The Burden Of A Guard
To save its fast depleting forest reserves, the Cross River State government banned logging of wood in the state. The task force setup by the state government to enforce the ban however became an albatross as members of the task force now allegedly connive with illegal loggers to exploit timber in the state.
The forest reserve in Cross River is one of the remaining rain forests in the world. Varieties of animals, insects and plants, some thought to be extinct have been discovered in the vast forest reserves in the state. Frantic efforts have been made by the state government to protect the forest from exploitation. International agencies have also been collaborating with the state to ensure the rain forest was protected.
The Cross River State governor, Senator Liyel Imoke recently disclosed that the state received a grant of US$4 million from the United Nations, UN, for the conservation of its forest. But effort to protect the state’s forest reserve is however suffering severe setback due to illegal logging. In Calabar, the state capital, the sale of timber is still flourishing.
At the Akim Timber market, people are going about their business unperturbed. The situation is the same at the timber market along MCC Road as well as the Edibe Edibe timber market. How these timber dealers get all the woods despite the ban on logging remains a mystery. The magazine however gathered that members of the state Anti-Deforestation Task Force as well as top government functionaries are reportedly frustrating the effective implementation of the ban on logging as they are said to be neck deep in the illegal trade.
This magazine reliably gathered that members of the task force are making brisk business conniving with illegal loggers to deplete the state’s forest reserve.
Corruption within the task force reached a stage where the chairman, Mr. Peter Jenkins (a British citizen) had to publicly cry out. He said effort by the state government to combat illegal logging was being hampered by officials of the task force. He disclosed that the task force has not been able to curb illegal logging in the state due to corrupt practices by those saddled with the responsibility to enforce the ban on logging. “Everybody has been talking about corruption, but nobody wants to do something about it because even those in government support people involved in illegal business.”
Mr. Jenkins noted with regrets that because of corrupt practices, efforts earlier made by the state government to effect the ban on logging failed, adding “the problem is not logging, but the level of corruption involved.”
Mr. Samuel Asuwa, a victim of the fraudulent practices of the anti-deforestation task force also confirmed the high level of corruption in the task force. Mr. Asuwa claimed he bought timber worth over N2 million, which the taskforce claimed was illegally logged. He said after the payment, he evacuated the timber to his premises, only for the same task force members to storm his premises and cart away the timber officially sold to him.
Angered by the action of the task force members, Mr. Asuwa sent a strong worded petition to the State House of Assembly. After thorough investigations, the House of Assembly ordered the task force to return the seized timber to Mr. Asuwa. The House of Assembly berated the task force members for engaging in fraudulent activities, noting that it was ‘unjust and unfair’ for the task force that sold seized timber to the petitioner to turn around and seize the timber from him.
The angry assembly members however called for the immediate disbandment of the task force while the State Forestry Commission should be mandated to check illegal logging in the state.
The Deputy Speaker, Hon. George O’ben-Echi condemned the action of the task force members in very strong term, describing it as embarrassing. He said the task force must apologize to the petitioner for the embarrassment caused him.
The state governor, Senator Liyel Imoke also expressed disgust over the activities of the task force. The governor noted that since its inception the task force has not prosecuted any illegal timber dealers thereby confirming fears that members of the task force were also involved in illegal timber business.
“The level of corruption is unprecedented; despite the fact that the state has constituted a Forestry Commission as well as promulgated a law banning illegal logging, no conviction has been recorded.” Senator Imoke however said that for the ban on logging in Cross River to be effectively implemented, those involved must be result oriented.