Niger Delta: Azibaola seeks community awareness on forest, wildlife preservation
A Bayelsa-born engineer and environmentalist, Robert Azibaola, has decried the high level of indiscriminate decimation of Bayelsa State’s rainforests and called for concerted efforts to educate the local populace.
He made the call after a 14-day search into the state’s deep rainforest, which exposed a high degree of encroachment on nature.
Azibaola stated that the voyage was originally aimed at showcasing the state’s hidden rich flora and fauna to the world.
He, however, discovered that the Niger Delta rainforest has been badly decimated. According to him, deforestation takes place daily; trees were being felled for farming and wood logging.
He also decried the level of crude oil spillages, stressing that the ability of the forest to produce oxygen was being inhibited while the community remained ignorant of the consequences of such negative activities.
“They are ignorant about issues of climate change, forest protection and conservation. They are ignorant of the alternative use of forest resources for income generation.
“There are no forest regulations such that few individuals are economically benefiting from indiscriminate cutting down of trees for timber.”
Azibaola frowned at the government’s abdication of its duty to regulate the use of forest resources and lack of commitment to enforcement of the rules.
“The government has forgotten that there is a need to educate communities on climate change, beneficial use of forest resources, the importance of rainforest to humanity and conservation of rare species of animals.
“That there is need for strength and research institutions across the region should undertake studies on the rainforest for better understanding its use”, he said.
He warned that if efforts were not intensified to conserve the biodiversity of the Niger Delta rainforest, the forest and all its species would be lost in the nearest future.
Speaking on the inherent danger in his voyage, Azibaola was certain, based on his earlier findings that there was no likelihood of being attacked by wild animals.
“We took all the precautions necessary for our safety. While we did not go into the forest to destroy wildlife, we were careful to keep away from them too.”
Azibaola consequently admonished the government to set up a strong regulatory framework for the use of the forest resources, warning that indiscriminate felling of trees, which are the natural habitats of wild species must be checked.
“Government needs to reinvent the old age practice of forest guards akin to forest police, to prevent people from harvesting the forests without government approval.
“State governments across the region must cooperate in this regard. Multilateral and multinational institutions in Nigeria and across the globe must also help in this regard in the area of training and capacity building as well as resources for effective enforcement while other corporate institutions must move away from the idea of equating the Niger Delta to oil exploration”, he stated.
Azibaola also called for national frameworks and legislation to strengthen local institutions while funding should be made available for an action plan for the Niger Delta rainforest regeneration and conservation.
“This shall include setting out buffer zones for regulations and enforcement. There should also be a synergy between local, national and international institutions and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) for the practical conservation of the Niger Delta rainforest to make people of the region knowledgeable about climate change. He also advocated the reintroduction of species that have gone extinct, the creation of buffer zones for the preservation of forest species as well as the domestication of trees.
Azibaola had returned to Bayelsa in the company of his colleagues at Kakatar and Zeetin Groups, to appraise the effect of climate change on the local people and the use of the rich biodiversity of the Niger Delta rainforest.
Azibaola noted that though in familiar terrain, he encountered strange fishes, Iguanas, rare tortoises and other animals such as the pangolin which inhabit the forest.
According to him, the adventure served to campaign for the preservation of rare animals which are fast going into extinction.
He added that in the course of his voyage, he discovered medicinal plants embedded in the forests, some of which were extracted and used in the course of the entourage to prove that the forests have natural, effective treatment of ailments of all kinds.
Azibaola explained that the expedition into the deep forest was within 25 kilometres radius of any civilization – a vast land of freshwater forest with no human community.
“At the end of the day, we had a minimum of 25 kilometres to make by foot to where humans live. Being here is a kind of experience that makes it worthwhile.
“There is no other pleasure than being in the depth of the forest of the Niger Delta, covering over 400 kilometres of fresh waters, continuous tree canopies and swamps while experiencing the rich biodiversity of the Niger Delta.
“There is a lot of environmental damage that has caused clamour for a break in the use of earth’s resources across the globe. The Niger Delta rainforest is a precious forest that gives mankind oxygen just like the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.
“Africans need to take action on climate change issues and link up with the global community so that our inactions will not derail the global efforts. It is important we know that mankind’s survival in the future depends on the careful use of the environment.
“The Niger Delta rainforest needs protection as are other important forests across the globe. This could be done by exposing the issues and proper education of the local people. And, this is the reason I embarked on this once-in-a-lifetime expedition.
“The choice of going as a team was for more inclusive participation of all segments of the society, including women and youths, to give a sense of ownership of the issues.”
Azibaola pledged to undertake the voyage annually with good number of participants.