The fact that government rarely cares for human beings in this country has diminished any thought of it caring for wildlife that has no value attached to it.
If anything, wildlife conservation is a stuff that is forgotten and rarely mentioned whenever the authorities discuss priorities in policy thrust. This is very sad. The future is in jeopardy likewise the human populations except there is a change in mindset.
There is a symbiotic relationship between man and nature. Man needs nature to survive and not the other way round. No doubt, there are forestry and wildlife conservation laws in the country that are not enforced. This gives unbridled freedom to poachers and forest destroyers and no one seems to care. It is a tragedy.
Thus, the recent call by the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) for stiffer penalties on deforestation and illegal trade in wildlife may be a lone but significant voice. The call is not new. There is no known policy initiative by any tier of government in the country to protect wildlife. The last thing on the agenda of authorities in the country is wildlife conservation.
The NCF had on the occasion of this year’s World Wildlife Day held the other day ahead of the International Day of Forest, called for stiffer punishment for forest and wildlife destruction.
The Head, Environmental Education Unit of the NCF, Mrs. Abidemi Balogun, said a lot more could still be done in the fight against illegal wildlife trade as well as forest preservations.
A recent report by experts said over 90 per cent of Nigeria’s forest cover had been destroyed by human activities while illegal wildlife trade is on the increase. The depletion is ongoing daily.
According to Balogun, many people are not aware that some of these animals are either threatened or endangered, noting that there is need for more awareness and proper sensitisation of the public as well as enforcement agencies.
No doubt, some of the major issues affecting wildlife and forest in the country include poaching, over exploitation, bush burning, weak forest policy, implementation, and illegal cutting down of trees.
Species of wildlife that are endangered include the Cross-River gorilla, West African lion, forest and savannah elephant and the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee.
This newspaper supports a suggestion that there should be stringent rules and punishment for anyone caught in the illegal acts, in this regard. Once there is proper awareness and sensitisation, individually and collectively, we will embrace the act of conservation and see it as our responsibility to mother earth.
It is a known fact that forests play a significant role in livelihood and ecosystem stability. But given the rate of forest destruction, Nigeria’s forestland may be reduced to grassland by 2050. This would, no doubt, have far-reaching implications, as forest dependent populations will be stripped of their means of livelihood.
Forests provide employment to over two million people through supply of fuel wood and poles and more than 80, 000 people also work in the timber processing industries, especially, in the forest zone of South-West Nigeria, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
To ensure that a significant proportion of Nigeria’s forest cover is retained, Balogun disclosed that the NCF conceived the Green Recovery Nigeria (GRN) initiative to address the problem.
The NCF sees the initiative as a grand project to remedy the situation, with the overall goal to firmly establish a forest rehabilitation scheme in 25 per cent or about 230, 942 square kilometers of Nigeria’s total landmass of 923, 768 km sq. from 2017 to 2047.
Furthermore, the support of government, private sector and individuals are key to achieving success in a large-scale forest rehabilitation project as the (GRN) in Nigeria.
While we appreciate and support the NCF’s GRN initiative and any other that may come up, it is important to note that forest conservation and wildlife protection ought to be a state and local government affair.
In terms of enforcement of the extant laws, the local authorities are better placed to do that. The Federal Government is far removed from the grassroots where the destruction and poaching are taking place.
The local people need enlightenment and sensitisation to appreciate the fact that destroying the forests adversely impacts their lives and future.
It is needless to sacrifice the future just to meet immediate personal needs. The forests are our common heritage. There would have been no forests to destroy today if the past generations had not spared them.
Yet, our forebearers who left the forests intact were not in any way richer. The knowledge base of today was not available to our ancient people who preserved the ecosystem.
The time has come for Nigeria to follow countries in the Eastern and Southern Africa regions where conservation is a national goal. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have enviable conservation policies that have global acclaim.
In those countries, tree planting is part of every day life. Governments, organisations and individuals promote it. Of note was Professor Wangari Mathai of Kenya, founder of the Greenbelt Movement that revolutionised tree planting in Kenya with the planting of over a million trees.
Nigeria should review her forest and wildlife laws to suite emerging global trends. The issue of climate change, of which forests constitute a major factor, should spur the authorities to be proactive to save the country from possible environmental catastrophe.