July 31st every year, the world marks the world rangers’ day, dedicated to celebrate the achievements, sacrifice and dedication of men and women who left family and all to parade and protect the forest ecosystem for the sake of generations yet unborn.
When Yellow stone national park birthed in United states centuries ago, opening the flood gate of global advancement in setting aside certain percentage of forest and cultural endowments for conservation, scientific and research purposes, many people possibly do not factor that it would also take the presence of a specialized team of conservators to man the huge size of some of nature goal posts, some as big as the size of some states in Nigeria if not bigger.
Indeed, the Nigerian ranger is never factored as important in the holistic conservation architecture, merely seen as gatemen and in some instances, as mere trackers with hunting experience. Yet over the years, and am writing authoritatively, these men and officers have proven more than important in the quest to maintain what remains of our flora and fauna ecosystem.
At each of our vast, virgin and rich frontiers of protected enclaves located in Adamawa/Taraba, Yobe/Bornu, Kaduna, Oyo, Kwara/Niger, Edo and Cross-River states in Nigeria, the first line of conservators you may encounter are the rangers. Yes, they are seen but hardly heard, foot mats of national resource conservation.
They suffer immensely due to the absence and in some instances, the breakdown of operational facilities and equipment. In most cases, they trek thousands of kilometers hunting the hunters of the forest ecosystem, the poachers, herdsmen (grazers) and also at the mercy of the unpredictable environment. Our rangers live in squalor, poor ranger posts habitations and dribbling welfare profiles.
At each of the unit parks, some were killed for daring to challenge poachers and other illegal irritants into the parks. While Boko Haram slaughtered some for daring to challenge their presence in Chad Basin national park which also covered some parts of Yobe, others died untimely through the hands of grazers (herdsmen) and poachers.
Search and Rescue efforts are dead on arrival for the rangers as there was no helpline when enemies’ attacks and distress occasioned by hazard of the job manifests. The Nigerian Ranger must not have ambition of living simple and eventful life, no luxury, no future, no plan. They exist just for the forests and the animals beings therein. It is glaring that Nigerians do not appreciate them, the rich and the poor, even though they became poor so that Nigeria may be rich in natural and cultural resources.
Though there is a Ministry of Environment which supervises conservation architecture, sadly and significantly, the ministry has not shown capacity to honour the unsung and selfless ranger in death for serving nation and people. Their needs and welfare are not factored in the critical socio-economic management of the country.
A decade plus record shows that over 36 rangers had either being killed or died in action in Nigeria and no one cares. These officers have families, wives, children and parents left to alone to carry the burden of running the affairs of family left behind by the dead rangers.
But for some foreign assistance in areas of training, retraining and equipping the ranger posts, our government only concerns itself with paying salaries and overheads only. The working tools needed to patrol the huge enclaves to protect these resources are never in sight and where attempts were made, second hand or refurbished materials are passed off as original.
As a critical observer of conservation efforts in Nigeria, I cannot understand why the government and our law makers over-sighting environmental issues do not take the welfare of rangers seriously. Even when legislative interventions are factored, such engagements usually do not advance the welfare of rangers.
Rangers who fell ill in course of patrol and unfortunately inside the bowels of forests, were left asking for divine help because they were no first aid facilities and communication equipment to fast tract rescue.
There is no unit park in Nigeria with a helicopter or air ambulance to rescue sick or wounded rangers. The ranger medical units are no more and gradually going extinct are also the hospitality and research Ranger team whose working tools and welfare, government budget allocation for conservation cannot handle.
Local and international interventions have dropped drastically again due to noticeable undemocratic interventions and poor legislative understanding of conservation matters. A case in point was the takeover of Yankara from federal government by Bauchi state government which irritated most international conservation groups and agencies, leaving the ranger community there hurting. Attitudes of our states governors in conservation also do not help matters.
It is even worst case scenario when compared with the federal authority.
As we join the world to celebrate the dedication of our rangers and others worldwide, can we say Nigeria is truly serious with conservation? Look out here soon for the answer.