By Stephen Aina
Nigeria is a treasure trove of biodiversity including forestlands which are the repertoire of goods and services remarkable for the economic survival of millions of Nigerians, more so, those living in the rural environment. The forests have always held the key to national socio-economic growth and development. This fact is recognized by the treaty that binds the eleven (11) participating countries under the Great Green Wall Initiative (GGWI) towards the restoration of degraded landscapes.
In the recent times, rural people are becoming increasingly detached from forest provisional services. This is not unconnected to the spiraling occupation of some pockets of forest, woodlands and montane ecosystems by diverse gangs of bandits and armed groups. The conversion of some forestlands to criminal strongholds is unsettling, particularly where thousands of rural farmers, herders and poor families are dislodged from their homes and means of daily subsistence.
Perhaps the nation needs, at this point, a hybrid summit to work out the ideals on forest conservation, grassroots governance and national security.
Apparently, the military’s operational successes over the past few months against illegal occupation of rural settlements and woodlands by bandits and terror groups signal some hopes for biodiversity conservation and the return of indigenous people to their ancestral homes.
Nonetheless, the reciprocal of the victory against banditry and terrorism is not without aerial bombardments and the attendant losses of forest biodiversity.
Bombings of criminal hotspots is no doubt adding to the profile of deforestation, forest degradation and microclimate changes in Nigeria. Now that the series of coordinated blasts are clearly the necessary evil of the moment (as tough times also require tough measures), a new status quo in the form of nature-based palliatives should also be articulated in solidarity for the military actions.
The current leadership role of President Muhammadu Buhari on the GGWI should therefore be enough motivation for stakeholders, friends and agencies of government to physically demonstrate commitments to restoring a fraction of the proposed 100 million hectares of degraded landscapes in Nigeria, particularly in states (including Taraba) on the leading diagonal from Sokoto down to Taraba.
Social forestry and conservation programmes remain our best reconciliation tools for conflicts if synchronized to address the deficit of government presence and services at the grassroots. Villages in proximity to woodlands and forest patches (as depicted in the map below) are best candidates for such rural-based social agricultural and conservation interventions.
In the above light, the military, with supports from other institutions and patriotic individuals, should consider launching a social tree planting initiative with the objective of replanting, perhaps elsewhere, woody plants presumably damaged, injured and or destroyed by bomb blasts meant only for the bandits. Replanting, at least, 1000 woody plants per blast should suffice to offset the impacts on our forests, position the military as an enabler in the landscape restoration agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari and create thousands of green jobs at the grassroots.
Amidst all, the new year holds so much opportunities for the current administration to add to its feathers by completely ridding the lungs of the planet from the COVID-19 variants of banditry, cattle rustling, wildlife trafficking and terrorism. Outside the dictate of politics, governance must return to the grassroots to facilitate governance of the rural landscapes and forests by the indigenous people.
NB: Stephen Aina, Nigerian Conservation Foundation, writes in from Lagos.