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The disaster that’ll precede Abuja road construction

Apart from addressing the traffic problem, the expansion, when completed, will also give Abuja additional beauty typical of many modern capital cities around the world.…

Apart from addressing the traffic problem, the expansion, when completed, will also give Abuja additional beauty typical of many modern capital cities around the world.

In addition to that, the Airport Road is also regarded as the only entry route into the city centre by visitors who come by air and others from the South and some states in the Northern parts of the country.

Therefore, the importance of the road to the city are enormous. And this is why the huge amount of N257, 169,337,985 billion allotted the two roads projects couldn’t attract criticisms. The Airport road was awarded to Julius Berger Plc while the Kubwa expressway was awarded to Dantata and Sawoe and CGC.

However, while Nigerians are counting the advantages of the development, some Abuja residents and environmentalists plying the Airport Road in the last few weeks are beginning to have a change of mind considering the number of trees going down because of the construction.

Weekly Trust gathered that over 40,000 Melina and Neem trees will be cut down along the Airport Road by the forestry department of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA).

A source very close to the FCDA told Weekly Trust that over 40,000 trees have been earmarked for destruction from the Abuja City Gate to the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, a distance of 35 kilometres.

The ‘work,’ the source said, have begun in earnest and when Weekly Trust visited the destruction site on Wednesday, many of the trees have already been destroyed.

The tress, Weekly Trust,  gathered, were planted about 20 years ago and have over the years provided not only a scenic background to Abuja, but helped in moderating climate, improving air quality and conserving water.

The destruction is also coming at the heels of intensive tree-planting and environment conservation campaign by the government in response to the global climate change challenge under the slogan of “plant a tree and save a life.”

Weekly Trust gathered that most of the trees are the Melina and Neem species which are regarded as economical and medicinal while their destruction will further deplete the already-fragile environment the government claiming to be protecting.

No doubt, the implications on the environment are tremendous. One of such, according to Mr Musa Azi, an environmentalist, is that it will take the government another “20 years with intensive care to grow another set of Melina trees to replace the destroyed ones.”

Although the economic benefits could not be quantified but Azi said the action will also have socio-communual and environmental implications on the city.

According to him, “It is unfortunate that the government is not sensitive to the environment.  No serious country will allow road expansion to lead to the destruction of many trees without bearing in mind the consequences of the action to the environment.”

He said even the contractors cannot do that in their home countries because of the importance their governments and the people attach to the environment.

“In other parts of the world, the community where such action is taking place will resist it because of the strong ties between their community and their trees. But here, nobody cares.

“Tress are part of the community and when you destroy them, you are also destroying the community because they provide a lot of support to the environment,” he said.

When contacted for comments, a forestry management expert with the Federal Ministry of Environment who does not want to be named, simply described it as a “disaster,” and declined to comment further.

Another expert on environment with the FCT who pleaded anonymity, said the project could be executed without necessarily destroying the tress.

“We have enough land to divert the roads to without falling such a number of tress but I wonder why the government is allowing this to happen.

“You see, trees are very important to us, apart from helping to purify the atmosphere, they also serve as a stabilising force for the micro climate, reduces pollution by removing carbonate from the atmosphere,” he said.

He added that tress also conserve water and nutritional ingredients of the soil by protecting top soil from the sun and the rain thereby, helping to reduce erosion.

He disclosed that the FCT is planning to replant another set of tress but appealed to the government to provide funds to finance the replanting campaign and half of the money, he suggested, should come from the contractors whom he said are the beneficiaries of the projects.

Garba Matazu, a resident, was equally baffled with the development, saying that cutting the tress will not auger well for the environment.

He said even if it became necessary for the government to cut down the trees; some of them could have been converted to wood because most of the Melina trees have developed their girths to be converted for economic purposes.  

But while environmentalists are trying to come to term with the development, some residents are capitalising on the destruction to make brisk business.

Weekly Trust gathered that communities along the airport road are now exploiting the action to make brisk business by cutting them into smaller sizes and sell as firewood.

When Weekly Trust visited the site, some young people were busy scouting for branches and cutting them to size for onward sale to residents as fire wood.

A vendor, Habeeb Suleiman, spoke to Weekly Trust that a cart of firewood is sold at N300.

Even the women were not left out as some of them have trooped out from the settlements along the road to cut their own share of the wood.

Mrs Juliana Anthony described the development as ‘a good thing’ for them.

“We used to go to very far places in the bush to source firewood but with this, we can now source our firewood with ease.”   

Efforts to contact the FCT Department of Forestry for comments have failed. But the Director of Engineering in the FCDA, Dr. Sylvester Ugonabo had told newsmen shortly after the flag-off of the project by President Umaru Musa Yar’adua two week that the Forestry Department in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture will replace the cut trees with new ones.

He said some of the trees felled would be sold and the revenue realised used to replace the trees.

“The decision to sell the trees is to ensure that they are replanted as soon as possible to cushion the effect on the road and residents,” he said.

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