Of deforestation and climate change in Nigeria

A day after Eid el-Fitr three years ago, residents of Bauchi and environs experienced a terrible sandstorm for the first time. It was disastrous. It rendered many homeless as their buildings and rooftops were destroyed by the heavy winds that accompanied the heavy downpour.

Then it happened again the following year and the next, and 2021 is the fourth year the residents are experiencing this debilitating phenomenon. It all makes the people to start asking about the cause. Could this be the result of the excessive deforestation happening in the area?

Whenever I travel to Azare from Bauchi, I see many pickup trucks heading towards the state capital laden with logs of wood. Sometimes one sees them parked by the roadside, overloaded with their illegal wares, apparently waiting for the forest guards and inspectors to close from work before they head towards the town. Sometimes they follow offbeat rough tracks in order to circumvent them.

The first time I noticed this I was so curious that I decided to count them. I realised that more than 20 trucks had passed through, all carrying huge loads of firewood.

In my hometown, Bagel, there was a little forest just after the long bridge that had not been tampered with for more than a century because it was the first place the people settled. The late Emir of Dass, Dr. Alhaji Bilyaminu Othman, mentioned in his book titled, ‘Dass: Land of Unity in Diversity’, that according to the settlers, they first met the founder of Bauchi, Yakubun Bauchi, on their migration route and he assured them of their safety and instructed them to head to that location since it was part of his conquered territory. Hence the reason for their reverently regarding the place as very sacred.

Tribal rituals such as youth circumcision and initiation used to take place at Kun-Git, even after the people moved to their present location. The ruins of the first mosque built for Yakubun Bauchi by the people was still visible. Unfortunately, the last time I visited home I almost wept because I could only count just a few trees at Kun-Git due to the activities of the charcoal makers.

Charcoal-making is a huge industry in the villages in the area. Many youths spend days in the forests or mountaintops, cutting down trees and preparing them for burning and coal production. They sell a bag of charcoal between N1,500 and N2, 500. To some of them, that is the only way of eking a living and saving their families from hunger and want. Unfortunately, they are ignorant about the effects of their activities on the environment.

The local population’s indifference to the continued campaigns about climate change and lack of proper education and enlightenment about environmental hazards like desertification are responsible for their poor attitude towards conservation.
This attitude has in turn led to harmful activities like illegal logging and overgrazing, as well as artisanal mining, all of which have contributed to those degradations. Unemployment is also one of the reasons the hazardous profession thrives.

In my view, the biggest reason is the dire need for cooking fuel by an increasingly unplanned population depending on unsustainable means of addressing one of man’s most fundamental needs, which is food. Sometimes people have to wait for a day or two after booking for a bag of coal due to high demand.

There is an urgent need for a solution, otherwise desert encroachment that threatens the whole northern borders of Nigeria and inches gradually every year will continue to take over arable land and destroy it.

There is need for finding alternative energy sources for cooking. The Brazilian option of converting biowaste and crop residues into energy sources can be explored by our government. North-central Nigeria is the natural geographic belt known as the Sahel Savannah, where cattle populations are abundant in large numbers. As such, it would be wise to invest in the design, production and training of rural communities in biogas production from cow dung and other biodegradable food wastes as is obtainable in India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and China. A good template is the Indian cow-dung industry which helped create about 10 million jobs in that country.

Several international development researches have established a need to finding alternative energy sources for household chores like cooking and heating. The current over-reliance on firewood and its by-products like charcoal, coupled with rising cost of fossil fuels, has increased the adverse impact of using such sources on the health of women who are often exposed to noxious and cancerous substances like plastic and polythene, which find their way into the kitchen, most especially in wet weather.

A good strategy any government in Nigeria concerned with the current energy crisis and deficit should be to make concerted efforts in improving access to LPG cylinders at subsidised rates in order to encourage adoption. As more licenses are granted to marketers for gas, proper monitoring and interventions are needed to ensure the target population trapped in the poverty/poor access to energy nexus, most of whom are the womenfolk who bear the burden of sourcing domestic fuel for cooking, are reached.

It is embarrassing that, Nigeria being a gas-producing nation, gas is still considered a status symbol which only the rich can afford. In many other countries like Sudan and Ethiopia, even tea and coffee sellers use small 3kg LPG to cook their food and beverages for customers. Even the man who fries ta’amiya (akara) by the roadside uses cooking gas.

The government should also consider private-public partnerships in the design and mass production of improved cookstoves that use briquettes, coal or even sawdust and mobilise rural communities to adopt them. Subsidising kerosene further in the interest of saving our environment may be only a short term solution, considering the condition of our refineries and the supply deficit suffered each year. When the people have other options, the government can prosecute anyone caught cutting down trees for fuel and impose heavy penalties.

Tree-planting campaigns as was done in the past should be reintroduced and encouraged by the ministry of environment. Th government should also endeavour to sponsor sensitisation and enlightenment programmes on the effect of deforestation on the environment and the importance of tree-planting.

This is the right time to stand up and fight deforestation by proffering solutions and following that up with actions instead of mere lamentation or teeth-gritting. If not, we will surely live to regret our collective inaction.