Saturday, 26 February 2011

Owerri: whenever the president visits

Joachim Ezeji
Is it that Governor Ohakim is insensitive or that his managers are stupid? This remains the pertinent question on the lips of many Owerri residents last Thursday when President Goodluck Jonathan visited the state. A similar scenario had played out last October when the president also visited.

Many Owerri residents as well as visitors were mouth agape to rationalize why they have to be kept on traffic jams for scores of hours simply on the lame excuse that the president was in town. Important and inter-connective roads and streets such as MCC/Uratta , Wetheral, Government House/Shell Camp, Bank Road and Okigwe roads were locked in traffic clampdown simply because President Goodluck Jonathan was in town.

Just on the afternoon of Wednesday, 23rd February, traffic on these roads were clamped down for several hours. As if that was not enough, agents of the government especially security agents (police and civil defence officials) repeated the same the next day, Thursday, 24th February 2011; as Owerri residents woke up to the shock of blocked roads. The result was that workers got stranded while economic ruin was consequently inflicted on the people and the state.

For me, it was a bad day. I already had series of appointments in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, and was to travel there that day. It was hell for me as I had to trek all the way from my office on Mbaise road to Arugo Park. No Keke nor any other means of transportation was available to risk that distance as the roads were utterly blocked. Even when I managed to secure one, it got stuck mid-way, leaving me with no other option than to trek.

While these high handedness lasted the average resident complained. It was obvious as you passed across. In groups residents queried the wisdom of the government in totally stopping vehicular movement for several hours without any prior notice or warning. People wondered why a government that claims wisdom and vision failed to come up with a contingency. People also wondered if all these symbolised government’s contempt for the people.

The implication of the events that played out while the president was in the state last week did not really amuse anyone except perhaps the governor, his visitors and their lackeys. Perhaps it enabled them to showcase that they are really in charge, as they would, while those traffic logjam lasted would often break into those frustrating traffic with their sirens and mobile escorts. But what ever it meant to them or however they saw it, to those of us on this part of the fence, it simply portrayed third world backwardness and emptiness.

In civilised societies, what the government would have done was to announce contingency plans and give a time to it. In those climes, the government would have strictly put the clampdown on a time frame of may be an hour or an hour, and this would have revolved specifically within the arrival time and departure time of the president. Anything beyond these would have come with a serious apology, but not here where peoples’ fundamental human rights means nothing to the government.

A government that sincerely values and extends utmost regards to its citizens would never have done what the Ikedi Ohakim did last week. If what happened was a reflection of how those in government think , then the state would never progress. How on earth could roads be shut down for several hours without notice. Even after the error (?) occurred, government never bothered to say sorry.

Perhaps the government should be reminded that in as much as we wish Mr. President well; not all of us are PDP members. The President was in the state for a private affair, and that was a campaign programme of his party. The rest of us who are not PDP members need not be punished on the account of that. It smacks of high level arrogance, stupidity and insensitivity to punish the rest of us as a result.

Ok, look at it, the entire MCC/Uratta road was shut down while the Shell camp/Government House bye pass gate was shut down. Sadly, these were done without any prior notice. The result was that people arriving to pass through any of these roads got stuck. And with it came disappointments and frustrations.

I had driven right through the Egbeada Estate road to the Amakohia and High Court axis, but had to veer off at the High Court area to pass through the Government House/Shell camp gate, but was turned back at the government house bye pass gate. A gate that was put in place by Governor Ohakim. I did turn back to drive through the back of Government College/Works layout to Okigwe road. The resulting traffic jam on the closed axis of Wetheral and Ikenegbu spilled over to Okigwe road. The result was a long traffic jam all along Okigwe road/Wetheral round about to IMSU round about. I managed to cross the Okigwe road round about unto Samek road and then struggled through Aladimma and Ikenegbu, yet could not access my office as the MCC/Uratta road was shut on the orders from above. Why?

All these depicts nothing more than third world antics and highhandedness. It can never happen in civilized countries such as the United Kingdom. It happens here because people who accidently found themselves in power consider themselves superior to others. Perhaps they wander in the illusion of immortality and power drunkenness forgetting that all positions in life are transitory.

I am compelled to request that Owerri roads and it festering traffic jams should become a top priority for the government. While we wait for the engineering solutions of new road, bridges and fly-over, the government should do residents and visitors the favour of not constraining available space for any reason whatsoever. No body is really above the law, and in this context, the government must subject itself to the rule of law and nothing less. A management authority for the existing roads and traffic should be put in place to permit free flow of traffic at all times.

