Irele and Oke Ako communities in Ekiti State and their counterparts in Ogbe, Kogi State, have called on the government to save their forest from the activities of charcoal merchants.
The communities made this call during a capacity building and stakeholder meeting on strategies for halting logging organized by the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) in Irele, Ekiti State.
ERA/FoEN’s Head of Media, Philip Jakpor, said the meetings were organized as a follow-up to a site visit and town hall meeting held last April.
“The thrust was to build the capacity of the locals to engage the loggers in dialogue and bring all the parties together to fashion solutions to the alarming rate of deforestation in the three communities,” Mr. Jakpor said.
A site visit and testimonies, Mr. Jakpor said, documented unearthed grave violation of the environment and resolutions reached at the capacity building meeting indicated that all the parties are perfectly aware of the challenges caused by the charcoal business hence solutions must be collective, embracing the communities and the loggers.
Omotayo John-Paul of the Green Peoples Environmental Network (GREPNET) in his presentation identified ignorance and selfishness on the part of the leaders of the communities as the factors that opened the doors for the logging as well as the charcoal business.
Mr. John-Paul noted that in providing a solution there was need for the community leaders to be also involved to avoid break down of law and order in any decision against the loggers and charcoal merchants.
Olakunle Omotayo of the Community Development and Conflict Management (CEDCOM) recommended that the community folks in concert with the traditional title holders continue dialogue to come up with uniform views in a proposed petition to the Ekiti State government.
“The timely intervention of the state government would not only stall any crisis, but would also save the forest from further degradation,” said Mr. Omotayo.
In his remarks, Omolade Johnson of the Peace and Development Project (PEDEP) suggested that the petition to the state government must also put in perspective the fears of the loggers who desire alternatives if their trade is disrupted.
At a stakeholders’ meeting held in another affected community, Oke Ako, a charcoal merchant, Sunday Daniel said that profits derived from the charcoal business has been on a decline.
According to Mr. Daniel, they also experience poor sales, poor health as a result of constant exposure to charcoal smoke, drudgery in the logging process, all of which make the business a burden.
Rita Iyke-Uwaka, ERA/FoEN’s Forest and Biodiversity Desk Officer, noted that the massive cutting of trees in the forests in Irele, Oke Ako, and Ajowa which they had documented in an earlier visit would not have happened if the community folks had been educated on the implications of the practice by the government and environmental groups.
The meeting reached a high point when representatives the three communities agreed to join the Community Forest Watch, which Ms. Iyke-Uwaka said will help them “monitor, report, protect and mobilize to resist sharp practices that could result to forest ecosystem degradation”.
The communities, through the Forest Watch are expected to network with other forest community watch groups in Edo and Cross Rivers States.
The meeting rose with a decision by all stakeholders to petition the Ekiti State government to intervene and stop the cutting of the trees in their forest, a reforestation scheme, and need for awareness campaigns using local language.
They also put forward a recommendation that the loggers and charcoal merchants are taught alternatives to logging.