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UNEP/WCMC Conserved Forest In Cross River Threatened By Illegal Logging, Community Demands N500 million Compensation

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Andy Esiet, Calabar

Caterpillar ravaging Ekuri forest

The Ekuri forest, the largest community forest in Nigeria and a protected Community Conserved Area (CCA) that has equal status like the national protected areas or forests in Nigeria registered under the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) in Cross River state is under threat of extinction through activities of reckless logging.

Thus the Ekuri community which has stalled the logging activities of one of the loggers, Ezemac International Nigeria Limited, is demanding N500 Million from the company as compensation for “the illegal entry, destruction of swathe of Ekuri forest including timber, under story, poles, non-timber forest products, medicinal plants, cultural heritage, watersheds and animal habitats”.

Rising from its meeting in Akamkpa, Akamkpa local government area last week,the Ekuri community also demand that “Ezemac takes immediate steps to end logging of Ekuri forest and pullout immediately from the said forest” as they cried out for an international intervention to check the massive logging and deforestation that is going on in Ekuri forest.

Speaking on behalf of the Ekuri community, the Programme Coordinator of Worthy Association for Tackling Environmental Ruins (WATER), Chief Edwin Ogar who has the power of attorney from the Ekuri community to conserve and manage the community forest for the livelihood and improvement of Ekuri villagers, said “the situation is as bad as that, the forest we have been conserving for these number of years has been destroyed by one man without permission nor seeking the consent of the community. He was logging in Okpon Forest reserve and after finishing with that, he just entered Ekuri forest. 

Part of the ravaged Ekuri forest

“It was when our Ekuri forest guards went into the forest to do boundary cleaning, they realised that Ezemac International limited has ravaged part of Ekuri forest and in the course of working, we saw two timber trucks coming to evacuate the wood inside the forest but we intercepted the trucks and seized the keys and brought the keys back home. We also saw a bulldozer inside the forest, as well as a loader and skidder inside Ekuri forest. However, the company came into discussion with Ekuri community, claiming they were ignorant of the Ekuri boundary that was why they mistakenly entered but they pleaded for mercy and we agreed and they paid a fine, as well as other traditional rites”. 

After much pleading, he said, “We gave him back the keys, and he said he was going to work on the trucks as they may have developed faults for the number of weeks they were seized but the Ekuri forest guards realised that Ezemac had gone up to five kilometres from the present scene and when they traced to that zone, the community cried and were unhappy…As a result, the boys who initially went there had to remove four batteries from two bulldozers and brought it home. Since then, Eze has been threatening, saying that the bulldozer is computerised, that if the caterpillar goes bad, we are going to pay N50 million as that is the cost of the machine, and that we should return his batteries”.

Ogar said, Ezemac had said that “he was merely carrying out his old wood and that he had paid some money but when the youths from the community went there they could not count all, they counted only 372 cut down trees. We are supposed to know the actual number of trees he has cut so as to calculate that by the N200,00 we entered into by binding agreement. He put his seal on that agreement but is now trying to dodge away and cheat the entire community by promising to construct a new road. Over ₦300 million has been lost if you consider the kind of wood. He is selective by harvesting the expensive woods like mahogany, cedar, Apa, iroko, opepe etc. There is an agreement between him and the community for him to evacuate the earlier wood he cut. 

 “Ezemac International Nigeria limited decided to cause all that havoc with the intention of cheating Ekuri community and illegally carrying all those woods. One measure he has done is going on his own to count the trees when Ekuri community members were not there and coming back to say that the trees are a little over 100, whereas it is not so. With fear that he might want to cut down more trees, we came up with an MOU but with that, he left that area, went up to five kilometres and started logging massively and not doing any road.

“We want Nigeria and the entire world to understand the situation and know that Ekuri forest is about to be gone completely. Ekuri forest has played a vital role in climate change mitigation and has also helped in terms of water supply to the community because most of the rivers rise from Ekuri forest and it benefits downstream communities but as Ezemac and other illegal loggers are doing in that forest, the rivers are going to dry up and the communities downstream are going to be affected. What we are doing is not just for the benefit of Ekuri but for the benefit of Cross River and Nigeria at large; therefore, let the world understand that with the issue of climate crisis presently, one company is out there intensifying logging”.

Equally speaking on the matter, two Ekuri community leaders, Prince Esira Otey Esira and Mr. Godwin Esira equally confirmed the massive logging in their forest by Ezemac even though they entered into an agreement with Ezemac to do road from Ekuri to Agoi Ekpo and “we decided that since our boys cut down some Apa tree in the forest, and he is also a buyer of this Apa, we decided a percentage of these Apa they youths cut they will give it to the community and the community will in turn use it to pay himself to construct a road to Agoi Ekpo community. Unfortunately the market of Apa went down because they had a serious case in the international market.

Illegal logging in Ekuri forest

“Before this time, he came to the village and said he wants to register to buy Apa and he paid the sum of N500, 000 to the chiefs and the chiefs told him that since he has already constructed the roads very close to our community he should make a road to link our community and that they will give him 50 metres right and left from the centre of the road so that the wood he will get there he will use it for the job done. When he saw the area, he said the wood of his interest were not there, he went and entered a different area and started cutting down wood. But he was stopped as they told him that that was not what they asked him to do and he demanded for the refund of his money, which he paid for registration to buy Apa and the money was refunded back to him”.


In reaction, the Chief Executive Officer of Ezemac International Nigeria limited, Chief Ezenwa Daniel Igwe in telephone chat, said “what happened is that they have a forest and they called me to open a road for them.  I wanted to work there but the condition they gave me I could not continue but my people mistakenly entered their forest and felled 112 trees. They fought with my workers and injured one of them. We entered into a peace talk and they said since I have entered their forest without permission, I should do cleansing and pay the sum of N580, 000. They went for counting and said I should pay for 100 trees and any extra and I entered into an agreement with them.

“But after two days I was called to stop work that we had encroached on their forest. In the process they went and removed the batteries of my caterpillars thereby causing some damages. My workers went there and counted the trees to be 112 and we cannot use two days to fell the 320 trees they are talking about. For four months they have stopped my workers from working and every day we pay N300, 000 for the machines and my business is failing. It is not true that I fell 370 trees.

“The money for the earlier fine for cleansing I paid N5 million into Chief Edwin’s personal account. He calculated the wood at N50, 000 each instead of N5, 000. Is it possible to fell 370 woods in two days? They just want to frustrate my business. The state government and the State Forestry Commission are aware of my activities in the forest and I paid money to the state before entering the forest. I also have an agreement with the village people. My plea is that they should allow me to enter and carry the ones I have paid for. That community is locked in and they need people to come and open the place for them and not to scare people away. They should work based on the agreement we have”. 

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