Some environment experts in the South-East zone of Nigeria have urged the Federal Government to intensify the implementation of the National Afforestation Programme (NAP) in the zone and the country.
The experts, who made the call in a survey on NAP, expressed concern that non-implementation of the programme had seriously affected its objectives in the country.
In Abia State, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Mr Iheanyichukwu Ubani, said activities of “tree poachers” and inadequate manpower to enforce government’s forest laws posed “a major challenge to the government’s afforestation programme in the state”.
Ubani said the ministry was intensifying efforts to squarely address the issue.
According to him, the implementation of the Federal Government’s National Afforestation Programme was skewed in favour of a few states in the federation.
Ubani described the programme as laudable and good but noted that its implementation had threatened Federal Government’s objectives.
He underscored the need for the Federal Government to adopt a new and all-inclusive approach to ensure an effective implementation of the programme nationwide.
“I advocate that the Federal Government adopts a more effective strategy to monitor the programme implementation to ensure its success in the overall national interest,’’ Ubani said.
The Permanent Secretary asserted that the state government initiated realistic measures to boost biodiversity through its tree planting programme.
Ubani said the government owned 19 forest reserves and had successfully raised a nursery with 10,000 seedlings of exotic and indigenous trees and shrubs.
He said the ministry had begun the distribution of the seedlings to communities across the state.
According to Ubani, the state government’s target is to raise two million tree seedlings.
The permanent secretary affirmed that afforestation was vital to effective mitigation of the negative impact of indiscriminate tree felling and ozone layer depletion on the environment.
“We are determined to make Abia to become rich in biodiversity and we are not left out in the comity of states implementing the afforestation programme,” he said.
Ubani said the state government, in partnership with Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP), had conducted several public enlightenment seminars on the importance of tree planting.
He said the programme was focused on encouraging the public to appreciate the need to plant five trees to replace any tree felled.
Mr James Eze, South-East Coordinator of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in Enugu State, said that a way of promoting afforestation and sustainable environment in the zone was by continuous planting of trees by residents.
Eze noted that negative developments and action leading to de-forestation within the zone had exposed the zone to lots of erosion, gullies and creation of “big gulfs’’ in some communities.
He, however, said that the zone did not have a coordinated plan to remediate the environment for now.
“It is left for individual residents and communities to have a plan of action and what should be accepted in their environment or neighbourhoods,” Eze said.
The coordinator appealed to residents in erosion prone communities to stop cutting down trees, rather they should plant more trees to check erosion and bind the soil together.
“At times, it threatens individuals directly by engulfing residential and public buildings and marketplaces.
“I appeal to traditional rulers, President-Generals, age-grades and youths in the South-East to champion the course of aggressive tree planting as well as introduce a community by-law to check indiscriminate tree felling,” Eze said.
The NEMA head urged the Federal and state governments to provide affordable bio-fuel, eco-friendly stove and kitchen gas alternatives in all communities in the zone to forestall cutting of trees as firewood or charcoal.
Eze said donation and sensitisation on the use of eco-friendly stoves remained a sure way of aiding afforestation within the South-East.
The NEWMAP’s Social Livelihood Specialist in Enugu, Mrs Scholastica Ani, said that its programme on eco-friendly stove and positive environmental habits sensitisation were meant to promote afforestation.
Ani said that the NEWMAP programme had continued to reduce the cutting and felling of trees for household use and economic purpose; thus, going a long way to encourage afforestation.
According to her, a reduction or outright non-usage of firewood will help to protect the environment and, by extension, the general climatic condition of the South-East and the country.
“We are experiencing relative constant heat and a rise in the temperature in Enugu State, although lying in high altitude; due to the negative human attitude of exposing our natural vegetation.
“The negative attitude includes indiscriminate cutting of trees, over-grazing and at times bush and tree burning to gather charcoal. These deplete the environment.
“Some people even engage in negative environmental practices for socio-economic reasons. This is more dangerous than what uninformed households do against the environment,’’ Ani said.
She said that NEWMAP had been doing much to encourage afforestation by providing alternatives to firewood business for some residents of South-East communities through provision of eco-friendly businesses or conditional cash transfer to them.
Meanwhile, the Controller, Federal Ministry of Environment, Enugu State, Mr Alpheus Odoh, says the Federal Government has no ongoing afforestation programme in the state.
Odoh said that no afforestation programme had been implemented in the state in the last six years, alleging that there had always been unfulfilled promises of getting the state involved.
He, however, said that prior to that, the state government participated in the “One Million Afforestation Programme of the Federal Government” during which one million trees were planted.
Odoh named some of the trees that were planted to include tit trees, palm trees, cashew trees, native apple trees, pear and others.
“The One Million Afforestation Programme was meant to boost afforestation. It was then directed that groups, communities and schools should take delivery of the trees,” he said.
Odoh said that the ministry usually worked with its state counterpart to implement such programmes.
The controller, however, said that he was not aware if the state government had on its own implemented any programme aimed at boosting forestation in the state.
He said that the environment had been greatly exposed to degradation due to the indiscriminate felling of trees which had led to erosion, loss of soil nutrients, global warming and others.
Meanwhile, the Anambra State Government says it has just five forest guards in the state, according to Mrs Marian Achugamonye, Head of Afforestation and Wildlife, State Ministry of Environment.
“In Anambra, the Akpaka forest reserve has been defeated by the springing up of buildings, while the remaining four are yet to be fully understood by landowners that are demanding reacquisition of their lands,” Achugamonye said.
She called for more enlightenment on the importance, benefits of afforestation to human existence.
“We were told that it is 200 metres from the bank of River Niger that is reserved for Akpaka forest reserve with a watershed.
“All these are now history as land speculators are having a field day making the mission unattainable, courtesy of politicians.
“With just five guards on our payroll, it needs enlightenment on both government and citizens to see the importance of us saving the environment from climate change,”
She called for increased manpower and support towards harnessing the benefits that the sector provided.
“It will provide tourism attraction for the state if properly supported by government which we have written to but yet to get response from them.
“Our people should be educated on the need to know that such afforestation sites will attract international tourists to their backyards if they cooperate on the project,” Achugamonye said.
On its own part, the Ebonyi State Government says it will sustain its tree planting awareness campaigns among citizens of the state due to inherent successes in such regard.
A top official of the state Ministry of Environment, who did not want his name mentioned, stated this in an interview in Abakaliki, the state capital.
The official remarked that the measure would complement the environmental upliftment policies of the state government, especially its urban renewal drive.
“The state had been transformed infrastructurally by the present administration and intensive tree planting would aid the aesthetic scenery of Abakaliki and other major cities.
“The state ministry of environment was taking the initiative to the residents of these cities through massive enlightenment and provision of tree species for planting,” he said.
Mrs Mary-Jane Obinna, an environmentalist, urged relevant non-governmental organisations to complement government’s efforts through promoting afforestation measures.
“The initiative should be taken to the grassroots where majority of the populace reside and where agricultural and other related activities are pre-dominant.
“Non-governmental organisations should take up the initiative due to the bureaucratic bottlenecks involved in implementing government policies and the need to protect the rural environment,” Obinna said.
Chief Basil Onyiba, a timber merchant in Ebonyi, called for stringent policies to check deforestation due to its mitigating consequences such as the effects of climate change.
“I am a timber dealer but still concerned about the indiscriminate felling of trees that had exposed the environment to the scorching effects of hot weather.
“There should be guided policies to regulate felling of trees as these should ensure that more trees were planted and allowed to mature,” Onyiba said.
By Razak Owolabi