lokoja, Sokoto, Ilorin, Yenagoa, Makurdi, Owerri, Minna, Birnin Kebbi — The Federal Government under President Shehu Musa Yar'adua launched a Presidential Initiative on Afforestation with the aim of addressing environmental degradation especially desertification, deforestation, erosion and flooding across the country. The initiative funded by the Ecological Fund Office to the tune of N3.7 billion was to see every state of the federation raise and plant one million trees of various species under the first phase. But two years after, Daily Trust investigation shows that the tree seedlings have over grown in some states without plans to distribute and plant them.
In Kebbi state, the director of forestry, under the Ministry of Environment, Umar Bello, said no seedlings have been planted under that initiative in the state because the ones supplied last year by an unknown contractor was dumped in the forestry department without any official hand over.
"Very recently, there is also the issue of planting the about five hectares of Cactus Opretia in the state to form part of the presidential initiative. But unfortunately, all we know is that the contractor who brought the seedlings since last year did not make any official hand over to the forestry department.
"In fact, the department has expended a lot of money in maintaining those seedlings and up until now the contractor is yet to show up and neither did we receive any official correspondent about the seedlings.
"I cannot precisely tell you the numbers of seedlings because they were brought in crates and it was very difficult to count them especially since there were not officially handed over to the forestry department.
He further stated that the state did not carry out any distribution of the Cactus seedling dumped at the forestry office. "It is only the seedlings produced by the state that were distributed free to the public to plant. But apart from that, no such seedlings from the presidential initiative on afforestation have been planted by the state," he added.
"The Cactus Opera dumped by the contractor is being taken care of by a watchman to protect the seedlings and since it needs water to survive, some few labourers were assigned to be watering them. Up until today, all those expenses that were incurred, nobody turned up to settle us or to know what has happened to the seedlings," he said.
In Kogi state, Daily Trust gathered that about one million tree seedlings were raised under the initiative even as the state government said the project was carried out without its input.
The director of forestry in the Ministry of Environment and Physical Development, Adeyemi O. Adebayo declined to comment and requested for a clearance from the state commissioner for environment, before commenting on the initiative but a source within the ministry said that over a million seedlings were produced. "The contractor from the presidency raised the seedlings, we were only there to give a helping hand as the contractor brought his own men for the job," he said.
The seedlings were planted in four nursery centres in the state located at Okura in the Eastern Senetoral District, Karara and Kabba in West as well as Okene in the Central district. The species planted include Gmelina, Teak, Moringa (Zogale), Cashew as well as Palm oil.
The source said the seedlings were distributed to the state government, local governments, nongovernmental organisations, institutions, schools, communities, private farm owners and individuals. "Though I cannot ascertain the total number of seedlings distributed but they were largely and hastily distributed because they have over grown.
In Sokoto, the state Commissioner for Environment, Dr.Jabbi Kilgori said one million seedlings ere raised under the Presidential Initiative on afforestation.
"These seedlings involve both economic and shade-giving trees like neem tree, pawpaw, guava, mango, citrus and those for biofuel like Jetropha, moringa and many of those that are of economic value and are of emerging importance. They raised one million seedlings and out of those seedlings they have been able to dispense about 200,000.
They were able to use them in rehabilitation site at the Silame Housing Estate where the government built houses for flood victims, they planted some shade trees within the area using about 5,000 seedlings, then they did some work in Marnona ,there is roadside plantation there along Isa Road, they used about 10,000 seedlings for 2 kilomteres.They also planted about 30,000 tree seedlings at the plantation in Dange-Shuni local government in a town called Satiru".
He said tree seedlings under the initiative was distributed to local government councils to enable them comply with the state government directive of planting 2km shelter belt every year. Dr. Kilgori said that they also distributed the seedlings to different organisations such as schools, those building mosques, farmers who are servicing orchards and institutions such as the university, polytechnics and others who request for them.
According to him, they have also continued to make forestry extension, to educate the farmers on planting trees within their farms to be able to protect the environment.
He said that the state was working with Petroleum Subsidy Programme for the establishment of some kilometers of shelter belt. "We have given them proposal and parts of the seedlings are going to be used for the establishment of shelter belts and also woodlots."
In Benue state, the 1.3 million tree seedlings planted under the initiative are doing well despite perennial problems of adequate water supply to sustain its growth during the dry season, the state Director of Forestry, Mr Sorkwagh Anthony has said.
Anthony also highlighted one of the major factors militating against the survival of the trees to include parasitic insect attack. "The trees are doing very well. Our challenge in this area is the adequate water supply to the plants during the dry season and insect attack on the trees," he said.
