By Andy Esiet, Calabar
Worried by the reckless, brazen and indiscrete moaning down of timbers in Cross River forests, 14 major forest 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 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 leakages, social exclusion, apathy and anarchy”.
The communities said this in a one-day workshop on, “Understanding Community Perspective of the Cross River State Forestry (2010) and Community Sensitization on the Need For Sustainable Natural Resources Management”, 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 held in Ifumkpa community, Akamkpa Local Government Area of the state.
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, yesterday the communities also observed with disappointment “the ineffectiveness of government institutional arrangements responsible for the policing of the Cross River State Forest estate, with an ineffective moratorium on logging which under normal circumstance would have been a veritable government measure for effective forest monitoring and management.
On the strength of the above observations, 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”.
They also called on “the government of Cross River State and all development partners to urgently take bold steps to address the problem of forest loss, especially reviewing and lifting the moratorium, and put in place a sustainable forest management option for the State. We the 14 communities around the Ekuri-Iko and okpon forest bloc are organizing and strengthening collaboration amongst ourselves to improve land governance, forest management including possible land and forest related conflicts within our jurisdiction. We seek the support of government and development partners to put in place a friendly, responsive, and inclusive system to support, strengthen, and reward our efforts.
The Executive Director of Development Concerns, (DEVCON), Dr. Martins Egot in his opening address charged the forest communities to take charge of their forest. The forest will last long if you manage it well. With this training, communities can grow their communities and we will build their capacity.
He said, “there was the need for the forest communities to embrace forest laws as it concerns them so as to have enough knowledge on how to manage the forest sustainably so that children unborn and the entire society will benefit”.
A Resource person and the Engagement and Management Specialist for REDD+, Mr.Tony Attah Cross River State Forestry Law 2010 and the law provides for the establishment of community base management association and the association shall organize their members to involve every family in the community. Section 60 of the law says the committee reports back to council. Section 61b says, nobody has the right to bring a letter from the government to cut down trees. With the law you have the right to stop others or people from exploiting the forest. Thee committee controls the forest and benefits from the profits”
He said that in the then Governor Donald Duke regime, “we used to have the forest management committees in various forest communities and it worked but the current Anti- Deforestation Taskforce are not helping matters. Current spate of logging means we are in a state of anarchy or lawlessness. The law does not say don’t cut down trees but it encourages sustainable logging. The Moratorium which is just a government policy order and has long outlived its usefulness says don’t cut down trees but people are cutting indiscriminately.
In an interview, the Village Head of Ifumkpa in Akamkpa Local Government Area, His Highness Offot Cletus Obioni stated, “as you have seen the stock of piled wood, it is not of our taste but it is a situation you cannot avoid. The youths come with stranger elements direct into the forest and when we try to stop them, they will say that they are against us and if we continue talking, they will maim or kill us and because of fear, we let them be. Nobody comes to the village for consultation and we have cases where a non-indigene will move straight into the forest with the assistance of the youths and when we try to intervene, we are questioned.
“My fear of the forest is that the forest is our life and we all depend on it for various reasons like water because there is no single borehole here. The only existing primary and secondary schools were built by community effort but we are trying to put up a customary court to enable us to reprimand these perpetrators. My message to the government is that they should bring back the forestry commission so as to enable forest guards to take charge of the forest. We as indigenes will assist the forest guards to guard against the people going to log or saw”.
On his part the Clan Head of Esai Clan in Akamkpa council and Chairman EKIAO Chiefs Coordinating Council, Ata-Obot Obio Arong Owai, said, “I am very disturbed by the logging in some of our communities because in Esai for instance, we started conservation discussions, Agoi Ekpo followed and we continued in that. That was why we decided to push this conservation meeting to this axis (Ifumkpa) so that they know the need to continue conserving our forests. I cannot actually say how many logs of wood are gotten because in my community I do not allow them to log and if we can use this method to stop them, it will definitely help but from what I have seen, it’s more than seven tons of wood every day”.
He called for awareness between the youths, women and elders to help curb this issue and “the way forward is that whatever chain may be blamed, we must all collaborate, have a stand and put a stop to it. We the elders are weakened because the youths are the ones who get in contact with these loggers and that is why I said they are the ones playing the most important role in logging and these are all problems to the society”.
The Clan Head of Agoi Ekpo in Yakurr Local Government Area, Attah Micheal Mbang, expressed the need for “government to revive the forestry commission and arm them like before to parade the boundaries of the protected and reserve forests so that any community that encroaches will be prosecuted and government should also look for donor agencies to provide industries and reduce the unemployment rate of the youths and by that, they will be no more interested in going into the forest for sawing or whatsoever”.