Gombe — In some states, governments especially in northern Nigeria are discouraging felling of trees for firewood to check desertification. In Gombo State, however, the situation is different and the state government is showing understanding in an agreement reached with firewood sellers.
Firewood business has thrived for years in Gombe state and it is no doubt, a big time business for many, as it has put smiles on the faces of both buyers and the sellers.
Many firewood sellers in Gombe told Weekly Trust that they have spent years in the business and further testified that the business of selling firewood has assisted them rediscovered themselves in the business world.
Mohammed Salisu, who is in the business for nine years now, said they source for firewood from the forest of Dukku LGA, noting that on daily basis an average of 100 to 150 trucks of firewood are ferried into Gombe for sale to users.
Salisu disclosed that "Through this business, I sponsored myself in school and was able to complete my secondary education and by the grace of God I am able to feed my family and meet up with some of my financial requirements and needs. Gone are days, that if you go to school, one would expect to work in an office. But now if you are not privileged, you will hardly get a job in this country".
"With my old trucks on daily basis, I get nothing less than N2, 000 to N2, 500 from the business and from these I feed my family and meet up with their needs and but in some cases, the repairs on my truck will consume the money realized from the sale of the firewood, but I am not regretting," he said.
Abdullahi Mohammed, is engaged in felling of trees to make firewood and says, "We are the firewood cutters every 10 bundle of firewood is N200 and I can make 20 to 25 bundle of firewood on daily basis which is N500 daily".
Mallam Garba Babayo, the Secretary General, Association of Firewood Sellers Gombe state told Weekly Trust that he has 13 years experience in the business of selling firewood.
According to him, their business is only that of buying and selling, "we don't go to the forest and cut the wood, but we are actively involved in anything that happens in the bush. We are the ones involved in sorting out any problem that may occur between the people who go to the forest to cut the wood and government".
Babayo added that "We are here in the city selling the firewood but we also pay attention to what is happening in the bush. We make sure that they cut the right tree that they are supposed to cut. In all cases, it is the dead trees that we cut and to also ensure that the cut ones are replaced by way of planting new ones in the forest," he said.
He said his union in conjunction with the Ministry of Environment and Rural Development (forestry) make sure that they replace felled trees by planting fresh ones so as to prevent desertification and deforestation which he said, they have been doing for years without any problems.
"We have been advising government to open up more avenues for these youths that are involved in this business of cutting tree for survival so that they will be engaged in something more reasonable than cutting of trees as a means of survival. As I said earlier, ours is buying and selling and if by tomorrow government will make available kerosene or coal or any other affordable means of cooking in the market, we will focus attention to it and abandon the firewood business. We are really aware of desertification, but there is nothing we can do. We have to survive," he said.
According to Babayo government can help the villagers by way of educating them on how to plant Gumarabic trees for economic uses, during the raining season so that they can reap from it during the dry season, adding that it will immensely help in reducing the indiscriminate felling of trees and in turn will prevent desertification.
"We keep advising government to do this, but unfortunately our advice has not been taken into consideration. It is quite unfortunate," he added.
Babayo said the business is booming, as there is heavy patronage in the market on daily basis, noting on every bundle of firewood "we realize N2 to N3 only and we can sale 500 to 1000 bundles of firewood every day".
Speaking on the issue of tax Babayo said, firewood sellers pay tax to the government in two different ways;
"We pay to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and to the Ministry of Environment and Rural Development. We have a certificate and we pay annually. We tax ourselves and contribute money to go and pay. As an association, we pay N20,000 annually to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Ministry of Environment collect revenue on each truck. There is also local government revenue, which we pay N100 to N300 per truck for both Dukku and Kwami councils because these are the two major LGAs that we get our firewood from".
He said he started the business, using bicycle where he would go to the forest and cut trees to make one bundle of wood and bring it to the town for sale "but thanks to God today, I can boast of buying 200 t0 300 bundles of firewood for sale. Secondly I have a family and it is from this business that I feed my family and meet all their demands and even help other people. You can be self- reliant in this business".
Rabiu Garba also said he has been in the business for 10 years and disclosed that he sources his wood from Dibe forest in Dukku and Kwami local governments.
Garba disclosed that they enlightenment from the Ministry of Environment on the effects of desertification and the need to cut only the dead trees and not the ones alive.
He said, selling firewood is profitable, as you can sell a truck without off loading it. He says, he sometimes make N2,000 to N3,000 every day from the sales of firewood.
"I pay N300 for each receipt issued by the local government revenue collectors. But at the military and police checkpoints, we pay N100 to the military checkpoints and N50 at the police check points and there are about four to five check points from Dukku to Gombe," he alleged.
Garba said that the business has helped him achieve a lot in life, as he got married, sponsored himself to school and even built his house from the proceeds.
He appealed to government to remove the crossing bumps on Dukku-Gombe road because the bumps are impediments to free movement of their business trucks, which are forced to maneuver some distances to get to the market.
Roda, a food seller said she uses firewood for cooking and it is more economical, than other means of cooking.
Yau Ado has been in the business for over 15 years and admits that he sources for firewood from the forest of Dukku and Kwami local government areas, saying they buy each a bundle of firewood at the cost of N50 from those who bring it from the forest and sale 150 per bundle of firewood every day.
Ado said, the patronage is encouraging and people buy it frequently , stating that on monthly basis, he makes N7, 000 to N10, 000 from the sales adding that " we thank God for everything because from this business we are fending for ourselves without necessarily begging or turning into political beggars."
Mansur Garba, chairman Association of Firewood Sellers, Gombe state branch, said, he is in the business for 18 years and it has made him whatever he is in life.
He said, he rakes in N4, 000 every day from the sales of firewood and pays N300 as revenue to Dukku and N100 to Kwami local governments respectively, collaborating what others said about payments at checkpoints.
"I grew up in this business and through it, I have married, built my house and God willing I am sponsoring my younger ones in school and even my brothers," he said
Gombe state Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment, Idris Muhammad Mahdi, told Weekly Trust that;
"The issue we should first place on record is the fact that what they are doing is illegal, because they are falling trees , We have been sensitizing them through the press on the dangers and threats, put by falling of trees, so for anybody to engage in the business of falling of trees like I said is illegal".
Mahdi said that predominantly about 90 or even 95 percent of the population in Gombe use firewood to make fire in order to cook adding that "all we are saying here is that we have been calling on people to plant trees not just falling of trees, adding that if you fall a tree which is 20-25 years old, the one you have planted does not make up for it " he said.
"We know that people have to make fire and an alternative means of cooking has not been made to available to them. But predominantly ands with due respect, those that use firewood to make fire are mostly the low income earners, probably they may not afford electric or gas cookers to cook and even those who can afford electric cookers, we don't have the electricity in the first place. So if they cannot afford such things they have to make fire in order to cook and feed themselves and if they have to fall trees in order to make fire all that we are saying is that plant trees, to make for what you are cutting," he said.
On the claims by the firewood sellers that they are paying government tax Mahdi said that "I cannot speak for others, but if they are paying tax probably, they are paying to the other ministry , but certainly not to the ministry of Water and Environment. They are not paying anybody any tax here and if somebody is paying, he should come forward and tell us. And if somebody is collecting tax, the ministry is not aware of that. And if somebody is doing that they should tell us to ask such person where is he or she remitting the money to and to whom with evidence of such monies being remitted ", the Commissioner explained.