Culled from DailyTrust
Alhaji Muhammad Abubakar ibn Grema, the paramount ruler of Tikau Emirate, is an educationist and the Chancellor of Yobe State University. In this interview, he speaks on why his emirate has embarked on community based annual tree planting campaign and successfully planted over N1.4 million trees, among other issues. Excerpts
My name is Alhaji Abubakar Ibn Grema, born in the early fifties in Nengere town, I later moved to Potiskum where I had my junior and senior primary school. Then I proceeded to Government Craft School, Maiduguri. After finishing there, I joined Government Teachers College, Gombe where I finished my Grade 11. I taught for some years under Fika Local Government Authority, later I went for my NCE certificate at Advance Teachers College Maduguri, I taught for about six to seven years, and then proceeded to the University of Maiduguri where I graduated in 1990.
When Yobe State was created, I was posted to Government Secondary School Nengere but was later transferred back to the Teaching Service Board Headquarters in Damaturu, and I was reposted back to Nengere as principal until up to 2001 when I was asked to come and ascended the throne of my late father as Emir of Tikau.
* I think Emir of Tikau should be commended. see more after cut
We learnt that you initiated a community based tree planting campaign within Tikau emirate, what motivated you to embark on the programme?
My interest was to restore the way things used to be in the community. Before the population growth and desert encroachment we had forest round us but today, the entire community is an open land, with no trees as it used to be. Also seeing the problems people have been encountering in getting fire wood, the need therefore to embark on an initiative to reduce the suffering of the people became an agenda for me.
Formerly, one can just go to the back of his house and get firewood, but the situation has changed, villagers have to source for fire wood from the urban cities instead. This has come about as a result of clearing of the forests within the communities and the farm lands and so on. So, this is one of the factors that we seek to address with this initiative, with the encroachment of desert that we have been hearing and seeing practically and with the clearing of bushes around. We felt that the only option we have is to encourage our communities to plant trees here and there. So this has been one of the reasons that motivated the emirate council to embark on this kind of exercise.
When was the programme initiated?
The five- year programme was initiated in 2009 and we are winding up in 2013. Winding up in the sense that we are coming to the target we have set for ourselves, but now with the people coming to see the reality of its effect, they are even encouraging us, saying look this programme should have no limit.
What kind of trees is the emirate planting?
Most of the trees that we plant are those that suit the weather and the environment, so much of these are neem trees and some other adaptable trees. Much of the economic trees have not been indulged in this exercise, because we need those that are acceptable and affordable to the community, and at any given time they are planted they would just take off with not much problem.
Why have you not tried economic trees?
Actually we are taking this within our own scope, as I earlier told you this exercise is purely community based, it’s an in -house effort so we are taking it within our reach. Later on, if the government has seen our effort, they may come to support us and extend it to include economic trees that can flourish in our environment.
How many districts do you have under your emirate, and are they all taking part in this exercise?
Yes, as at now we have five districts within Tikau emirate, with five districts heads and thirteen village heads and they are all participating.
How are they contributing to the exercise?
Well, they are part and parcel of it, initially when we set off the programme we formed a committee, (monitoring committee) at the emirate level with myself as the chairman and some other subordinates that includes forestry experts who can tremendously help us in achieving this goal.
After the committee has finished its work, we called all the district and village heads and sat with them, we finally designed a program of what we wanted to achieve and how we want it to be.
So what we did at that time was, we initiated the programme with directing each district head to have at least three nursery centres within his districts, and left it at their liberty to go and sit with their respective village heads and decide where they want to establish the nurseries.
Although we gave some laid down conditions that a nursery centre should be a place that is accessible, secondly, there should be water, thirdly it should be fenced and lastly the community must accept the idea of establishing the nursery so that they can be part and parcel of the program. And we made sure that any place that attained the laid down conditions is qualified to be the centre. Now we have fifteen nurseries within the emirate.
How does the emirate fund the programme?
