By Kelvin Obambon
The issues of deforestation and illegal logging in Cross River State can only be stopped if the Governor of Cross River State, Prof. Ben Ayade wants them to end.
This was the position of the Executive Chairman of Boki local government council, Pastor John Ewa, at a multi-stakeholder conference on deforestation in Cross River State, held in Calabar on Tuesday.
Ewa stressed that there was nothing anyone can do to bring an end to the mindless destruction and exploitation of Cross River rainforest until the governor decides to take concrete steps to halt the deplorable situation.
According to the council boss, “as an administrator at the local government level, the argument initially was that it is not our responsibility, but even if it is not, as the chief accounting officer I am to account for the lives and property, and the most important property we have in Boki is the forest.
“I told one of the candidates who asked me what’s the need of Boki. I said declare a state of emergency over our forest because that’s the greatest means we have in Boki. Anybody with sense, you don’t have to be an expert to know that we’ve a crisis in our hand, and it is even more complex than the presentations I’ve heard here today. I am a serving chairman in APC. If I am not sure and there’s no guarantee that the APC will protect our forest, I have no business voting them.
“This whole thing begins and ends on the desk of the chief security officer of the state. Any other thing is a joke. Recently I came to see the current Brigade Commander of 13 Brigade, and he asked me do you know who are involve in this thing – I know what he meant. He told me that if we want this thing (illegal logging) to stop let the governor of the state call us and ask us to stop it.”
Meanwhile, the Executive Director of Rainforest Resources and Development Center (RRDC), Odey Oyama, earlier in his address said recent field surveys reveal that despite the existence of Forest Management Committee (FMCs) in forest communities; and contrary to the moratorium on logging operations declared by the Government of Cross River State, the cutting and removal of important forest areas is proceeding rampantly and extensively without the intervention of the Forestry Commission or the FMCs in the forest communities.
According to Oyama, “The situation is widely acknowledged to be the worst that ever occurred in the Cross River Forest estate since the 21st Century.
“Sadly the destruction and rapid degradation of the forest
environment is destroying the pristine and highly valued Tropical High Forest of Cross River State; and ultimately reducing the State’s ability to participate effectively in the REDD Programme, the Global Climate Change Mitigation and the Millennium Development Goals programme of the United Nations (UN). It has therefore become urgent to hold this conference today.
“I wish to use this opportunity to welcome all the participants and resource persons for finding time to come and brainstorm on these most urgent environmental
On his part, Mr Ken Henshaw, who is the Executive Director of We The People (WTP), affirmed that at the moment, logging activities have taken more alarming and sinister dimensions in Cross River.
He explained that “In several communities, loggers and timber dealers establish their trading posts close to the forests, and form trade unions to regulate the business. Logs are openly processed into various sizes, loaded onto trucks and transported to destinations within and outside the state fairly easily.
“To facilitate the theft of forest resources, armed gangs intimidate, terrorize and maim forest protection agents and community vigilante groups whom they perceive as threats to their operations. On several occasions, community members, volunteer groups and task force members have been attacked and seriously harmed. The illicit trade in timber has expanded to include foreign (Chinese) interests as well as international dimensions.
“Exotic species of wood are illegally extracted from the forests and exported overseas. While the forests undergo systematic dissipation, communities who traditionally own these forests and have protected it for generations are not only losing their livelihoods, but also their heritage. With the loss of forest cover, the impacts of climate change are becoming more threatening and dire.”
Speaking further, Henshaw said the conference was broadly aimed at highlighting the escalating threat of deforestation, as well as the gaps and challenges associated with existing government responses.
“The Conference will explore frameworks and policy options for addressing deforestation, and produce a draft policy alternative. It is expected that the Conference will expand the awareness of community members and other civil society actors on deforestation, and increase their agency in that regard.
This Conference will bring together experts from the academia, civil society, the government and communities to share experiences while brainstorming on policy alternatives for protecting the forests and addressing deforestation,” he added.
Experts such as Dr Odingha Odingha, Prof. Ekpenyong Itam, Dr Raphael Offiong among others who spoke at the conference agreed that the lack of political will by the government of Cross River State to tackle deforestation and illegal logging has exacerbated the situation.
Some of the solutions proffered at the conference to tackle deforestation caused by illegal logging include the setting up of a rapid response mobile force to confront illegal loggers head-on, analysis of the dynamics in illegal logging activities so as to come up with adequate approaches, a synergy between the state government and various security agencies in order to achieve seamless deployment of armed security personnel to intercept illegal loggers wherever and whenever the need arises.
Also, the creation of jobs for the teeming number of unemployed youths in local communities across the state was recommended to divert their attention away from illegal logging activities, and as well as the fine-tuning and strengthening of governance policies around forest management in the state.