Nigeria: Niger Budgets N40 Million for Office Construction in Boko Haram-Controlled Forest Reserve

Nigerian Army in Sambisa Forest (file photo)
20 February 2024

From their enclave, the terrorists have staged violent attacks against civilians and security personnel including local vigilantes trying to subdue their reign.

The Niger State Government has budgeted N40 million for the "construction and furnishing of offices" at Allawa Game Reserve, a stronghold of Boko Haram insurgents terrorizing the area.

The 2024 budget of the North-central state also states that N2.2 billion was budgeted for the same project in 2023. However, checks by PREMIUM TIMES show that no such item was listed in the 2023 budget.

Although the budget document states that the "construction and furnishing of offices" is "at the Allawa Game Reserve," an official said the offices will be constructed in Minna, the Niger State capital.

The Niger State Commissioner for Environment and Climate Change, Yakubu Kolo, in a telephone interview with our reporter also said that although there have been budgetary allocations to the ministry since 2014 for the project, "there were no implementations." Mr Kolo suggested that the monies were released in the previous years but the construction was not done.

The Allawa Game Reserve, technically owned by the federal government, is one of the 10 across the country that the government seeks to upgrade.

Last year, the 9th National Assembly approved former President Muhammadu Buhari's request to upgrade 10 game reserves to national parks. These would add to the seven existing national parks in the country.

The upgrade, according to the former environment minister, Mohammad Abubakar, "is geared towards the United Nations policy of placing 25 per cent of its member countries' landmass under permanent vegetation cover for carbon sequestration to mitigate the effects of climate change and ameliorate other ecological challenges."

Nonetheless, locals said the planned upgrade of the reserve has not been effective. They said decisive action needs to be taken about the terrorists who have turned the park into their home.

Reservoir of terror

Located in Allawa, Shiroro Local Government Area (LGA), locals said the game reserve has become an enclave of Boko Haram terrorists and other bandit groups who kill, kidnap and terrorise residents.

On many occasions, the insurgents have whisked away unsuspecting locals to their enclave inside the reserve.

Residents of the community said some kidnapped victims who regained freedom from the terrorists identified their strongholds in the Maganda and Kugu parts of the reserve linking to other terror-ravaged reserves - Kamuku National Park in Kaduna State and Kwiambana in Zamfara State.

From their enclave, the insurgents have staged violent attacks against civilians and security personnel including local vigilantes trying to subdue their reign.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how the terrorists attacked Allawa town in the local government on Sunday, burning over 30 houses.

This newspaper also reported that the terrorists recently took over a rural road leading to the reserve.

In a series of social media posts, Jibrin Allawa, a youth leader from the area, decried how the reserve has become a source of sorrow to his community and other adjoining villages of Bassa, Gyaramiya, Kukkoki and some villages in neighbouring Rafi LGA.

Commenting on PREMIUM TIMES' findings, Mr Allawa said he believes the construction of the offices might be in another part of the state and not in the game reserve.

According to Mr Allawa, there are staff quarters in the innermost parts of the reserve, such as in Bassa, Kukkoki and Gyramiya, but they have been taken over by the terrorists.

For Yahuza Agumi, a resident of Allawa, citing such a project in the reserve could lead to a reduction of terror activities and create job opportunities for the locals.

But for that to be achieved, "the government needs to flush out the terrorists from the forest," Mr Agumi noted.

Government defends allocation

Meanwhile, Mr Kolo, the environment commissioner, told PREMIUM TIMES the ministry is aware of terror activities in the reserve. He explained that the construction and furnishing of offices "for rangers and field staff" at the park will be done in Minna, the state capital.

Referencing the upgraded status of the reserve, the commissioner explained that one of the mandates of his ministry is to provide offices for the take-off of the national park.

In many cases where we have national parks, offices are located in state capitals, he explained, referring to the Old Oyo National Park and Chad Basin National Park which have offices in the state capitals of Oyo and Borno states.

"We are trying to rent an office or negotiate with the federal ministry of environment in Minna. They have offices here and if they are able to give us some of the offices, we will renovate and furnish it," Mr Kolo explained by phone.

When asked about the tourism prospects of the site, Mr Kolo said: "Issues of tourism can not come now until you have been able to properly protect and ensure the availability of animals in the park. Tourism is a by-product of environmental protection."

He added that most of the efforts of the government are to protect the park and flush out the terrorists and poachers.

"It has been a game reserve for years and no one talked about tourism and now that it has been upgraded to a national park, the federal government will now put more money to ensure that all cases of insecurity and all areas of protection.

"The initial stage of work includes provision of water, [track] routes, and stabilising the place before discussing tourism."

He said a not-for-profit pro-conservation group, Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE), had reported movements of elephants between Kamuku, Kwainbana and Allawa forests. This, he said, suggests the presence of wildlife in the national park.

According to him, the timeframe for the initial work depends on the security situation around the national park. He said there is a committee set up by the federal ministry of environment, composed of many security agencies, to ensure that the vast forests in the country "especially where we have national parks are well-protected."

Other reserve forests taken over by terrorists

There are about six protected sites that are being threatened by terror activities with some of them under the control of the terrorists.

For instance, Yankari Game Reserve which sits on an estimated 2,244 square kilometres of land in Alkaleri Local Government Area in Bauchi State, has recently become a hideout for bandits ransacking nearby villages surrounding the reserve.

Armed bandits, according to an investigation by a grassroots newspaper in the state, have kept kidnapped victims in the reserve. In August last year, the terrorists ambushed poorly armed rangers protecting wildlife in the reserve, injuring one.

Sambisa Game Reserve was taken over by Boko Haram insurgents and rival fighters of Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), while Ningi forest reserve in Bauchi and Kainji National Park in Niger state have become criminal hideouts for terrorists.

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