OUR FORESTS, OUR FOODS, OUR FRIEND, OUR FOE
By Peter Dada
Travelling from Lagos to Jos by road and vice- versa some weeks back afforded me the opportunity to appreciate the enormous human and natural resources Nigeria is blessed with. During the trips, I came across most of the towns and cities I had read about in books; saw physically some of those I had seen previously on some television channels and those I came across while editing stories from my colleagues across the country.
Indeed, it was a worthwhile experience because being a Lagos man. I saw Lokoja popularly called the Confluence Town where Rivers Niger and Benue meet and which was the first capital of Nigeria, Kabba, Kotonkarfe, Abuja, Akwanga, Keffi on my way to Jos.
The return trip to Lagos gave me the opportunity to know Kagoro, Kafanchan, Jere, Obajana, Kabba, Ikare, and other towns that constitute Akoko, as well as Akure, Owena, Ilesa to mention but a few.
I also noticed in between the cities, towns and settlements during the journeys a vast array of fertile lands, thick forests, rivers, hills and other physical resources that the country is endowed with and which can make the country thick if exploited by her teeming population.
As the buses I boarded were speeding, I took time off to observe the various vegetation and it was like they were telling me that they were ready for cultivation and be turned into end–products to fetch the country huge resources.
Truly, the forests are our foods, friends and foes to human beings and animals depending on what uses they put them into. And I began to wonder when we are going to begin to get things right by embracing our forests as our friend and as where we produce foods for our sustainability as against being our foes where we must not tread owing to the evil machinations of a disgruntled few. When will agriculture become our hobby and not what we must do by coercion?
With our God given land mass, every family in Nigeria should be able to participate in one form of agriculture such as: subsistence or mechanized farming, gardening, and animal husbandry as the case may be. Indeed, prosperity resides in the forest because there is hardly any crop planted on Nigerian soil that will not yield bumper harvest after a given period of time. Nigeria is indeed endowed.
Perhaps, the importance and the need for Nigerians to tap from their forests for their own good and the good of the society at large motivated the military administration of the then General Olusegun Obasanjo in 1978 to launch Operation Feed the Nation (OFN).The philosophy behind that project was to encourage Nigerians, no matter how highly placed, to return to the farm, produce what can feed them.
Obasanjo on leaving office in 1979 launched the Obasanjo Farms and acquired landed properties across the country to make real what he preached; a case of leadership by example and not by deceit.
The President Shehu Shagari-led administration on assumption of office in 1979 changed the name from OFN to Green Revolution and introduced various river basin authorities across the six geo-political zones of the country. The rationale behind that was to encourage each geo-political zone to start producing agricultural crops based on where they thought they had comparative advantages.
However, due to change in government, coupled with policy somersaults, the Green Revolution project never stabilized not to talk of making any positive impact on Nigerians. Rather, it gave way to what the military that assumed power after overthrowing the civilian administration of the then President Shehu Shagari called the Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI).
In recent years and contemporary times, the government had been trying to encourage the practice of agriculture by dedicating funds in designated and specialised banks for farmers to access agric loans at simple digit rates. The banks are: Bank of Agriculture, and First Bank of Nigeria PLC Agric Loan.
The big question is: how accessible are potential farmers able to access the loans domiciling in these banks and from other commercial banks?
The centre and main message is that our forests are still fertile for us to cultivate for both cash and food crops that will make life better for us. We can plant banana and plantain suckers, cassava sticks, yam tubers, have cocoa, rubber, palm tree and kolanut plantations, cocoyams, millet, groundnuts, sugarcane to mention but a few. We can turn the big trees from our forests into plywood; sell fishes from our waters to boost out economy.
The trees, fruits, and leaves from our forests are herbal medicines when taken raw or cooked. They are good condiments and seasonings for stews and soups when applied and combined in appropriate proportions. These are some of the merits we can derive when we positively cultivate our forests and make life comfortable for us all.
Unfortunately, some disgruntled elements in our society had turned part of our forests into our foes or enemies. They kidnapped innocent farmers, villagers and travelers and kept them in the forests. The kidnappers will now be asking for huge ransoms from the families of the kidnapped? They come in different names: bandits, insurgents, kidnappers, cattle rustlers, abductors, and yet-to-be identified gunmen.
It will be recalled that one hundred and twelve out of the two hundred and seventy six girls abducted by suspected insurgents from Government Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State between April 14 and 15, 2014 are still with their abductors inside Sambisa Forest till date.
Also, on February 19, 2018 at 5:30 p.m., 110 schoolgirls aged 11–19 years old were kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist group from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College (GGSTC) in Dapchi, Yobe State. On 21 March, 2018, the Federal Government announced that Boko Haram terrorists had returned 106 of the kidnapped children, including 104 girls who went to school. It said that one girl, Leah Sharibu was not released because she had vowed not to renounce her religion and would allow the group to convert her to Islam.
The group alleged to have dropped them off in the town in nine vehicles warned their parents not to put them in school again.
On July 20, 2019, the Ondo State Police Command Spokesman, Mr Femi Joseph, confirmed that Mrs Funke Olakunrin, the daughter of Chief Reuben Fasoranti, a chieftain of Afenifere, the Pan Yoruba group, was killed by suspected robbers in broad day the previous day along the Benin-Ore Expressway.
He said that the robbers also attacked others travelers in various vehicles in transit during the operation and escaped into the bush. The police had also over the years been bursting dens of ritualists where they had found both fresh and dry human parts that had been dismembered by suspected ritualists usually in thick forests.
Survivors of such experiences from newspapers reports had always said that they were driving into the hearts of thick forests where they had met various victims lined up to be killed for rituals but that they were saved by Divine intervention.