By Osa Amadi, Arts Editor
Nigerian forests and the resources they harbor are not only under attack by local and foreign killer herdsmen; our forests are also raped and stripped bare by Chinese, Lebanese and Korean illegal loggers, albeit in the most unsustainable manner.
This was brought to the front burner of national discourse in Lagos on Wednesday, May 26, 2021 by the Nigerian Human Rights Community, NHRC, in a press conference titled “Illegal Wood Export in Nigeria and the Far-reaching Consequences on Economy, Human Rights and Sustainable Development in Nigeria.”
The paper by NHRC read by Taiwo Adeleye addressed the critical issue of devastation of Nigerian environment and illegal wood export which has left bitter pills on the lips of many Nigerian communities.
“What we are seeing across Nigeria is a blatant rape of our environment by a combined dubious synergy of local and international conspirators,” the group said.
“Our forest reserves, wood species and economic trees are being mauled down in desperation – forests resources that determine the livelihood of millions of Nigerians. As we speak, Nigeria is hub to the largest illegal exportation of illegal wood in Africa.
“What is going on is the silent and vicious killing of our livelihood, the destruction of our future as a country and the violation of the Nigerian constitution in the most savage, rude and provocative manners. In Nigeria, some of these foreigners are indiscriminate in their attacks on indigenous territories.”
Statistically painting a grim picture of the loss the country has suffered on account of these ecological rape of Nigeria’s forests, NHRC said records indicate that 96.518 square kilometers of land, which amounts to 27 percent of the total forest area and 10 percent of the total land area, was designated as ‘reserved’ by various governments in the country.
“Most of these, representing some 66 percent of the forest reserve are located in the Savannah area; some 20 percent of the land area are in the tropical forest zones, all in Southern Nigeria, while some 4 percent are fresh water swamps and mangroves located by nature in the Niger Delta area. At independence, Nigeria had at least 8 National Parks and 445 nature reserves. Today, more than half of all of them are gone!
“In the year 2005 alone, about 11, 089, 000 hectares (27, 400, 000 acres) were destroyed in Nigeria. Between 1990 and 2000, the country lost some 409, 700 hectares of forest. The years between 1990 and 2005 saw Nigeria lose 35.7 percent of her forest strength which translates to 6, 145, 000 hectares.”
The conference also revealed the country’s wildlife and botanical wealth: “Nigeria is home to 285 mammals, 203 reptiles, 117 amphibians, 775 different fishes and about 4, 715 species of higher plants. The desperate search and destruction of these precious trees lead to the total destruction and annihilation of these special species created by God
“The implications on agriculture, sustainable livelihood, spiritual well-being, climate change and political economy is unimaginable. These acts violate the Nigerian constitution and the various United Nations Conventions on environment, including, but not limited to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
These loses diminish Nigeria’s biodiversity. As stated by the United Nations, “Cultural diversity is more than appearance, more than folklore, song and dance. It is the embodiment of values, institutions and patterns of behavior. It is a composite whole representing a people’s historical experience, aspirations, culture and world view. Deprive a people of their language, culture and spiritual values, and they lose all sense of direction and purpose.”
The UN noted further that “local knowledge embraces information about location, movements and other factors explaining spatial patterns and timing in the ecosystem, including sequences of events, cycles and trends. Direct links with the land are therefore fundamental, and obligations to maintain those connections form the core of individual and group identity.”
According to NHRC, in the past three months, it has been receiving reports from across the country from indigenous peoples whose livelihood is threatened and their forest are on the verge of extinction. These communities, NHRC said, are helpless. They face a hopeless situation.
The most affected communities are in Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Ekiti, Kwara, Kogi, Osun, Cross River, Rivers, Bayelsa, Edo and Delta states. In the northern states, most hit are Plateau, Nassarawa and Benue states.
“The main actors in this fraud are the Chinese, Koreans and Lebanese who have no other jobs than to invade the forests, cut down the trees for export in the most ignoble, vicious and callous manners. There is no Environmental Impact Assessment, EIA, no prior and informed consent of affected indigenous communities while the desperate hunt for those precious forest reserves continues.
“It may interest Nigerians to know that these precious forests trees that cost fortunes are never replanted by these foreigners who feast on them. Their main targets are Rosewoods, Araria, Mahogany and Iroko.
“Annually, some 3.5 percent (approximately 350, 000-400, 000 hectares) are destroyed per year in Nigeria with these activities linked to the Chinese, Koreans and Lebanese cartels. The destruction of these forest reserves by these foreign interests has serious implication for sustainable livelihood in the country,” the conference declared.
The implications are damage to the local economy and natural habitat; increase in local timber prices leading to shutdown of factories, thereby forcing many out of jobs. Additionally, local manufactures cannot get logs to run their factories.
Other consequences include destruction of the local industry; increase in timber prices leading to increase in cost of construction – housing, roads, drainages, flood works, etc.; violation of indigenous rights as communities resist the destruction of their lands leading to conflicts.
Obviously, increase in timber prices will increase cost of manufacturing – pallet prices, packaging and transportation cost. Excessive and illegal deforestation will affect natural habitats and pose as threat to food security across the country.
The NHRC therefore calls on President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Assembly and the 36 governors of states in Nigeria to immediately carry out the following without delay:
The Chinese, Lebanese, Koreans and all foreigners involved in illegal exportation of Nigerians’ precious wood resources should be banned.
A presidential probe panel and judicial commission of inquiry should be set up in all the affected states to identify, punish and sanction all the foreign interests and their collaborators involved in this illegal business.
In line with the provisions of Nigerian law, the Nigerian Prohibition List which states that timber cannot be exported in rough and sawn form (which is the form these illegal exporters move the woods) and in line with the Convention on International Trade Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES, the perpetrators must be brought to book.
NHRC vowed to embark, from the day of the conference, on a local and global campaign against all the individuals and foreign interests in these illegal deals:
“We shall embark on petitions to government institutions, the Chinese, Lebanese, Korean governments and the United Nations to stop these criminal acts and bring the perpetrators to book without delay,” they said.