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‘Kogi State needs external support to develop its forestry’


Rosemary Osikoya

Stakeholders in Nigeria commemorated the World Environment Day on June 5th as the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) held a stakeholders forum to with the theme “Re-greening Nigeria” to lay more emphasis on the need to value forestry in the country. The Kogi State Commissioner for Environment and Natural Resources, Mrs. Rosemary Osikoya, who made a presentation on the state’s stand in environmental issues, in an interview with journalists talked about the progress the state government, in the last 16 months, has made in the area of environmental matters as well as setting new guidelines. ADAKU ONYENUCHEYA was there.

Tell us about the re-greening programme in Kogi state?
There is a national stakeholder’s forum on re-greening Nigeria, which suggests that Nigeria has lost most of its forest cover. In fact, statistics say less than 10 per cent of the entire Nigeria is having vegetation cover at its peak and the target is for 24 per cent that has affected all the states because collectively we make Nigeria. In the past 16 months, Kogi State has made significant progress as far as forestry is concerned.

Has the programme been able to meet your expectation?
Yes, a lot. Therehas been a lot of disconnect between the states and the federal government. Most times, the international partners also. The states have not benefitted evenly. While some informed states and those that are very connected and much involved with big issues are making a lot of tremendous progress and leading in the rank, you find out that some others are completely unaware of what opportunities there are, and as such states like Kogi have in the past years been at the disadvantaged side because they have never been carried along. The pendulum of fault could swing both ways. It could swing to the side of the Federal Government for not carrying states along; it could also swing to the side of the states for not prioritising the issues of the environment as much as they should have. The facts show that the environments have been neglected, the forest reserves have been depleted for small time gain, and we have created huge menace that is threatening all our lives and lively-hood. Coming here to this forum, there has been a whole lot of sharing facts and information – facts from experts, federal institutions on where Nigeria is as at the moment, and for Kogi state that is quite enlightening and informative.

How did Nigeria get into this situation, who is to blame and why is government just waking up?
Let me speak for Kogi State, which is where I am coming from. In the past 25 years, before the assumption in office of Governor Yahaya Bello, you find that what we have as on ground for forestry is particularly one of gross neglect. Before Bello resumed office, all the forest development documents were lost, the state did not have an untouched forest, in fact, the state had lost its vegetation cover. Previous administrations in the state commercialized the entire state forest reserve and gave right and access to timber contractors to go everywhere in the state and cut down everything they wanted. Wild life is endangered in Kogi state if at all we can find them, a lot of trees species are dead, we have non-indigenous species of trees and in the study the state conducted last year December, you will find that there are over 194 severe gully erosion site in the state. And when you investigate the causes, you find out that it came about because most of the trees were cut. Like you find in the eastern part of the state, naturally the rain forest, when you cut down the trees, the soil are soft and loamy, the severe heavy rainfall washed them away, so you have gullies everywhere added to the problem of waste management. You would find again that there are artificial desertification, the state is losing water and becoming a dry land in other places. There is no evidence in the past 25 years of Kogi State, other than some of the evidence of federal interventions and plantings that were done in the 80s, funding from World Bank and the rest of them, you would find that there is no evidence that Kogi State in the past 25 years have committed to afforestation, and all the state’s nursery as of the moment are abandoned, which is the challenge Governor Bello has.

He took over a state that had been neglected, a forest reserve that is encroached. Like in the entire forestry, for instance, when the governor resumed office, the Department of Forestry Research was said to have 54 staff by the time the verification started, before the final results were out by September, when there was a change of director, it came down to 53 staff and then as we speak, from the final report, you will find that it has dropped a lot more.

Then from over 400 staff strength in the 80s to barely less than 50 in the post verification exercise tells you there has not been consistent recruitment and capacity skill injection into the sector, which explains again the inability of the state to have performed.

And because we said the nurseries are not working, where do you produce? We looked at Governor Bello in the New Direction Blue Print, which is from the people themselves, he is addressing deforestation; the state is having about 16 months of being on forestry activities. Within these 16 months, the state forestry is been developed because in the past 25 years, the only law that abides in forestry is the ones we inherited from Benue and Kwara states.

