It’s no longer business as usual in Ogun forest reserves — Ogun Commissioner for Forestry, Engr. Tunji Akinosi

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Ogun Commissioner for Forestry, Engr. Tunji Akinosi

The government of Prince Dapo Abiodun was two years in office on Saturday, May 29,  as the Commissioner for Forestry in the last two years, what will you say is the state of Ogun forests?

Yes, this administration was two years in office on Saturday, May 29, we must thank God for how far He has helped us and of course also thank the people of the state for giving our party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and our hardworking governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun the opportunity to lead our dear state this time around. Having said this, the Ministry of Forestry is saddled with the responsibility of managing the state’s nine major forest reserves taking about 20% of Ogun State land mass. In the last two years, we have changed the framework of what has been happening in our forest reserves. For instance, for the first time in ten years, in 2021, we shall be planting nothing less than a million trees. The governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun will be flagging off the tree planting very soo. We are already collaborating with the private sector. Also on tree planting, we have been educating people on the need to curb indiscriminate felling of tree. We have also been educating them on the importance of tree planting to our lives. We have told them that climate change and degradation have been caused by illegal and indiscriminate felling of trees. These are some of the things we have done in the last two years and we are still continuing, regeneration is our plan, as well as, stopping of emissions from our companies because we have the largest concentration of companies and we are committed to having clean air for our citizens to breathe in.

Talking about tree planting, is that still in the pipeline or what sir?

Of course, we are doing that very soon, and the gentlemen of the press will be there to be part of our success story when we are having the flag-off. The governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, will be hosting Nigeria Breweries during the tree planting demonstration for 2021 rainy season in the next few days. Nigeria Breweries has agreed to plant 500 hectares of trees for us this year at our Forest Reserve in Olokemeji, that is really something to be cheerful about because of its impact on our afforestation drive.

How have you been handling the challenges of illegal enclaves and miners?

We have started taking them out and we seek the cooperation of members of the fourth estate of the realm in understanding where we are coming from.

Like I told you, these reserves had been there, the first forest reserve that we had was in 1918 and government fully paid for these reserves and we have people that are legal residents there, these are the people who planted these trees and we have what we call enclaves for these people to live and nurture the trees, in all in the state. We have a total of 41 legal enclaves but we now have over 100 illegal enclaves, the residents of these enclaves are people coming into the forest reserves illegally,  some because they know one politician or because they are politically active. This time around, the governor said he doesn’t want to hear that, even if you are politically active, you have a house, so go to your house, leave the forest, it is not for residential purpose. Even if it is for farming, you have to leave because the forest reserves are not for farming, we have other areas marked out for such agricultural practices, they are not meant for cultivating cassava, cocoa or plantain plantions, no, they are strictly for economic trees we have there. So we have told these illegal dwellers in these enclaves to leave and government is not going back on that order

How about issues of herdsmen in government forest reserves?

By the time we chase those living at these illegal enclaves away, then we will know those who are giving us problems, once we get rid of the collaborators, then we will know what next to do and that is why the government is taking the bull by the horn to deal decisively with these illegal dwellers, so, when this is done, we will now know who is who — farmers or herdsmen. The government for now is saying everyone that is not supposed to be in our forest reserves should leave. However, as far as we know, none of our forest reserves have this large concentration of people rearing cows or herdsmen. There may be one or two individuals who bring their animals into this forest but I can authoritatively tell you that there is no single herdsman who resides in any of our forest. The Ministry of Forestry is on ground and we monitor some of these things, if at all these individual take their animals there, they bring them back. Part of what we are also doing in the ministry is the proper delineation of where we have the forest reserves and the free areas. It is also good to point out that in Ogun State, there are forest reserves owned by individual and sometimes by a community, they may be adjacent or side by side with that of the government, so we should be careful not to lump all of them together as belonging to the government. There have been one or two reports of herdsmen straying into our forest reserves and once we receive such report, we usually take decisive actions. We are at the verge of obtaining approval for signboards which we intend to erect at strategic places indicating that cows and things like that are not allowed in the forest reserves.

