On the 20th of March, 2020, a bill to establish an agency for forest guards to man federal roads and highways scaled second reading in the House of Representatives.
The piece of legislation, if passed into law, seeks to charge the agency with the responsibility among other things to detect and prevent crimes like banditry, kidnapping, terrorism and violence.
The potential paramilitary agency was configured to have the mandate under the law to apprehend offenders, preserve law and order and protect lives and property.
And this is going to be strictly within all forests lying 100 metres adjacent to all federal roads and highways in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, the forest guards’ bill suffered a major setback as the antagonists of the bill said the agency would tantamount to duplication of duties by other established security agencies in the country.
One thing is clear, however, the sponsor of the forest guards’ bill, Mr. Usman Shiddi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, representing bill Wukari Federal Constituency in Taraba State has good intention.
Mr. Shiddi knew what he was talking about as record shows that as at 2015, Nigeria had forest coverage of 7.68 percent of its land area and it was left unprotected.
Without any gainsaying, there is the need to take decisive action to ensure the survival of forests as suitable habitat for people and animals.
The first step is to plan ahead and in this context, the question is, what happened to the old forest guards,” Asogbo” as they were called in times past?
The “Asogbos” as they were a prominent feature of forest management, especially in the defunct western region under the leadership of late chief Obafemi Awolowo who was the leader of government business between 1952 and 1959.
Why did the old forest guards disappear?
Where are the “Asogbos”?
Their continuous absence has made the forest vulnerable to all sorts of abuse.
Studies revealed that the old forests guards ran into troubled water due to a number of challenges.
These include, fire outbreak occasioned by bush burning by local hunters, secret and illegal logging of timber forest products, grazing and inadequate finance for mobilising forest guards.
The spirit of the old forest guards or the Asogbos must be brought back to preserve the forest and make it play its role as a supplier of resources for people and government.
All bandits, kidnappers, rapists and terrorists hibernating inside the reserves must be weeded out.
To do this effectively, there should be adequate welfare and manpower training for forest guards.
They must be armed with Ak-47 rifles to withstand the firepower of hardened and notorious criminals.
Funds due to forest guards management must be released as and when due.
Nigeria legal framework for forest management and the national policy on environment should be implemented without further delay. Legislations on deforestation, logging ban and encroachment must be implemented by all tiers of government and forest stakeholders.