The indiscriminate and unjustified hewing of trees in Edo State, especially in Benin City, its state capital, is sacrilegious and assumes a more disturbing trend, since about four years Mr. Godwin Obaseki, its incumbent governor, came to power. Indeed, it goes to confirm what experts randomly say that his government is not “environment-friendly”, a subsisting conservation lingo for those who antagonise nature balance.
In a clime, where shared beneficial issues are often swept-under the carpet, overly to suit power and position holders, it wouldn’t be shocking that severe environmental offences are demeaned to mundane and non-issues by power mongers and their enforcers.
The conservation niceties of; tree-planting and preservation of urban-trees; again sparked off a simple discourse on “Africa Media Hangout”, a major online interactive platform, dominated by Nigerian journalists, media men and others, who are presumably “enlightened minds”.
A proposing discussant again blamed Mr. Obaseki, as wanting in the preservation of old growth trees of Benin City, from halting their wanton destroyers, neither are tree-replacements made for the hewed trees, to replenish the environment for its teeming residents. The state government, he asserted, is also the worst culprit, where it directly carries out such felling.
But, the “illogicality” displayed by some discussants in their deviated responses and expectation, was that Governor Obaseki, rather than waste his precious time to “protect mere ornamental trees’ should, instead, put all attention on humans. What an impossible judgment! How would humans get to live to be focused upon if those fundamentals that ordinarily give them life are absence? For instance, should men jettison the environmental imperatives, knowing that without them there would be no lives? Can humans live without oxygenated air which the trees provide?
Indeed, the indiscriminate felling of trees in Edo’s human dwellings is aggravated by the non-functioning of the Landscaping Unit of the Forestry Department of the state. Evidently, the unit monitors, recommends and carries out the trimming and cutting down of municipal trees, alongside the replacement of lost trees with the fledglings.
One can’t help imagining where governments, institutions and individuals frivolously cut down old-growth trees without correctness. The Benin Electric Distribution Company (BEDC) is said to be the greatest offender, where it frivolously decimates the trees, under the guise of protecting electrical installations.
In rational civilizations that promote healthy conservation, tourism and ecotourism, Old Growth Trees, which take thousands of years to grow and are great assets and money-earners. As heritage objects and cites, it is profanity to have them cut down or mutilated, without statutory instructions.
Benin City, the acclaimed Cradle of Black Civilization, always had rich old tree-groves replete of the widest of “girths and uttermost canopies” most of which had been hewn down, particularly in the Government Reservation Area (GRA), that was once an entrenched culture of old-growth trees. Interestingly, the Esama of Benin kingdom, Chief Igbinedion, is a perfect example of a conservation-minded personal institution, which still maintains the robust culture of old-tree presence within and around his sprawling compound, in the same GRA district, that now serves as the last vestige of reminding all about a once flamboyant “civi-culture”.
As “Africa Media Hangout”, mostly consisting veteran and budding journalists and others as the “society-watchdog”, its therefore behooves that mere precepts shouldn’t overshadow the acts of walking the ideals for others to follow. And this writer acknowledges the fact that Messrs. Ofure Osehobo and Osazua Ibhaze, two veteran journalists, who threw up and deepened the discussion passed a instructive message and acts, which the other doubting Thomas tried fruitlessly to deemphasise.
But, what has the Edo State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) centre, Benin, the media’s trust and custodian of a “wholesome public conduct”, done to its own old growth trees, if only to amplify the said conservation norms? Whereas Chief Igbinedion, a Patron of the Edo NUJ, keeps the same own old growth trees, in the GRA vicinity, where he shares a boundary with the journalists’ centre?
A journalist, who is environmentally-conscious, is a rare gift to his society. What do most Edo journalists fail to promote the conservation principles, whilst their counterparts elsewhere, gleefully do so? For instance, Dele Ailemen, was in the 1980s an NUJ Chairman of the same council (then called Bendel State NUJ), who then helped to plant some of the trees of the centre.
Back to the centre after decades of stay in the USA, the well-meaning Ailemen was heartbroken seeing that the old growth trees and the ones he erected, were mostly gone!. And to show the good example and again set the pace for others to follow, he planted a heritage tree, which now gives shelter to many of the skeptics, who initially jeered as he planted. But, those who saw no wisdom in what he did, thereafter continued with the cutting down of the last of NUJ tree lots.
Some years ago, this writer had a heated argument with some of his journalistic colleagues of the same NUJ Council, after a Cedar (Heritage Old-growth Tree) at the front of the centre, was badly chopped off. Excepting for a few, most others didn’t see why somebody should be so angry that a tree was wrongly felled! Significantly, this tree of great girths and splendour was a ‘monument’ planted by ‘Bartholomew dela Casa’, a Portuguese visitor to the ancient city, in about 1629 (over 400 years ago!).
Remarkably, the departed Oba Erediauwa of Benin, a keen conservationist, who was also a valuable member of the global World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), had all along protected it from the motor saws, the axe-men and the bulldozers. Painfully, the hewers had made good their threats to whittle it down, behind the evergreen monarch!
Verily, the Obaseki’s government, had not only failed in protecting the robust past of Edos, where it comes to upholding helpful conservation practices, passed on from the forefathers to the children. Unfortunately, most Edo traditional institutions have not helped to uphold the sane practices. Is it the state government that also sets the bad example for them to follow?
Obviously, the abandonment of the “tree culture”, by government, informs the undue ceding by government of Edo forest reserves of rich biodiversity, the ancestral lands belonging to poor local communities, to multinational companies, for erection of single-crop plantations. Most unfortunately, Governor Obaseki had reneged on the promises he made about four years ago, to establish a Forestry Commission, to entrench tree-retaining and regeneration. “A tree planted and retained are smooth generational shifts not mangled by human and environmental caprices!”
By Tony Erha (Journalist and conservationist, Benin City, Edo State)