Chairman, Cross River State Forestry Commission, Odigha Odigha, is committed to the implementation of the UN-REDD+ Readiness programme, with the state collaborating with the Federal Government under an innovative, two-track approach. During a recent Stakeholder Engagement Forum in Calabar, he bares his mind on a number of issues entailing the climate change mitigation programme that will soon spread to other states in the federation
How is the stakeholder Engagement Forum relevant to the REDD+ Readiness process?
It is the practicalisation of the participatory behaviour in governance. That’s what we are seeing here. It is the meeting of all the identified stakeholder groups, namely: forest dependent communities, the civil society organisations, the MDAs, the media, the academia and the private sector, to look at issues that have taken place; the meetings, the information they provided. It’s to give them a feedback for them to deliberate on these issues: can we adopt this position? To resolve at the level the structure that we are establishing. The decisions are taken with their information. It is basically a feedback process.
How do you assess the deliberations so far, and what are the likely outcomes?
We are trying to establish ownership of the entire programme and the ownership should start from a process that we all designed and all took part in, which is what is going on. Like we are talking about establishing a community-based REDD+ where decisions will be taken by the community, and essentially we will be talking about providing alternative livelihood options. We don’t want to impose any options, they should through interactions say, this is what we have identified and this is how we want it, help us facilitate the process. That is just a couple of resolutions that we have in that respect, and that should be respected. That will mean that the sustainability element is there, point of ownership is established, and place the demand in the people to say that we brought out this idea, it was not imposed on us, we really engaged. So those are things that are emerging in this process.
How do you expect the deliberations to progress as the day unfolds?
We are complying with the basic elements of good governance. Participatory behaviour is one of such, and then the issue of accountability and transparency; things will be discussed extensively. And also, the issue of equity – the stakeholders are freely contributing and they are not coarsed into doing anything. Equity is fairness. We feel that these are the essential pillars in governance. If we put them there, then we are sure that we will best address the issues at stake.
The current governor has been very supportive of this project over the years. But he will be leaving in a few months and someone else that may not be very familiar with the project will come in. What are being place to ensure that this project and processes continue even beyond outgoing governor’s legacies, and are attractive to the incoming one?
We are optimistic about that in the sense that we are involving the MDAs and other stakeholders as much as possible. The essence is that, within the shortest possible time, can we institutionalise some of these processes? Like the stakeholder forum, do we have a legal interpretation of it? So that way, it will take some other further effort to wish it away. The intention is that, can we legalise this processes? And play a part that will be appreciated by whoever comes in. You can see that the traditional rulers are actively involved, the government departments are involved – and they have a voice. These are institutions.
How can you make the politician buy into the project?
As of now, the REDD+ Readiness phase is not asking for resources from government. We are seeing how we can draw some aids from outside to establish a process that will guarantee proper resource management which will in turn generate the necessary revenue, increase the IGR for the state and enhance good governance even at the grassroots level. We feel that when these things are done, they will create employment opportunities, contribute to development and create some goodwill to the coming administration and with that understanding it will inform their decision to work with this structure and allow the REDD+ programme to flourish.
CRS is pioneering the REDD+ Programme in the country. However, other states have shown interest in being part of the action. Now, being the flagship player, how would you like to get others involved in this initiative?
We are very conscious about that. It is a mandate of the project that best practices be established here with the view that the experience will be duplicated in other states of the federation that are interested in REDD+. As we speak, we have started seeing that. About a month ago, several states interested in the project came here to CRS as a group; the likes of Ekiti, Ondo, Delta, Nasarawa and Taraba states were all here. But beyond that other states like Bayelsa had visited here and asking that yes, they need some hand-holding in their efforts to do REDD+.
I have had the opportunity of taking some state representatives from here in Calabar to international forums like one in Ethiopia where we participated in the forest governance conference. Also involved were Lagos and Delta. So we are interested in ensuring that the forest, the last surviving forest in Nigeria is protected, and we are privileged to have some experiences over time in forest management and conservation. We want to see how Nigeria can be classified again as a big forest nation and we have something to do to help that to happen in the rest of the country.
So Nigeria has lost most of its forest resources over the decades. Can the REDD+ project help reverse this trend by way of some sort of a reforestation process?
Yes, it can. The incentives are there and they are quite attractive because part of the REDD+ programme is to increase the forest carbon stock and that comes through afforestation. So there is that attraction there that it can happen. So what is necessary is the goodwill from government and the people to do it. As long as there is goodwill, the incentives are quite there. Besides the carbon financial incentive, the ecosystem services, opportunity of improving the health of the environment are enough attraction and benefits to get us to embrace that, and we in CRS are committed to helping Nigeria to build that process.