Following recent invasion of Cross River state's reserved and other areas by unknown timber merchants, a greater part of Nigeria's remaining tropical rain-forest reserve is being threatened.
Environmental experts estimate that Nigeria may have lost as much as 90per cent of her original forest cover due to human activities. A significant portion of Nigeria's remaining tropical forest is found in Cross River State. However, this forest is threatened by increasing deforestation due to unsustainable agriculture and illegal timber exploitation.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Cross River State Forestry Commission (CRSFC) have raised an alarm over the rate of deforestation in the Afi River Forest Reserve (ARFR), which covers approximately 380 sq. km, arguing that if care is not taken the areas may be completely lost in the foreseeable future.
The Afi River Forest Reserve is one of the largest remaining relatively intact forest reserves in Cross River State and an important corridor linking the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary to the Mbe Mountains and the Cross River National Park, which are home to the Critically Endangered Cross River gorilla.
Sadly, the Afi River Forest Reserve located in Boki Local Government Area as well as other forest areas in the state such as Ukpon River Forest Reserve, Iko-Esai, Ekuri, and Agoi community forests are lavishly being degraded as more logging is taking place and lots of timber are being taken out unchecked.
In a letter to the Cross River State Forestry Commission dated April 4, 2019 and signed by the Director, Cross River landscape, WCS Nigeria programme, Dr Inaoyom Imong said, "I write to bring to your attention massive deforestation of parts of the Afi River Forest Reserve that is currently taking place.
"In March 2019, the WCS received reports of the bulldozing of large tracts of intact forest in the southeastern axis of Afi River Forest Reserve, purportedly to establish a cocoa plantation by a group whose identity and affiliation is yet to be determined. The reports indicate that work started after holding discussions with Abo Ogbagante village which appears in support of the bulldozing that has continued unhindered since early March 2019".
The letter further explained that, " WCS is concerned by the ongoing deforestation which threatens to destroy this critical forest corridor. The loss of this corridor will have severe consequences for the long term conservation of the population of critically endangered Cross River gorillas and other endangered species in the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary".
Accordingly, "the WCS called on the Cross River State Forestry Commission to take measures urgently to stop this illegal activity and save ARFR from further destruction".
Commenting on the deforestation, the Country Director WCS, Mr. Andrew Dunn, said, "the remaining gorillas in Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mbe Mountains are endangered by the current deforestation going on inside Afi River Forest Reserve, at Abo Ogbagante village."
Dunn said, "We fully support government policy on agriculture but feel very strongly that new cocoa should be planted on areas that have already been degraded and not on the state's remaining forest".
Equally reacting to the level of deforestation in the state, the Chairman of the State's Forestry Commission, Mr. Bette Obi said, "Our reserves are no go area but I cannot assure you that they are still 100 percent the way they should be. As far as that place is not de-reserved whatever they are doing there is illegal. We are on top of the matter and we are summoning the community to come here with those that are concerned so that we interact with them."
In a related development, the Federal Government has announced plans to review its forest management policy to check indiscrimate felling of trees.
The anticipated policy is expected to promote equitable, and enhance the nation's forest assets in a way that the felling of trees does not have any adverse effects on the biodiversity, productivity as well as ecological process.
Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Environment, Mrs. Ibukun Odusote made the revelation when a delegation of the Association of Charcoal Exporters of Nigeria led by its president Dele Fagbola paid her a courtesy visit in Abuja.
She also stated that government was aware that certification will add economic value to the products been exported and this would in turn add to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
"This realization has made government to carefully structure the guidelines to be mutually beneficial to everyone as well as promote sustainability, transparency and accountability in out national assets."
She therefore commended the efforts of the Association aimed at mitigating the effects of deforestation, stressing that if adequately managed; the forest can be both economically viable and socially beneficial to the citizens and country.
The permanent secretary, however urged them to mobilize membership in supporting government efforts at boosting afforestation and forest cover in the country saying, "As we cut down a tree today, we should replace it by planting at least three new ones."
Earlier, Legal Secretary to the Association, Lola Idowu, said that they were in the Ministry to solicit support in the passage of the draft bill for an Act for the establishment of the National Timber and Forest product Certification Council before the National Assembly.
She also stated that the Association has put in place several measures geared towards the sanitization of charcoal exportation in the country, revealing that the establishment of some plantations in Oyo, Ogun and Kwara states was to fulfill the government's policy of 'cut -one-plant-two.'
Equally, she disclosed that the Association has written letters to 36 state governments and FCT, to donate parcels of land for development of forest sites to enable them have control over the activities of its members within confined areas.
According to Idowu, if the requests made are granted, the Association would embark on training the locals on the best techniques to be used for better yields as part of its corporate social responsibility.