology deployed to salvage the problem of cattle rustling which led to the arrest of 300 cattle rustlers and recovery of over 700 cattle. The Lame Burra Game Reserve to which the district head presides bothers Kano State.
The letter indicated further that the district head’s contributions not only attracted the attention of the international community but also made 46 cattle rustlers drop arms, abandoning their illegal trade in preference to peace and reintegration into their communities.
Similarly, the Nigeria Ports Authority, Ningi Local Government Council, Bauchi State Judiciary– all wrote letters in February 2019 commending the district head for his contributions in the preservation of the forest, maintenance of law and order and outstanding contributions for the growth and development of his terrain.
State’s environmental agency and House of Assembly promise to take action
The Bauchi State Environmental Protection Agency, BASEPA admitted that one of the major bottlenecks preventing the agency from curbing the menace of deforestation at the Lame Burra Game Reserve is weak policies and institutions.
The director-general of the agency, Dr. Ibrahim Kabir said the inability of other sister agencies who have a stake in the protection and preservation of game reserves to efficiently perform their duties is one of the major blockades in the preservation of gazetted game reserves in the state.
Dr Kabir narrated an instance where the Ministry of Tourism in the State confiscated charcoal and made efforts to auction it which he said was outside its jurisdiction.
He said the agency was at the final stage of investigating the Lame Burra Game imbroglio to enable it properly establish what happened for necessary action.
The director equally conceded that he inherited a weak government agency, but was making efforts to revive it. He said by March 2022, the new laws of the agency will be available, hoping it will help them perform optimally.
Meanwhile, the Speaker of the Bauchi State House of Assembly in an interview with WikkiTimes, said the State House of Assembly was aware of the ongoing massive tree felling in the Lame Burra Game Reserve but, adding that he has constituted a committee to investigate the scandal.
Abubakar Suleiman said that the assembly will spare no one if found wanting.
“When I learned about the encroachment of the game reserve, I reported the issue to the governor, and he requested me to deepen my investigation on the issue. “So we inaugurated two separate committees at the level of the assembly and we are still expecting their reports.”
The speaker expressed his displeasure over the consistent felling of trees and activities of loggers at the game reserves, adding that the assembly will not hesitate to recommend the suspension of the LG chairman if the committees found him culpable.
WikkiTimes’ repeated efforts to reach out to the Bauchi State Commissioner for land and survey, Yakubu Barau Ningi were unsuccessful, as calls and text messages sent to him were ignored.
When the reporter called the media aide to the governor, Muktar Gidado, he redirected the report to the commissioner for land, saying it was within his prerogative to respond. Again, the reporter reach out to the commissioner for comment, but his mobile line was not connecting as of press time.
Additional reporting by Sadam Mato, Ningi.
This report was published with support from Civic Media Lab.