He explained that as part of measures put in place to cater for the nourishment of the trees, annual weeding is required to rid the plant of other infectious weeds.
According to him, various bodies such as non-governmental organisations, faith-based organisations, educational institutions, Rotary club, and individuals among others got a fair share of the seedlings distributed at last year's campaign.
Anthony noted that the over grown trees would be trimmed this year to enable them shoot out properly and mature to desired level.
The Imo State Director of Forestry, Ministry of Environment, Mrs. Onwuchi Sabina, said they were to raise about 1.45 million seedlings of various trees.
She said that the planting was handled by contractors from Abuja. "The people only did the production without making provision for proper maintenance."
She said that the state government was doing the best it can to maintain the once produced because already some of the trees have started dying as a result of lack of maintenance. According to her there were areas that don't not have water supply. She said that government is not expecting any payment from the federal government for maintaining the tress, adding that because it it's already the property of government, they would not want to fold their hands and allow the tress to die away.
The director said that the forestry department was prepared to distribute the tress to the people who show interest. To achieve this according to her, a committee has being formed to facilitate the distribution. But the problem they usually have according to her was low turnout of people arising from lack of interest . Because of this many of the main forest trees have over grown.
Niger state says it has taken delivery of 98 crates of cactus seedlings that was imported from Tunisia under the initiative, the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Water Resource and Environment, Isaac Kolo has said.
He said Niger state was selected alongside Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa, Kano and Borno states for the initial pilot scheme of planting cactus in the country.
Kolo added that the state was supposed to take delivery of 100 crates of the seedlings, saying even out of what was supplied by the contractor to the state 28 crates were wasted away before the state came in and rescued the situation by transferring the seedlings from the crates to a nursery garden.
According to him, the state took delivery of the seedlings in December 2011 and that since then nobody communicated to them on the next line of action or what to do with the cactus.
He said, the state has started contemplating the idea of taking over the project, though some difficulties were experienced along the line because the state could not lay its hand on any tangible document to support the initiative.
In Kwara state, over one million trees were planted under the presidential tree planting initiatives. It was gathered that the trees were distributed to schools, farmers, communities and institutions through a federal government hired contractor.
The state government through the Ministry of Environment and Forestry only assisted in distributing the trees, according to the state Director of Forestry, Mr. Markus Awogbemi.
The director said the government did not only assist in the distribution of the trees but ensure that the trees were planted.
"We assisted the federal government in looking for people who are interested in planting the trees and we were able to get reputable individual farmers, institutions who we are very sure planted the trees."
It was, however, gathered that the trees were distributed just April last year when some had already overgrown.
A top government official who sought anonymity because he was not authorized to comment said the federal government should try to carry the states along in implementing future tree planting programme to enable them plan ahead.
"The problem encountered in the programme was the trees planted last year were meant for 2011 but these trees were not distributed until April, 2012 and as such some of these trees have overgrown. Be that as it may the ministry did its best to ensure that the trees were not only distributed but planted," he said.
Investigation in Bayelsa shows that the initiative was not successful in the state as the tree seedlings raised in the state by federal paid contractors are laying waste at the different centers in the state.
The centers are located at Otueke, Odi, Tombia, and Akenfa.
The Head of Forestry in the Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment, Chief Josiah Claude Eze told Daily Trust that the Forestry Depatment in the ministry was moribund; adding that he was already fed up with the poor attention the state government was paying to issues concerning forestry and the conservation of trees and environment in the state.
Eze further said that the one million seedlings the state benefited from the presidential initiative were abandoned at the nurseries and that they have now over grown into trees such that it may be difficult to uproot and taken to where they can be planted permanently.
Ecological Fund Office
However, the Ecological Fund office has said that it has completed the phase one of the initiative having successfully handed over the project to most participating state governments.
Tolu Makinde, a Deputy Director in charge of Press at the Ecological Fund Office said that "following the raising of the seedlings, the minister of environment approached state governments at the National Council on Environment for them to take over the project and it was agreed then that all states take ownership of the project.
"For us the project was a huge success and we are hoping that the phase two will form an integral part of the shelter belt programme," he added.
"The Ecological Fund office only funded the project, we are not in any way involved in how the states distribute the seedlings, it is their own and how or what they do with it is their choice. Based on our records, it is only Cross River state that has not taken over the seedlings," he said.
Usman A. Bello, Rakiya A. Muhammad, Hope Abah, Johnkennedy Uzoma, Aliyu M. Hamagam, Garba Muhammad, Abdullateef Aliyu, Chris Eze