The state had not at anytime in the past 25 years put out any policy, regulation or develop any law despite the changing times that we are in.
For now, Governor Bello is facilitating the development of the state forest law, the council has already approved a “Kogi State Forestry Tariff Regulation”, which has also brought out enforceable penalties and provisions for conservation in the state. So those are the new things the state is hearing after 25 years of state creation – you are telling people they can’t hunt animals that are not endangered, they need to be registered and licensed, they need to receive permit from the government – those are forest ordinance that were there before, which in the past 25 years of creation had been suspended. Kogi State, with the support of the Forest Research Institute and the National Service has been able to do all it has done in the past 16 years.

No other state has been able to do that without the aid or support of other persons, and for Kogi State that is very commendable, it shows of the foresight, the vision and commitment to one governor in Kogi State to making sure that within the limit of the state, the lives of people are secured and the environment sustainable to sustain life.

But the state government, last year, said it had been included as one of the beneficiaries of $508.59 Million (N152.6 billion) fund from the Strategic Investment Loan, SIL, to tackle the effect of environmental degradation in the state.
There are different levels of environmental issue, I talked about forestry, the environments itself is multi-faceted. If you go round the state, you will see a lot of infrastructural development going on, the construction of the roads that the government has been carrying out very massively is accompanied by drainages, and those are also strategic ones – channelization of water – you would remember in 2012.

Kogi State was flooded and shut down and part of the contributing cause is the absence of drainage that channelizes water well before time.
Again the massive drainage work that is going on across the state doesn’t come cheap. Security is another area the state has made huge progress, when you come down environment, climate change, channelization of water and all of that – but beyond what that one single fund would do in this strategic area – you could see that the rains have come again and we think – though Kogi State was not flooded last year, even though we came so close and we had buckets of flood here and there, but when you talk about building your underground water and all the issues connected to forest cover and the likes, you would need a lot more funding than just one which is been well utilized in such areas.

Are the people cooperating with the government in ensuring all these challenges are addressed?
Within the month of March and part into April, we held stakeholders meeting within some part of the state, just around the time there were security interventions regarding kidnappings and the likes, though we didn’t meet in the central part of the state.

What we did in that meeting was that we met with all the traditional rulers – all the first class and second class chiefs were in attendance, community leaders, timber contractors, youths, groups and women groups were also there.

The royal fathers said this is the first time in the past 25 years of the state history that you pull together that level of stakeholders at grass root level, not that we are doing a political campaign, but because we were discussing issues that bother on their lives and this is the feedback we would give you. The traditional rulers said they were not aware that the environment was regulated by laws, not even laws developed by Yahaya Bello, but laws that were already in existence before the governor came into office.
The meeting gave us opportunity to talk with them about all the environment upcoming issues that has to do with forestry, sanitation and waste management, environmental protection and mining activities in general and the feedback we got from them was astonishing.

A second-class traditional ruler was in my office last week and he actually came to complain about some illegal logging activities within his perimeter and he wanted clarity and he didn’t want to do a phone discussion.

We are seeing another style of collaboration, you must have being following the trend in the monthly environmental sanitation, which for us in Kogi State is a sensitization campaign, which has been championed by the communities themselves across the different areas of the state.

We have held it for 13 times since May 2016. When Governor Bello resumed office, the first thing he did was to send experts to all the local government areas in the state and the output of that is a document we call the “New Direction Blue Print”, which is the road map and part of it sets the target. For the Ministry Of Environment, one of the target is the people of Kogi state is an end to deforestation because being Nigerian, Africa in particular, we are very connected to our trees. When you remove all the mahogany and iroko trees, the elders will tell you that the spirits have nowhere to stay again, So if trees that are older are destroyed in the name of timber work and the rest of them – that is the cry of the people of Kogi State, saying let it be sustainable – like what we were told by the western part of the state is the fact that they were looking after their forest and all of them until the immediate government came and gave rights to contractors to cut down the tress.