It is benumbing to see high ranking government official and even ordinary government drivers simply because they have government number plates drive against traffic while the ordinary citizens or residents remain on traffic queues. The Imo State Government should be reminded that no society thrives in a midst of official quagmire and disorderliness concocted in disguise.

As the count down to the 2011 elections continues, the government should not despise its citizens. The government exercises authority on behalf of the citizens. No government is superior to its citizens. The government in Imo State should reappraise its style of governance and management of critical concerns, and put the citizens at the centre of it all.

Certainly the President is all ways welcomed to Imo State, but if his coming will inflict difficulties on the people, then he should as well not come, as we would be better off without him. During Chief Achike Udenwa’s time as governor, then President Olusegun Obasanjo did visit. Ironically, there were never such level of frustration and blocking of roads, so why now?
Long live Imo State!

Monday, 21 February 2011

Prof. C.O.E Onwuliri and the art of leadership

Joachim Ezeji

I have always emphasized it severally that there are two main kinds of approach to sustainability – ‘top down’ and ‘inside out’.

While Top –down approaches emphasize management, measurement and control. Inside – out approaches on the other hand stresses the importance of change and innovation. It may not be entirely possible to predict what you will do, but you can bet the process will be exciting! Innovation allows new systems and methods to be tried and may facilitate quantum leap towards a higher, and more sustainable level of operation.

The later is synonymous with the art of leadership of Professor COE Onwuliri, the current Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology (FUTO) Owerri. Though I have heard his name over and over again in the years past, I never really met him. But all that soon became history, when I met this humble man of great virtue, an irrefutable 21st Century administrator, a few weeks ago.

On the invitation of Engr. Dr. Remy Uche, I had attended a church programme at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri. Remy Uche is currently the Dean, Student Affairs of FUTO, and for the event I attended, the Chairman of the Organising Committee. Remy Uche is also a member of the Rotary Club of Owerri, where I have known him for the past 10 years or even more.

The event of Sunday, 30th of January 2011 was a worthy one. It was the Feast Day of ST. Thomas Aquinas, the patron saint of the ST. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Chaplaincy, (STACC), of the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO). ST. Thomas Aquinas is renowned in the Catholic Church as a hardworking and intelligent model teacher for young people especially those studying for the priesthood. He is fondly remembered by the Catholic faithful as one of the Church’s greatest theologians, philosophers and writers and was consequently named an Angelic Doctor of the Church.

That the leadership of the Catholic Church in FUTO named their church after this great Angelic Doctor of the Church is a thing of great inspiration. This is particularly so, for the many young people in that institution who are in most need of direction. No doubt ST. Thomas Aquinas provides even much more through his noble roles and teachings in the church.

However, beyond the church and its patron saint –ST. Thomas Aquinas; was the warm and most accessible presence of the university’s Chief Executive Officer at the event. I was deeply bowled over by the most humble disposition of Professor COE Onwuliri at that event. The man was so deeply connected with the university community, especially, his students at that ceremony that I imagined a scenario of the future of Nigerian universities with other Vice Chancellors doing exactly as he did.

When shall University Vice Chancellors come down from their Olympian heights to freely interact and associate with their students? During my time as an undergraduate at the University of Calabar, Vice Chancellors were rarely seen nor met. You only struggle to see them only on special occasions, and those were during matriculation and convocation ceremonies.

Vice Chancellors in most Nigerian universities are more like thin gods. They are more or less myths, and are rarely seen; but not Prof. COE Onwuliri. He is a unique breed compared with most of his colleagues elsewhere who keep aloof and only issue instructions.

I said as much, and in fact did confess how impressed I was with Professor Onwuliri when I had a second chance to use the microphone at that ceremony. I did say that his level of humility and accessibility are unequalled in the history of Nigerian Universities. Can you imagine; the man even knows most of his students by their names! He even moderates a major programme himself, playing the role of a Master of Ceremony (MC), and he even does that with panache and competence!

In profiling Prof. COE Onwuliri, a great academic and administrator on my column this week, I would emphasize that one great streak of his’ that enamours me so greatly is his high level of connectedness to the university community. It is also apposite to stress that going inside-out is about relationships and ‘connectedness’. Being connected and responsive to staffs, students, host communities and other stakeholders is the foundation of sustainability. Prof. COE Onwuliri is currently leading the role in building befitting temples of worship for God. One of such is the magnificent ST. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Chaplaincy, (STACC). The others possibly include those of the Anglican Church.

