In August 2023, the University of Ilorin management cut down at least a dozen trees, presumably to make the university safer. A few weeks earlier, a heavy storm had uprooted trees on campus, which in turn fell on and destroyed buildings.
Subsequently, the university took down trees located near any structure. These trees had existed for decades before the structures.
Across Universities in Nigeria, UCJ Unilorin discovered a pattern of development that doesn’t adequately consider the environmental impact of new buildings and structures. To set up university buildings that span hundreds of acres of land, government and education authorities have to drop trees and sometimes relocate the previous settlers.
Students of these federal universities reported that tree-falling has only increased.
The environmental price of education
Established in 1948, the University of Ibadan is the first university in Nigeria. The university is home to numerous infrastructure, including halls of residence.
Seventy-five years into its existence, the University of Ibadan no longer has any sizable forest cover — they’ve been either cleared or fragmented to make way for the construction of lecture theatres, banking halls, and other structures.
Satellite imagery showing University of Ibadan in 2008
Current satellite imagery of the University of Ibadan shows that buildings have increased and forest cover has decreased.
Per the students, the university’s objective is to build and improve its infrastructure, so they must clear the land to install buildings.
“Although there are afforestation projects, the percentage of reforestation can never compare to the rate of deforestation,” Fabiyi said. “It takes years to grow a tree, but you can cut a hundred trees in one day.”
Another student of the University of Ibadan, Baliqeez Adebisi, a student of Forest resource management, told UCJ Unilorin that she thinks the university management could be more proactive.
“Once, a big tree in front of the university bookshop, which is as old as the university, was cut down. Shortly after, a heavy storm blew off the roof of the University Bookshop. Half of the bookshop became dilapidated.”
More recently, there was an entire caterpillar infestation at Heritage Park, University of Ibadan. Almost all the trees there became defoliated for weeks, but nobody paid attention until students noticed.
“When these trees dry up, they’ll eventually fall,” Adebisi said, “It is a caterpillar that develops into a moth species, and it’s a pest that’s endemic to West Africa.”
About 177 kilometres from Ibadan is University of Ilorin in Kwara state. The University sits on approximately 15,000 hectares of land with a population of over 50,000 people.
In its 10th consecutive year as the most sought-after higher institution, the university continues to invade land cover to allow human habitation due to its ever-increasing population.
University of Ilorin in 2008
University of Ilorin in 2023
In various interviews with students on the campus, they affirmed the rash effects of deforestation occurring intermittently in the community.
According to the president of the Students Association of the Department of Forestry, Muktar Abdulquadir, wildlife has had to scamper around as their original habitat has been destabilised. This poses the danger of extinction to these animals and the risk of animal attacks on the campus inhabitants.
“I vividly recall seeing squirrels on my way around school During my 100 level days. But now I rarely see them. I have also noticed a general decrease of diversity of tree species generally on campus in the course of my project.”
For his final year project, Muktar is documenting the characteristics of different tree species on campus to help identify these species. During his work, he discovered some species he should have worked on because they were available on campus have now been cut down. As a result, he has had to venture deep into the forest in search of them.
Like other universities, the University of Lagos also has a long history of deforestation and perhaps employs the most rash approach. Although there is no adequate information on the number of trees lost to deforestation in the university, the effects are telling on the entire campus community, particularly on students working on their final year project and having to identify various species in their work.
For instance, a student of Unilag who did not want to be identified told UCJ UNILORIN that she encountered issues while searching for Mona Monkeys in the forest area of the school — hostels have now replaced the mangrove forest — the monkeys’ habitat.
“They are in sparse now, unlike before when they could be easily found in large numbers,” she said
University of Lagos in 2008
The University of Lagos now.
Opeoluwa Ayomide, an alumnus of the university told UCJ Unilorin that during her stay at the university, “the air felt different.” She mentioned that the temperature had increased, and the air had unnatural smells.
“UNILAG students know that the air we breathe on campus is different; it doesn’t have the freshness it used to have. The campus has become so hot, like we are close to the sun, the trees that served as shade are no longer as much as they used to be,” Ayomide said.
Nigeria loses 350,000 to 400,000 hectares of forest every year. A report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO (2010) on deforestation trend in Africa revealed that Nigeria has lost more of its forestland within the last fifty years, making it one of the countries with the highest rate of deforestation in the world.
Deforestation has far-reaching consequences
According to the CO2meter, a typical tree can absorb 48 pounds of carbon dioxide annually. This means it will eliminate approximately 1 ton of carbon dioxide emissions by the time it reaches 40 years old. However, “on average, human activity puts about 40 billion tons of CO2 into the air each year. This means we would theoretically have to plant 40 billion trees every year.”
According to Tijesunimi Agbaje, an environmental specialist at Global Landscapes Forum, a knowledge-led platform for sustainable land use, human activities such as transportation, plastic pollution, and industrial processes leave carbon footprints in the atmosphere, but deforestation is one of the major sources of carbon emissions in the environment.
In addition to this, The average tree absorbs 10-15 gallons of water every day; their extensive roots soak in the excess water in the environment. When deforestation happens, the root system is destroyed, and the soil loses the capacity to absorb rainfall. As a result, more rainwater runs off the surface, leading to flooding during heavy rainfall events.
In 2022, Nigeria experienced one of the worst flooding she has ever experienced. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said 662 persons lost their lives, 3,174 suffered injuries and 2,430,445 individuals were displaced by the disaster.
“Carbon emissions are majorly absorbed by tropical trees. Temperate trees can also absorb emissions, but not as much as tropical trees. The remaining carbon goes into the ocean,” Agbaje explained. “But humans are constantly damaging both oceans and forests, and those are the two things that keep us alive and preserve the ecosystem.”
Image Source: University of Ilorin
Curbing deforestation in Nigerian universities and beyond
There have been efforts made by individuals and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to curb this gnawing issue. One such person who has contributed to this cause is Debo Ajenifuja, a program manager at the Alliance for Positive Environmental Impacts and Reforestation (APEARE)
To curb deforestation, Ajenifuja and his team devised an initiative to empower women from rural communities in Ibadan whose significant income was from cutting and selling trees. The team trained the women on cultivating short-duration trees, mainly “Thaumatococcus Daniellii“, used for “moinmoin” wraps.
According to Agbaje, Universities need to approach their architecture and development goals from a position that’s more inclusive of the environment. Development plans should minimise deforestation and the fragmentation of vegetation cover.
This story is part of a series we’ll be publishing in partnership with University of Ilorin’s Union of Campus Journalists (UCJ) to support the launch of their 2023 OPTIC magazine.
UCJ is the official student press body of the University of Ilorin and is home to over 300 journalists. It won Pen Club of the year at Youth Digest’s 2022 Campus Journalism Awards, and was a finalist under the magazine of the year category.
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