How China Fuels Deforestation In Nigeria, West Africa

Loading of rosewood in Garba Chede, Taraba State
Loading of rosewood in Garba Chede, Taraba State

Corruption by local officials and sharp practices by Chinese businessmen drive a thriving illegal trade in timber from Nigeria and a large part of West Africa with grave consequences for the economy, ecosystem and the environment.

BY DAYO AIYETAN

Smart Chinese businessmen are exploiting a lax regulatory and enforcement environment, loopholes in existing laws, lack of government policy and direction as well as official corruption by government officials to drive an illegal trade in and export of the country’s forestry resources that might have grave consequences for both the environment and the economy.

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In many states, including Kogi, Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun, Taraba, Kaduna, Adamawa and Cross River, a rapacious demand by China for an ornate species of wood, rosewood (Pterocarpus erinaceus), locally known as Kosso, has, since late 2013, fuelled an unprecedented frenzy of illegal logging of wood that is fast depleting the nation’s natural forestry resources.

Timber merchants working for Chinese businessmen are moving from one state to another depleting the rosewood resources in their forests, leaving blighted and raped landscapes without minding the enduring effects of unrestrained harvesting of the product on the environment.

Forestry experts are worried that the unrestrained and uncontrolled harvesting of the special type of timber across the states will have devastating impact on the environment and contribute immensely to global warming which is currently threatening the world.

Apart from the effect on the environment, the experts fear that the illegal activities of local and Chinese merchants will also have telling economic implications in the near future on many communities where the forests that are being violated are located.

The Chinese Connection

The unprecedented demand for rosewood in Nigeria is driven by a rapacious need by China to feed a taste for ornate and luxury furniture by the country’s burgeoning middle and upper class.

The Pterocarpus family of which rosewood is a part belongs to the Hongmu (meaning red wood in Chinese) wood family, which refer to  range of exotic, high worth hardwood highly sought after by the elite and royalty in China and is used in making furniture, floorings and art works. Ownership of such exotic furniture and art works are considered as worth investments by the very rich in China.

A spike in demand in Asia and locally in China has created a boom and the Chinese government has supported the growth and expansion of the Hongmu wood industry in order to generate employment and tax revenue. In 2014, more than 30,000 Chinese companies traded in Hongmu products, generating domestic retail revenues of over $25 billion.

Before now, China fed this elitist demand for rosewood through imports from Malaysia and other countries in South East Asia but due to depletion of resources and restrictions on exports in those countries, China increasingly looked towards West Africa, where lax legislation, inadequate monitoring mechanisms and corruption have helped to fuel a largely illegal trade in rosewood.

Share of total rosewood imports in China from W. Africa
Share of total rosewood imports in China from W. Africa

Since 2011, it appears that Chinese traders in search of rosewood have moved from one West African country to the other as each country erected stiffer controls and regulations or as the forestry resources are depleted. It started with The Gambia which became the largest exporter of rosewood from the sub region to China but supplies soon dwindled following an export ban in that country, forcing the traders to look at, in turn, Guinea Bissau, Togo, Benin, Ghana and, most recently, Nigeria

The illegal logging and export of rosewood continues to thrive in these countries in spite of restrictions and bans on many of them.

Concerns about the illegal harvesting and export of rosewood to China was at the forefront of discussions at a meeting of INTERPOL in February 2015, with representatives from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal, and Togo agreeing specifically to come together to fight the menace.

But rather than abate, illegal trade has continued and even increased over the years in many of the countries.

Frightening import/export figures

By 2011, rosewood exports from West Africa to China were negligible but by 2014, the sub region rivalled South East Asia, constituting more than 40 % of imports to China with a total volume of 738,772 m3 worth nearly half a billion dollars.

Evolution of rosewood export to China from West Afica
Evolution of rosewood export to China from West Afica

In Nigeria, where forestry matters are handled by state governments because they own all the forestry estates in the country, logging of timber, including rosewood, is banned or allowed only under license, but traders have a free reign in the forests across the country because of poor regulations, monitoring and local corruption.

