This issue is a hypersensitive one as it affects both those in favour of preservation of the Boki forest and those benefitting from its exploitation in equal measure.Therefore a delicate balance is required in handling this thorny issue.But by and large, the greatest casualties of unsustainable forest exploitation in Boki are the generations yet unborn who may not witness what is called pristine rain forest.

I acknowledge that facts are sacrosanct, therefore I must set forth with them as allies.

Earlier in the year,*Agba Jalingo* investigated on this matter and found that daily,over 30 million naira worth of woods (timber and logs) leave the forests of Boki in fully loaded trucks.

That’s about 210million naira weekly or 840million naira monthly.Multiply that figure times the dry season months (Jan,Feb, March, April, and Dec,when the trucks can enter the bush) and you will have a glimpse of what leaves Boki annually in terms of volumes of cash and woods.

Also in October this year, yours truly travelled to Abakiliki, Ebonyi state on a fact finding mission to their timber market and almost got lost in the maze of woods.Ebonyi has the largest timber market in the whole of West Africa, and every shed owner in the market is a multi-millionaire.
Out of curiosity, I asked my host where all these timber come from, since South East do not have such forests.He smirked and told me point blank that 99% of it comes from Cross River state, and Boki is their biggest supplier.

And we have other mega timber markets in Enugu, Lagos and Kogi, all supplying the international market and feeding off mostly from supplies from Boki.

Our poor, rural roads are the ones that suffer the most from these exploitation, leaving them even more dilapidated and worse off than they were before.

Boki council chairman, *Hon Pst John Ewa*, sometime this year, summoned the will to interface with stakeholders with a view to enforcing a ban on unsustainable forest exploitation he had earlier proposed.He almost got mugged in Oku, and even in Boje the cartel almost suffocated him out of this decision.

My happiness is that he has mustered the will to once again face this scourge with the initiative of a *Forest Summit*.

That there is a cartel running this show is common knowledge, and appeasing this cartel would be his greatest hurdle,as the cartel is so entangled as it also involves politicians and government officials, both local and state.

Unraveling the root and properly diagnosing the the solution requires the dexterity of a master craftsman and technocrat, because there is a tangled web of intricacies that might clap back and throw spanners in the works if not carefully handled.

Wood products manufacturing industries in Lagos, Enugu,Ebonyi,Kogi,Ogun and even abroad in Spain, UK, US, France,etc feed off of the timber from Boki, employing a large number of people and stuffing the pockets of many others, and might attempt a watering down of the forthcoming forest summit, the outcome which they feel might threaten their source of supply.

On the other hand, the multi-million dollars being from this unsustainable practice (according to *BBC*,over 30 football field size of forests is being depleted daily), rather than being ploughed back into the needed infrastructural development in Boki land, sadly ends everywhere else but Boki, with just trickles and crumbs reaching very few people from Boki, the original owners of this God-given treasure.

My suggestions for the forthcoming summit are as follows:
1. The stakeholders should summon the the needed will to squarely and dispassionately tackle this behemoth with a view to finding a lasting, not political, solution to it.
2. An aggressive afforestation plan be put in place with contributions from all the stakeholders, complete with a template,a timeline and even milestones and deliverables.
3. An inquiry be made to ascertain the extent of the depletion and it’s effects on the communities.For every tree cut down,10 new ones should be planted and for every road being dilapidated,a road construction levy imposed.
4. If all stakeholders agree to a common solution, there should be a grace period of not more than 4 weeks in which phased evacuation of already sawn wood is implemented, complete with a taskforce enforcing compliance.
5. The various communities contiguous to the forests should constitute vigilante groups with approval from government to checkmate the activities of exploiters.
6. There should be a continuous and sustained sensitisation campaign in the various communities on the imperative of preserving the remaining forest, organised in conjunction with climate change experts and other *NGOs*.

Wishing all fruitful deliberations and resounding success in the forthcoming forest summit.

Austin Atibile.


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