City Life

Abuja, where lives of trees matter

Before now, it was almost inconceivable to think that after buying, planting and nurturing a tree in private residences, it then becomes a property that government claims exclusive rights over. It was also impossible imagining that felling such trees planted within private residences for any reason would attract the wrath of a sheriff who will not only roar, but will also penalise.

This could explain why unprecedented awe, aghast and backlash that greeted a revelation recently made by the Federal Capital Territory Administration, that fellers of trees with the territory without permission were liable to a fine. Residents were further mystified, learning that up to N100,000 fine can be slammed on them by a sheriff, even for trees planted and nurtured within the enclosure of a private residence.

The Administration insisted that already grown up trees can’t be felled without a prior permission from the Department of Parks and Recreation. Hard also to believe was the disclosure that many of such ‘illegal’ trees fellers have been made to face the wrath of the law for an offence they had no inkling of that it even ever existed It was learnt that there has been in existence a law that empowers a sheriff to go after fellers of trees, not only planted at public places, but also in private residences – so long as the property was located in the FCT.

The Director, Department of Parks and Recreation, Hajia Riskatu Abdulazeez, said the sheriff had to wake up to enforce the law, as part of measures towards mitigating the effects of climate change. She revealed that it is an offence for residents to indiscriminately cut down trees planted, even within private residences, just like the trees planted in public places.

This is even as it said that anyone found cutting down trees without prior permission from the department would be liable to a fine of N100, 000 per tree, depending on the size and type, and that such offender will also be compelled to replant a minimum of two trees. According to her, FCT Administration spent huge sum of money, planting some special blossoming flamboyant trees at strategic locations of the nation’s capital.

The director said that apart from providing aesthetic beauty to the environment, government was concerned about the worrisome effects of climate change and won’t allow any individual or organisation to put the city in more danger. Abdulazeez explained that by an extant laws, once trees planted at private residences are grown, they cease being private property, but become public possessions – which is the reason residents require permission from government to cut such trees.

She further clarified that, for every tree being felled both, legally or oth-erwise, two trees are to be planted in replacement by those involved. She also added that aside the aesthetic appeal which the trees provide to the environment, human life also depends on it for the all-important oxygen, without which nothing would exist.

She said: “Cutting down of trees is not allowed in the city, we have a penalty. The policy stipulates that if you plant a tree in your compound, once it is grown, it is no more your tree; it has become a public property. “Before such trees are cut down, the permission of the Department of Parks and Recreation must be sought. Anyone who cuts down tree illegally, depending on the size and age of the tree, such person will pay a fine of N100, 000 per tree and will also be compelled to plant a minimum of two trees as replacement.

“Even when permission is granted for anyone to legally remove trees, such trees must be replaced with two trees and if there is no space within the place where the trees were removed, the Department will provide a place where the trees can be planted,” she added. This shocking revelation, however, has not gone down well with many residents, who have chided the administration, making mockery of the touted laws that empowers a sheriff to go after tree fellers.

Some of the residents viewed the pronouncement as draconian and a relic of the colonial masters. They vehemently criticised and also opposed government’s ownership claims over trees planted at private residences. Chief Okorie Jarius, who resides at Kpaduma village, a stone’s thrown distance away from Kpaduma hills, headquarters of Daar Communications, said that government’s claims over trees planted by individuals, was a big joke. Jarius, who claimed to have lived in Abuja for close to 30 years, stated that indigenous people of FCT have been indiscriminately felling trees for fire wood and charcoal making, without any authority penalising them.

He also said that as a construction worker, who has worked for several estate developers in Abuja, he has never seen any government agent coming to penalise tree fellers. According to him, estate developers only pay compensation to the indigenous people who come to lay claims on such trees. Another resident, Arc. Kabiru Abdul said he agreed with the administration that trees should not be felled indiscriminately, because of the effects of climate change. He, however, noted that it was ridiculous for any government agency to claim ownership of trees planted and nurtured by private individuals at their residences.

“Maybe the laws they claim to have given them backings to penalise tree fellers, especially the ones planted at private homes, have not been tested in the law courts. “I find it very ridiculous for anyone approaching me with queries about my decision to cut down any tree I planted within my home, which I also believe has no relevance to my purpose. “I think such harassment from the government would definitely be handled by a relevant court of law,” Abdul argued.

A human rights’ lawyer, Bitrus Barde, said that if the administration actually has a law that backs it to lay claims on trees planted at private residences, such laws will have to be subjected to judicial scrutiny, when dissatisfied residents challenge it in the court. Barde also noted that in his five years of legal practice in Abuja, he had just learnt about the existence of such law through recent media reports. It is, however, not clear if the FCT’s sheriff has actually enforced the law and gone on to fine anyone for cutting down a tree in the territory.

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