From a net importer of timber in 2011 and a marginal exporter of rosewood logs in 2013, posting a mere 30,866m3, Nigeria was by the end of 2014, according to Chinese Customs records, exporting 242,203m3 of rosewood to China, an 18 fold increase.

Total rosewood imports in China from Nigeria
Total rosewood imports in China from Nigeria

By the end of 2015, Nigeria had become the single largest exporter of the ornate logs to China, accounting for 45 % of total imports to the country. Unbelievable as it appears, it means that by the end of 2015, 30 containers (20 ft) of rosewood were leaving Nigerian ports for China every day

The mad rush

Most of the exported wood from Nigeria is illegal as investigations by the icirnigeria.org showed massive unrestrained felling of trees in many states with specific ban on logging activities. In other states where logging is allowed only with the possession of a license obtained from the forestry department, timber merchants feeding the export trade to China have ignored or boycotted official channels and directly source their timber from the forest using local youths.

In Cross Rivers and Taraba states for instance, the logging, trading in and export of all species of timber is banned by the state governments but the two states have suffered greatly from the activities of illegal timber traders. In Kogi, Ekiti, Ondo and other states where a permit is required by law to fell trees, trees are freely harvested illegally from the forest without any official sanctions.

Investigations show that at the beginning, starting from late 2013, Chinese businessmen began sourcing for rosewood in many states across the country. Their modus operandi is to commission an agent in a state, give him about N200, 000 to source for the product directly from communities where there are forests. The agent procures saw chains and employs local youths in the communities who go to the forest and fell the trees. Others cut the trees into specific dimensions, another set of youths acts as loaders and the logs are loaded into trucks and transported to a depot where the agent collects the cargo. The agent settles all costs including logging, cutting, loading and transportation to the depot and then arranges for the transportation to a location close to the ports in Lagos where the logs are prepared, loaded into containers and readied for export.

Our investigations indicate that the hub for the illegal rosewood export trade in Nigeria is Sagamu, in Ogun State although increasingly some activity is springing up in the Ikorodu axis. A visit to Sagamu showed that the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway and the Lagos/Sagamu/Ore Road are littered with depots where hundreds of thousands of rosewood and other logs are prepared for exports.

Wale, a timber trader who spoke to our reporter late last year at a depot by the roadside at the Sagamu end of the Lagos/Ore/Benin road, said that he is a buyer who receives supplies from as far as Taraba and Adamawa states.

At the depot, logs of rosewood were being loaded into 20ft and 40ft containers in readiness for transportation to the ports for exports.

Rosewood logs at a Sagamu depot cut to export size
Rosewood logs at a Sagamu depot cut to export size

According to Wale, up to 110 logs are fit into the 20ft container which at the time he spoke to our reporter in September, 2015 would cost about N1.2 million. But that was a period of glut in the business, a time when the trade in rosewood had fallen on bad times.

He said earlier in 2014, he was offering a container load of rosewood for as much as N2.8 million but that too many people were bringing in the product from all over the country causing excess in supply which crashed the prices.

From the young man’s account, there are independent traders who source the rosewood with their money and sell to him, but there are also traders who work for Chinese businessmen who transport their cargo to the Sagamu depot to be processed for export.

Perhaps, the state that has so far suffered the worst devastation to its forestry resources is Kogi State where an unprecedented and unbridled harvesting of rosewood in the short period of 18 months has left the forests severely depleted.

At the height of the illegal rosewood trade in the state, youths in localities where forests with timber resources exist were happy to be employed by timber traders who invaded their communities.

It was gathered that many youths in the communities suddenly became “rich” with a good number of them buying motorcycles popularly called “okada” and using them for commercial transportation. At least three of the youths were said to have bought tipper lorries.

But the rosewood resources have since been depleted and many of the youths gone in search of other jobs.

Nonetheless, evidence of the illicit trade is still visible in many communities in the state. For instance, along the untarred and pot hole – riddled Takete – Effo Amuro road in Mopa Moro local government area of Kogi State, hundreds of logs of timber lie lifeless like fallen soldiers in the aftermath of a war. And, indeed, the logs, stacked up in dozens along the road, are the victims of a kind of war, an unremitting war on the environment waged by soldiers of fortune that once descended on nearby forests in search of timber.