For aspiring managers and administrators, I will advise never to underestimate the power of building relationships with people before asking them to follow you. If you’ve ever studied the lives of notable military commanders, you have probably noticed that the best ones practiced the law of connection.

The erudite author John C. Maxwell in his seminal book The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership told the story of General Douglas MacArthur of the World War 1 in France, who told a battalion commander before a daring charge, ‘’Major, when the signal comes to go over the top, I want you to go first, before your men. If you do, they’ll follow’’. Then MacArthur removed the Distinguished Service Cross from his uniform and pinned it on the major. He had, in effect, awarded him for heroism before asking him to exhibit it. And of course, the major led his men, they followed him over the top, and they achieved their objective.

When a leader has done the work to connect with his people, you can see it in the way the organisation functions. Among employees there are incredible loyalty and a strong work ethic. The vision of the leader becomes the aspiration of the people. The impact is incredible. In FUTO, these are all evident, a microscopic example is Professor Onwuliri’s laudable leadership in the building of ST. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Chaplaincy, (STACC).

You can also see the results in other ways as buttressed by John C. Maxwell; who further told this story: ‘’ On the Boss’s Day in 1994, a full-page advert appeared in USA today. It was contracted and paid for by the employees of Southwest Airlines, and it was addressed to Herb Kelleher, the company’s CEO:

Thanks, Herb
For remembering every one of our names.
For supporting the Ronald McDonald House.
For Helping load baggage von thanksgiving.
For giving everyone a kiss (and we mean everyone).
For listening.
For running the only profitable major airline.
For singing only once a year.
For letting us wear shorts and sneakers to work.
For golfing at The LUV Classic with only one club.
For outtalking Sam Donaldson.
For ridding your Harley Davidson into Southwest Headquarters.
For being a friend, not just a boss.
Happy Boss’s Day from Each One of Your 16,000 Employers’’.

A display of affection like that occurs only when a leader has worked hard to connect with his people. Don’t ever underestimate the importance of building relational bridges between yourself and the people you lead. There’s an old saying : To lead yourself, use your head; to lead others, use your heart. That’s the nature of the Law of Connection. Always touch a person’s heart before you ask for a hand.

This scenario has also been the order for Prof. COE Onwuliri as prayer requests has remained the order at the Maria Assumpta Catholic Cathedral Church. His friends and subjects are always booking masses for him, praying God to grant him wisdom as he pilots the affairs of FUTO.

May God bless you Prof!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

In search of expert millennium vehicle mechanics

Joachim Ezeji

Recent and on-going personal experiences worries me to a great extent. These experiences has to do with the sheer dearth of automobile artisans or mechanics with competitive expertise in critical areas of repairs, services and maintenance of the plethora of millennium vehicles in our today’s society. The danger today is that our society, a society that fraudulently leap frogs its basic development steps is today held hostage by charlatans who claim questionable expertise in automobile repairs and services.

Some friends are of the view that most mechanics in our milieu are half baked. These mechanics never really learnt the skill properly, and in the bizarre haste to make money dabbles into questionable vehicle repairs that often ends up destroying many exotic vehicles as well as permanently ending the lifespan of such vehicles on the roads. Ironically, they often get away with such impunities because our people have become so accustomed to bad governance, porous judiciary and a frustrating police force. The result being a free market for these scoundrels.

In 2007, I had bought my Montero Mitsubisu V6 Jeep all the way from Downtown San Jose in the state of California, USA. The vehicle was subsequently shipped to Nigeria. Since its arrival, the vehicle has served me meritoriously. But for the last three months the vehicle has become a torn in the flesh for me.

From one fault to the other, the operational efficiency and pleasure inherent in the vehicle had dwindled.The vehicle now degrades as it gradually becomes more problematic with every visit to any suggested automobile artisan/mechanic in Owerri. Sadly, most automobile mechanics make strong but deceitful expertise on repairing such vehicles. I am yet to meet any one so far who declines expertise.

The problem with my car is that it overheats. The engines easily gets overheated, and this often makes my heart to beat very fast while driving in town. The long traffic jams on Owerri urban roads often exacerbates this problem. I have since stopped putting on or using the air conditioner in the vehicle in order to ameliorate the problem but all to no avail. I have also regularly to the best of my ability to follow the instructions on the manual, yet the problem persists. I no longer dare drive the car outside town least the worst happens.

