Preparing to live with monkeys? Yes, that’s what the people of Niger State including the community from which I come have concluded plans to do. I never knew of this until when I traveled home during the last Christmas period. What I used to know of the vast Savannah land from about 20 kilometers to Agaie town on the Lambata-Bida-Ilorin highway is, surprisingly, fast becoming a plane land with few trees dotting the hitherto massive tropical rainforest. The trees have, due to extensive tree felling, disappeared within a short period. I quickly recalled the piece I wrote on this same matter with the title “As Niger State watches deforestation activities”, which was published on this page on May 13, 2017. It may be necessary to once more warn ourselves of the looming consequences of a degraded environment.
In a 2005 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Nigeria had the highest rate of deforestation in the world. The Director-General of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, Dr Mutari Aminu-Kano, recently said Nigeria annually loses about 400,000 hectares of its land to deforestation. As one of the states in north central Nigeria, Niger state which by vegetation belongs to the Sudan Savannah covers an extensive area of woodland. The greater part of its land, about 86,000km2 representing over 9 percent of Nigeria’s total land mass is covered with trees and grasses. With its current size, Niger is the largest state in Nigeria in terms of land mass.
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About 2.3 million of the land area in Niger State is said to be cultivated annually. It is estimated that out of the over 3.9 million population (according to 2006 census which may no longer be accurate) in Niger State, which amount to about 600 farming families who are small scale peasant farmers exist in the state. Heaps of sacks of charcoal piled up for sale by the roadside of the villages situated along the Lapai-Agaie highway. The felling of trees to produce charcoal, I was told, is now a lucrative business in many north central communities in Nigeria. I engaged a relation who visited me few hours after I arrived home in a discussion on the widespread tree felling going on in the area.
A medium-size sack of charcoal that used to sell for N1, 500 in less than six months ago is now sold for N3, 000. There has been scarcity of this ‘essential commodity’ since wholesalers invaded the area and started making bulk purchases of charcoal. Sometimes, over 500 bags of charcoal are purchased at once and transported in trailers from this area to Southwest Nigeria where it is sold with profiteering gains. This puts the demand for charcoal by wholesalers above what the locals who produce it can supply at a time. My fears were further heightened when my relation mentioned that Shea-nut, which is the most valuable of all the economic trees in Nupe communities, is now at the center of tree felling. Maybe, it is the newly found ‘black-gold’ in the area.
So many things are wrong with this tree felling business. Humans, wildlife, the soil, and the climate all have their share of the devastations occasioned by tree felling. We do not need environmentalists, for example, to speak before we appreciate how animals become vulnerable when the physical environment is degraded through unfettered felling of trees. When we get rid of forests, animals are bound to look for alternative habitat elsewhere; the closest being our homes. When my relation rounded up his story with a remark that poverty is a major factor driving tree felling in this part of the country, I told him to advise charcoal dealers to use part of the proceeds from charcoal business to build more rooms in their houses where monkeys that would soon join them will stay since their homes in the forests are being destroyed.
As he ‘goggled’ his head to understand my question, I reminded him of the other species of animals that are likely to join monkeys into charcoal selling communities, which may include gorillas, chimpanzees, lions, hyenas, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, hippopotamus, zebras and rhinoceroses. Residents of these communities should know that certain animals cannot be lodged together in one room where there’s dearth of accommodation. For instance, it would be a mistake to lodge hyena and the wolf in one apartment because the two have never been friendly. Accommodation should equally be reserved for reptiles which are likely to arrive much later because they move slower than animals on two or four legs. This group may include snakes, crocodiles, chameleons, alligators, and turtles.
Residents of the big villages along the Kutiriko-Agaie route including Kutiriko, Kapagi, Liman, Evutagi and Ndeji as well as those on the Lapai-Agaie highway including Mashina, Jipo I, Jipo II and Nami villages which are the main hubs of charcoal business in the area are advised to start discussing among themselves on how to accommodate the monkeys and other animals. Each village could decide to lodge a particular animal family. If one takes the cat family, another could take reptiles. The village that accepts to accommodate snakes may begin to establish contacts with owners of snake farms in neighbouring Nasarawa state to learn how to maintain and sustain friendly relationship with cobras, pythons, vipers, and anacondas.
After monkeys have joined people in their homes, where would be the people’s next destination by the time desert encroachment arrives with its own misfortunes? Those who think that they have found their share of the ‘national cake’ in tree felling should remember that trees are not just there to beautify the environment. They actually provide a home to many animals. Besides, indiscriminate felling of trees is a grave threat to millions of families that depend of subsistence farming for survival. Other adverse effects of large scale tree felling include loss of bio-diversity, ecological imbalance, soil erosion, flooding and disruption in hydrological cycle.
With the price of domestic cooking gas as well as kerosene skyrocketing daily beyond the reach of ordinary people who find charcoal as an affordable and alternative source of energy, the end to tree felling in many parts of Nigeria may yet be far from being in sight. While educating Nigeria’s rural populace on the dangers of tree felling could be a good response to deforestation; we pray that Allah guides us to revive the long abandoned tree planting campaign, amin.