By Frank Meke
Okomu National Park, this last vistages of Nigeria’s truly matured forest ecosystem, located, in Udo, Ovia South west of Edo state, deserves a redemption song and action plans.
In its strategic bowels lies medicinal plants of great pharmacology interest and values. It is pristine (used to be) habitat of white throated monkeys, elephants, rich and diverse birds life, a natural resources catchment area and laboratory, facilitating the growth of significant and rare species fauna and flora resources unknown to science, and a breeding ground for ecotourism holidays.
Originally conceived and protected, by Nigerian Conservation Foundation, its original land mass of about 418 square meters, has shrunk over time, due to serious human encroachment, illegal logging activities poachers invasion and land grabbing mercenaries.
On its Eastern frontiers, lies Ossie River while Okomu River on the western frontier, drains this heritage biosphere space, with two famous tree houses, one with Olympic 140 feet high built on a silk cotton tree, which enables forest cover bird watch adventure.
There are chalets built on silts, Olympic size swimming pool, termites nest, some as tall as a story building and nature trails, enabling ecotourism tours through this biosphere.
About six communities surrounds this beautiful landscape, namely, Nikorogha, Okomu, Udo, iguofole, iguowan and ugolo. These villages over time, had become the problem of Okomu National Park , instead of the solution.
The organised rings of illegal loggers, gets criminal intel from these communities, and the dare consequences are painfully glaring. No doubt, Okomu National Park is so threatened and at the close verge of being wiped away, despite very strong efforts and intervention by National Park service to keep it safe and protected within its mandatory duty.
In global environment management circles, support zones communities are crucial to checking the activities of illegal loggers and natural resources exploiters. In Okomu forest landscape, such expectations wears strange faces.
How do loggers access the Park and where and who are saboteurs? Are there state actors, Forestry official connections, forestry resources licence racketeering, communities powered land grabbing mercenaries and poachers, unrelenting in their agenda to wipe out the fauna resources, particularly the endangered white throated monkeys?.
This worrisome scenario has led to strategic redeployment of unit park management ecosystem by the Conservator General of the Federation, Dr Ibrahim Musa Goni, who desperately desires a redemption road map for this iconic biosphere frontier in South western Nigeria.
The recent burning down of the 140 feet tree house, by suspected heavily armed illegal loggers, aided by strong heads from the communities, left behind a crescendo of immediate and future environmental conservation consequences, likely to wipe out Edo state out of the global map of eco green economy and destination.
It is equally distressing that Nigeria cum Edo state, may not attract climate change financing if steps are not urgently taken to arrest the dangerous bent of illegal loggers and their local collaborators to chop down the flora resources, thus endangering the endangered mona monkeys, elephants, birds life,antelopes and many unknown fauna resources.
It was with trepidation and knowledge of the impact of unmitigated destruction of Okomu, one took to rubbing minds with the leaders and representatives of the six communities earlier mentioned.
It was not an easy task, particularly talking to communities which have defined their objectives and priorities, including having a heritage affinity to the Park.
For over twenty years, one has taken a clinical studies to community awareness and interest in resources management expectations and compensation.
No doubt, the founding fathers of the National Parks service saw tomorrow in deliberately enthroning a win win collaboration agenda with all communities where Parks are located, geared towards meeting with the real objectives of setting aside a percentage of our earth and marine areas for conservation ecology.
However, pressures of growing population, senseless plundering of flora resources, increased demand for ” Bush meat” and land grabbing, tells of the need Institute new measures to address these issues.
In 2010, the National Parks service introduced a local Advisory Committee to the address the Okomu challenge. Were there win gains? Yes and No.
My conservation engagement, fully backed the Dr Ibrahim Goni led National Park service, took a sweat, and encouraged by Okomu new sheriff in town, Osaze Lawrence, the meeting began in earnest with a enthusiastic presence of the six communities.
There was no mincing words in sharing with the communities of the dare consequences that may befall them and their children yet unborn if Okomu is allowed to become an empty environmental bowel.
Knowing the power of our mother tongue, I requested Conservator of Park, Osaze Lawrence to interpret my talks in the local dialect. It was magic and the truth and solutions took centre stage.
It is appropriate to keep out of public view, the very patriotic contributions by the community leaders during the Okomu must stay alive conversation, equally interesting, is the collective affirmation by all present, to join hands with Okomu National Park leadership, to hunt down illegal loggers and land grabbers.
Significantly, the Okomu recovery road map, has began in earnest with the deployment of a son of soil, CP Osaze Lawrence, who was deeply involved in the hand over of Okomu as a wildlife sanctuary under Nigerian Conservation foundation ( NCF) to the federal government.
A non sense environmental studies graduate of the university of Glasgow, with sociology background from the University of Ibadan, Osaze has sworn to restore the lost glory of Okomu National Park.
It was indeed amazing to witness refreshing determination of the communities to rid this very unique and promising biosphere of earth rapers.
However, insider saboteurs must be identified and exposed, with strategic assurance to whistle blowers of their safety and welfare.
My recommendations, will be total and will capture all the fears and anxieties of the Okomu ecosystem stakeholders.
To green biosphere lovers, the tree houses burnt down, will be addressed, the Ossie and Okomu Rivers, which have become conduit windows to illegal smuggling of logs also aiding movement and escape routes to plunderers of Okomu flora and fauna resources, must henceforth, be covered by a maritime security architecture.
The Bini speaking stakeholders have sworn to dislodge loggers and hunters out of Okomu while the ijaw speaking communities, promised to expose insider collaborators and criminal elements, using the two rivers to perpetrate developmental dislocations against the beautiful biosphere.
In weeks and months to come, Okomu National Park, will rebound and with enthusiasm of the Edo state government to rid the entire geo space of illegal loggers and unwholesome human practices, regeneration efforts and interventions by the national park will progress to joy of mankind and the silent beings of the protection nature haven.