In Kwara State, the loggers and charcoal producers are making fortunes from deforestation but no one is planting to replace the fallen trees. Abdulrasheed Hammad travelled to Moro local government area of the state to document how loggers, charcoal producers, and firewood makers are falling trees amid official neglect.
On April 7, numerous trucks loaded with charcoal left Moro forest at Moro Local Government Area of Kwara State, Northcentral Nigeria. Inside this forest, our reporter sighted charcoal producers burning trees.
One of those carrying out the illegal business simply identified himself as Abdulkareem. He is doing the business to feed himself, and his family.
“We don’t know any implication of falling trees. We are strangers here and we are looking for food. I am working on behalf of someone,” he said. “I can’t tell you anything, if you want to hear anything, go and meet my boss in Ilorin to confirm.”
When he was asked about the licence and patrols of forest guards, he replied saying he doesn’t know anything about that.
Meanwhile, a middle-aged man simply identified as Baba Teslim said “We pay N50, 000 licence fee to the government,” while showing evidence to validate his claim. Apart from the licence fee collected from them, the state government is also accused of collecting N4,000 per timber truck as revenue.
Speaking on loggers without licence, he said “We often cover up those that haven’t renewed their licence from the forest guards. Although the government told us to cut one tree and plant two trees, we couldn’t plant any trees. I don’t think the government is planting any trees but they are always collecting revenue from us.”
Asked whether he knew the implication of cutting trees without replanting, he replied in the negative.
Another logger who simply identified himself as Abdulrauf also said “We collect the licence under the ministry of forestry. We often search the forest by ourselves and if we get there, we will confirm the owner. They have the amount they used to collect from us based on the truck we load and we will start work immediately if we understand one another.”
Though there is a government policy instructing the loggers to cut one tree and plant two trees, Abdulrauf and other loggers in the associations are not replanting trees due to lack of a concrete plan from the state government to implement such policy.
“The fault for not cutting any trees lies with the government. The government is not encouraging those that are planting it by giving them incentives. If you are doing something for the government and you are not getting anything in return, you would surely not be motivated.
“It is the responsibility of the government and loggers to plant trees but this government is only after money,” he declared.
Nigeria’s total land area equates to 947,800 km2. Forest covers 10% of the total land area, with over 4,600 plant species identified, making Nigeria 11th most biodiverse country in Africa. These forested areas are on a sharp decline daily due largely to the illegal cutting of trees.
A former Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jibril disclosed in September 2016 at the International Environmental Roundtable for Africa organised by Green life Magazine noted that Nigeria loses 1.5 million trees daily due to logging, with a deforestation rate of 3.5 per cent annually considered the highest globally.
A 2017 report by the Environmental Investigation Agency stated that over 1.4 million illegal rosewood logs (popularly known as Koso) worth $300m were exported to China from Nigeria, in connivance with top government officials. This led to the placement of a ban on the exportation of the species used for manufacturing luxury furniture.
Despite the disturbing statistics, many loggers in Ilorin show no sign of slowing down – like many of their colleagues across the country – without any step in replacing the fallen trees.
As of 2012, over 120 million Nigerians relied on firewood and charcoal for their cooking needs, said the International Energy Agency in the World Energy Outlook. A similar report by the World Health Organisation in 2017 put the figure at over 100 million, indicating no significant improvement.
Muhammad Jamiu, 55, has also been in the business for long. “The government is the reason loggers are not planting trees because charcoal producers are working in daylight and the government is still collecting revenue from them.”
Baba Kamaldeen on the other hand noted that some loggers do not renew their licence after it expires. Hence, they boycott forest guards.
Deforestation statistics for Nigeria published by Mongabay revealed that 113,948 hectares of Nigeria’s primary forest were lost to deforestation from 2002 to 2018 while 818,286 hectares of tree cover (planted by people) were destroyed during the same period.
As of 2018, tree covers in the country stood at 10,326,662 hectares – 639,384 hectares short of the 10,966,046 hectares recorded in 2010. The primary forest as of 2018 was 1,789,176 hectares; 80,004 short of 1,869,180 hectares accounted for in 2010.
The record further stated that Kwara State, where Muhammad Jamiu and other loggers carry out their activities has a total area of 3,547,840 hectares. From 2001 to 2018, 23,474 hectares of tree covers, representing 22 per cent, were lost to deforestation in the state. Of that figure, 17,169 hectares (11 per cent) of tree cover were destroyed between 2011 and 2018.
