By Andy Esiet, Calabar
Cross River State Governor, Professor Ben Ayade yesterday vowed that his government was all out to fight illegal wood loggers in the state whose nefarious activities have led to progressive depletion of Cross River forest reserve.
Communities which are forest bearing, the Cross River state governor said, have been massively dislocated and their land mass completely eroded thus creating huge environmental challenges with a cumulative long term consequence.
Recall that 14 major forest bearing communities in the state are up in protest calling for an urgent intervention from the state, Federal governments and the international community as logged timbers liter everywhere in the communities.
The impacted forest communities coming under the umbrella of EKIAO Forest Conservation Initiative include Iko-Esai, Iko-Ekperem, Owai, Ifumkpa, Agoi Ekpo, Agoi Ibami, Iyamitate, Old Ekuri, New Ekuri, Okokori, Edondon, Etara, Eyeyen and Okuni in a one day workshop last week organized by Development Concern (DEVCON) with support from Birdlife International through the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (Birdlife-CEPF) for EKIAO forest Conservation Initiative and Ifumkpa community observed with dismay “the high rate of illegal forest activities and wanton degradation of the remaining pristine rain forest of Cross River state that has resulted to complete social breakdown in our communities, insecurity on the part of the traditional rulers, intra and inter communal conflicts, income loss, resource leakage, social exclusion, apathy and anarchy”.
Addressing newsmen in his office in Calabar, the governor threatened to use any political appointee and security agents who aid and abet illegal loggers as scapegoats.
Ayade said, “Cross River State has 58% of the entire forest cover of Nigeria. We have growing concerns about the rate and the speed of depletion of our forests.It is against this background that I am sending a note of final warning that I cannot watch the complete degeneration of our forest as we see illegal logging becoming the order of the day.
In a communiqué signed by the Clan Head of Esai Clan and Chairman EKIAO Chiefs Coordinating council, Ata-Obot Obio Arong Owai and the Coordinator, EKIAO Forest Conservation Initiative, DSP Godwin A. Esira (Rtd), issued at the end of the workshop at Ifumkpa and made available to some newsmen in Calabar, they called for “a review of the abused moratorium on logging with the view to putting in place a workable plan and action for sustainable forest management in the State. Adequately integrate the communities in the management of the forest in line with the provisions of the Cross River State forestry policy; provide meaningful incentives for communities and groups supporting sustainable forest management, through sustainable livelihood options, and introduction of agro-forestry practices”.
“From today, anybody caught with illegal wood, your vehicle, the driver, the occupants of that vehicle, the destination of the stolen wood, the government official who is colluding, or the security operatives who are colluding or the forest guards who are colluding, will be picked up and dealt decisively with. We will ensure that we involve the entire global community to sit and watch and monitor your prosecution to ensure that justice is done”.
Ayade rued the illegal loggers have now developed into full-blown armed cartels who are prepared to harm anyone standing in their way saying, “we are ready to use as scapegoats, one or two people who are holding top government offices or people who feel they are connected to the Governor or those who feel they are politicians and then create an impression that by the appointments they have they can now collude with illegal wood loggers.”
Continuing, the Cross River state governor said: “My administration has no interest in any person who thinks that by their status, they can deplete the forest and put the futures of generations unborn into such catastrophic and cataclysmic danger. This is unacceptable.”
He said his administration was tired of setting up conventional task forces and committees to tackle the menace and will henceforth explore other options, including a special espionage.
According to the Governor, “We are tired of the complete cycle of conspiracy and so to bulk the trend, an unknown task force which is a complete espionage on the criminality that is going on in our forest” .