What has been the relationship between the farmers and the ministry?

I told you earlier that we have 41 legal enclaves across our nine forest reserves. These enclaves are where those who help government to plant and nurture these economic trees live with members of their families. Government now gave them a portion of this forest reserves for arable farming, these are legal farmers. We don’t have issues with these ones but those we are fighting are the ones brought into these forest reserves from different parts of the nation to come and plant Cocoa, plantain and the rest. These are the illegal farmers. We don’t and we won’t have any relationship with them. We have the Cocoa Association of Nigeria, All Farmers Association of Nigeria begging that these Cocoa farmers should be allowed to stay but the government has insisted that they must leave because they are illegal farmers.

Many are of the opinion that the problem of illegal farmers and miners in the government forest would remained unresolved because matters like these are usually resolved politically, so, like how many prosecution of these alleged economic saboteurs have you recorded in the last two years?

I may not be able to put figure to it, but I can tell you that in the last two years we have been having some prosecutions. We are also updating our laws, we want to take out the option of fine and also increase the imprisonment term. The six months imprisonment term that we have now is not deterring enough, so we want it to be in excess of four to eight years. Some of them will tell you that they have not had it easy with us in the last two years and we are not backing down. It’s really no longer business as usual.

As one important arm of revenue generation for the government, how has your ministry fared in this aspect?

We won’t blow our own trumpets, you can make enquiry from the Ministry of Finance but I can tell you that we are not doing very badly at all, we are on our toes to meet up with the government’s target.

How true is the information that the forest guards may also begin to carry arms given the challenges they encounter while trying to keep forest reserves safe?

I don’t know how you came about that information but it may not be a bad idea because these are people manning 20% of the state land mass…

…(cuts in) Are you making a case for them?

The security department of the state is looking into all possibilities. If the forest guards are also brought in to carry arms, it’s going to be a plus for the security architecture of the state.

What is your take on the two years in office of Gov Dapo Abiodun?

It’s unprecedented…

How do you mean sir?

Well, like the parlance that is out there, it is visible to the blind, when a blind man is also joining people to say, this government has really worked wonders in all the sectors. We have lost count of what the governor has been doing in the last two years. Go to our public schools, both primary and secondary, it is yellow roof everywhere, so much construction and rehabilitation and this cuts across our primary health sector too. You can see the new housing project springing up everywhere, what about roads? Across the three senatorial districts, roads that are ought to be done and not because of any other motive are being done. Look at the work going on at the entrance to our dear state, I am talking of reconstruction of Sagamu-Siun-Abeokuta expressway, what of the Ijebu Ode-Epe ongoing dualization project. Just last month the governor flagged off Lusada-Atan-Agbara road. The governor is also working on many linkage roads across the state. You are also a witness of how the governor managed COVID-19 pandemic, so really, it’s been governance at its best. Seriously, it is a new Ogun and we trust God that after finishing his first term in 2023, the people of Ogun will undoubtedly and massively too give the governor another term because like the saying goes, one good term deserves another.

As a major leader in Ogun West Senatorial district, there have always been complaints of neglect by succeeding administration, are things changing under Prince Dapo Abiodun?

Yes, things have changed under this administration and still changing. I just told you of roads that are being constructed that were never touched in the last ten years. Ado-Odo-Ikoga road is there, Owode-Ilaro is there, there’s Ihunbo road under construction, we have talked about Lusada-Atan-Agbara and many others, and this time around, we are having so much less to do so much more. There is really so much to talk about just in two years under Prince Dapo Abiodun than in the last ten years. Our people are seeing these changes and they are happy about it.

What is your message to the people of Ogun State?

I will want to plead with our people to stop indiscriminate felling of trees because trees are part of our lives. For instance the oxygen that we breathe in is from the plants, while the plants also take in the carbon-dioxide that we breathe out. So if we continue to cut the trees down, then the maxim that the day the last tree is cut down is when the last man will die will now come into play. In the light of this, rather than indiscriminate felling of trees all of us should begin to plant trees, it is the right thing to do.