Abandoned dried up rosewood logs in Mopa Moro, Kogi State
Abandoned dried up rosewood logs in Mopa Moro, Kogi State

The logs of wood are remnants of the frenzied trade in rosewood by timber merchants who descended on Kogi State in late 2013 and, in just over a year, succeeded in depleting the rosewood resources in many local governments in the state.

Kogi State is one of the first states upon which local timber merchants descended as they exploited the lax laws, lack of proper forestry management system and corruption among officials of the forestry department to launch what must account for the most violent attack on forestry resources anywhere in Nigeria ever.

According to Moyowa Iseyin, a polytechnic student who joined the timber business and became an emergency merchant in 2014, the frenzied logging of wood in the state started in 2014 when some Chinese men contracted timber merchants to source for timber, particularly rosewood, in the state.

Agents of the Chinese businessmen, Iseyin said, approached local timber traders who worked as their own partners and went to forests in search of the wood. The local partners who got N200,000 for their commission, boycotted government and the forestry department, going directly to the communities, where they paid community heads as low as N5,000 to facilitate access into the forests.

Armed with chain saws, the partners then employ youths in the community to serve as saw operators, cutters, loaders and so on who fell identified trees and transport them to a nearby depot.

At the height of the frenetic logging of rosewood in Kogi State, a log sold for about N3,000. Trailer loads of timber were daily loaded and transported to Sagamu and Ikorodu, where they were cut to the proper dimensions and loaded into containers preparatory to being transported to the ports in Lagos where they are exported to China.

According to Iseyin, other interested parties joined the lucrative timber business and sourced the logs, packaged and loaded them to Sagamu. In the early days of this illegal activity, a trader needed about N1.3 million to get a trailer load (a trailer takes 200 logs) to Sagamu or Ikorodu where he could sell for as much as N3 million.

All that is now in the past. The forests in Kogi State have been over-harvested and the rosewood resources so depleted that all the merchants have moved to other states such as Taraba, Adamawa, Plateau, Kaduna, Ekit and Cross Rivers, where they have commenced the same cycle of depletion.

Abolarin Alapo, the Kogi State director of forestry services, who acknowledged the unrestrained and illegal logging of timber and deforestation in the state, absolved his department from blame, saying that the state government had out-sourced the management of forestry resources.

Our investigations show that the state government contracted the forestry resources management to a tax consulting firms, Delex Nigeria Limited, sometime in 2013 and the company imposes dues and levies on logs harvested in the state.

However, there are allegations that the company allowed excessive exploitation in order to shore up revenue irrespective of the effect on the environment. It is also alleged that the company makes a lot of money but remits only a paltry sum into state coffers. A source in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, said that the company makes about N100 million on forestry resources in a month but remits only N4 million to state purse.

Such commercial interests have also been taken above environmental concerns in Taraba State where the illegal logging of rosewood and other species of timber has been legitimised by the government via the imposition of a levy on illegally logged timber.

Logging of timber was banned in the state by the Danbaba Suntai administration between 2007 and 2009 in order to control harvesting. But the government was only reinforcing existing laws that already banned the use of chain saws for felling logs, in effect banning the harvesting of timber without a license. The Taraba State (Control of Chainsaws) Law 2003 provides that “No person shall use any chainsaw for felling any tree in the state unless he shall first have applied and obtained from the Ministry of Environment and Solid Minerals in the State a License in the form as prescribed in the Schedule of this Law.”

Apart from getting a license for felling logs, such a person also has to get a license to establish a sawmill for the industrial utilisation of the forestry resources.

Violators of this law are liable upon conviction to a fine of N50,000 or a jail term of five (5) years.

But illegal logging has continued in Taraba State so much so that it is feared that it will be the next state to suffer near total depletion of its rosewood resources.

When our reporter visited Jalingo, the capital, and other places in the state in late 2015, the intensity of logging activities was still high even though many sources said it had drastically reduced.

