The claim of the Oyo State Commissioner for Lands that the State government has to let go of Ogunpa Dam Forest Reserve which houses Agodi Parks and Garden because the forest has become a haven for criminals is sickening. The Commissioner must be duly informed that criminal activities can happen anywhere. In fact, such a statement is an indictment of this administration.
Take for instance, politicians regularly go to campaign in a city’s metropolis with allegations of violence and extortion by hoodlums around campaign areas, should we then say that politicians stop rallies? Also, motor parks are hotbeds of violence sometimes, should we demolish all motor parks in response to that? With that statement credited to the Commissioner for Lands, one could say that the government is definitely absconding from its responsibility which is to map out working modalities to protect lives and properties as enshrined in Section 14 subsection 2(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). The solution to a headache is never to cut off the head. A remedy must be sought.
The Governor’s claim that converting the Forest Reserve to a housing estate will serve the people of the State and take them out of poverty is nothing but a ruse. It is not the case that the houses will be affordable for low and middle-income earners. So, what’s the point?
Probably the Governor does not know, that forestry and conservation are ways to take people out of poverty on their own. When we exploit the potential that ecological conservation offers in tourism and the pharmaceutical potential of the trees, we will lift people out of poverty. Therefore, converting a conservation area to properties which can only be afforded by the super-rich is not what will lift people out of poverty.
Also, while planting trees is commendable, we cannot replace gold with silver and claim they are the same because they are both precious metals. Planting of trees cannot ecologically replace or solve the problem of ecological imbalance that will result from the destruction of a forest that has built the ecosystem for decades. Even if they have the capacity for this, the new trees must have spent several decades growing into the mature and ecologically rich forest it wants to replace. Also, the diversity of the forest cannot be replaced with tree planting of a few species.
The forest has hundreds of plant species and tree planting on the circular road cannot sufficiently replace this biodiversity. So, if the government’s argument is that they are replacing the trees that will be lost in the forest, then, it means the government has been consulting half-baked environmental experts. In fact, I am accepting the challenge of the Governor for an open debate about the evil being done in that forest by cutting down those trees.
The argument is not just about climate change, it is about the fact that with the absence of trees in that area, the torrent of water will freely flow downstream to Mokola with no hindrance thereby opening the city up for flood. The government must revisit that idea. It is on that basis I commend the lawyer who has summoned the courage to sue the State government to court on the subject matter.
Kazeem Olalekan Israel writes from Ìbàdàn, Nigeria.