By Furera Bagel
Three years ago, a day after Eid-el fitr, residents of Bauchi town and its surroundings experienced a terrible sandstorm for the first time. It was disastrous as it rendered many homeless after their buildings and rooftops were destroyed by heavy winds that accompanied the heavy downpour.
Then it happened again the following year and the next, and this year is the fourth year the residents are experiencing this which made people to start asking what could be the cause? Could this be as a result of excessive deforestation happening in the area?
Whenever I travel to Azare from Bauchi, I always came across about many pickup trucks heading towards the state capital, sometimes you see them parked by the roadside overloaded and waiting for the forest guards and inspectors to close from work or sometimes they follow off beat rough tracks to circumvent them.
The first time I noticed this I was curious that I decided to count and realized more than 20 trucks have passed, all carrying a huge load of firewood.
In my hometown, Bagel, there was a little forest just after the long bridge that had not been tampered with for more than a century. Reason was, that was the first place the people settled. The late Emir of Sass Dr. Alhaji Bilyaminu Othman mentioned in his book titled, Dass: Land of Unity In Diversity, that according to settlers, they first met Yakubun Bauchi on their migration route and he assured them of their safety and instructed them to head to that location since it was part of his conquered territory. Hence the reason that place was revered as their most sacred place.
Rituals of the tribe like youth circumcision and initiation used to take place at Kun-Git, even after they have moved to their present location. The ruins of the first mosque built for Yakubun Bauchi, by the people was still visible.
Unfortunately, the last time I visited home I almost cried because I could only count just a few trees at Kun-Git due to the activities of Charcoal makers.
Charcoal making has become a huge industry in these villages. Many youths spent days in the forests or over mountains, cutting down trees and preparing them for burning and coal production. Afterwards they sell a bag ranging from 1,500 to 2, 500 naira.
To some of them, that is the only way of making sure they save their families from hunger. Unfortunately they are ignorant about effects of their activities on the environment.
The local population’s indifference to continued campaigns about climate change and perhaps their lack of proper education and enlightenment about environmental hazards like desertification, is responsible to their poor attitudes towards conservation.
These attitudes have in turn led to harmful activities like deforestration and over grazing, artisanal mining have contributed to these degradations. Local unemployment is also posited as one of the reasons these hazardous professions continue to thrive.
In my opinion, the biggest reason is due to dire needs for cooking fuel by an increasing unplanned population depending on unsustainable means of addressing one of man’s most fundamental of needs which is food. Sometimes people have to wait for a day or two after booking for a bag coal due to high demand.
There is an urgent need for a solution to this or else desert encroachment that has threatened the whole northern borders of Nigeria and has inched gradually every year will continue to take over fertile arable lands and destroying them for the purpose of food production.
There needs to be an alternative energy source for cooking beyond firewood and charcoal. The Brazilian option of converting biowaste and crop residues into energy sources can be explored by our government. North Central Nigeria is the natural geographic belt know as the Sahel Savannah, where cattle populations are abundant in large numbers as such it will be wise to invest in design, production and training of rural communities in Biogas production from cow dung and other biodegeablenfood wastes as is obtainable in countries like India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and China. A good template is the Indian cow-dung industry which helped create about 10 million jobs in that country.
Several international development research have indicated a need to find alternative household energy sources for cooking, heating and other domestic uses. The over reliance of firewood and it’s by-products like charcoal coupled with rising cost of fossil fuels have increased negative impacts of using such sources to the health of women exposed to often noxious and cancerous substances like plastic and polythene which have all found their way into the kitchen most especially in wet weather.
A good strategy any government in Nigeria concerned with the current energy crisis and deficit should be to make concerted efforts in improving access to LPG cylinders at subsidized rates to encourage adoption. As more licenses are given to marketers for gas proper monitoring and interventions may be needed to ensure the target population trapped in the poverty/poor access to energy nexus ‘, most of which are womenfolk who society left the burden of sourcing domestic fuel for cooking was left to.
As a gas producing nation, it is embarrassing that gas is still considered as a status symbol and only the rich can afford it while in other countries like Sudan and Ethiopia, Tea and coffee sellers all used small 3kg LPG to cook their food and beverages for customers. Even the man who fries ta’amiya (akara) by the roadside make use of the cooking gas.
Government should also consider private public partnerships in the design and mass production of improved cookstoves that use briquettes, coal or even sawdust and mobilize rural communities to adopt them. subsidising kerosene further in the interest of saving our environment may be only a short term solution seeing the condition of of our refineries and the supply deficit suffered each year. When the people have other options then government have a right to prosecute anyone caught cutting down trees for fuel and there must be a heavy penalty for that.
Tree planting campaigns as done during military era should be reintroduced and encouraged by the ministry of environment. They should also endeavour to sponsor Sensitization and enlightenment programs on the effect of deforestation on the environment and the importance of planting a tree.
This is the right time to stand up and fight deforestation by preferring solutions and following that with, actions instead of mere lamentations. If not, then we will surely regret later on.