Illegal Logging Stokes Arms Proliferation, Insecurity in Cross River

Ben Ayade

Bassey Inyang in Calabar

Illegal logging is endangering rainforest and forest resources, in Cross River State, the out going chairman of the state’s Anti-Deforestation Task Force (ATF), Dr. Odey Oyama, has said.
According to him, illegal loggers have been aiding and abetting arms proliferation in the state. ATF is the state’s agency to protect rainforests and forest resources.

Oyama, in a letter to the state governor, Prof. Ben Ayade said lack of cooperation among government agencies had not only endangered its operatives, but had also exposed corruption on the part of some government officials.
This development, he said, was responsible for his decision to resign his appointment.

In a the five-page letter, Oyama complained about the activities of the cartel of illegal loggers, coupled with the lack of inter-agency cooperation saddled with the responsibilities of protecting the state’s rainforests, and forest resources. He said he had to resign partly because of interferences in the operations of the ATF by other agencies of government without any attempt at joint consultations or synergy.

He, also, observed that there was outright absence of security cover for all the field staff and operatives that had been deployed in strategic positions all over the state, thereby constituting another major hindrance to the operation of the task force

He lamented the brutal attacks on the volunteers and special agents of the ATF, who according to him, were deployed in strategic monitoring positions in the rainforests across the state.

The letter read in part: “By reason of lack of officially constituted security cover, even the police was unable to secure our personnel from attacks. It is inhuman, on my part, to continue deploying young men and women into assignments which are certainly perilous in the face of the fact that they are deployed into service without an officially constituted joint security task force.

“It is only the presence of a properly constituted government joint security task force with the capacity to curtail the activities of the illegal trade cartels and cabals that are extremely desperate; and have often resorted to the use of illegal firearms to protect their illegal trade.

“The present dastardly act of the cabals leading to their inflicting injuries on our field personnel could not have taken place if a joint security task force had been deployed alongside the personnel to provide adequate security.

“After several incidents of attack on our field personnel and volunteers, as well as the multiple cases of interferences, with the operations of the ATF constituted under my chairmanship, it is the most appropriate time to vacate office in order that I may not be confronted with the unfortunate circumstances of having to offer explanations for the death of ATF field personnel who are neither covered by security nor by insurance.”

The letter, also, lamented the release of illegally logged timber impounded and kept in the custody of the Nigerian Police in Okuni, Ikom Local Government Area (LGA).

Oyama explained that the task force had impounded some consignments, timber produce, and trucks, which he kept in the custody of the Police Area Command, Okuni headed by Mr. Oliver Onuzie.

With the evidence of contravention, however, Oyama alleged that the Chairman of State Forestry Commission and the Special Adviser (SA) on Afforestation visited the command and issued counter instructions for the police to release the consignments.

Oyama, also, said he had petitioned the governor on how three trucks of illegal timber forest produce containing 1,928 pieces of timber was released unjustly.

He said: “The seizure of the said timber took place on March 1 at Nde community in Ikom Local Government Area. The seized timber and trucks were placed under the custody of the Area Commander, at the Okuni Area Command Police Station.

“The situation report is that the entire timber and trucks have been released to the suspects by the police, purportedly under the instruction of the Forestry Commission.

“Under the circumstances described above, the ATF is requesting Your Excellency to kindly instruct the Police Area Command at Okuni and the Forestry Commission to recover the released items and return them to the custody of the Police Area Command at Okuni for further criminal investigations and conclusion of legal actions.”

However, the Chairman of the State Forestry Commission Chief Tony Undiandeye wrote a letter to the Area Command, Okuni confirming the release of the timber on the instruction of the commission.

Undiandeye said: “The forest produce was from Biajua Community in Boki Local Government Area. Mr. Agbor Ojong, whose name was in our official evacuation pass and that of ATF has paid for the produce.

“An offence compounded on the wood in accordance with the forestry commission law of 2010 tariff, declared wood is not subjected to be hammered at stump, site but offence can be compounded and hammering operation done at the declared site.

“Based on this explanation on the passes before me, I humbly request the Area commander to please release both trucks and the produce to its owner as he has complied with the necessary due process on declaration on wood,” the letter said.