Worried over incessant deforestation due to illegal logging activities in Ekuri forest in Cross River State, 28 civil society organisations (CSOs) and members of the Ekuri community have petitioned the Federal Government of Nigeria and the United Nations (UN) to take urgent action to save their forest.
This is contained in an open letter titled “Concerns over attacks on indigenous communities and deforestation of Ekuri forest, Nigeria”, addressed to the Minister of Environment, Mr. Mohammed Abdullahi, and issued to newsmen on Thursday, May 18, 2023, in Calabar.
According to the letter, some members of the community had lately suffered repeated intimidations, harassments and threats from the alleged mastermind of the illegal trade: Ezemac International Company Limited.
It recalled both the physical and psychological trauma members of the community went through when about 30 armed soldiers allegedly contracted by Ezemac Company invaded the community, firing indiscriminately in order to forestall any communal resistance to the trade.
Signatories to the letter, which was also copied Ezemac International Company Limited and the United Nations, include: Chief Edwin Ogar of WATER, Oyu Tolgoi; Watch Mongola, Prof Gretta Pecl; Climate change ecologist and IPPC lead author at University of Tasmania among 25 others.
It reads in part: “As representatives from indigenous peoples, civil society, scientific agencies and community-based organisations around the world, we the undersigned are writing to you regarding ongoing harassments, criminalisation, human right abuses, and deforestation in the Ekuri forest in Nigeria.
“On the 15th of April 2023, the Ezemac International Company Limited, a Nigerian logging company, allegedly brought 30 army personnel and policemen to the indigenous Ekuri community. During the operations, the security forces advanced towards the village on motorbikes and opened fire indiscriminately creating fear and confusion and forcing the villagers to flee to safety. Fortunately, nobody was injured.
“This is the latest in a row of incidents of threats and intimidations the community has faced due to their actions to protect their land from illegal logging which has been taking place without the consent of the Ekuri community.”
In view of the foregoing, community members have called on the Federal Government to checkmate the actions of Ezemac International Company, which they accused of consistently reneging on every agreement previously reached with their representatives to address the impasse.
They also urged international companies to stop patronising Ezemac International Company Limited, pending when the ongoing conflicts are appropriately resolved.
“We respectfully request that the Federal Government of Nigeria should conduct an investigation into the actions taken against the environmental human rights defenders, and sanction those involved.
“Ensure the non-repetition of these actions. Ensure the immediate withdrawal of the company from the Ekuri forest to sustain climate change mitigation and livelihood efforts of Ekuri community in line with the SDGs.
“Urge Ezemac International Company to refrain from criminalising the indigenous human rights defenders who manage the Ekuri community rain forest.
“International companies must immediately suspend sourcing timber from the Ezemac company until conflicts between Ezemac and the Ekuri community are resolved,” the letter added.
Reacting to the accusation in a telephone conversation, the Chief Executive Officer of Ezemac International Nigeria Limited, Chief Ezenwa Daniel Igwe, said his men entered part of Ekuri forest unknowingly.
He claimed the state government and the state Forestry Commission are aware of his activities in the forest and that he paid to the state government before entering the forest.
He denied any wrongdoing, saying: “After the encroachment, I was called to stop work and was fined N5 million, which I paid. 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.”
By Stina Ezin