By Kemi Yesufu
Climate change and its negative impact is gradually becoming one of the country’s biggest challenges. Many have blamed the many reports of the death and destruction caused by Fulani Herdsmen and farmers clashes on changing climate and its impact on many communities. A recent publication by a coalition of Non Governmental Organisations including the Enough is Enough group and BudgetIT, showed that from January to September 2015, 35 attacks have been carried out in Taraba, Benue, Plateau, Kaduna and Nasarawa states by Fulani herdsmen with 475 killed.
According to the coalition, these attacks which they said are results of clashes between herdsmen and farmers, herdsmen and cattle rustlers as well as reprisals coordinated by ethnic militias defending their communities have left about 5000 people displaced. For many, Agatu Benue State stands as a landmark as it was reported that hundreds were killed by herdsmen who in turn alleged 10,000 of their cattle were killed by Agatu people. Another set of killings that shocked the nation was carried out by Fulani herdsmen in Ukpabi, Nimbo Community of Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State.
It is therefore not surprising that the House of Representatives is looking into allegations of corruption in the logging business, which has led to rapid deforestation across many communities. Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara fired the first salvo on the issue, warning that uncontrolled logging and the subsequent deforestation recorded in different states in the country has impoverished millions of Nigerians in the rural areas.
Speaking at a public hearing by the Bede Eke- led House Adhoc Committee investigating massive deforestation and alleged corruption that has crippled the environment and its effect on climate change, Dogara who declared the hearing open said desert encroachment and soil erosion which are some of the adverse effects of indiscriminate logging have left many families in the rural areas without a source of livelihood.
Dogara who was represented by Minority Leader, Leo Ogor expressed regret over the failure of policies and interventions by the Federal Government geared toward tackling deforestation such as the Great Green Wall Project.
He maintained that for the country to fully benefit from its forest resources, government must ensure a balance between business and environment preservation.
He said: “Nigeria was once covered by extensive forests. Unfortunately, the forests have been taken for granted for too long that it is perhaps presently a major problem, which if not addressed is capable of wiping off most of the country from existence. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation(FAO), 2015 Global Forest Resources Assessment, Nigeria’s annual rate of deforestation is 3.5 per cent approximately, 350,000 – 400,000 hectares. And I dare say the figure is on the increase, especially with the coming of foreign Merchants in search of ornate species of wood called Rosewood, which Nigeria is fortunate to be blessed with but fast becoming a nightmare for the nation.
“We were alarmed when the FAO reported that Nigeria’s present forest status is less than 5 percent, well below the International recommended 25 percent forested standard (afforestation). With these statistics, as a parliament of the people, we cannot continue to fold our hands and watch our nation destroyed, we must all join hands to preserve our environment. It is our collective heritage and responsibility.”
Eke on his part assured that the committee will conduct a thorough investigation into alleged corruption in the sector. He said the country could no longer afford to watch as loggers fail to adhere to government regulations which have led to economic losses and environmental degradation.
“It is important to mention that the Change Agenda of the present administration anchored on transparency in public service and zero tolerance for corruption would amount to nothing if institutions and individuals continue to engage in businesses with impunity.
“Adherence to the rules and regulations for doing business in Nigeria whether for domestic use or export purposes must be complied with by all”, the committee chairman said.
Making his presentation, minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jibril disclosed that the Federal Government suspended issuing licences to export wood following the “alarming” rise in requests from Chinese companies to harvest and export rosewood back home.
Jibril said the ministry traced the spike in request for logging rosewood -a high in demand wood from Chinese businessmen this year, to a ban on the exportation of the commodity in China.
When asked if the ministry had cases of fraud, the minister answered in the negative.
But the Secretary of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Dr. Elvis Oglafa told the committee that in 2014, about N924 million illegally transferred to private accounts by a staff of the Great Green Wall Project Agency, was recovered and returned to the agency.
He said the ICPC swung into action after an alert from the former Permanent-Secretary of the ministry, Fati Mede of the transfers.
The revelation from the ICPC angered the lawmakers who reminded the minister that he had insisted that his ministry didn’t have cases of graft with any of the anti-corruption agencies. One other issue that irked the committee was stories from Nigerian wood exporters who said that indeed the illegal logging by Chinese businessmen is rapidly destroying the country’s eco-system. President of the Nigerian Wood Exporters Association, Moshood Abiodun told the committee that Chinese businessmen harvest trees illegally in any forest of their choice with the assistance of policemen, saying they don’t plant trees as replacements as required by law. Abiodun said that once his association tried stopping illegal logging in Kogi State but he and other members were arrested.
“Sometime in 2014, when we tried to sensitise people in some villages in Kogi State, the Chinese said they should attack us and the then Commissioner of Police in the state put us in cell for three days.”
Eventually we ran back to Abuja with our petition and the Inspector General of Police took it up and he made sure that the Chinese left the village, already the deforestation had already been done. But we don’t want this to repeat itself.” he said.
In response, Eke assured that the committee will liaise with all the relevant stakeholders and security agencies to investigate the many reports of invasion of Nigerian forest by Chinese nationals.
The lawmaker said some of the cases of illegal tree harvesting had been reported to the Police, hence the committee will invite the Police authorities to ascertain the veracity of such reports.