Actually it’s from the meagre amount the emirate receives from the state government and with that little we show to the people that this is an element of sacrifice. We are doing something of our own, so we have to refer back to those days where people were doing community works for themselves, so we gave them encouragement and other necessary incentives that are needed to achieve this goal. With that and the effort of the community here we are today with a lot of success.
Did you get any assistance from the state or federal governments on the programme?
There is no special grant either from the state or federal government; we use our little resources to finance it. We are doing it for ourselves, and if we can do it why can’t we do it?
Seeing that the five-year programme is running out, how many trees have you planted so far?
Yes, it’s a five-year programme and we now achieved four years with lot of success. So far we have planted over 1 million and four hundred trees, and we are embarking on the last phase of the campaign that is 2013, and later on we may review it to another set of years. But the main aim is to enlighten people and educate them on the importance of this tree planting. Thank God, people have accepted the idea and readily cooperate in whichever way we want them to.
We made it in such a way that the communities are participating, the leaders are participating and we ourselves are participating. We even brought in element of competition within the districts and the village units.
At the end of each year, we put a tree planting day, whereby we invite experts from universities and other stake holders that are experts in tree planting to come and go round all the fifteen nursery centres in the districts, and select the best three nursery centres which determines the community in which the launching of the annual tree planting campaign would take place.
The best centre would be the host of my humble self and very important dignitaries for the year’s tree planting campaign, while other fifteen centres would distribute the seedlings to people to plant it in their own farms. This has been readily accepted by people and they are eager to contribute to whatever they are asked to do.
Also to encourage them, we created some consolatory awards, the best nursery centre would receive a sword for their district head, we give cup to the best nursery lay out, while the best wood log where over five thousand trees were planted will receive their own too, so also the highest district producing area.
How are you tackling the issue of tree felling for firewood?
Well, we have been educating people, what motivated us to go into this action is for people to see the reality of what is happening. We were all aware when this place was a thick forest thirty years back but no one would believe that it is the same place now, it has been cleared. We are now experiencing shortage of firewood and so many other uses of wood. So we have been educating people, and at least we have planted many. We encourage them on tree planting and to avoid destruction so as to maintain the statuesque of what it was before.
What is the scorecard of this programme in terms of people’s compliance?
Well it is an acceptable initiative. Both men and women in our respective communities, even married women used to come out whenever we are distributing seedling at the nursery centres. They collect and plant it where they feel it’s suitable for them, it has got the backing of everybody. And people are very appreciative of this effort and we are encouraging them to continue with it.
What call are you going to make to the state and federal governments and donor agencies as regard to this program?
Actually, something very serious is approaching this part of the country. I learnt that the federal government is going to develop a shelter belt from Chad to the end of Nigeria at the west and so on. But unless we encourage people and educate them, and show them the reality of what is happening because people are very reluctant, it may be difficult.
The approach of the government has no side effect, but we, the traditional rulers should be directly involved to educate our people and direct them to do what is responsible for them. With little incentives we are going to do a lot in what the government is ready to do, but nothing will be achieved without the cooperation the people.
In a nut shell, my call to the state, federal and even the local governments is to involve or direct more of the traditional institutions into this program rather than giving it to the so- called experts or whatever it is. Experts are only to give advises on it, but the actual people who are going to motivate people to do this project is the traditional institutions, because they have access to people
What challenges could you share with us from the program inception to date?
Actually there is nothing one can do without challenges but, educating the people to agree with this program is one of the serious challenges we encountered. Governmental programs have come and polluted the minds of our local people, anything you bring they would say its World Bank assisted program, so they are expecting you to give them something instead of them to participate. So with these challenges, it has become very difficult for people to understand that this has no any government sponsorship.
The other challenges are such as lack of water, in most of the places we have serious problem of water, though we have given specifications of where those nursery centres would be established but raising the seedlings in remote bushes where there is no water is another problem and even where there are boreholes, people do complain for lack of diesel or broken down machine and whatever it may be.
Thirdly, climatic condition is another problem; mostly we have the problem of intense heat around the months of March and April which dry off the seedlings and destroy them.