By Bizum Yadok
NIGERIA’S rich biological heritage is threatened by urbanization, oil and mineral exploration and the indiscriminate felling of trees. According to the FAO, Nigeria has the world’s fastest rate of deforestation of primary forests. The situation is further compounded in northern Nigeria with desert encroachment and overgrazing by cattle and, most recently, the destructive activities of Boko Haram insurgents who have effectively destroyed the Sambisa Forest, an area rich in plants and animals and, as such, part of the Chad Basin National Park.
Amidst all this loss of precious biodiversity (the variety of animal and plant life), most Nigerians remain oblivious to the dissipating bio-wealth of their country. Understandably, curbing poverty, violence and mass underemployment may be perceived as being much more important; but how will Nigerians, particularly those of the north, survive in a country mainly devoid of flora and fauna? Forest loss leads to floods and increased desertification; loss of wetlands leads to lack of drinking water downstream; desertification leads to loss of grazing land and increasing grazing disputes. Who will visit Nigeria’s National Parks if there is no wildlife to see?
While humans are the most reckless annihilators of other species, they have the potential to conserve and protect other species. They share a moral conscious- ness and a humane passion for the preservation of all life. No one in Nigeria understands this phenomenon better than Retired General Theophilus Danjuma. This is evidenced by his unrestrained zeal and self- less commitment to funding research in one of Nigeria’s most floristically diverse areas, the mountains of Taraba State.
T.Y. Danjums’s generous support towards forest conservation has led to the better protection and management of Nyel Nyaki Forest Reserve in Taraba State. This forest reserve is the last of its kind on the Mambilla Plateau, and makes up part of the very few mountain forests left in West Africa. It is rich in endemic (only occurring locally) as well as IUCN Red- Listed endangered plants and animals. The forest is currently threatened by deforestation and overgrazing.
Retired General TY Danjuma’s funding directly supports research into forest conservation with the ultimate aim of developing long-term sustainable man agement of Nigeria’s montane forests. These forests are internationally recognized as being especially rich in biodiversity, and they protect the source of the rivers flowing into the great river Benue. Without its forests, Taraba would quickly become a desert, prone to more harmattan, flash floods and droughts. It would lose its interest to Nigerian and international conservationists and researchers alike.
Retired General Theophilus Danjuma is a globally acclaimed philanthropist, in the ranks of A.P Leven- tis, Leonardo Di Caprio, Russel E. and Mohamed bin Zayed, all of whom support conservation research organizations, NGOs and corporate bodies involved in the preservation and improvement of all plant and animal species. Danjuma is the only Nigerian citizen, in a country of over 160 million people, who stands out in this regard. He has generously invested in sci-ence and education projects towards the conservation of Nigeria’s forests, most notably to help the Montane Forest Conservation Initiative Nigeria (Nigerian Mon tane Forest Project) based in NgelNyakiForest Reserve on the Mambilla highlands of Taraba State.
In addition, he has funded investigations by Nigerian national parks into improving the ability of Nigeria’s National Parks to act as places of refuge for wild- life and plants alike.
Thanks to T.Y. Danjuma, we can now heave a sigh of relief as Nigeria finally joins 24 other countries within the Forest Global Earth Observatory (Forest GEO) network, which monitors tropical and temperate forest functions and the diversity of life they support, with more than six million trees and 10,000 species un- der observation today. Within this international frame- work at Ngel Nyaki, scientists and local communities
are working together to monitor, study, and conserve biodiversity. Ngel Nyaki brings the number of Forest Geo plots in Africa to five, with the others in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and Kenya.
The plot is run as a partnership between the Smith- sonian Institute (which oversees all the 24 plots), the Montane Forest Conservation Initiative, Nigeria and the University of Canterbury, New Zealand under the major supervision of the erudite and indefatigable Pro- fessor Hazel Chapman and the dexterity of the on-site plot manager, Iverien Abiem from the University of Jos. Its importance is that it offers an opportunity to conduct long-term scientific research of international importance but in collaboration with the surrounding Yelwa com- munity.
If only T.Y Danjuma’s eco-activism could be replicated in other parts of the country and across Africa more widely, then we could confidently expect that Africa might keep, rather than lose, its amazing wildlife. He has convincingly blazed the trail for other spirited Africans to pay more attention to endangered forests, animals and plants.
The major concern is about improving an ecosystem that will work well for the benefit of humanity and to create an environmentally better future for the next generation. In my opinion, retired General Theophilus Dan- juma deserves a Nobel Prize for this feat, not to mention the T.Y Danjuma Foundation, which funds numerous NGOs, empowers women, widows and the youth, and also lends immense support to different universities across Africa. Given that Nigeria’s biodiversity is worth more than any profitable venture –the future of Nigeria depends on its environment. Philanthropy, in this regard, is not just for the benefit of plant and animal species, but it is in the best interest of humanity. General Danjuma’s intervention, indeed, ranks him as Nigeria’s numerouno eco messiah.
nYadok, an academic and novelist, writes from Jos, Plateau State.via mailto:[email protected]