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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Forest crusader, Odigha Odigha, arrested, detained

Nigerian environmentalist and activist, Odigha Odigha, was on Thursday morning arrested in his home in Calabar, Cross River State. He will be spending the night in detention as, according to sources, all attempts to get him out on bail proved abortive.

Odigha Odigha with Richard Goldman at the 2003 Goldman Prize ceremony in San Francisco, California
Odigha Odigha with Richard Goldman at the 2003 Goldman Prize ceremony in San Francisco, California

Mr Odigha was reportedly arrested on the orders of the executive governor of the state, Prof Ben Ayade. He is being held at the Police Headquarters in Diamond Hill, Calabar on some audit investigation carried out at the Cross River State Forestry Commission (CRSFC), where he used to be the chairman.

Odigha’s lawyer, who prefers to remain anonymous, disclosed that the crusader/activist for environmental protection and social justice is being accused of embezzling over N100 million during his tenure as CRSFC boss. Odigha is also said to be unable to account for money paid to him and officials to cover travel expenses.

According to a source, the allegation was written and personally signed and given to the Police Commissioner by the Attorney-General of the state who, acting on the orders of the governor, instructed that Mr Odigha be arrested and prosecuted.

But observers have condemned the arrest, saying that the governor made up the charges in the bid to silence those opposing the rather unpopular 260km Superhighway Project that is expected to slice through the Cross River National Park as well as a community forest at Ekuri.

“These (allegations against Odigha) we know are mere trumped-up charges orchestrated by the powers that be who are uncomfortable about his (Odigha’s) resistance of the Superhighway Project and land grabbing schemes of the present administration,” a source close to the National Park disclosed.

Paddy Ezeala, who used to work the National Park as well as the Nigeria Conservation Foundation (NCF), said: “The arrest of Mr. Odigha Odigha by the authorities in Cross River State is undoubtedly aimed at psychologically intimidating the environmental community. Reference to his tenure as the Chairman of the State Forestry Commission is an afterthought tainted with a prejudicial temperament.

“This is an unnecessary generation of tension at a time synergy is required to deliver sustainable development. Mr. Odigha is a leading light in uncompromised environmentalism whose position on development issues has always been on the side of the people and the environment. High handedness on the part of the Cross River State Government is anti-development and therefore condemnable.

“The storm is gathering as our democracy is ebbing away. The governor has bared his fangs crudely and there is no room for such in a democracy.”

A source with close ties with the CRSFC said that himself and Odigha were earlier this year invited by the police for questioning, on the grounds that they were fuelling opposition to the Superhighway Project.

“Odigha misappropriating over N100 million? Ridiculous! Do they have that kind of money at the Commission? Where ordinary imprest was not paid to staffers? The governor is simply trying to clampdown on anyone campaigning against the Superhighway,” he said.

Odigha, a mathematician by training, was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2003, for his efforts on protection of the rainforests of Cross River State from industrial logging.

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