By Maurice Essien, Calabar
Recently, the wife of the Governor of Cross River State, while flagging off a tree-planting campaign at an event organized by the Anti-Deforestation Taskforce in the state, offered a reward of N500,000.00 to anyone who provides information that leads to the successful arrest and prosecution of any vehicle conveying woods stolen from our forests. The incentive of a cash gift for those who report stolen wood which can be seen as largesse, on one hand, must also be viewed as a step that is only necessitated by Government’s intense desire to accentuate her resolve in tackling the problem of illegal logging by all means.
To the ordinary person, it is perplexing to think that ‘a few trees’ felled in Akamkpa or Boki have the capacity of causing a change in atmospheric conditions within our environment and in other parts of the world, but that is the reality that stares our world in the face. Those that have lived 40 years on God’s earth will testify to the metamorphosis our environment has experienced. Some of the rivers and streams that we knew while growing up have shrunk to mere trickles that run in the rainy season and dry up as soon as the rains stop.
The preservation of our forest is not only a concern of the government of Cross River State but something that the entire world is interested in. Since 2010, the UN-REDD Programme has provided support for Nigeria’s ambitious efforts at forest conservation, climate change mitigation and community development. The country records one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, with less than 10 percent of its land mass forested.
In particular, Cross River State, which has more than 50 percent of Nigeria’s remaining tropical high forests, is host to a Community Based REDD+ Programme (CBR+) that promotes forest management and biodiversity conservation, rural livelihoods improvement with focus on climate smart approaches, capacity building for participation in climate change programmes including REDD+, and sustainable energy alternatives. Hundreds of households across 21 host communities have benefited from the Programme, which targets women, men and youth, empowering them develop management plans and carrying out reforestation, including even non-timber forest products like bush mango and cocoa which can increase household income for the ordinary villager.
Unfortunately, one of the drivers of deforestation, illegal logging, seems to be on the increase as the rate of deforestation in Cross River is now rumoured to be as high as 30%. The illegal loggers either do not know the negative impact of their actions on the society or are too selfish to care and so communities that are dependent on forest products continue to be raped by this reckless depletion of this natural resource.
One of the fallouts of the arrival of UN-REDD+ to Cross River State, was the introduction of a two-year moratorium on forest products. The Anti-Deforestation Taskforce set up by His Excellency, Sen. Prof. Ben Ayade, which is led by Mrs. Florence-Onom Inyang Bassey, has been working day and night to deliver on their mandate of discouraging those whose stock in trade is to steal our wealth. It is interesting to find a woman leading this taskforce as one would ordinarily think that dealing with criminal elements will be a man’s job. Yet she has managed very well as she has held her own, going to the field in person and ensuring that her team stays motivated and alert everyday.
As of today, the taskforce has arrested more than ten trucks carrying wood worth tens of millions of Naira. Yet the truth is that the actual value of the damage done by the activities of these illegal loggers cannot be quantified because generations yet unborn will suffer the consequences of our depleting forests and the absence of replacement trees.
A record ten trucks in a couple of weeks! As with every job, there are even more hazards in working with a taskforce that threatens to tamper with people’s source of easy mega cash. As a result, members of the taskforce are being harassed daily by influential people and those who claim to be close to power in the state and pressurized to negotiate with timber dealers. The taskforce has been asked to compromise their mandate or stand the risk of being excluded from appointments.
The Government of Cross River State on her part has vowed to provide five times any number of trees that are felled for the purposes of development. As I write, Government is funding the replacement of the 28,000 trees cut down on the path of the proposed 275km super highway with 140,000 trees. This is laudable and another statement in favour of government’s resolve. It is interesting to note that at a time when we still await the appointment of commissioners and other government functionaries in the state, the Governor has set up about seven or eight taskforces to manage key areas and four of them are concerned with environment – Taskforce on Climate Change; Taskforce on Tree-Planting; Taskforce on Environment, Sanitation and Waste Management; and Taskforce on Anti-Deforestation.
Seeing government’s efforts and direction, there is a dire need for Cross Riverians to show more patriotism, particularly those who are privileged to serve in high office. Unfortunately, some who have distinguished themselves and have been recognized by their people as political leaders are not acting as leaders but have become opportunists using their influence to perpetuate crime. They get all they can for the safety of their own families alone, never minding how the rest of society is affected by their greed.
Cross Riverians must realize that it goes beyond criticizing those in power; each person can cause a positive change in the society within his own sphere of influence. Each person must stand against those destroying our forests and ensure that our collective wealth is enjoyed by all, not just a few. In this case, merely providing any information that could help the Anti-Deforestation Taskforce to arrest any vehicle carrying our stolen wood will diminish the allure of illegal logging.
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