At the beginning, I had trusted the expertise of my pioneer mechanic –Oga Emma, an Isiekenesi Ideator born mechanic who stays along Port Harcourt Road. A regular hand for me over the years, but the man seems to be an expert in guess work or what you may call trial and error. He hardly ever gets anything right at first instance. There must be return visits, and each visit must cost money. When I complained about low operational efficiency, he suggested that I change the ‘’camber’’ and the ‘’bushing’’. A little later, he suggested that I also replace my fuel pump. Both repairs cost me a fortune. When the overheating became overbearing he suggested that I change the water pump.

I was later advised by friends to try another automobile mechanic, which I did not hesitate to do. This time I fell into the hands of one Chukwuma who works at the Nekede mechanic village. My experience with Chukwuma was both a nightmare and a disaster. At the initial stage, he had assured me that after working on my vehicle that all will be ok. But that turned out a ruse. Chukwuma changed the ‘’top cylinder gasket’’ and in the process spoiled the ‘’pully’’ that holds the ‘’V-belt’’. When he finished, my car kick became another problem as the car hardly starts anymore. My car battery also died in his hands. Most of the repair spare parts that I bought on my own based on his instructions were rejected by him on delivery. He only accepted materials he bought himself and all of them were purchased at spurious and exorbitant prices.

This also includes the fact that he kept my car for 16 days in his workshop. He had earlier deceived me by lying that he will tidy up the car within 3 working days, but this stretched into 16 days. A period that not only asphyxiated my entire schedules but exposed me to oodles of risks while going to the mechanic village on daily settings. At the end of the 16 days period, the overheating was still not gone, but very much in the vehicle. Every effort to get back at Chukwuma to answer follow –up questions on what he had wrought on my vehicle has been futile. He had kept scheduling and re-scheduling appointments with me on when to come and re-attend to the vehicle without keeping to his words. As I am writing this now, I am still waiting for him. There is no doubt that he is testing my strength, and if I should exert it now, people may not really understand the extent of frustration he had subjected me to.

Still seeking for a solution, I visited my god father in marriage who has a similar car to mine. He did not waste time to invite his mechanic – Julius, an Mbaise born mechanic at the Orji mechanic village. I am presently tied with Julius. Julius had on initial inspection, insisted that my radiator was totally bad. The first thing he charged me to do was to get a new radiator. I insisted we wash the one in the car and see if there would be any improvement but he would not budge. When he eventually agreed to try washing the radiator, he suggested that we go to one Lasisi, a Yoruba man that has lived in Owerri for the past 30 years, who has neither known nor practiced any other job, other than washing radiators.

But even the washed radiator could not deliver the service as the overheating persisted. At this point, I had little option than to travel to Lagos to purchase another radiator. But despite all these efforts and time, the same old problem of engine overheating persists. The new radiator have not solved the problem. Julius later suggested that I return the new radiator as it may be malfunctioning. I rejected his suggestion, telling him I wont take that from him. He has now decided to dig deeper into the engine and re-appraise the top cylinder and the gasket that was put together by Chukwuma, the Ehime Mbano born mechanic at Nekede mechanic village.

I have been advised to take the vehicle to authorised dealers in Port Harcourt or to Ala-ojii in Aba. My friend, Mark who resides in Port Harcourt insists I do so as quickly as I could. But who do I take the vehicle to in Port Harcourt? I therefore made efforts to search for local authorised service dealers on the internet; the nearest I could find is CFAO motors based in Trans-Amadi industrial layout, Port Harcourt. Sadly their telephone number is comatose. But my predicament is that the vehicle currently overheats and may not have the strength to go that long distance.

Do you live in Owerri, Nigeria? Do you have a millennium vehicle? What have your experience been on its serviceability and maintenance? I am sure your experience wont be anything edifying, and this is very painful. For me, I am currently stuck, with my vehicle grounded. I have the money to put my vehicle aright, but have no clue on who can solve the problem at first instance. Where do I find a competent and capable mechanic who can solve my car’s problems without exacerbating my woes. Please show or link me to one if you know. My numbers are 08166347023 or 08183405204.

Monday, 7 February 2011

The festering traffic nuisance of Owerri

It remains to be seen, how resilient Owerri is to its many present day challenges. Top on this, is its network of roads which are increasingly getting overwhelmed by its sprawling traffic. What is the solution? What could be done?

