Forests are last line of defense in mitigating climate change, epidemics and curbing the extinction of wildlife. KEHINDE OSASONA, in this piece, looks at the implication of illegal felling of trees and the position of laws.
Traditional agricultural practices, overgrazing, poor land tenure system, wood consumption, logging for export, food crop production, are among the major causes of deforestation in Nigeria, according to experts.
Apart from disrupting the natural balance of ecosystems, deforestation also leads to loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, changes in the local climate and it also affects the local population by reducing access to clean water and increasing the risk of flooding and landslides.
According to the United Nations (UN), Nigeria has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world.
Before the COP 28, environmentalists in the country revealed a pressing concern about Nigeria’s 4 per cent annual forest loss and the urgency to address the estimated daily felling of 1.5 million trees, which has contributed a 3.5 per cent deforestation rate annually.
Statistics by Mongabay revealed that 113,948 hectares of Nigeria’s primary forest were lost to deforestation from 2002 to 2018 while 818,286 hectares of tree cover, planted by people, were destroyed during the same period.
As of 2018, tree covers in the country findings by Blueprint Weekend revealed stood at 10,326,662 hectares, 639,384 hectares short of the 10,966,046 hectares recorded in 2010.
The primary forest as of 2018 was 1,789,176 hectares; 80,004 short of 1,869,180 hectares accounted for in 2010.
Worried by the development, in 2016 the Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jibril, during an International Environmental Roundtable for Africa disclosed that Nigeria loses 1.5 million trees daily due to logging, with a deforestation rate of 3.5 per cent annually considered the highest globally.
In another report, published in 2017 by the Environmental Investigation Agency, it was estimated that over 1.4 million illegal rosewood logs, popularly known as Koso, worth $300 million were exported to China from Nigeria, in connivance with top government officials.
However, despite the alarming trend, many loggers in the country have not only continued to defy every known regulations and law, they have gone ahead to step up the illicit practice to the detriment of the environment and its inhabitants.
Place of law
Any operator without a license is deemed to be carrying out illegal activities and may be arrested and tried in court.
Although the country is still battling on all fronts the menace of illegal logging and timber trafficking by transnational criminal gangs, obsolete and weak laws cum legislation, according to stakeholders, has not helped matters.
To this end, many have argued that existing forestry and wildlife laws in the country needed to be reviewed to meet contemporary demands towards addressing the spate of deforestation and conserve the ecosystem and in essence arrest large scale depletion of forest resources in the country.
In pursuant to Section 20 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the state is empowered to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wildlife of Nigeria.
Demonstrating readiness a few years ago, the Kaduna state government unveiled a new forestry law.
At the unveiling ceremony, the Chairman, Task Force on Forest Protection, Anthony Kachiro, said the new law would replace the old ones that had become obsolete.
Kachiro, who doubles as Director of Forest Resources in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Development in the state, added that the bill, when it became law, would provide a proper legal backing to the state officials in terms of sanctions, fines and prosecution of those encroaching in the state forest reserves.
He assured that the move was in line with the international effort to tackle the effects of global warming and environmental hazard of desertification.
He said: “While the laws were being fine-tuned for proper enforcement, the state government had set up a task force with members drawn from the state timber and firewood dealers associations to tackle illegal felling of trees for local use and for business.
“There will be monitoring of those engaged in illegal felling of trees to make charcoal for business and proper sanctions would equally be applied on them to curtail their activities.
“We are working to ensure that for everyone tree that is cut down, at least three others are planted in the same area by the same person,”
Going forward, environmentalists, environment advocates, activists, and other stakeholders have renewed their calls for a massive tree planting campaign to replace the destroyed ones.
Not only that, they also mooted sensitisation activities to create awareness on the dangers associated with tree felling.
Speaking to Blueprint Weekend, in an exclusive interview, an Agro-Environmentalist, Madam Lizzy Igbine, described promulgation of new laws to protect the environment or review of existing laws as the only way out.
According to Igbine, a member of the Nigerian Women Agro-Allied Farmers, the laws should be such that if a tree was to be uprooted, an investigation must be carried out and approval made before such exercise is carried out.
“There should also be a monitoring group across the strata involving all stakeholders to make it work,” she added.
Also, speaking exclusively to our correspondent, an Environment Advocate, Mr. Lateef Ahmed, attributed loss of trees to physical activities like building of houses among others.
Proffering a way forward, Ahmed suggested that every builder must be made to plant three or more trees in replacement for the one removed during the building process.
Environmental experts have estimated that if a nation upholds deforestation and also plants new trees, it can earn $4-12 billion.
Experts, also believe that if Nigeria enacts a law that proscribes felling of trees the nation could be added to the list of countries getting paid for keeping their forests.
There are countries that earn dollars under the REDD+ (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) funds, a UN-led mechanism project, by not cutting trees and saving carbon dioxide in forests.