By Obani Obodo
The land of green, Nigeria, is a country blessed with so many natural resources and tourist attraction than is actually mentioned. The Sambisa forest of Borno State in the northeastern part of the country is one of many treasures and goldmines yet untapped.
According to geographers and map readers, the borders of theSambisa Forest is geographically placed at the northeastern tip of the west Sudanian Savanna and the southern boundary of the Sahel Acacia Savanna about 60 km, the south east of Maiduguri, which is the capital of Borno State.It also occupies part of Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi, within the environs ofDarazo, Jigawa, and some parts of Kano state, going farther into the north, a part of central Cameroon up through tillthe Central African Republic.Going back to the colonial era, the Sambisa Forest was marked to be a Game Reserve.
In the year 1970, the reserve was used for safaris. It had a large population of wildlife which included; leopards, lions, elephants, and hyenas that tourists could observe from cabins or their safari lodges.
Sambisa Forest was set up as a Reserve by Environmentalist Phil Hall, 66, from Gresham, near Cromer in 1975.
Mr Hall, who lived in Nigeria from 1972 until two years ago while working as an environmentalist, said: “The villages around the reserve have been obliterated by Boko Horam. They have virtually been wiped out.”
He travelled to Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s Borno state, aged 23 after graduating from Edinburgh University with an ecology degree.
He was employed for 15 years by the Nigerian government, during which time he set up several nature reserves, including Sambisa.
He later worked from the country’s capital Lagos and established the Nigerian Nature Conservation Foundation before working as an environmental adviser for the Leventis Foundation, which he is still involved with.
In the year 1991, it was to be incorporated by the then government of Borno into being The National Park of the Chad Basin. One of the main reasons of the creation of the Sambisa Forest reserve was to make a pathway for the government to create a never-ending river of the untapped resources of the wild fauna and flora therein, to facilitate a speedy development of the state, and welcoming of tourists as it was projected to be one of the fast rising tourist attractions in the country and the African continent at large.
It is a known fact that everything that has a beginning will also have an end, and for that reason, it will be undoubtedly said that amongst other reasons to create a Game Reserve, it will be to promote and extend the time of extinction of some of the species in the Reserve which was said to be rich in fauna with the birdlife going up to 62 different species of birds as reported by Birdlife International, while 17 species of mammals were found in the Reserve in 2010. Some of the mammals also found in the Reserve are; Roan Antelope, gazelle, warthog, duikers, baboons and monkeys, and bush elephants.
In the years 1975-1978, it was documented that the Reserve become an amalgamation of two native authorities namely; the northern and the southern Sambisa Forest Reserve.
In 1963, the Sambisa Forest Reserve was a communal forest reserve that was owned by the native authority, and in 1974 it was reportedly inherited by Borno State from the Northeastern region.
Most of the structures were built by Muhammed Buba Marwa in the 1990s, the same military administrator of Borno who also commissioned Sambisa Forest.At the time, the place was full of life with foreigners and Nigerians alike that were attracted to the place because of its tourism potentials.
The Sambisa Forest Reserve, being situated in the heart of Borno, holds a lot of importance to the government of Borno, the north as a region, and the country in entirety. Its socioeconomic relevance cannot be overlooked as it is vital in itself. The Sambisa Game Reserve holds value to the state as it could be seen as a steady source of revenue and employment for the inhabitants of the state. The beautiful constructions, houses, the wide areas covered by the forest is one that attracts a lot to it, this has made the Reserve a frequent place for travelers, foreigners, tourists and explorers who find it fascinating.
The Sambisa Forest Reserve, rated to be one of the unsurpassed endowed locale for wildlife in the Northern Guinea/Sudan Savannah, with one of the core aims of its establishment as promotion of tourism, the conservation of flora and fauna, and for scientific research, all points down to the fact that there will be mass employment in forestry, large use of manpower therein, the alleviation of poverty and criminalities and the effective use of flora-product to better improve on the general life of the state and this could be in terms of the harvesting of woods, and processing and trade of forest products which could be exported to other countries and the monetary returns will in turn contribute to the gross domestic product of the country.
As the years went by, due to some mismanagement on the part of the native authorities, the Game Reserve became overrun with people that went against the sole aim of creating the Reserve. These are poachers, miscreants, hunters who had ‘free-hunt seasons’ with the wildlife, people who came and fell trees for the use of firewood and the encroachment of the lands by cattle herdsmen. Amongst these offenders is the Islamist extremist sect, Boko Haram.
The terrorists took control of Sambisa Forest on February 5, 2013 when they attacked the base station and killed two rangers, forcing other workers to flee, and on that note, no staff or anyone without link to the terrorists has been allowed into the reserve for safety purposes and for fear of lives.
On the 14th and 15th of April in the year 2014, a total of 276 female students were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School in the now famous town of Chibok in Borno State. The forest, blessed with outstanding flora and landscape became a safe haven for the infamous Islamist Extremist Sect after they have gone on voyages to neighbouring villages and towns to commit their nefarious activities.
The Sambisa Forest, with its large trees, green vegetation, and canopies, has made it impossible to be able to find the camp of the terrorist group. As reported by the military, the grounds have been adulterated with land mines strategically placed by the members of the sect as traps and what they use to ‘buff-up’ their defenses. The insurgents took to the destruction of the villages, towns, cities and entrance routes (both official and unofficial) and made it impregnable from any external force.
The Reserve has since lost its luster and magnificence in the blinding might of the wrath the Boko Haram sect, making it a no-go area for anyone without affiliations to arms and military combat skills. A lot has been lost to the new age brought upon it by the terrifying reign of the Boko Haram. The trees are dying; the fauna is going extinct as they either are hunted for food or being killed in crossfire between the Nigerian military and the insurgents or with the Cameroonian army.
Mr Hall, who last visited Maiduguri area eight years ago, said: “I’m very sad. Maiduguri area was a very gentle place. I could never have foreseen what was going to happen. There was no hint of malice or problems when I was there. It was a very free and easy society. Everyone mixed together.
“I have my doubts that it could ever go back to how it was.”
He said that He believed the rise of Boko Haram was due to young people with no employment prospects, influences from Isis and the lack of focus on the group.
“Ever since the kidnapping, that has raised Boko Haram’s profile. Nigeria seems to be in the news every day. But before that nobody seemed to bother about it. Boko Haram was the movement that was unable to grow undetected until it became the monster it is today.”
He added the Nigerian government was taking the Boko Horam threat seriously and had launched military action against the group.
But he said efforts needed to be made to engage young people in the area through education.
Boko Haram’s stronghold is north-east of Nigeria and Mr Hall said the group was damaging commerce, agriculture and wildlife.
However, Sambisa, if the insurgents are successfully flushed out, with its current popularity, if properly used by the government, would provide one of the greatest sources of income for the government as tourism center with it being restored back to its former glory.
Conclusively, my stand on the theme at hand would be that the government of Nigeria should request for peacekeeping troops and more sophisticated weapons from world powers to assist in bringing down the insurgents. The fight is not for the military alone, but also the populace. Some people know the whereabouts, the ins and outs of the forest, while some are family members of some of the terrorists. But with a good orientation of the people to help them overcome the brainwashing that has been done to them, help with be gotten with ease and the Sambisa Forest will be back on course to what it was commissioned to be from birth, a Game Reserve – Sambisa Forest Reserve.