The frenzy of illegal logging was unbeliebable in several communities visited by our reporter in the state, including Daka, Gari Yusuf, Garbe Chede, Mayo Camp, Mechula and Kungana in Bali local government, and Malun in Ardo – kola local government. Roadsides in many villages were strewn with logs of rosewood, the predominantly harvested timber, awaiting evacuation to depots.

Rosewood logs everywhere
Rosewood logs everywhere

In Garba Chede, a timber trader said that the village head, youths and even farmers have all joined the logging business. In one location deep into the forest, our reporter met with forestry officials who had just seized a chain saw which they said was used for illegal logging.

Also in Garba Chede, our reporter met two timber traders who said that they came to Taraba State from Kogi state following the depletion of the forestry resources there. Asked what they would do if the resources in Taraba State are depleted, they readily chorused that they would immediately leave for neighbouring Adamawa State, which is said to have a large deposit of rosewood.

At Malun, the reporter sited several trailers loaded with rosewood being transported to Lagos. The driver said that he would go through Kano- Lokoja – Ibadan – Lagos route as going through Markurdi in Benue State would end up being more expensive because of collection of illegal fees at military check points.

At Malun where the government has a revenue collection post, it was discovered that the state government had actually legitimised the business of illegal logging of timber by imposing a fine on loaded trailers.

A revenue agent confirmed to the icirnigeria.org that each trailer load (containing about 200 logs) attracted a levy of N400. A trader gave the breakdown of the cost of getting a trailer load of rosewood to Sagamu thus: Hammering (obtaining government revenue stamp), N400; transportation to Lagos N430,000; Escort services, including settling soldiers at checkpoints, N80,000; payment of loaders, N85,000 and levy paid to obtain local government receipt, N35,000.

It means that though the logging of timber is prohibited in the state, the government looks the other way as long as those involved pay money to the treasury. The Taraba State director of forestry, Usman Madu, confirmed that the government imposes levies on illegally logged timber, saying it is a “punitive measure meant to discourage illegal logging activities.”

Everybody appears to be into rosewood trade in Taraba State
Everybody appears to be into rosewood trade in Taraba State

“Definitely we are generating revenue for IGR (Internally Generated Revenue). Definitely we are doing that. We charge per truck. Anybody we meet on the way, we have checkpoints, you have to pay because it is assumed that the logs you are carrying you got it illegally. So you have to pay Taraba State government,” Madu confirmed, although he declined mentioning specific amounts.

He said that the government took the decision when it realised that it could not stop illegal logging since it could not police the vast expanse of forests in the state.

“Just like bunkering, you cannot stop it 100 per cent. If you are in one part (of the forest) today, tomorrow they will move to another part. Some of them do the illegal logging at night and in the morning you just see logs all over the place,” he explained.

Although the director contends that logging has indeed reduced because of the heavy levy imposed by the government, our investigations show that government attitude to the rosewood logging activities have reduced only because it is being gradually depleted and loggers have to travel farther into the forest to locate the available trees.

As it happened in Kogi and Taraba, the government of Cross River State has also turned the illegal timber logging business into a money making venture. Although rosewood is naturally widespread in the Savannah zones of the world, in Nigeria its distribution is peculiar as it spreads from the tropical rain forests in the south in states such as Cross River to the mountainous regions around the Mambilla Plateau in Taraba State.

As in a few other states in the country, logging of all species of timber in the natural forest is banned in Cross River State but it has also witnessed its own burst of illegal harvesting driven, again, by demands to feed exports to China.

But in many local governments of the state, including Ikom, Boki, Etung and Ogoja, illegal logging activities go on and the government only imposes a fine of N260 on every trailer. So, traders freely log wood from the forest and willingly pay the fine.

The alarming rate at which timber was being logged caught the attention of the immediate past governor, Liyel Imoke, who in 2011 inaugurated the Cross Rivers Anti – Deforestation Task Force headed by Peter Jenkins, an American. Before then, in 2009, the governor had announced a two year moratorium on logging of wood in the state and constituted a task force headed by Special Adviser on Special Duties, Casmier Obok, to enforce the ban. However, the governor disbanded the task force following allegations of corruption. The Jenkins – led task force was also dogged by controversy and allegations of corrupt practices.

