A coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) and strategic stakeholders in Cross River State have called on the Governor Bassey Otu led administration to as a matter of urgency halt all transactions and invasion of uncertified Chinese nationals into the state forests.
They want the state government to suspend all negotiations or transactions purportedly carried out by the chiefs on behalf of the Effi people until proper processes are taken to identify the Chinese nationals who are currently doing logging business in Okuni community in Ikom Local Government Area (LGA) of the state.
They made the call on October 30, 2023, after a one-day meeting organised and facilitated by the Rainforest Resources and Development Centre (RRDC) to address the pressing issues bordering on illegalities going on in the state forest.
In addition, the forum brainstormed on the audacious and covert incursion of the Cross River South Forest Reserve, as well as the Ukpon River Forest Reserve. Participants underlined potential threats the incursion poses to wildlife resources in the region and, in particular, in the Oban Hills Division of the Cross River National Park in the near future.
Describing the activities of the unidentified Chinese nationals in most local governments richly blessed with forest as worrisome, the forum resolved that it is a serious threat to the ecological integrity of the forest estate of Cross River State in the region.
In addition, they declared that the diplomatic status of the Chinese foreign nationals has so far remained undisclosed. The added that the security clearances and Immigration protocols of the Chinese as well as the expatriate quota approval issued to them by the Ministry of Interior to carry out business in Okuni Community, has not been disclosed.
While stressing that their certifications issued by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) have not been declared openly, the campaigners noted that the nature of agreement expected to be in the form of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Chinese nationals and the people of Effi Community has so far not been disclosed.
They also stated that the forest concession agreements entered into with the Cross River State Forestry Commission and the Chinese nationals over the extent of forest land that is located within the territory of Effi Community upon which the Chinese intend to conduct forestry operations has not been disclosed.
Similarly, the environmental Impact Assessment report expected to be produced by the Chinese and approved by the Federal Ministry of Environment after due public scrutiny and review, before commencement of operations, has not been published as prescribed by law.
In view of these declarations, the forum in a 10-point resolution signed by the Executive Director of RRDC, Comrade Odey Oyama; the Executive Director of Panacea for Developmental and Infrastructural Challenges for Africa Initiative (PADIC-Africa), Dr. Martins Egot; Haruna Muhhammed of the Cross River National Park; Prof. Raphael Offiong of the University of Calabar; Emmanuel Owan of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF); and 22 others stated: “That government should therefore halt all transactions with the Chinese nationals and suspend all negotiations purportedly carried out by the chiefs on behalf of the Effi community until full disclosures are made of the security clearances, Immigration protocols, the identities and mission of the Chinese who are presently conducting business in Okuni Community; copies of all agreements that the Effi Traditional Council proposed to enter into, or have already signed with the Chinese Foreign Nationals should be made available to the entire Effi community members for scrutiny.
“The incursion of uncertified Chinese Foreign Nationals into the Effi Community Forest and the Cross River South Forest Reserve is a serious threat to the ecological integrity of the forest estate of Cross River State in the region. It is observed that this matter is yet to be officially communicated to the Executive Arm of Cross River State government through the Forestry Commission.
“The incursion of the uncertified Chinese Foreign Nationals into the Effi Community Forest, the Cross River South Forest Reserve should be officially communicated to the House of Assembly in the hope that the Cross River State House of Assembly could step into the matter demanding all documents pertaining to the Chinese, the business interest of the Chinese in Okuni, the agreements signed between the Chinese and the Traditional Rulers Council of Effi Community and all other things pertaining to this shadowy transactions. It is observed that this matter is yet to be officially communicated to the Executive Arm of Cross River State Government through the Forestry Commission.
“The incursion of the uncertified Chinese Foreign Nationals into the Effi Community Forest, the Cross River South Forest Reserve, and the Ukpon River Forest Reserve, with the attendant threat to the Oban Hills Division of the Cross River National Park, should be officially communicated to the Forestry Commission; in the hope that the Forestry Commission could step into the matter, properly analyse the situation by demanding and scrutinising all documents pertaining to the Chinese, their business interest in Okuni, the agreements signed between the Chinese and the Traditional Rulers Council of Effi Community and all other things pertaining to this shadowy transactions.”
On local bandits, the forum however appealed to government to study the rise of the tendencies of illegal exploitation of community resources by forest bandits. The trend is that forest bandits operate in a cartel. This cartel begins with the operations of their agents within the communities and thereafter with the support of other levels of illegal loggers. At the end, the operations that started off as a simple internal operation, snowballs into larger operations that are actively mobilised and run by external syndicates, like it is presently occurring at Effi Community in Ikom Local Government Area of Cross River State of Nigeria.
By Stina Ezin