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Biodiversity: A forgotten stuff in Nigeria

The Guardian

THE forthcoming October international meeting in Nagoya, Japan, where representatives from some 193 governments would gather to address the issue of biodiversity conservation affords a fresh opportunity to reflect on the forgotten issue of biodiversity conservation in Nigeria. Is Nigeria going to be represented at the forum? What agenda does the country have to push forward at the meeting? Or, put more appropriately, does Nigeria have a biodiversity conservation programme given the rate at which wildlife is being destroyed in the country?

The Nagoya meeting is coming as a climax of many years of negotiations on the issue of biodiversity that began since 1992, when governments adopted the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The Convention recognised the need for access to biodiversity and at the same time benefit sharing. The Western industrialised countries, by the agreement, were “to share the benefits from genetic resource use with the poor developing countries”. The Convention also recognised the role of indigenous peoples and local communities in biodiversity conservation, hence, the need to make them part beneficiaries of of biodiversity use.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that “a third of all genetic resources for food and agriculture have already been lost in the last 100 years”. As this year is the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity, the expectation is that the Nagoya meeting would strike a deal that could help reverse the trend toward biodiversity destruction. It has been recognised that to date, efforts have focused mainly on wildlife conservation as against the conservation of genetic resources that form the basis for food and agriculture.

What it therefore means is that a legally binding protocol is required to address the existing gaps under the (CBD). In the face of all this, there are issues that must be sorted out before a deal could be sealed. One of such is the sovereign right of states over genetic resources as against the rights of indigenous and local communities.

Whatever may the differences, what is at stake is the conservation of biodiversity including genetic resources that make for a better world.

Thus, as the world is working towards addressing biodiversity, where is Nigeria in the picture? If any leader –federal or state - were asked to list the priorities of his government, I am sure the list would be a catalogue of those same issues that have been used to delude Nigerians ever since independence in 1960. The list will include roads, water, electricity, hospitals, and drainage, among others. Nigerians have been hearing about these issues since independence and yet they have not been provided and the country is in a sordid state without these basic necessities. All the propaganda pictures of “development” projects advertised in the news media centre on the same issues but year in year out, as soon as the incumbent government vacates office, we return to square one and start all over again.

Certainly, the last thing any government in Nigeria would mention or recognise as an issue that equally deserves attention is biodiversity – that web of organisms (plants and animals) in the ecosystem that helps to maintain natural balance and sustain life. They range from the minutest microbe in the wild to the large mammals and from the tiniest plant species to the giant trees. The reason why no Nigerian government ever mentions biodiversity as important or deserving attention is simple – we live in a country where the system doesn’t care about the welfare of human beings talkless of plants and animals. Whether you’re living or dead is totally your business. Ours is survival of the fittest.

A government that doesn’t care about human beings has no business caring for bacteria, ants, lizards, birds, and shrubs, name it. As a matter of fact, plant species in Nigeria’s ecosystem are a free for all.

They are aggressively exploited for fuel wood.

There is a booming fuel wood industry in Nigeria. The merchants behind the industry are busy ravaging the entire country’s ecological landscape from the north to the south.

It is not that there are no laws on biodiversity protection but the laws are not enforced and are as good as non-existent.

The exploitation is further compounded by the lingering energy crisis in the country.

Epileptic electricity supply coupled with the scarcity and high cost of kerosene and cooking gas has made fuel wood the main source of energy for millions of households.

It has been found that people consume from 1.9kg to 4kg/day/capita of fuel wood depending on household size. Given the country’s population of over 150 million people, over 266 million kilogrammes of fuel wood is consumed daily in the country. That is clearly a burden for the forest to bear.

In the same way, animal species in Nigeria are grossly abused and exploited as bush meat without hindrance or restriction. The bush meat is a special delicacy exploited by the poor and patronised by the rich. It is scandalous to note, for instance, that in Nigeria today, there is practically no functional zoo! The zoos that were there in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s at Ibadan, Enugu, Jos, Owerri, among others have practically shut down.

Most of the animals have died due to lack of care.

For example, some few years ago, it was reported that the animals at the Sanda Kyarimi Zoo in Maiduguri were dying in turns from starvation and malnutrition to the extent that the Borno State Governor Ali Modu Sheriff had to personally intervene to save some of the creatures. He graciously increased the feeding allowance of the animals from N100,000 to N300,000 per month. The affected animals included endangered species such as leopards, giraffes, elephants, tigers, rhinos and hippopotamus. While the governor’s gesture provided some succour, it might not have been sustained and the animals would be left to starve to death.

In Ibadan, the hitherto world class University of Ibadan Zoological Garden is now a shadow of its old self. The Zoo, which used to be a cynosure of public attraction has been left to degenerate. The big game animals have been starved to death and nothing is practically left for research. The cages are empty and the few remaining animals are badly malnourished and unkempt.

Perhaps, the worst-case scenario happened at the Nekede Zoo in Owerri, where the animals were practically left without food. And to “save” them from further punishment, some unscrupulous government officials decided to use them as bush meat instead of them wasting. They were slaughtered and eaten. That is how biodiversity is conserved in Nigeria - slaughtering starving zoo animals and eating them up as bush meat and have the zoo closed.

The Nigerian ecological landscape is perhaps the most unprotected in the world because the authorities are busy chasing oil money. There is no programme for biodiversity conservation. For instance, it has been said that the Niger Delta, with its rich biodiversity is perhaps the most polluted region in the world. Five decades of ceaseless crude oil exploration and exploitation have left the region practically dead from oil pollution. While this has been perpetrated over the decades, no Nigerian government has risen against the severe environmental damage in the area. The destruction of biodiversity that form the source of livelihood for the local communities is partly responsible for the militancy in the region.

As Nigeria is signatory to the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the gross violation of that agreement explains why the country was recently suspended from the Convention. The country should use the occasion of the Nagoya meeting to reflect on lost opportunities with regard to biodiversity conservation. The federal and state ministries of environment should take note and act accordingly.

El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.


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