Stakeholders in forest conservation in Cross River State have faulted the recently constituted committee by the state governor, Senator Bassey Otu.
Speaking at Multi-Stakeholder Conference on Deforestation in Calabar, the state capital, on Wednesday, June 14, 2023, discussants at the event unanimously agreed that the governor made the wrong choices in selecting members of the deforestation taskforce.
The conference, which was the second in the series, was organised by a civil society organisation, We the People, spearheaded by renowned conservationist, Ken Henshaw, in partnership with PADIC-AFRICA.
In his presentation, the guest speaker, Dr. Odigha Odigha, alleged that a considerable number of members of the anti-deforestation committee are partisan, and have no business holding such a sensitive position.
He expressed fear that the governor might have been misled in constituting the committee, urging him to reappraise his decision as much are expected from his administration towards the conservation of forest resources in Cross River State.
Odigha, who is Chairman of Coalition for Environment (NGOCE), a non-governmental organisation, described the taskforce as a dangerous signal from the new administration.
He said: “A lot of work needs to be done in conserving our forest. The formation of that taskforce is a dangerous signal. The governor must have been ill-advised to do that. Those people are all loggers.”
Odigha said forest conservation was the collective responsibility of all, noting that forest is life and the political will is key.
Also speaking, a conservationist, Mr. Peter Jenkins, called on the state government to live up to its responsibility towards safeguarding her forest reserve.
He noted that not much can be achieved in forest conservation without the state’s backing.
Jenkins urged the government to consistently build on the capacity of her institutions in order to protect her biodiversity.
He decried the collapse of some government institutions in the state, and its implication on state’s policy on biodiversity.
Jenkins, who is the founder of Pandrillos, and former chairman of Cross River State anti-deforestation taskforce, stated: “Without the state’s backing, the idea of conserving the forest will not succeed.
“Unfortunately, the Forest Commission in the state is basically collapsed. Those chief ranchers who were knowledgeable are no more there.
“Without the backing of security agencies who are right now benefiting from illegal logging, we’ve not achieved much.”
Also speaking, the Paramount Ruler of Boki Local Government Area of Cross River State, Otu Akandu, traced the problem of illegal logging to the government’s ineptitude and indecision.
He alleged that there was massive illegal logging ongoing in his community with little or no resistance from the government.
Akandu said: “I am from Boki where there is serious extraction of timber, where massive deforestation is taking place, and the government is not doing much to stop it.”
He appealed to Governor Bassey Otu to be decisive on the issue, and urgently place an embargo on logging of woods in the state.
In the same vein, panellists at the occasion unanimously supported the position of the keynote speakers, faulting the constitution of the new anti-deforestation taskforce in the state.
In their submission at the panel discussion, they did not only fault the taskforce, but also called for the setting up of an international panel of inquiry to unravel the activities of illegal loggers in the state.
This, they believe, will enable the government to apportion blames where necessary as well as regain the confidence of international donor agencies.
“Most international donor organisations have invested much money in conserving our biodiversity in the state and should be involved.
“An international panel of enquiry will ensure that the report is not consigned to the dustbin,” Akandu said.
Other participants at the occasion advocated for a new legislation that would ensure effective and sustainable forest management as well as biodiversity protection in the state.
In his opening remarks, the Executive Director of PADIC-Africa, Dr. Martins Egot, said as stakeholders in the environment sector, they should contribute their quota in putting together ideas and strategies that will help drive Cross River in forest conservation.
By Stina Ezin, Calabar