The spate of insecurity plaguing Nigeria has made it obvious that the federal government needs to find ways of ensuring that forests across states are protected. The challenges of securing Nigeria’s extensive and expansive forest resources assumed the status of national emergency in the wake of the war against terrorism and the suspected influx of criminals masquerading as herdsmen.
Nigeria shares borders with Chad, Niger, Cameroun, and Republic of Benin. The nation’s borders are believed to be about 4027 kilometres. She shares the longest border line with Cameroun which is estimated at 1,698 kilometres, shares 1,452 kilometres of borderline with Niger and the border with the Republic of Benin is estimated at about 600 kilometres.
Securing this vast expanse of space poses a real challenge that requires a new approach if the negative security implications are to be effectively checked. In pre-independence days, the colonial masters had put in place a structure to guard the forests around places they inhabited. These people engaged to do the job were called forest guards. So much seems to be happening in the forests which have become sanctuary for brigands making it an issue serious enough to warrant a return of the forest guards.
The guards were initially established to protect the natural resources of the forests. However, the state of insecurity as a result of criminal elements such as bandits, kidnappers, ritualists and terrorists using forests as hideouts after perpetrating – or to perpetuate their evil acts calls for desperate measures to be taken.
These undeveloped forest spaces are now being used by these criminals to wage an unconventional war against Nigeria. Forest guards, where they still exist, should be exposed to modern ways of doing the job, have their salaries reviewed, and provided with equipment that will facilitate the fight against crimes and criminals. Where they have been phased out, efforts should be made to reinstate them.
The South West Zone established Amotekun, a local security outfit, purposely to perform a similar role. In Enugu State for instance, the introduction of Neighbourhood Watch Group (NWG), forest guards as well as Agro Rangers by the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence (NSCDC), will go a long way to encourage all round security in forests which also serve as farmlands.
While all of these ideas are brilliant, this newspaper thinks that it would only work if it is enforced and appropriate provisions made at the federal level for it. Forest guards should be revived and rebranded so as to maximise their potential by carving out a specialised and trained group, which would primarily focus on saving lives and flushing out criminals across the country.
Recently, Kaduna, Niger, Zamfara and even Ekiti states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) witnessed attacks by bandits. It was a tragic experience. And as a form of escape after their horrible acts, the bandits were reported to have made good their escape in nearby forests on the fringes of the villages.
In the case of the kidnappings in Kuje axis, in Abuja, the kidnappers also took their victims into the forests along the roads. If all of these forests were occupied, these criminals would be accosted and apprehended easily.
In our opinion, it is frightening and disturbing to know that the once safe forests that children could go for supervised camping or to play uninhibited, going on adventures and in search of fruits, is now a danger zone, a security risk unimaginable for any adult, talk less of a child.
We feel very sad when we imagine the threat such criminals pose to wild life and the economy in general. They come in different shades and guises as poachers and illegal loggers. They take undue advantage of the resources turning them into danger spots for everyone
As a newspaper, we are appealing to the federal government to review its approach to security for the forests as a natural resource base. Money ought to be directed towards the training of forest guards to bring them up to the level that would enable them effectively secure the forests.
This strategy could also be replicated in states across the country. But most importantly, the federal government should look into the issue of the Nigerian forest guard and bring it up to par with the current security challenges confronting the country.
We are persuaded to argue that protecting and preserving Nigeria’s forests against this hydra headed monster called insecurity appears to be a herculean task. Nonetheless, Nigeria ought not to be different from other countries that are so bent on taking the bull by the horn on this matter.