In fact, one of the first steps taken by the new governor, Ben Ayade, upon assumption of duties, was to disband the task force and order the arrest of the members after a United Nations report indicated that timber resources were being depleted at the rate of 6 percent every year.

The Cross Rivers State director of forestry, Peter Egbai, who spoke to our reporter in December last year defended the disbandment of the task force, saying that it was an “aberration” to commit the state’s forestry resources in the hands of such a body.

He said that the task team had an “ulterior agenda” and alleged that under it “the state’s forestry resources were highly compromised, adding that members of the team committed fraud and misappropriated the revenue generated for government.

Egbai further alleged that the task team printed its own receipt which it issued to offenders, contrary to the regulation that all government agencies use the single government receipting system with the Inland Revenue Service, which made it difficult to keep track of how much it generated. Jenkins was said to have travelled abroad on vacation when our reporter visited his Drill Ranch, a primate rehabilitation and breeding centre he runs in Calabar, capital of Cross Rivers State.

However, information on the website of Pandrillus, a conservation project he founded, said that the Jenkins – led task team’s work helped reduce the spate of illegal logging in the state, adding that “Since January 2012, over 100 chainsaws.

7 boat engines, 4 water pumps and several billion Naira worth of timber have been seized. It said further that vehicles carrying illegally logged wood were also seized and fines imposed before they were released.

The website also indicated that timber worth over N1 billion was also seized, a sign that the illegal logging of timber was rampant in spite of restrictions.

In all the states visited, officials of the government, particularly in the forestry department, gave the impression that they were helpless and that there was no way they could stop illegal logging.

Overharvesting
Overharvesting

Re-echoing his Taraba counterpart, Madu, who says that there is no way the state government can police the entire forestry estate in its domain, Egbai said that there are only 214 forest guards in the state who are expected to monitor 600 square kilometres of forest.

He said that the government plans to employ about 1,000 more forestry guards in the new year but knows that even that would not be enough to solve the problem.

Corruption poses a threat to the environment

If corruption is the major force that drives illegal logging of timber in the states, an even bigger scale of corruption permeates the process of exporting them, something that is controlled by at the federal level by the Ministry of Environment, Nigerian Export Promotion Council, NEPC, and the Nigerian Custom Service.

Our investigations show that basically corruption, greed and lack of patriotism as well as a conspiracy between unscrupulous Chinese businessmen and their local collaborators, including Customs officials, Customs agents and ministry officials sustains an illegal wood export business that costs Nigeria billions of dollars in stolen or diverted revenue.

Part of the problem, which the fraudulent perpetrators of the illegal export trade exploit, is the lack of a federal forestry policy and a regulatory framework codified into law to regulate the forestry sector.

Although it has no forestry estate of its own, the federal government does have the responsibility to provide a policy framework for the exploitation of forestry resources in the country as well as set the ground rules for exportation of timber.

Sadly, Nigeria does not have an up – to – date forestry policy or national forestry legislation to direct affairs in that sector.

According to Prof. Olukayode Ogunsanwo, of the Forestry Department, University of Ibadan and the national secretary of the Forestry Association of Nigeria, FAN, the process of translating the National Forestry Policy document which was drawn up in 2006 got stalled at the National Assembly in the Olusegun Obasanjo years.

He said however that FAN and the Ministry of environment in April are working out modalities to review the document and represent to the National Assembly for enactment into law.

The lack of legislation to regulate forestry management in the country is exploited by unscrupulous businessmen, Ogunsanwo contends, even though the existing policy forbids some of the sharp practices in the processes involved in the export of forestry resources.

“Even the existing policy forbids the export of some of the species we see being exported, some of which are even protected or endangered. For instance Iroko , Aper are banned. You cannot export them out of Nigeria. But we know that they export them. Some of the ones we see in Itoikin/Ikorodu axis being loaded are not even in the specification for export. Once they are loaded into a container, I don’t think the Customs does any checking or verification.”

The university teacher knows what he is talking about as icirnigeri.org investigations unearthed evidence of corruption perpetrated by Customs officials at the ports and ministry officials who ensure that billions that should be earned as revenue by the Nigerian state are diverted into private pockets.

