INVESTIGATION: Shock, anxiety, disquiet over ‘disappearing forest reserves of Abuja’

By Danlami Nmodu
President Muhammadu Buhari received a rude shock not long ago in the heart of Abuja. As he was passing through a popular street in the city, he saw trees being felled.
Presidency sources told Newsdiaryonline that a furious president put a call to a relevant federal topgun, expressing his anger over the felling of trees.The presidential fury was said to have yielded fruits almost immediately  as equally   relevant officials were mobilized  to stop  despicable practice.
Newsdiaryonline was further told Buhari’s anger was not surprising. “We know Mr President is very passionate about Abuja Master plan and the environment .We also know the FCT minister Bello Mohammed is equally very passionate about the Abuja Masterplan” an environmental activist watching the situation said.
Despite the passion and fury of the President,  activists have expressed  anxiety and disquiet over the rapid rate at which the Abuja masterplan is being distorted.There is special disquiet over the issue of fast disappearing forest reserves in Abuja.Sadly, no major step has been taken to arrest the drift.
An activist revealed that there were initially about 18 forest reserves gazetted in  the Federal Capital Territory.Shockingly,  only three are believed to be existing now.The surving forest reserves include Buga; Kujekwa and Odu l.The fourth reserve,Gwagwa is said to be going the way of the disappearing forest reserves.
Top environmentalists told Newsdiaryonline that the rate at which Abuja forest reserves are disappearing borders on “pure lawlessness”.They also blame the greed of politicians.
There is even more shock and concern as the Abuja Municipal  Area Council (AMAC)is said to be championing the   bulldozing  efforts at the Gwagwa reserve: a very disturbing matter, a source said.
Sympathisers of AMAC say the structures being put in place at the Gwagwa area are to enhance infrastructure in FCT. But critics  say there are “plenty of other land space for AMAC to develop infrastructure.
“I was shocked to see structures being built within the remnants of Gwagwa plantation.This is unfortunate and the federal government  and the FCT Minister must intervene to stop the encroachment on the Gwagwa plantation.
“Let me tell you, forests are the lungs of the environment and these forests must be protected” one worried activist said.
Why the disappearing remnants of Gwagwa, other forests cause disquiet 
Gwagwa forest  has been within the FCT for more than 40 years. It was inherited from Niger state.The rate at which the forest is receding due to encroachment  is worrisome, activists have said and  here is why:
For starters, even President Buhari has been among participants at global fora on environmental preservation, and the unfolding disappearing forests constitutes an embarrassment. Furthermore, Gwagwa is close to a  pharmaceutical research centre and the forest should  therefore naturally come in handy.
Even more, the forest is close to an industrial area and it is  thus, useful for trapping emissions from industrial activities.The forest also cushions the effects of windstorm.
One activist said the encroachment on the forest brings to the fore, the need for the Forestry Department of the FCT to wake up. Are they aware of the unfolding encroachment? What is their reaction? Why the silence?
Unanswered questions
Keen watchers  of the unfolding environmental trouble say some key agencies of the FCTA need to provide answers  to some questions.What are the agencies doing to restore the masterplan and save the forests? Some of  the relevant agencies include Parks and Recreation; Environmental Protection Board,Development Control among others. Attempts by Newsdiaryonline to speak with officials of several agencies failed like another round of disappearing act.They  declined to comment. The issues were considered too sensitive.
However, activists say these agencies must wake up to their duties. Do they really have any strategy for saving the forests?Development control especially should also act:are they aware buildings are springing up in prohibited areas? What steps have they taken to check the distortion of the Masterplan? These are some of the questions begging for answers.
CSOs react to environmental challenge
Acting Executive Director of Social Action, Vivian Bellonwo told Newsdiaryonline that the unfolding encroachment on forest reserves among others is saddening. She said “FCT authorities have really not paid any meaningful attention to bio-diversity and the very compelling need for its preservation, and this is very saddening.
“The Environment is the basic sustainer of lives, and here in the FCT, authorities including the Department of Environmental Protection, amongst others, simply look the other way while massive degradation of the environment including arbitrary felling of trees, plunder of reserved areas amongst others go on at alarming scale.
According to Bellonwo, “In other parts of the world, serious attention is paid to the environment and indeed bio-diversity protection with no effort spared to not only protect, but promote these. For a Country and more specifically an area which is already clearly under threat and harsh realities of climate change to adopt such anti-environment attitudes towards the flora and fauna of the Capital Territory is regrettable and certainly sets the country back on its attainment of Sustainable Development Goal.”
Awwal Musa (Rafsanjani) xecutive director, CISLAC told Newsdiaryonline that the issue is not just about forest reserves alone.He said in the FCT, “Corruption in land administration  is very  overwhelming.”
Clarion call
Other civil society and environmental activists spoken with have called on President Buhari and the FCT Minister,Mohammed Bello to pay special attention to  the environmental challenge.The fact criminals are moving into forest should not be a justification to loot the forests reserves in the name of infrastructural developments.Yes, tackle insecurity but preserve the forests; and the time to act is now, they argued.