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The Redemption Of Ajo-ohia Forest
Author: Joseph Ogbonna

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Ajo-ohia is one of the last remaining virgin forests in Southeastern Nigeria. It is second to none in that region of the country in terms of its bio-diversity. Aquatic life has been largely preserved over the centuries due to the traditional beliefs of the local people about ‘sacred’ species like the crocodile. Ajo-ohia’s thick vegetation is home to some of the rarest terrestrial creatures on earth. Its tall shade trees provide cover from the blistering heat of the tropical sun by day. At sunset, its crimson sun is undoubtedly nature to behold. This last fragment of Eden becomes a dreadful place to be by night, due to its belligerent darkness. Thick darkness that is often accompanied by the pervasive coolness of the placid night’s breeze, in spite of the overwhelming sounds of nocturnal creatures.

Mutombo the leopard and forest king has just summoned an urgent meeting of his cabinet chiefs to discuss the looming threats to the forest’s bio-diversity. His cabinet chiefs are: Jasper the tortoise and seer of Ajo-ohia, Kizito the Chimpanzee and high priest of Ajo-ohia, Bright the python and reptile chief, Aguryi the Crocodile and river chief, Tompolo the monkey chief and Gizo the grass cutter and minor chief.

“Distinguished chiefs, I presume you all know why I have summoned this urgent meeting. And I guess you all know that this urgency was driven by nothing more than what I would call “the extinction of our forest way of life.” We are in a dire situation. If nothing is done urgently to salvage the situation, we would all cease to exist. This is indeed a time to put our differences aside, and unite for our common good.” Mutombo said, in his usual authoritative manner.

“Let us not be pretentious about this matter,” said Bright, “who is responsible for all these problems?”

“Man the destroyer,” the other chiefs replied vociferously and angrily.

“Oh yes, man has always been our headache,” Bright said. “Man the vicious being.”

“What must be done to caution him?” Mutombo asked.

“Sire, your question is a good but at the same time difficult one to answer.” Kizito the high priest replied, as he adjusts himself on the brook he is seated on. “Man is the most selfish creature I have ever come across in my short sojourn here on earth. His interests are always driven by greed. He hunts the leopard for his skin, the grass cutter for game, the Chimpanzee for his own entertainment, and the tortoise for sorcery. I understand that in distant animal climes, the tiger is on the verge of extinction due to the high value placed on its skin. Elephants are hunted for their tusks, and aquatic monsters for their oil. If man is not hunting animals for game or their hides and skin, he is clearing their habitations for commercial activities like lumbering.”

“Why would anyone hunt a tortoise for sorcery?” Bright asked.

“Their shells are used for witchcraft by many African tribes,” Jasper the seer replied.

“Man’s quest for gain and imperialism are the two factors responsible for the destruction of our habitats,” said Kizito.

“What do you mean by imperialism?” Tompolo asked.

“Imperialism simply means the annexation of Jungles and rainforests like ours for the creation of human settlements,” Kizito replied as he holds his staff of office very firmly.

“Can’t we wage war against him to stem this tide of destruction?” Mutombo asked.

“Oh no you can’t sire,” Kizito replied.

“Oh yes we can,” Aguryi retorted. “Like the king said earlier, at the beginning of the meeting, that we put our differences aside and unite for a common good. I believe that if we unite to form a formidable force as animals, we would defeat man in just a twinkle of an eye. After all, he looks fragile and terribly weak in size and stature. I would single handedly handle five men at the same time with my terrible and ravenous jaws. Just a pound of flesh is enough to kill each of them at an instant.”

“Aguryi, I think it is most foolish of you to think that you could engage man in a one on one battle or fight as we engage ourselves in the animal kingdom,” Kizito replied. “Ordinarily, no man can fight a lion with his bare hands and win. Not even the strongest of men. He would be torn in pieces by the ferocious beast. Yet, over the centuries, man has killed more lions than lions have killed men. No man can fight an elephant with his bare hands, no matter how divinely endowed he is in strength. They would instantly get crushed by the awesome beast. Yet, over the centuries, man has not just killed more elephants than elephants have killed men, the elephant has from the days of yore remained absolutely subservient to man. This servitude and slavery can be clearly and evidently seen in other animal climes like India. Even the much smaller creatures like the Chimpanzee would rip man apart in minutes, if they met one on one. The strength of a man does not lie in the fragile size of his body, but his brain. I am your high priest. I am very knowledgeable. Please let’s all be wise.”

“Incredible!” Mutombo said in utter amazement.

“Sire, let me corroborate kizito’s words by speaking further on man’s unbeatable ingenuity,” said Jasper the seer.

“Carry on,” said Mutombo, as he listens in anxiety from his rocky throne.

“Sire, I have sojourned in this jungle for two hundred and fifty-five years now,” Jasper said. I have been an eye witness to the length of days of man’s increasing sophistication, especially in the construction of his weapons of warfare. I have been an eye witness to his use of inferior and crude weapons like the javelin and arrow, and his advancement to modern weapons like the gun, which kills his target from a distance.

The gun itself has undergone various innovative changes, and never ceases to undergo more changes. During the Nigerian civil war, a war that involved men fighting their fellow men, I saw weapons of destruction that decimated on a very large scale. I saw guns that killed ten people at an instant, and flying machines that destroyed the habitations of both men and animals with torrential explosives. Several rainforests were obliterated. Fortunately for us, our own forest was spared.”

“How did you witness all these disastrous events?” Tompolo asked.

“Through my crystal ball,” Jasper replied.

“Incredible, absolutely incredible!” said Mutombo as he stares with fascination.

“What could possibly be the reason behind his innovative sophistication and advancement?” Bright asked, staring somewhat confused at Jasper.

“I guess the secret can be found in the holy book of his religion, in which God ordered him to have dominion over all living creatures after the creation of the earth. Jasper replied.

“I guess it would be foolhardy to put up a fight in this case,” Mutombo said.

“Absolutely foolhardy,” Kizito said.

“Then re-strategize we must,” Mutombo said. “We must send a negotiating team to the highest authorities of men in this region. We must make peace with men at all cost, in order to protect our prized habitat from utter destruction. We must stop the proposal by their callous government to mine for oil and gas in our rainforest. This negotiating team will be led by my high priest, Kizito. The other members of this team are: Bright, Gizo and Tompolo.”

The negotiating party sets out the following day for a meeting with the governor of the eastern province of Abia.

Upon their arrival, they meet with the governor, governor Cossy Nneji, who immediately engages them in a dialogue.

“Your Excellency, we are emissaries of peace from Ajo-ohia rainforest,” Kizito said on behalf of the team. “We have come to negotiate for the preservation of our idyllic jungle. I am Kizito, the high priest of Ajo-ohia, speaking on behalf of all the wild animals of this pristine forest. The exploration of oil and gas on that proposed site would decimate species, as well as bring harm to man. The exploration of oil and gas on that proposed site for economic benefits, could be replaced by preservation which I am sure would attract better economic prospects through tourism. Tourism will definitely be an alternative and better source of government revenue in the long run than oil and gas exploration. This can only be achieved by wildlife preservation by your distinguished government known by your fellow men to be the most competent in the region.”

The governor is convinced beyond reasonable doubts about better economic prospects from tourism.

This eventually leads him into making Ajo-ohia a wildlife park, with over five hundred armed rangers to protect the forest from poachers. What a mutual benefit indeed!"

------- Author's Notes -------

A fictitious story about wild life conservation

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