The evidence is in the disparity between the figures posted by Nigeria for timber exports and import figures obtained from Chines Customs. For example, in 2013, the years that the country first suddenly recorded a spike in wood export to China, Nigeria reported exporting $2 million worth of timber to China but Chinese Customs figures reported that about $31 million worth of logs were imported into that country. In essence, Nigerian Custom officials did not record the export of over $ 29 million worth of wood

Overharvesting
Overharvesting

In 2014, when the Chinese invasion of Nigerian forests started, China reported the importation of a total of $350 million, more than ten times the previous year’s figure, but the Nigerian Customs data indicate that less than $20 million worth of logs were exported. This means that more than $330 million was undeclared by local custom officials.

Chinese Custom figures show that more than half of the timber coming from Nigeria are rosewood but it is suspected that all wood exports from Nigeria are actually rosewood. What Nigerian Custom officials do is that they register the other logs under the generic code for tropical logs.

It was also discovered that contrary to laid down regulations, virtually all the rosewood being exported by Nigeria are in the form of logs. According to the deputy public relations officer of the Nigerian Custom Service, Joseph Attah, exportation of such logs are prohibited. Attah said that what the law allows for exportation are processed and semi processed timber of different species.

Stating that “to get wood out like that unprocessed is not allowed”, Attah said that for semi processed the timber cannot be ordinary logs as there has to be some “value addition” before they can be exported.

“I can only tell you what is official. When somebody cuts corners, I can’t talk about that. That person has taken a risk and if he is arrested, he will face prosecution.”

However, contrary to Attah’s position, nearly 100 percent of the timber exported from Nigeria are logs cut in specific dimensions of 2.1m lengths. A customs agent at the Apapa Ports in Lagos confided in our reporter that officials of the Nigerian Customs and the Ministry of Environment colluded with shippers and exporters to tinker with the requirements for export by exploiting a loophole in the regulation and redefining what semi processed means.

So, rather than insisting on semi processes meaning logs to which some value had been added, it was redefined to mean “squared logs with the bark removed”. So all an exporter needs to do is remove the hard bark on a tree and cut it to specific size and it is ready for export.

However, when confronted that Custom officials allow illegal exports of ordinary logs, the spokesperson of the Customs Service at the Apapa Port, Chris Osunkwo, absolved the Service from any blame, saying that the agency only allows exportation based on guidelines and specification given by the Ministry of Environment.

“Logs are approved for exportation based on allowable specifications and many people are ignorant of this which leads to suspicion that something sinister is happening,” he explained.

Chris showed our reporter documents from the federal ministries of Environment and Finance which give approval for the exportation of “processed and semi processed wood products. Not only this, some of the documents show that the department of forestry in the Environment ministry also yearly approves a list of companies which it gives the authority to export processed and semi processed wood.

An April 20 letter written by the Ministry of Environment and signed for the minister by J.K. Auta conveys the minister’s approval to a Lagos – based company “for the export of up to 15,000 CBM of various sizes of the items”. The maximum allowable dimensions stipulated in the letter are: length, 30mm to 350mm; width, 50mm to 360mm and thickness, 23mm 346mm.

Curiously, however, the dimensions of logs that are exported are far bigger than the ones spelt out in the letter and both Customs and ministry officials at the ports who inspect timber shipment know that.

Besides, it is also curious that the officials, particularly Ministry of Environment inspectors, do not worry that exporters are interested in exporting only semi processed timber, leaving out processed ones that would have strengthened local industries and created employment.

Our customs agent source insisted that the official letter of approval issued by the Environment ministry is the handiwork of unscrupulous officials who want to give official covering to the illegal timber export trade.

Attempts to speak to the Minister for Environment, Amina J Mohammed, were unsuccessful. A letter was written to the minister requesting an interview and her aide, Esther Agbarakwe, promised to get back to our reporter on the matter but she had not done so at the time of filing this report.

However, when confronted with our findings, Joshua Ibrahim, an Assistant Director in the Forestry Department of the Environment ministry who spoke to the icirnigeria.org in Abuja absolved the ministry from any blame in the problems bedevilling forestry management in the country.