Three features of resilience thinking of significance for analysing social-ecological systems in relation to sustainability are germane in this context. Persistence, which is the buffer capacity to withstand shocks in the face of change; Adaptability, which is the capacity of people in a social-ecological system to manage resilience in order to deal with change, move on and continue to develop; and transformability, which is the capacity of people in a social-ecological system to create new development pathways when ecological, political, social or economic conditions make the existing system untenable.

In Owerri, the later which ordinarily should have been the case is far from it. This therefore underscores and brings to the fore the bizarre management of both our human and material resources by those in authority. Roads built in 1980 are still serving people of 2011 without a corresponding effort to grow or expand them over the years. This therefore raises some salient issues on sustainability.

Sustainability, as we understand the concept, implies the need to consider the scale of development relative to the available resource base; the fairness with which access is provided to those resources and the outputs from them, both among current generations and between current and future generations; and the efficiency with which resources are used. While organisations can adapt to issues such as eco-efficiency (for example, resource management), they find it much more difficult – even impossible – to address issues of equity, social justice and the scale of their development.
(To be continued)

NGO to set up ecosystem academy

An NGO – Rural Africa Water Development Project (RAWDP) is to set up an international ecosystem academy in Uboma, Imo State, Nigeria. The academy , which shall function as a model eco-agricultural Learning Farm will be used specifically as a base training and demonstrations centre with the aim of creating shared value in the fragile Imo River watershed by reducing the vulnerabilities of the watershed’s sensitive ecosystem to diffuse pollution from maladaptive agricultural practices and chemical leaching.

According to the social entrepreneur and team leader of the organisation, Mr. Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji, the academy shall also feature an interactive on-line watershed-to-basin visualization and agricultural practices prototype that will be made available to research institutions, and universities and other education organizations in Nigeria upon payment of a fixed fee. This will also develop a process by which anyone in resident in any of the 12 major river basins in Nigeria can click on a virtual on-line link to get directed to their ecological address, display the watersheds in their region, learn about their watershed's characteristics, and join any local ecosystem restoration or diffuse pollution control efforts.

Mr. Ezeji further explained that the academy shall increase farmer productivity per hectare, mitigate climate change and poverty through a collaborative liaison leveraged by sensitive farming and knowledge sharing amongst local farmers. He averred that the project would further motivate and leverage farmers by developing a supply chain model that blends farmer capacity building with commercial linkages to credible market outlets for their farm produce.

Mr. Ezeji, who was named the African Development Bank 40th Anniversary Innovative competition laureate in 2004; revealed that the project plans to support over 1000 communities and provide at least 1million local farmers, particularly those cultivating maize, rice, cassava, groundnut, cabbages, carrots, onions and tomatoes, as well as agro-forestry and livestock etc spread across the watershed with adequate skills and awareness relevant in ecosystem based management in order to manage the watershed’s agricultural lands in ways that are sensitive to the ecological health of the nearby freshwater ecosystems, biodiversity, soils and climate in order to mitigate pollution, achieve food security, recharge the local aquifer and mitigate river siltation etc, and by so doing restoring ecosystem services for communities and fostering sustainable development.

He further stated that the academy is scheduled to reflect growing global awareness and acceptance of environmental values on ecological concerns such as biodiversity, and changing professional practices that view conditions of the land to be just as relevant as the quantities of outputs that can be produced. According to Mr. Ezeji, the key to ecosystem management is the goal of ecological sustainability – protecting and restoring critical ecological components, functions, and structures in perpetuity so that future as well as current generations will have their needs met, in this case – clean drinking water. Mr. Ezeji further revealed that the main activities of the project shall stretch from the source of the Imo River in Abia state, through Imo State and to its base in Rivers State, and shall consist of the identification of critical acres and designation of Nitrate or Phosphate vulnerable zones, all lands within the watershed draining directly into and polluting the Imo River; Mobilizing and working with local farmers and land owners through capacity building; and adopting a code of good practice throughout the watershed; Drafting and implementing a mandatory action plan of measures to tackle identified pollution sources; and Tree planting via intensive agro-forestry etc.

Celebrating forest for the people

By Joachim Ezeji

As the world celebrates the international year of forests, Nigeria needs to wake up to its forest challenge . Though, no up to date data currently exists on the extent of deforestation, accounts by some Nigerian scholars posit that about 92 percent of the land surface of Nigeria is considered prone to land degradation from moderate to severe stages.

Over 350 million tons of topsoil is estimated to be lost each year due to soil erosion. Natural forests, believed to have covered about 40 percent of the country’s land surface some 50 years ago have dwindled to mere 9 percent currently.

