1. I have been bemused and worried by the flurry of media reports following the unfortunate resignation of the Chairman of the Anti – Deforestation Task Force, Mr Odey Oyama, recently, and the wrong assumption that I had something to do with it. This is so because Mr Oyama has been very close to me for many years, and I had always admired his commitment to the protection of our rich forest reserves and activism in the biodiversity sub – sector .
2. When I was appointed to Chair the Forestry Commission I was happy that we were going to collaborate in the critical effort to stem the wanton depletion of timber, regulate exploitation of the forest and enforce the regeneration of vital species. My understanding was that these have been Mr Oyama’s core thematic interests and preoccupation and that he was going to be an impassioned ally in the challenge that we face as a state in this subject area.
3. However, I met Mr Oyama’s task force on ground and another task force put together by Mr Oyama and the Honourable Commissioner for Biodiversity, headed by the Special Adviser to the Governor on Aforestation, Mr Bette Obi, also in operation. The raison deter for the second task force was to discharge wood already sewn littering the forest in a one – month moratorium already granted by the Governor.
4. The thinking was that since wood illegally sewn was marooned in the forest, a one month corridor should be allowed for evacuation after compounding and paying relevant fines. I was happy with the arrangement since that meant that government got it’s due income and the forest was cleared for enforcement of the relevant protective measures against falling of trees without prior permit by government, from a clean slate.
5. However, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security for the Central Senatorial District recently arrested three trucks in Nde one afternoon, which he detained at Police Area Command in Okunni . Apparently the Chairman of the Special Task Force on the discharge of already sewn wood was unable to release same as part of his one – month duty and the matter came to my knowledge.
6. I asked the Director of Forestry to ascertain the status of the consignment and after working in collaboration with the Zonal Forestry Officer in Ikom, it was ascertained that the fines for the wood had been fully paid and certified with receipts issued and signed by Mr Odey Oyama. I still personally travelled to Ikom to see the consignment for myself and confirmed that the wood was hammered by the Forestry officials and properly receipted by documents arising from the task force Mr Oyama headed.
7. I was to make several efforts to have a meeting with Mr Oyama on the matter but he was not forthcoming. I did not understand why trucks that had paid all duties to government should be grounded without reason. Left with no choice but the discharge of my legitimate duties and to protect government from unnecessary litigation, I signed the release of the consignment, as it is within my powers to do so.
8. It is important to note that all through the tenure of Mr Oyama no timber or trucks bearing same were impounded or arrested. The task force members he posted to vital exit points in the state allowed free movement of timber from the state in the night. The consignment in question was not even impounded by Mr Oyama or his staff. It was arrested in broad daylight by the SA Security, Central.
9. Recently, I impounded seven trucks of timber in Obudu which I did not release abitrarily. Why then will I release the ones I did not impound wily nily. Perhaps this is the crux of the matter since Mr Oyama himself was said to be interested in the consignment I impounded and later released after due payments and certification. Note also that his task force has been unable to record such a feat all through its operations beginning in November, 2019.
10. Mr Oyama’s resignation is unfortunate because we value his inputs in the biodiversity cluster. Government everywhere in the world is a collaboration of efforts by all concerned and not a one – man – show. While his task force got its legitimacy from the Governor’s Executive Order, the Forestry Commission is also a product of the Governor and the law. None ought to, or should undermine the other. While Mr Oyama reserves the right to serve in government or not to do so, to justify his resignation by making me the fall – guy will be clearly mischievous.
11. Finally, let me make the point that our commitment to protecting the rich biodiversity of the State should be demonstrated more in our actions than in rhetoric on the public gallery. Enforcement of forest laws is the prerogative of the Cross River State Forestry Commission by law and statutes. We are not only determined to do so but also committed to ensure that the sector ceases to be an avenue for extortion and stealing of revenue due to government by officials of whatever rank.
CHIEF TONY UNDIANDEYE
CHAIRMAN, FORESTRY COMMISSION
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