From Dailytrust.com Uprooted from their homes and without any means of livelihood, Yobe IDPs are compelled to go extra mile to survive. Adamu Idi, a middle-aged man who escaped Boko Haram killings in Majima Village is among hundreds of displaced farmers trying to fend for their families against all odds. For him, cutting down trees for sale is the only available business since it does not require capital.
When visiting the busy Damaturu Potiskum road, one comes across firewood sellers of all ages lined up in several locations, with some pushing loaded carts and bicycles to various selling points.
Idi, who hails from Gujba, travels from a distance of 15 to 20 kilometer. Tired and worn by the scorching sun, he pushes a bicycle loaded with firewood to a selling point at Sabon Garin Idi Barde, along Potiskum road. And he does this daily. “I trek through ditches and deserts,” he says, adding that a few years back it was less than 10 kilometers, but people continue to join the business, so he sets out for the bush before dawn and returns late in the evening because the trees around have been chopped off by disparate wood fetchers.
He lamented that the trees are becoming too scarce with more people trooping into the business, saying that most of the IDPs that fled their communities to Damaturu to find succor are presently into the trade due to difficulties.
“The Internally Displaced Persons’ Camp located within the city couldn’t accommodate us because the facilities there are over-stretched, that is why we decided to move outside the Camp and stay with our relatives,” he revealed.
In the past, the closest place they got firewood from was from Gwazam-bina ditch, which Idi described as ‘a big vegetated oasis’ hosting lots of gigantic trees that later varnished due to unchallenged human activities in the area. Now, all that can be found are tiny trees at Gwazam-bina and one can only go there in a group because one must lift the other out of the ditch to gain access to Firewood, he said.
“Each time I set out, I go with two gallons of water, but I consume it all before I return home. It is such a terrible journey that one can easily die without the help of others, that is why we move in groups,” he explained.
To tell how hard it is to access those area, Idi and other IDPs gave names to the parts of the bush. ‘Hawan Yaro me ka dauko’ in Hausa, meaning, what load is the boy carrying? Another sandy bush is called ‘tsoho ba ka koshi ba,’ meaning, old man you have not eaten enough and so on. This is why they do not go there during Ramadan fast, because there is great need for one to drink water on the journey home, also when one gets weak and falls, others lift him up.
Another young man pushing a cart loaded with firewood, Abdullahi Bakare, said he never envisaged that one day he will find himself in such a business, knowing the repercussions.
“It pains me each time we cut down fresh trees because the negative impact is glaring, but there is nothing we can do. We must feed our displaced families,” he said.
He further explained that the only way to reach the designated bushes on time is to hire open trucks that accommodate them and several carts they use in transporting the firewood back to selling points located kilometres away.
Bakare noted with concern how some well-to-do individuals now exploit them by stationing themselves outside the bush and buying firewood at a cheap rate from them. But, tired from the rigorous journey, it has become a source of relief to them when this happens and more profitable because they do not have to reach their designated selling points
59-year-old Saleh Masaeh, a firewood seller at Garin Itace narrated how his family was dislodged from their villages by the militants and thanked God for sparing their lives.
For the IDPs in Damaturu, their major source of firewood is the arid vegetation of Tarmowa Local Government Council, where trees take many years to grow after planting.
The gigantic trees you see in that area must have taken ten years or more to grow. Before, we used these trees as medicines to cure various ailments, but today many of them are on the verge of extinction,” an old herbalist, Malam Abubakar said.
On why the IDPs abandoned farmlands, Masaeh said the communities are liberated, but it has become practically impossible for the villagers to return and engage in farming activities. “The boys (militants) are still hiding in the bush and they will not spare anybody that sees them. Many of us were forced to stay off farms for that reason,” he intimated.
With almost thirty percent of IDPs surviving on cutting down trees for sale or domestic use and little government effort to re-grow and guard the forest, Yobe State faces desertification as these new traders (IDPs) add to the already existing firewood suppliers chopping down trees.
In many other desert prone areas, aside Yobe State, ninety percent of the population depend on firewood as a major source of for cooking, unaware that trees are nature`s weapon against the ozone depletion and desert encroachment.
Analysts are of the view that high level of poverty in the state contributes to deforestation as the forest continues to disappear.
According to a study conducted by Nigerian Environmental Study/Action Team (NEST), Yobe State lost 35 percent of its forest annually in the present decade. By the late 19th Century, Yobe State had about 3.5 million hectares of rich tropical primary forests, with abundant flora and fauna. Now in the 21st Century, it has been reduced to about 0.9 million hectares.
Another report by Forestry Research Management, Evaluation and Coordination Unit (FORMECU) of the Federal Department of Forestry indicates that the State still loses an annual average of 56,000 hectares of forest cover. Experts say that from 1995 to 2013, Yobe State nearly halved their amount of Forest Cover, moving from 5156.53 to 2923.33 hectares due to indiscriminate cutting down of trees for firewood.