Edo govt’s neglect of forest resources poses danger to the people, by Solomon Ibharuneafe

Solomon Ibharuneafe

EDO State is losing billions of naira through illegal felling of trees and smuggling; but apart from that, the ecological devastation being unleashed on the environment is a threat to present and future generations of the state. While nations all over the world are adopting and researching into the best ways of preventing and combating desertification as a result of climate change, Edo state government seems not to fully appreciate the enormity of the challenges at hand even though there are already clear and visible signals portending danger to the people. For instance, Edo north is experiencing mild desertification, drought and poor yields of crops while Edo south rainforest is experiencing heavy flooding and erosion and poor agricultural yield.
This was the kernel of discussion at the Town and Gown symposium organised by the faculty of life sciences, University of Benin recently with the theme “The Environment: Protect it and Preserve it”. The guest lecturer was Pastor Osagie Ize – Iyamu, a lawyer, business man, politician, and a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of Benin province.
According to Ize – Iyamu, because of the danger posed by climate change worldwide, the federal government of Nigeria through the National Council on Environment is co-ordinating various programmes aimed at tackling climate change through afforestation, use of short duration crops, rain harvesting techniques and researching into drought resistant varieties of crops. This is in addition to the encouragement of states to also do the needful by establishing climate change offices in each state with qualified desk officer coordinating all activities relating to climate change.
Ize – Iyamu noted that surprisingly Edo State is one of the few states in the federation that has not done this probably as a result of not fully appreciating the enormity of the challenges at hand. While extolling the great contributions of past governments of Edo State especially the Lucky Igbinedion government of 1999 – 2007, the politician said aforestation was the major plank of the government without the prompting of the federal government. He queried the state’s lackadaisical approach to the matter, with all the incentives, support and guidance at its disposal. He said the Ehor forest reserve at Uhunmwonde, the Gelegele forest reserve in Ovia North – east and the Evboesi and Ugo forest reserve at Orhionmwon had over three million trees planted by the Igbinedion government in collaboration with the timber license association.
The success of this exercise prompted Bernadette Strabel, a foreign NGO from Spain to key into the projects and Ehor forest reserve was the catchment area for their support. But they withdrew from the program since 2011 when they discovered that the state government was no longer interested in tree planting but indirectly abetting illegal exploitation of both matured and immature trees. While states like Oyo, Ogun and kano are boasting of planting two to five million trees annually to mitigate the negative impact of climate change and making money from the process, Edo state has not planted a single tree.
Ize-Iyamu cited the example of states like Kano, Jigawa, Sokoto and Kebi who ordinarily were threatened by desertification but created green belts or man-made forest through massive afforestation program involving the planting of millions of trees. These measures according to him have contributed in no small measure in combating desertification and also ameliorating the harmful impact of climate change.
The present forest cover in Edo State by estimation is five per cent as against the recommended 25 per cent that the previous administration left behind for environmental safety and sustainability; most southern states like Cross River, 50 per cent, Ondo 30 per cent, Ogun 25 per cent and Delta 20 per cent with others maintain a reasonable percentage of climatic, ecological and livelihood reasons.
The depletion of the forest can jeopardise present and future generation of Edo state people. The guest lecturer expected government to discourage the deforestation and encourage afforestation particularly at Siloko and Gelegele forest. Several millions of cubic meter hard and rare woods are smuggled out of Edo through the Gelegele axis of the Atlantic Ocean, overseas. Honest forest officers who show concern and refuse to cooperate are undermined, thus fueling suspicion of government’s complicity. It is baffling that while Edo state government focuses heavily on generating revenue internally, it does little about smuggling that is reportedly running into billions of naira monthly.
While the government spends enormous resources and personnel chasing petty Saw – Millers and Agbegi owners who constitute only 1% of illegal loggers, the big timers are left unmolested to carry this economic sabotage to our generation and future of the state. Recalling government in 1999-2007, Ize-Iyamu said over 200,000 teak and gimelina trees were planted and afforestation was at its peak, urging the audience to verify his claims from ologbo, EhorAgenebode forests and the ministry of Environment. The world bank and the advanced economies of the world have a way of rewarding those who participate in tree planting or afforestation by awarding them carbon credit in a programme called REDD-Reduction in (carbon) emission and Desertification.
According to Iyamu, a proposal could have been articulated and request sent to the World Bank for granting of carbon credit worth over $10 billion stressing that the Igbinedion government was at the verge of doing so when she was advised to wait for the trees to be fully matured. But these efforts have been frittered away in that not only are the trees cut down without control, nothing has been earned in carbon credit. Future government should go the extra mile in afforestation to earn good money from accessing carbon credit.
The Town and Gown symposium is a forum that brings the community where the University of Benin is located and the academic community to rub minds on the issues of the environment. Members of the university, including the deputy Vice – Chancellor who represented the Vice Chancellor; Deans of faculties, Traditional Chiefs, Politician and Students among others, attended the lecture.
Solomon Ibharuneafe writes from Benin.

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