Nigeria’s forests are disappearing fast as loggers struggle to survive

Deep in the forest in the Nigerian village of Ebute-Ipare, Egbontoluwa Marigi measures a tall redwood tree, methodically cuts it down with his axe and machete and, as it falls with a snap, looks around the forest for the next tree.

The stumps around him that dot the marshy forest are reminiscent of trees that were once tall but are fast disappearing due to illegal logging in Ondo State in south-western Nigeria.

“We could have cut down more than 15 trees in one place, but now if we manage to see two trees, it will be a blessing for us,” said the 61-year-old father of two.

According to Global Forest Watch, a platform that provides data and monitors forests.

“In our ancestral times we had big trees, but unfortunately what we have now are just small trees and we don’t even let them mature before cutting them down,” Mr Marigi said.

Cutting down trees for logging or opening up agricultural land to meet the energy needs of a growing population is putting pressure on Nigeria’s natural forests.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari told a COP15 meeting in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, on May 9 that Nigeria had established a national forestry trust fund to help reforest the country. This may not be enough as the country is losing forests at a faster rate.

“Protecting the forest means protecting ourselves. When we destroy the forest, we destroy humanity,” said Femi Obadun, Director of Forestry at the Ondo State Ministry of Agriculture.

This is something Mr Mariji knows all too well, but his priority is to make a living.

Months after felling trees, Mr Marigi returns to the forest to collect logs and staple them into rafts. He has more than 40 logs in his collection.

Together with other loggers, they have raised money to hire a tugboat to haul the rafts across streams and rivers from Ondo State to Lagos.

Improvised canopies on the rafts are made of wood and help protect Mr Marigi and his friends from bad weather.

Food is shared while they sing local folk songs to lift their spirits.

“We stay awake at night during the journey. We keep an eye on the magazines and make sure [they] don’t disconnect from the tug,” Mr Marigi told Reuters.

The boat stops at several places to pick up more loggers and their rafts. One boat can carry up to a thousand rafts, each containing up to 30 logs.

Mr Mariga’s journey ends at a lagoon in Lagos, where rafts from Ondo State and other parts of the country converge, and the logs are processed in sawmills and sold to various users.