The Wider Image

In Nigeria's disappearing forests, loggers outnumber trees

The Wider Image

In Nigeria's disappearing forests, loggers outnumber trees

NIGERIA-ENVIRONMENT/TREES

Deep in a forest in Nigeria's Ebute Ipare village, Egbontoluwa Marigi sized up a tall mahogany tree, methodically cut it down with his axe and machete, and as it fell with a crackling sound, he surveyed the forest for the next tree.

Filed

Deep in a forest in Nigeria's Ebute Ipare village, Egbontoluwa Marigi sized up a tall mahogany tree, methodically cut it down with his axe and machete, and as it fell with a crackling sound, he surveyed the forest for the next tree.

Filed: June 8, 2022, 7 a.m. GMT







Around him, the stumps dotting the swampy forest were a reminder of trees that once stood tall but are fast disappearing to illegal logging in Ondo state, southwest Nigeria.

"We could cut down over 15 trees in one location, but now if we manage to see two trees, it will look like a blessing to us," the 61-year-old father of two said.

From 2001 to 2021, Nigeria lost 1.14 million hectares of tree cover, equivalent to a 11% decrease in tree cover since 2000 and equal to 587 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, according to Global Forest Watch, a platform that provides data and monitors forests.

After felling the trees, Marigi put markers on them, a message to other loggers that he is the owner. The logs would be transported via creeks and rivers all the way to Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos.

Komiyo Ikuejamoye cuts a felled tree as Bayo watches in the forest in Ipare, October 12, 2021.
Kayode Ikuejamoye takes a break from felling trees in the forest in Ipare, May 17, 2021.

"If I cut three trees only, it is not enough for me (to make a profit). If I cut up to 10, 30 or 20 or even more than that, then it will be enough for me. The people cutting trees now are more than the available trees and it was not like this in the time of our forefathers," he said.

Cutting down trees for logging, opening up farmland or to feed energy demand for a growing population is putting pressure on Nigeria's natural forests.

President Muhammadu Buhari told a COP15 meeting in Abidjan, Ivory Coast on May 9 that Nigeria had established a national forestry trust fund to help regenerate the country's forests. That may not be enough as the country loses forests at a faster pace.

Egbontoluwa Marigi poses for a portrait during a smoke break, in the forest in Ipare, May 17, 2021.

"Protecting the forest means protecting ourselves. When we destroy the forest, we destroy humanity," said Femi Obadun, director of forest management for Ondo state's agriculture ministry.

It's something Marigi knows all too well, but his priority is to eke out a living.

Months after cutting the trees, Marigi returns to the forest to pull the logs together and fasten them into rafts. He has a collection of more than 40 logs.

With other loggers, they have put together money to hire a tugboat to pull the rafts through creeks and rivers from Ondo state to Lagos.

Hunters carry monkeys they have just killed in the forest in Ipare, October 13, 2021.

Makeshift shelters on the rafts are made from wood and help shield Marigi and his friends from the weather. Food is shared while they belt out local folk songs to lift spirits.

"We don't sleep at night during the journey. We monitor the logs and make sure that (they don't) detach from the tugboat," Marigi told Reuters.

The boat stops at several locations to pick up more loggers and their rafts. A single boat can carry up to a thousand rafts, each containing as much as 30 logs.

Marigi'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 at sawmills and sold to different users.


















Komiyo Ikuejamoye fells a tree in Ipare, March 22, 2021.

Egbontoluwa Marigi poses for a photograph holding his axe while felling trees in the forest in Ipare, January 24, 2022.

Komiyo Ikuejamoye drinks water from a tree branch in the forest in Ipare, March 22, 2021.

Egbontoluwa Marigi pulls a log through the flooded forest floor in Ipare, October 14, 2021.

Egbontoluwa Marigi fishes with his friend in Ipare, May 18, 2021.

An aerial view of Ipare town on market day, October 13, 2021.

Komiyo Ikuejamoye talks with locals as he pulls his logs through the river in Ipare, October 11, 2021.

Komiyo Ikuejamoye arranges logs on the river ready for making into rafts, in Ipare, October 11, 2021.

Komiyo Ikuejamoye rests after moving logs from the forest floor to the river, in Ipare, October 11, 2021.

A tugboat pulls rafts of logs along the river in Ipare, December 1, 2021.

Elewuro, the captain of the tugboat, controls the rafts attached to his boat, in Ipare, November 9, 2021.

Sunday poses for a photograph, as the captain of the tugboat, Elewuro, is seen through the window, November 9, 2021.

Loggers sit in a hut on top of floating rafts of logs which are being transported from Ondo State to Lagos State, December 1, 2021.

Loggers stand on floating rafts of logs which are being transported from Ondo State to Lagos State, December 1, 2021.

Egbontoluwa Marigi smokes a cigarette in the hut on top his raft, in transit from Ondo State to Lagos State, December 1, 2021.

Bolaji Ikuejamoye, uses an axe to fasten a loose joint on his raft, in transit from Ondo State to Lagos State, December 1, 2021.

Egbontoluwa Marigi reads the Bible by torchlight in his hut, on a raft being transported to Lagos state, November 30, 2021.

Rafts made of logs are seen gathered in the Lagos lagoon, near the Ebute Metta sawmill, November 25, 2021.

Rafts made of logs are seen gathered in the Lagos lagoon, near the Ebute Metta sawmill, November 25, 2021.

Sawmill workers roll a log out of the Lagos lagoon at the Ebute Metta sawmill, January 13, 2022.

A worker operates an industrial saw at the Ebute Metta sawmill in Lagos State, January 13, 2022.

Hammered rafts ready to be transported to Lagos State at sunrise on the river in Ipare, November 9, 2021.

Nyancho NwaNri is one of the winners of the Reuters Yannis Behrakis Photojournalism Grants and worked on this story, documenting logging in Nigeria, over two years.


The Wider Image

Visuals and Reporting: Nyancho NwaNri

Writing: Fikayo Owoeye

Photo editing: Gabrielle Fonseca Johnson

Text editing: MacDonald Dzirutwe and Lisa Shumaker

Design: John Emerson, Gabrielle Fonseca Johnson and Kezia Levitas