Within the period, Kwara with carbon biomass of 22,806,934 metric tons had emitted 5,290,927 Mt from 2001 to 2018. From 2001 to 2010, the average carbon emissions per year was 153,530 Mt. The average emissions rose sharply from 2011 to 2018 to 469,454 Mt.
Research shows that the major cause of deforestation is logging which is second to shifting cultivation. This imposes a great number of negative impacts on species or the products produced from forests.
The Principal Consultant, Enviromax Global Resources Limited, Gboyega Olorunfemi noted that the effect of deforestation on the environment and people ranges from socio-economic impact to health hazards.
He said when economic trees are fallen illegally at the expense of the state and nature, the environment cannot be sustainable due to the loss of biodiversity and pressure on the entire ecosystem.
He added that it impacted negatively on the air quality index for the people of Kwara as the forest expected to sink carbon is no longer available, noting that deforestation will expose the covered land to being exposed to flooding and erosion.
“It is rather unfortunate that these are still happening in the Kwara State that has featured in the news for arresting those who were engaged in illegal felling of trees in the past. The question is, what changed? What happened to the laws and policies put in place to check these excesses.
“The effect of the production of charcoal is simply deforestation. When you clear the woods in the forest to produce charcoal, there is nothing left. More reasons the people of Kwara should be wary of the consequences of their activities and decide on the kind of environment they want to live in – the state actors must also be responsible.
“Kwara people want to enjoy food for all, they want to have access to clean water and air, they want to be protected against climate change impacts, they want a thriving livelihood for their people in communities, they want to enjoy good health – all will be no more if people continue to exploit the forest unsustainably,” he revealed.
He added that the solution to prevent the occurrence of climate change is to aggressively commence a rethinking of sustainable forest management by the state leadership and ensure that everyone engaging in illegal logging faces the music.
He also urged the state government to empower its regulatory agency to strengthen enforcement and compliance of their existing laws prohibiting the illegal logging, continually prosecute defaulters and anyone conniving with them to sabotage efforts of the government.
“Nigeria has been reported to have the highest rate of deforestation in the world losing more than 400,000 hectares of land annually through logging and mining agriculture. The State should look at the REDD+ launched by Nigeria in 2021 to tackle deforestation for domestication. Having said this, every state in Nigeria must collaborate with relevant NGOs and development partners to organise awareness and advocacy to let people know about the negative impact of charcoal production despite the alternative it provides in terms of fuelwood.
“Nigeria in addition to having a REDD+ strategy has just inaugurated the National Policy for Sustainable Forest Management to promote good forest governance to improve livelihood in the country, Kwara state government through its forestry department must be proactive in advancing and integrating this latest policy to properly manage its forest into full force by domesticating it,” he urged.
Section one of the Kwara Charcoal Prohibition Laws of 2005, stipulates an N50,000 fine or one-year imprisonment for offenders found guilty of charcoal production. Following the amendment of the law in 2018, an offender is now liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding N100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years — or both.
In addition, the person shall also forfeit to the government the charcoal and any vehicle, equipment, or implement used in the commission of the offence.
Despite this law, the charcoal business still thrives in Kwara State. There was also an existing government policy on saw-chain law and felling of trees which stipulates that if anyone hews down a tree, he must plant two seedlings.
These policies were not implemented by the state government. Kwara State Commissioner for Environment, Abosede Buraimah also said “The temperature is alarming now in our state, thereby putting both the communities and people at great risk.”
Despite this great risk, authorities take no step to fight deforestation. Speaking with our reporter, the Director of Forestry in Kwara State, Babatunde Mahmud agreed that afforestation is the ultimate solution to climate change but his assertion contradicts his action.
“Theft is prohibited by law and people are still stealing. That is how it applies to charcoal producers. Where we don’t have adequate measures over what is prohibited, we are bound to face this problem. In the case of charcoal producers and exporters, we foresters are supposed to be catching them but most of the time they used to pass, we don’t use to be there. Even if we are there, how many are we in terms of having strength.”
He added that if they are caught, they are going to free them at last because there is no gain in destroying their charcoal to waste.
“Destroying their charcoal doesn’t solve anything. If we collect a fine from them and we penalise them, they will still do it. We didn’t legalise them formally. If we meet them, we will arrest them,” he said.
“We are collecting a fine from charcoal producers if we catch them. Loggers are legalised if they have a licence. Every year, we renew their licence. We can’t even stop them from cutting trees due to the usage for the general public like building construction and others. Although, we didn’t allow them to cut some trees and if they do so, they will be fined,” he noted.