Everything You Should Know About The Deadly 60,000sq.km Sambisa Forest


A few months ago, the name Sambisa Forest meant nothing to many Nigerians. Not anymore. It has come to signify Terror and home to the terrorist group Boko Haram. The forest is now almost mythical for so many people within the Lake Chad basin who have come to align the complex north-eastern vegetation with Boko Haram, instead of the game reserve the colonialists meant it for.


The colonial government had marked the forest out as a game reserve. Today, Sambisa has become one of the strongest bases of the Boko Haram insurgents who run back into its dark recesses anytime they have finished their slaughter of harmless citizens.

The families of more than 230 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by the Islamist insurgents a few weeks ago threatened to go into the forest themselves to try and find their daughters. The girls, aged mostly between 16 and 18 years old, were rounded up at gunpoint after militants overpowered a military guard outside their boarding school in Chibok, in North-Eastern Borno State.


WILD ANIMALS

Some people in this part of the country rightly associate Sambisa Forest with wicked and poisonous reptiles such as loud hissing rattle snakes and giant crustaceans crawling underneath the forest vegetation which can be as high as two metres in some sections.

To Mohammed Bagoni, it is a forest where elephants used to stray in from Central Africa through some game reserve corridors. He remembers seeing those mighty beasts in the forest as a kid when his uncle worked inside the reserve, while it was under the state government.

The thick skin of elephants and camels make the animals immune to the characteristic thorns of the Sambisa Forest vegetation which is why they can go through unhurt, even feeding on the very thorns which the uninitiated fear and which makes them call the place a forest.

 For many young people who have never travelled beyond Damaturu, Sambisa is the only forest they have seen in their life time. Apart from these patches of forests, the north is generally a vast land where one can drive endlessly without seeing much vegetation.

For so many young people outside the savannah, it is indeed very strange to find a ‘forest’ in the middle of the savannah vegetation. How would a ‘forest’ be found in the north eastern axis of Nigeria? Are they not living in a desert full of sand from the great Sahara which has encroached badly from the receding Lake Chad region due to global warming?

The question many ask is: why the Sambisa forest still remains intact as a game reserve when many other green zones in the Sahel have been overtaken by global warming? What is it that makes Sambisa a place for insurgents tormenting the people of the north-east to take solace inside?

The Sambisa Forest lost its innocence as a game reserve before 2006. It is now believed to have super bunkers underneath the Sahel so that the new tenants, Boko Haram, will be well placed to complete their aim of taking over all the government houses in the north-east after bringing down the few military installations created years back to protect the people of this region.


THE GEOGRAPHY

The Sambisa is a forest game reserve located not far from the state capital. About 14 kilometres from Kawuri Village, along the Maiduguri-Bama Road, you will begin to see signs that you are close to the lowest thorny bushes of the reserve, some as low as half a metre.

 It is not the typical forest one sees along some Southern States which could be as high as 100m, creating a primary, secondary and tertiary scenario. It is a single dimensional forest which is visible driving through the main road that connects Maiduguri, Konduga and Barma.

Actually, it also graduates from trees as low as half a metre to the extremely thick areas where human skins cannot penetrate without being hurt by thorns if you do not have a cutlass or something to ward them off.

That is the nature of the forest which is being manipulated and controlled by Boko Haram who have become masters of the savannah.

According to Professor Umar Maryah of University of Maiduguri, the forest covers an area stretching approximately 60,000 square kilometres across the north east from Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi states along the Darazo corridor, Jigawa and right up to some parts of Kano State in the far north.

It harbours a sizable population of wildlife, typical of savannah habitats worldwide and a conducive environment for animals such as monkeys, antelopes, lions, elephants, as well as bird species such as ostrich, bustard and a lot of those migrating species. There is no Sambisa without the sustaining game reserve for hunters and farmers.

This means that a lot of animals in the Sambisa reserve contribute to making the land very fertile for farmers in the surrounding villages to make big harvests from the land. The forest reserve has been handed to the Federal Government through the National Park.

To the South of the Sambisa is Askira Local Government area, to the south west is Danboa while to the west is Konduga and Jere Local Government areas. The reserve got its name from a village called Sambisa bordering the Gwozo axis of the area.

On the eastern flank of the Sambisa is Gwoza Local Government Area which is also a notorious hide out for the Boko Haram insurgents. The Gwoza Hills, with heights of about 1300m above sea level provides scenery and is made up of ranges of mountains known as the Mandara Mountains.


