Early in August, the Gombe State governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo, marked the 2017 World Desertification Day. As part of his programme, Dankwambo planted trees in Bojude, Kwami LGA, Gombe State. His effort calls my attention to a fundamental angle to tree-related issues. Now, Bojude is a few kilometres outside Gombe town, the state capital. I was there last July in the company with Shehu Durbi, Commissioner of Lands and Survey, Gombe State, who was on an inspection tour of his farm. My friend is a rare Nigerian – intelligent, considerate, honest, and carries no burdensome ego; he’s the kind I wish we breed more of. He farms crops and he would fold his wando (native trousers) to proudly take me through his cattle ranch, warning me about the cattle that had very bad temperament and those that didn’t. An economist, when he chose to go into business (while rejecting a juicy bank offer of appointment) over two decades ago, he had told me he wanted to do honest business and make money by honest means. He still lives by his word.
Kwami LGA is a vast savannah area with a large farming community. The reality is that any land used for farming confirms that deforestation has taken place. At least, bush clearing has happened. Once bush gives way to farmland, the ecosystem changes, the nature of wildlife and vegetation is impacted. More so, as chemicals are used on crops. But we must grow crops for human consumption, and it’s by clearing more bush that we do it across this country. We also fell trees for fuel and other uses. Deforestation and desertification are inescapable. Yet, we need to ensure this doesn’t harm us.
One doesn’t need to be a scientist to understand the implication of farmlands for man and wildlife. I’m not in the sciences. I’m a nature enthusiast. I take interest in conservation. I follow trending environmental issues to make sense of what is going on in our world, have a holistic understanding and make sensible contribution when occasions demand. It didn’t start today. In 2007, I took interest in the climate change matter and wrote the first of my several pieces on the issue, (“Climate Change: US versus the rest of the world” – Daily Trust, Friday, October 26, 2007). Unknown to me, that was the Friday before the week the first ever national conference on climate change in Nigeria was to take place in Abuja. When a producer at AIT read it, he invited me to their Abuja studio to enlighten the public. I recall the producer had said there was a conference and no one appeared to understand anything about climate change that was the focus. Well, I had had to apologise because 24 hours after I submitted the piece in Abuja, I was far away in the North.
When Dankwambo planted trees to mark the World Desertification Day and lamented the fast rate of desertification in the north of the country, he reminded me of what had crossed my mind while I was in Bojude. I had looked into the horizon, saw mostly flat land planted with crops owned by different individuals, and I thought of how the land was laid bare for the elements to toy with. It’s how a conservationist would think. Bojude is also a fertile area for firewood harvesters and sellers. They sell their wares along the road, and trucks could be seen laden with firewood leaving the area. These same activities are taking place all over the country. It’s a recipe for serious environmental challenges. This same thought about conserving our natural environment as much as possible was what I had entertained as an undergraduate at the University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos, at the time the Third Mainland Bridge was being constructed on the lagoon. I used to spend time between lectures at the spot that UNILAG students called Lagoon Front, so the dredging for the pillars of the Third Mainland Bridge was done right in my view.
Each time I sat at the Lagoon Front, I wasn’t thinking about the bridge; I was thinking about a serene environment destroyed for the sake of modernisation. I recall nursing this mild irritation regarding the harm being done to the serene and fantastic view across the lagoon.
Modernisation and modern consumption patterns destroy nature. Only the nature conscious reader gets my point. I mean, I grew up in a setting that was consciously designed to prioritise greenery. So, I grew up knowing what keeping the environment as natural as possible meant to well-being. I still do. In the event, I couldn’t be anywhere and fail to notice when our actions constitute harm to nature. Due to population growth and expansion, Gombe and the LGAs around it are fast losing their natural texture. Woodlands disappear almost overnight. It’s a major reason the trees that Dankwambo plants in Bojude, inaugurating a forestation project, is of interest to me. I think it’s a good endeavour, and lures me to point out a few things connected to desertification in that part of the country.
Statistics on the rate of desertification in the North are staggering. The figures are such that each time I travel across the north, I wonder how our people still have any trees to fell for firewood. We know trees are good. They are a part of our natural global environment. They are used to construct the buildings we live in, the chairs and the tables we write with, and eat food from. These are few of the reasons we should plant more of them. But they also hold soil in place, sequester carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, provide important habitat for wildlife. An urban forest is especially important for cities, increase property values, help to save energy, important for physical and mental wellness, and trees create a sense of place. They are an investment for our communities and for future generations. Trees help to slow stormwater runoff as well as help to buffer storms. Trees produce products for our use such as medicine, and they also help to clean the soil. They help clean the air, and help to attract customers to businesses. If the reader is attracted by the landscaping of a business premises with its trees, grass and flower hedges, all creating a serene setting, he gets my point.
While Dankwambo was speaking at the tree-planting event, he said, “In commemoration of this year’s World Desertification Day, two hectares of Woodlot, two hectares of Orchids, would be planted here in Bojude.” His administration would need more than those four hectares, and the tree planting effort would have to be more than a commemoration. His government needs to adopt forestation as an economic and ecological development programme. Why? Gombe Town and its environs are flood prone. They’ve always been, and it’s getting worse. I read a 1919 document by the British District Officer who selected the spot and planned Gombe Town; he complained about serious erosion due to pattern in water flow. Not long ago, flood overran major highways, including the popular Jekadafari Road in the centre of Gombe Town. Ugly gorges are formed in impossible places, the road infrastructure that Dankwambo has heavily invested in (and for which I applaud his administration) are at risk of being damaged. I saw portions of major tarred roads in town that I learnt flooding lifted up. It’s also known that flooding is eating up the edges of Gombe section of the Bauchi-Gombe road in some places.
For these reasons and more, Gombe State needs a major environmental protection strategy. Massive tree planting should be part of this, because the rate at which trees that hold the ground and reduce water flow are being cut is alarming. But this isn’t only about planting trees, it’s about planting the kind of trees that will meet our people’s economic needs tomorrow. For instance, firewood sellers will remain in business for a long time to come for obvious reasons. A time will come when they won’t have free trees to cut any more, and of course enforcement of laws regarding how and where to cut trees for fuel will become stricter. Trees in plantations such as the one Dankwambo has in mind will be what they have to purchase and deal in. Our governments across the nation should factor this into their tree planting programmes too.