This was not a popular view of the people, even though people have built their livelihood from it because it is cheap money. The question is: is it sustainably? Are the trees still there after all the massive destruction of the trees? So as far as environment is concerned, the New Direction Blue Print is the view of the people and the government is going out to achieve them, and so far we have received support from the people and a lot of commendation, in fact I was with the Maigari of Lokoja, HRH Alhaji Muhammadu Maikarfi III and he told me that the forest map we were talking about – the state is mapping its forest reserve, I have my own copies of what we signed as at that time, and then he said, bring your record and then he would bring his to cross check. That is the expression of the people’s commitments. For you to have sustainability the people must buy you and you must carry them along. That is one of the key strategies we have – carrying people along in the ways that are unprecedented.

June 5 was World Environment Day and the theme is highly strong, how have you been able to internalize the value inherent with the theme of this year’s World Environment Day, which is “Connecting People to Nature”?
Connecting people to nature, both in urban and rural areas. We know we take it for granted, people in those areas are connected to nature, though we are seeing alarmingly that the so called rural areas are losing their forest covers and they are also losing water, becoming deserts. The mystery is, where you have a whole lot of trees, water is abundant and when you remove your trees, you lose water because the roots of the trees have a way of engendering water supply within an area. Let’s go back to planting trees within our urban communities, take for instance, if you have been outside the country, like Kenya, China and others, there seems to be an understanding in developing countries and elsewhere that your urban area don’t have to have absence of trees, so where do we come about the culture of removing trees from your area? Then you need more cases, you have epileptic power supply, more stress and headaches. So in Kogi State, we increasing the forest cover, Lokoja is one of the hottest places you find in Nigeria and basically, it is not unconnected with the absence of trees within the metropolis. So if we go back to planting the trees, recovering back as much as of the 24 per cent, building permit requires that a certain portion of where everybody builds his/her house be dedicated to trees.

Has that been enforced across Nigeria? There has to be a holistic collaboration, we have looked at the New Direction Blue Print where Governor Yahaya Bello says: for 2016 – 2019, for the period of his first tenure, lets plant 10 per cent every year, we looked at the gazette on paper, Kogi State has 24 per cent of its land gazette as forest reserve, most of them have lost all their matured tree covers, so if you look at re-greening, which is in line with the theme of this conference, then every year Kogi State would have 52 million trees, that would be the only thing Kogi State do in its budget, but then you still have to put roads, attend to education and infrastructural development, so we need the help of everybody and we have not being able as a state to access support partly because we need the technical support to do that. We brought it to roughly one million – if Kogi State can plant one million trees – If the average cost of plant in the market is between N200 and N500, what if it is a tree specie and assuming it is N500 for one, then to plant one timber, multiply that by one million, it means just for the seedlings alone, the total cost of making sure it happens, the state would need N500 million to plant one million trees.

So you see why we need the support, if Federal government gives us that support, develop our nurseries, so that if we have parent stock, we can start producing more, then what we would have done is to create employment, draw people’s attention to developing the forestry, which can become a line of business for some people and the end result of it all is that, anywhere you go, you find one tree, you see how people struggle to park under that shade, what if we can park everywhere, you would have a lot less stress issue, you will have a general ease of mind. So we have seen the need as a state government – ask the right questions, do the simple basic thing that touches everybody’s mind and then the cost of money spent on hospitals and the rest of them would be reduced. That is the commitment of Governor Yahaya Bello to achieving the target, but because of the rainfall in kogi state, as at now, the rains are not heavy enough for us to plant, so the government is shifting its own state’s celebration of the World Environment day 2017 to sometimes in July, we are targeting July so that it would afford the state time to access the seedlings. We are partnering with the Forest research Institute – they are able to raise some seedlings for us, we are also looking at some agric related ones, we have already listed our own plans, we have started training our people. In August 2016, we had the first afforestation training, we are training and recruiting more people, and we are looking forward to planting one million trees here, developing the state’s nursery and after that we are sure of sustainability in the production of forest reserves.

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