3 May 2001
A VISIT TO NIGERIA-AN ECOLOGICAL APPRAISAL
In April 2001 I paid a visit to the South-Eastern part of Nigeria precisely to the border town of Ikom and the commercial city of Onitscha. The condition of the road within Cameroon was surprisingly good going by the standards we are already used to.
Beginning from Kumba, I told myself that I will devote much of my time to observing and understanding the changes that have affected the equatorial rainforest I used to know. The first leg of my trip right up to Mamfe confirmed my worst fears. The impenetrable rainforest that used to exist a couple of years back has simply disappeared. What is passing for a forest now is a shadow of its glorious past. I tried to look as far as my eyes could go and I hardly saw a tree with a trunk bigger than the size an electric pole. It is a pitiful sight for anybody who knew what existed in this area before. It is even more frightening to contemplate the fate of this area in the near future. The reduced foliage cover of the forest floor is permitting the rays of the sun to penetrate and create dry conditions that may ignite the Indonesian-style forest fires here. If that happens, even the shadow of a forest we have now will also disappear.
Somewhere in the heart of the bush between Kumba and Mamfe is an architectural and artistic masterpiece of a bridge said to be constructed by Koreans. The beauty of this bridge is unquestionable but the very thought that it was constructed to facilitate the hauling of timber out of this area makes me have a second thought about its beauty. (See photo of bridge at this link)
The story from Mamfe to Ekok is the same though the scale of destruction is slightly reduced. All along the way from Douala to Ekok rivers and streams are shallower and dirtier because deforestation has a direct effect on the water table and soil erosion. When I was crossing the border on river Manyu between Ekok (Cameroon) and Mfum (Nigeria) I took sometime to observe a river that I last crossed some 12 years ago. Judging from its banks, it was quite clear to me that this river has lost at least 60 to 70% of its volume as a direct consequence of deforestation.
While I was lamenting about the plight of the Cameroon forest, the situation on the Nigerian side is even more catastrophic. Between the border and Ikom(20 minutes drive) the forest has virtually given way to crops and human settlement. Between Ikom and Abakiliki (4 hours drive), I observed many dead and dying streams-a testimony to the fact that flourishing forest vegetation once existed here but which has vanished. All along the way from Ikom to Onitscha, I could not identify any vegetation worth calling a rain forest. There are mostly Savannah- style shrubs in places that were certainly rain forest in the past. It was common to see emaciated palm trees all along confirming the fact that ecological changes have turned their natural habitat into an unhealthy place for them to thrive. At Ikom, my friend confirmed that one of the direct effects of deforestation is an increase in the incidence of violent wind that is threatening their homes.
The ecological lesson I learnt from my trip to Nigeria is that successive regimes in the two countries have been and are still very poor environmental managers. The Nigerians have eliminated their rain forest and the Cameroonians are working round the clock to do the same to theirs. It is a very shameful and sad truth.
Copyright May 2001 by Njei Moses Timah
Njei Moses Timah [e-mail]