Regarding illegal logging, he said that the state governments regulate forestry estates and that the federal government can do little other than to appeal to state government officials to harvest trees in a more sustainable manner by embarking on replanting to replenish the natural forest.

But he denies that officials of the ministry are involved in aiding the illegal exportation of timber, insisting that its men at the ports ensure that woods for export meet allowable specifications approved by government.

Ibrahim showed our reporter a document which he said was being prepared to help clear the confusion about what semi processed timber is. According to the document, semi processed “refers to a log that has been sliced or cross cut into smaller sizes. It is partially and not fully finished.”

It would be worrying if the ministry adopts this definition which appears tailor-made for timber exporters who would continue to log wood illegally and deplete forest resources from state to state just to feed the demand by Chinese timber importers.

Ogunsanwo makes the point that because of the lack of a policy direction and coordination by government agencies involved in the exportation of timber, logs that are illegally harvested in states like Taraba and Cross Rivers find their way to the ports and are exported without anybody raising any eyebrow.

It means then that the Nigerian forests would continue to be over-harvested by log exporters, with continuing devastating consequences on the environment. Alapo, observes that the deforestation to which Kogi State has been subjected, for instance, is bound to affect the climate and ecosystem and lead to erosion.

He explained that trees form water sheds for the environment, particularly in the mountainous location where timber species like rosewood is found, and removing them leaves the natural soil unprotected and allows for free flow of water which leads to flooding and erosion.

He also makes the point that the trees also form shades for all forms of plant and animal life and that felling them exposes the plants and animals. The animals are bound to flee thereby denying affected communities a source of food and economic livelihood.

Michael Ohize Simire, a journalist and publisher of Environews, an online newspaper devoted to news about the environment, agrees that “depletion of the forest affects the natural ecosystem comprising flora and fauna” and added that “plants and animals could be threatened with extinction.”

The journalist also points that unsustainable harvesting of forest resources could also mortgage the economic future of the people in the affected communities because it takes away the means of livelihood of even unborn generations

Simire, however, believes that the greatest dangers of the uninhibited depletion of Nigerian forests are the implications on climate change. “Socio – economically, most rural communities depend almost entirely on the forest as a source of livelihood – their food, drugs, weaponry, shelter etc. So, deforestation threatens the existence and prosperity of these communities,” he observed.

“Plants (trees) take in carbon dioxide to make their food and release oxygen. Carbon gasses are the greenhouse gasses that cause global warming that leads to climate change. Trees therefore, act as a sink for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses – a mitigation strategy. So deforestation destroys trees that would otherwise act as a carbon sink and curb climate change.”

Although icirnigeria.com investigation did not draw any link between the illegal rosewood trade and export, there are increasing concerns that proceeds of what is now known as “blood timber” might be helping in funding the Boko Haram insurgency in North eastern Nigeria.

According to the Environmental Investigative Agency, EIA,  a non-profit organisation devoted to fighting crimes against the environment, in a document presented at the recent Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES, meeting in Geneva, the “Hongmu trade is also linked to and drives violence in source and transit countries.”

“In West Africa”, the document posits, “Hongmu species are increasingly known as “blood timber ”due to connections between illegal Hongmu trade and rebel group uprisings; for example, in the Senegalese Casamance, in Cote d’Ivoire and in northern Nigeria in territories controlled by the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram.”

Forestry experts are also worried that the Hongmu species may be threatened with commercial extinction if the illegal trade and overharvesting continues, particularly as China has now adequate laws to control illegal timber imports.

In its recommendations presented at the Geneva CITES meeting, EIA made some far reaching recommendations, noting that the “CITES represents the most effective way of regulating this trade.”

The agency called on the CITES secretariat and all member countries and parties to “support all proposals to protect Hongmu and any lookalike or replacement species, particularly the three most traded species of Pterocarpus erinaceus, Pterocarpus macrocarpus and Dalbergia olivera.”

It also recommended that parties “encourage the up – listing of Hongmu and lookalike species when measures implemented to control trade as shown to be insufficient.”

This investigation was done with support from Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting

 

 

 

 

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