The estimated 26 million herds of cattle and goats which are mostly grazing beyond carrying capacity have not helped the land reclamation strategies. More than 37 percent of the country’s forest reserve were lost between 1990 and 2005 as a result of illegal and uncontrolled logging, incessant bush burning, fuel wood gathering and clearing of forests for other land uses hence making the country vulnerable to declining soil productivity, desertification, loss of aquatic life, coastal/soil erosion, biodiversity lose, water and air pollution, drying up of water bodies, erratic flooding causing loss of life and property and diseases etc.
Globally, at least 1.6 billion people directly depend on forests for their livelihoods and the majority of them are poor and live in and around forests. It is estimated that approximately 60 million people, mainly from indigenous and local communities, reside in forests. According to FAO data, the annual value of wood harvested from forests is more than $100 billion, and globally, more than 60 million people are employed by forest-based industries (wood, pulp and paper and other processing plants).

Also, forests tend to soak up rainwater and release it slowly, thereby acting as a natural defence against flooding and drought. Forests can improve water quality by filtering harmful pollutants, pathogens, and sediments that can cause illness in people or livestock.
For water, the role of forests is most strategic. While water is the irreplaceable source of life; wetlands are the source of water for the vast majority of the world's people. According to Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “Wetlands are not only natural infrastructure that store and clean water, regulate flows and protect coasts. They are also food bowls for millions of people around the world and their major source of livelihood – farming, fisheries and food security all depend on healthy wetlands.”

Wetlands, such as mangroves, peat forests and freshwater swamp forests, are home to a wealth of biodiversity. To mark this year’s World Wetlands Day on Wednesday 2 February, IUCN highlighted the role and importance of forests in wetlands. This year’s World Wetlands Day also marks the 40th Anniversary of the Ramsar Convention. Ramsar protected wetland sites cover an area of 186 million hectares, about the size of Mexico, the largest protected area network in the world.

Wetlands provide many services, such as food, fresh water and fuel, and fulfill vital roles in carbon storage, pollution control and protection from natural hazards, such as floods and storms. Water supplies are dependent on healthy wetlands; healthy forests help to support and protect wetlands. Yet, there are worrying signs that wetlands are being lost at a higher rate than any other ecosystem. According to The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, 50% of our wetlands globally have been lost over the last century. Widespread degradation and loss is triggered by the development of infrastructure, land conversion, deforestation and the introduction of invasive species.

Accordingly, investment needs to be made to secure the water resources we currently have and, as part of this, decision makers need to recognize the vital services that a healthy natural environment provides, particularly as communities adapt to the effects of climate change. According to Mark Smith, Head IUCN Water Programme. “Demand for energy and food is growing as populations expand, driving up the demand for water. Now, more than ever, we must invest in natural infrastructure, such as forests and wetlands, that will safeguard water resources for people and nature.”

Therefore, Investing in forests within wetlands goes a long way. For example, New York City found that it could avoid spending US$ 4-6 billion on water treatment plants (plus annual maintenance costs) by investing just US$ 1 billion on protecting forests in water catchment areas. Switzerland saves around US$ 64 million a year by using untreated groundwater, naturally filtered through forested watersheds. Forests function as a filter, storage and purifier in water catchments.

Also, it has been suggested that CO2 emission from rapid deforestation dwarfs those from technical sources such as gas flaring from oil fields. This is particularly true for the twelve forest-rich countries of equatorial Africa (of which Nigeria is one) whose corresponding annual (2005) emissions are estimated at about 1.1 billion tons. The rapid economic over-exploitation and fast thinning of forests at the base level in Africa is often attributable to firewood collection. But major drivers of forest degradation in Nigeria’s Niger Delta includes oil exploration activities and urbanization; other drivers are agriculture and logging. Other scholars have also argued that the pressure to convert native forests into agricultural lands is being driven by the market, which puts a price signal on agricultural commodities but not on the benefits that forests provide.

In view of the foregoing , the designation of year 2011 as the international year of forests becomes illustrative. Its launch was held on 2 February in the UN General Assembly Hall, part of the High-level Segment of the 9th session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF9). The President of the General Assembly, H.E. Mr. Joseph Deiss, will preside over the ceremony and the programme will open with a video message from Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

The ceremony also featured an array of international speakers, from government ministers to Nobel laureates and other members of the international forest community including Under-Secretary General Mr. Sha Zukang, Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai, renowned filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand, and Felix Finbeiner, founder of Plant the Planet.