Concerned with the rising spate of deforestation in Cross River State, southern Nigeria, We the People on the 6th December, 2022 held a Multi-Stakeholder Conference on Deforestation in the state capital Calabar.
Recall that in 2008, arising from an environmental summit, the Cross River state government had instituted a ban on all forest activities, specifically targeting loggers which it considered the key drivers of deforestation at the time. However, despite the moratorium on forest activities placed by the government 14-years earlier, the spate of deforestation has rather intensified. Currently, logging activities have taken more alarming and sinister dimensions in the state.
In several communities, loggers and timber dealers establish their trading posts close to the forests, and form trade unions to regulate the business. Logs are openly processed into various sizes, loaded onto trucks and transported to destinations within and outside the state fairly easily. As a consequence of this, the Cross River forests which were once considered the richest cover in West Africa up to the 20th Century has suffered and unprecedented decline.
Between 1991 and 2001, the state lost 1,514 Km2 of forest amounting to 12% of its forest cover. Another 1,307 Km2 of forest was lost in the 8-year period between 2000 and 2008, indicating a 17.64% decline in the state’s forest. Other data indicates that between 2000 and 2007, the forest loss was about 390 Km2. Between 2007 and 2014, the rate increased sharply to 1,070Km2 in 7 years. The forests have come under severe attacks by several actors including the state government, plantation companies and illegal loggers.
The Multi Stakeholder Conference on Deforestation which aimed broadly at highlighting the escalating threat of deforestation, as well as the gaps and challenges associated with existing government responses, explored frameworks and policy options for addressing deforestation. The Conference brought together experts from the academia, civil society, the government and communities to share experiences while brainstorming on policy alternatives for protecting the forests and addressing deforestation.
In his opening remarks, the Executive Director of We the People, Ken Henshaw expressed concern that the problem had escalated tremendously. According to him, “to facilitate the theft of forest resources, there has been the emergence of armed non-state actors often called ‘Crossers’ who take responsibility for arranging consignments of timber from the forest, and conveying them to designated destinations outside the state. Their rank consists of thugs and militants armed with illegal firearms, deployed to intimidate, terrorize and maim forest protection agents and community vigilante groups that they perceive as threats to their operations. On several occasions, ‘Crossers’ are known to have attacked community members, volunteer groups and task force members who prevent illegal extraction and transportation of timber products”
We the People’s Project Officer Grace Apollos said that “the illicit trade in timber has expanded to include foreign (Chinese) interests as well as international dimensions. Exotic species of wood are illegally extracted from the forests and exported overseas. While the forests undergo systematic dissipation, communities who traditionally own these forests and have protected it for generations are not only losing their livelihoods, but also their heritage. With the loss of forest cover, the impacts of climate change are becoming more threatening and dire”.
In his Keynote presentation, former Chairman of the State Forestry Commission and recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, Dr. Odigha Odigha stated that the state government has failed woefully in addressing environmental challenges in the state including issues of deforestation.
Other speaker at the event including the Chairman of Boki local government areas, and civil society leaders proffered extensive solutions for addressing deforestation.