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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Nigeria REDD+ programme threatened over forestry officials’ arrest

A huge cloud of uncertainty is hanging over the much-vaunted Nigerian REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) Programme following the arrest a couple of days ago in Calabar, Cross River State of long-serving and erstwhile chairman of the Cross River State Forestry Commission (CRSFC), Mr Odigha Odigha. He has since been released on bail.

Educator, environmentalist and activist, Odigha Odigha was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2003, for his efforts on protection of the rainforests of Cross River State from industrial logging. Photo credit: climatereportes.com
Educator, environmentalist and activist, Odigha Odigha was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2003, for his efforts on protection of the rainforests of Cross River State from industrial logging. Photo credit: climatereporters.com

Feelers indicate that new Cross River State governor, Prof Ben Ayade, ordered the arrest of Odigha, along with three directors of the CRSFC in order to pave way for the takeover of the state-owned massive forest reserve – upon which the concept and ideals of the REDD+ Programme is based – by a Chinese firm for exploitation.

 Regarded as one of the largest forest blocks remaining in the West African region, the Cross River Forest Reserve covers 312 square kilometres. It lies between the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and Mbe Mountains Community Forest, both of which are home to Cross River gorillas, and form a corridor between the two.

An official of the Commission disclosed that the state governor had concessioned the forest to a Chinese paper producing firm and that, going by the terms of agreement, the Cross River forest would be considerably exploited – a policy that Odigha had dedicated is life to over the decades, and prompting the United Nations REDD+ Programme to select the reserve as a pilot site for the programme in the country.

An educator, environmentalist and activist, Odigha was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2003 for his efforts on protection of the rainforests of Cross River State from industrial logging – an action that did not go down well with some local and international industrialists who see the reserve as a gold mine.

Immediate past governor of the state, Liyel Imoke, was in favour of the conservation and “lock-up” of the forest reserve, and he supported Odigha’s work during his eight-year tenure in power.

But things took a fresh twist immediately after the May 29, 2015 swearing-in of Prof Ayade as governor, who appears not to be an apostle of a complete lock-up of the state forest reserve. According to sources close to him, Ayade believes that the forest should be an avenue to generate revenue that will go a long way in helping it to meet its financial obligations and clear its backlog of debts.

It was also alleged that the governor was furious over the activities of the Forestry Anti-logging Task Force operating within the CRSFC but reporting directly to Imoke.

Speaking with our correspondent on phone, Odigha said he was detained for 24 hours and that the Secretary to the State Government listed as part of the reasons for his arrest was the fact that forests under his care had been depleted. But Odigha denied the allegation, saying that, quite to the contrary, the forest reserve and communities therein prospered when he headed the CRSFC.

“As I speak to you now, the forestry commission has been dissolved and the state anti-deforestation committee has also been dissolved. The secretary to state government alleged that under my leadership the state forests depleted – which is the reason they called for my arrest and dissolved the Board of the Commission,” he said.

Governor Ayade’s aide on media and publicity, Christian Ita, said the governor was not pleased with the United Nations report that the state forests under the watch of Mr Odigha were being stolen by over six per cent annually. He said the arrest of Odigha was to enable proper investigation into the matter to ensure that the state maintained its global leadership in forest matters.

An environmentalist, Dr Okon Joseph, said the happening in the state was targeted at rubbishing the huge achievements of the leadership of the Commission, which has taken the state to global reckoning in terms of the UN-REDD+ programme.

Odigha was detained and released along with Mr. Arikpo Arikpo, a member of the CRSFC board.


  1. Director, Community Conservation and Development Initiatives, Ako Amadi, stresses:
    I have worked with the forestry in CRS since 1995 and often what we call a “fact” may be “rumour” and vice versa. Apart from its life support qualities, the forest is a sacred and mysterious place that must not be tampered with. Let’s hope all will be well in this saga..

  2. Executive Director of SRADev Nigeria, Leslie Adogame, emphasizes:
    Adogame Leslie
    I am seriously very worried about the new twist in Cross River state about the plan to concession the forest to a Chinese based company for income generation. I was personally in Cross river state whole of last week talking to key stakeholders on REDD when this first fillers of the governors new approach dropped in from different quarters even from the community members. Yes I can confirm that in one of the communities (Iko Esai), the people lamented that logging was continuing seemingly encouraged by their neighbouring communities (but not theirs) while their forest was still locked up and that this trend might make them go back to the practice since their is no total compliance. Regrettably too, that the neighbours seems to be getting government attention and benefits than them despite their non-compliance. I agree and sympathise with their concerns and those expressed by John Odey about possibly some members of the Task Force complacency which can be investigate and shaped right. But what I totally cannot agree on is Nigeria or states going back to commoditization of the forest to Chinese investors. If this gets done, it would be the greatest mistake of his government and Nigeria. I know there are livelihoods issues needing urgent attention by the REDD+ proponents! What happens to the REDD+ laudable programme? What justifies the UN report that 6% of the forest is continuously lost annually now to be used against it own UNREDD programme? How does REDD+ gets integrated into the new private investment (within Efficiency, Effectiveness and Equity outcomes of REDD). What picture does this backward looking approach sends to the global community about commitment to climate change and Biodiversity conventions? So many questions begging for answers. I think the REDD forum NGOs have to voice out at this stage on this development and engage with the government on the way forward. We needs details and consultation on the new deal before it can be implemented (if ever it should).

  3. Former Minister of Environment, John Odey, comments:
    John Ogar Odey
    I comment as the initiator of the UN REDD + Programme in collaboration with Dr. Odigha Odigha, Dr. Victor Ndifon Nkom & Governor Ben Ayade as a consultant on Environment & Ecology to Cross River State and later Senator among others. This is a laudable programme that must be sustained. I suspended the contract of a logging company called WEMPCO when I became commissioner for Agriculture in 2003-5 in Cross River State. Thanks to Odey Oyama & others who supported my action. He fought WEMPCO & exposed their destruction.
    The Cross River State forest was considered for REDD + Programme because of the natural ecosystem of the forest among other cinsiderations. Unsustainable agricultural practices and logging has greatly depleted the forest.

    The governor is desirous to sustain the REDD + programme & status. The forstry commission should assist the state government in finding a solution to the challenge of deforestation. Some members of the task force undermined the effort of Dr. Odigha Odigha. This is obvious. The forstry commission law is perfect but not implemented to punish offenders to serve as a deterrent. This should be investigated with a view to correcting the lapses.
    John Odey. Former Minister of Environment. Nigeria.

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