These mountains form a natural barrier between Nigeria and Cameroon, starting from Pulka. They over look the game reserves by meandering towards Mubi and beyond in Adamawa State.

They equally have a connection with the Mambilla Mountain which is also home to the Gashaka game reserve at its foot, which is also a corridor connected to the Sambisa game reserve.

According to a source in the Borno State Department For Urban Planning, “the mountains around Gwoza have several streams, ponds, springs dotting out into settlements by various tribes including the Gwozas.

This mountain has varieties of attractive animal species which can be spotted when they are grazing. They graze mostly in the mornings, afternoons and evenings including nights for night breeding species.”

GROWING FOOD

Professor Maryah of the Geography Department of the University of Maiduguri said lots of villages surround the Sambisa making it conducive for farming which is practised by the people who are at the fringes of the Sambisa.

The Sambisa village by the reserve has tribes like the Gamarabu, Margis also found in Gwoza and the Fulani who use the area as a grazing reserve. They live a lot on fruits and stem crops such as sugar cane and date palms which are very common in the Sambisa forest. Date palm, called ‘debino’ in Hausa, is served to new Boko Haram initiates who agree to join the sect to fight propagators of Western education.

Vegetables such as spinach, onions and tomatoes are equally common in the place while grains such as wheat, sorghum, rice and millet are also present in the place. There are also root crops and nuts which are grown by locals and taken to Maiduguri and Banki in Cameroon.

These include groundnuts, cow peas, sweet potatoes and cassava. For the area around Jere Local Government Area, they equally farm Irish potatoes which is a common delicacy in Borno even in the markets of the insurgents in the Sambisa. Gum Arabic which is grown all over the savannah is equally very common in the Sambisa.

It has become a major crop grown by the people along the corridor.

BOKO HARAM BECOMES THE FOREST’S NEW MASTERS


Members of Boko Haram are knowledgeable about the enormous endowment of the Sambisa Forest and have capitalised on the fact that even if military tanks must be moved into the place to dislodge them, it must be done with knowledge and tactics.

For now, the people living along the Sambisa corridor are very careful, while some of them have left their villages for Cameroon and Niger. Thus, the new landlords – Boko Haram – are calling the shots.

“It actually took the intelligence services a long time to discover that the game reserve had become a hideout for the sect.

They waited 3 years until several lives had been lost before acting reluctantly on the intelligence advises,” an intelligence source told the Nation newspapers. “As a matter of fact, Sambisa is not the only hideout of the insurgents.”

The source said they believe the school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram three weeks ago are now “at the beck and call” of the group and fears that they “could become the latest sex slaves of the insurgents”.

ABUJA LAWMAKER SAYS FOREST SHOULD BE DEMOLISHED

As a solution to check Boko Haram’s activities in the North East, a legislator representing Chibouk constituency in the Federal House of Representatives, Mr. Peter Biyo recently urged the Federal Government to immediately embark on a total demolition of the Sambisa forest, saying this would ultimately put an end to the insurgency and other terrorist acts in the geopolitical zone.

Biyo said that unless the order for the destruction of the forest by President Goodluck Jonathan was urgently made, the Boko Haram insurgents would continue to have a base in the North East to terrorise and launch their deadly attacks against Nigerians.

He says, the Sambisa forest, which used to harbour wild animals, was a den for the terrorists in his constituency, where the forest’s thickness and strong vegetation cover had made it difficult for the soliders to track and deal with them.

The lawmaker also lamented the plight of the missing Bornu school girls, saying, “because of the condition these girls have found themselves, we and their parents are in a very difficult situation.”

The legislator said unless the Federal Government takes a bold step to destroy the forest, the flight against insurgency may continue to rage in the area.

He explained: “Sambisa forest is in my ward, my constituency, where I was born. Sambisa is about 60km long and 60km wide. If you are in the forest, you can only see the next person by your side if you have a torchligh. If not, you can’t see anything.


It is a thick forest, with heavy trees, wild animals like lions, elephants and all kinds of other animals. But when these bombings and sporadic shootings started, the animals ran away to some other places.

“The desert does not reach Southern Borno and this place (Sambisa) is in Southern Borno. The arid zone is from Maiduguri, stretching to Northern Borno. But there is no desert encroachment in Southern Borno because there are rocks and vegetation covering everywhere.

People can comfortably hide in the Sambisa forest, if not, the soldiers would have fished them out. My advice is that the trees in Sambisa forest must be destroyed.

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