By Oluwafemi Maduka David
Nigeria is faced with a growing challenge in the areas of forest degradation, desertification and depletion of wildlife. More than 70 per cent of original forests in Nigeria have disappeared, with the situation threatening to even become worse than it is now. For instance, the Lake Chad in the far north-eastern corner of Nigeria used to cover a very large area extending into Niger, Chad and Cameroon, with the bulk of it on opposite sides of our contiguous border with Tchad. It gave subsistence and supported millions of locals for many centuries. Unfortunately, today, it has shrunken to just about five per cent of its original size. The impact of this disappearance has been very grave; millions have lost their livelihoods, hundreds of native animal species have either disappeared or become greatly endangered, and the socio-economic life within the sub-region has been damaged.
The international treaties and conventions which we are signatory to (and we have ratified) have not gotten the attention they deserve. Most of the laws under our legislation on wildlife, forestry and biodiversity are quite dated and depthless. We need to re-energize our legislation on wildlife and forestry, with particular reference to the international treaties and conventions that we ratified. For example, we need to pay attention to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and fund its activities. Agencies like the National Bio-safety Management Agency (NBMA) should be appropriated more funds to give them a fillip. Our park rangers should be equipped to face up to poachers and illegal loggers.
We have to harness the power of technology. We need to look into how to deploy cameras and surveillance drones to monitor these reserves on a near 24 hours daily real time basis. Animals that are vulnerable can be tracked electronically via the aid of tags and paid special attention so as to save them from poachers. And periodically, we can procure the service of a space-based satellite station to photograph specific areas of our territory in order to monitor phenomena like desertification, deforestation, urbanization pattern, hydrology and wildlife migration patterns.
Education is the bedrock of any civilisation. It is the driver of any social construct, real or abstract. The government should re-energize our research institutes and faculties of natural sciences in our universities. These academies would help birth and nurture the skills and manpower needed in achieving our biodiversity and ecological security goals. For example, the National Institute for Freshwater Fisheries Research (NIFFR) in New-Bussa can help raise professionals who will help marshal policies that would guarantee improvement in our aquatic resources. These professionals will be at the forefront of our campaign in saving the Lake Chad and manning the hydrology of other freshwater sources within the country so that we can guarantee a lasting and healthy freshwater supply.
We cannot divorce poverty from the ecological challenges that we have had to face in the last few decades. Unfortunately, the number of Nigeria’s poor has increased in the last few decades. According to a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) report, about 60 per cent of Nigerians live below the poverty threshold (some sources even quote70 per cent). The danger of this is multi-pronged; poor rural dwellers subsist majorly on natural endowments for food and shelter. Acute deforestation and over-hunting have been observed to be more rampant amongst rural dwellers. With the depletion of wildlife and natural resources, these rural dwellers are even pushed further into poverty. This makes them even more desperate in their search for food, medicine and shelter. They dig deeper and become even more indiscriminate in the consumption of slow regenerating wildlife and natural resources. It becomes a vicious cycle, and our biodiversity is imperiled. We need to pull more people out of poverty. We need to strengthen our economy.
Policies thrive in an atmosphere of law and order. We should checkmate the traffic of illicit trade in wildlife and exotic species. Apart from the fact that this illegal trade threatens the population of our wild fauna and flora, it is also a potent disease and virus vector. The raging Corona virus (Covid-19), which origin has been traced to a wildlife market in Wuhan, comes verily to mind. This is a strong reminder that our own long-term security is intermixed with the survival of our biodiversity.
The Boko Haram-cum-Sambisa debacle is one gloomy example of how a breakdown of law and order can spell disaster for our wildlife and plant species. Many people do not realize that the infamous Sambisa forest used to be a wildlife and nature sanctuary, where exotic species like Lion, Hyena, Elephants and Leopards etc. roamed and thrived. However, with the advent and spiraling of the insurgency, the local wildlife population took a plunge. The tourist infrastructure like camps and lodges collapsed totally. The once thriving Sambisa game reserve is now the theatre for some of Africa’s bloodiest military confrontations.
Posterity would not judge us fairly if we sit back and watch our environment lose its very ability to sustain us. It’s about time we repurposed our priorities and think long-term. History beckons on us. Let us heed the call to save our biodiversity
David, a lawyer and the winner of the Earthplus WED Letter writing competition 2020 writes from Abuja.