Edem Edem in Calabar reports that the series of corrupt allegation by the public against the anti-deforestation task force led Governor Ben Ayade to scrap the body
For too long a cartel within the Anti-Deforestation Task Force, an arm of the Cross River State Forestry Commission, had been perpetuating alleged illegality and fraudulent activities to which the authorities had turned a blind eye despite a series of complaints by the public. Based on this, the Governor Ben Ayade scrapped the task and returned the function to the Cross River state forestry commission.
Investigations conducted by The UNION shows that the allegations of extortion and other unwholesome practices against the Task Force by members of the public and concerned citizens of the state had mounted that they could no longer be swept under the carpet or treated with kid gloves. The sharply practice has be going on since 2009 and a lot of people who refused to play ball or meet up with some obligation that are not even official have fallen victim to this cartel severally. Many had even lost their legitimate source of livelihood as a result. It is also true that a lot of illegal timber loggers have been apprehended and prosecuted but the ATF has fallen short of its functions and responsibilities.
It was gathered that some of the members of task force used the place as their milking cow and can go to any length to achieve their aims without minding the level of illegality involved. In the event, people’s materials were seized indiscriminately without due process and auctioned without recourse to the huge investment by some legitimate businessmen. “A lot of people have gone bankrupt because of these nefarious practices while members of the cartel are getting richer by the day” a source hinted. A victim who proffered anonymity lamented “life has become a living nightmare for them as all the timber that were legally harvested from a protected area they acquired at Ekpri Ibami Community in Akampka LGA were unduly auctioned in bad faith without fair hearing and no opportunity given to them to make their case”.
According to the victims “We acquired that place from the Village Head of Ekpri Ibam Community for planting of Plantain, Cocoa and oil palm and other cash crops but with the trees in the location our plantain and other things will not do well, we had to fell the trees with proper approval from the forestry people” “In the process of perfecting the documents and waiting for a final charting to come from them they confiscated my 7950 pieces of timber. I am baffled that they declared only 2,147 in the Order.
Also, while the courts were still on strike, they got an Order to sell 2,147 pieces of the timber” Another source said, “I wrote to them (Anti Deforestation Task Force) through my lawyer Barr Orchardson Umoh that the wood belongs to me and all necessary documentation is being processed and that I copied the governor too. But to my greatest surprise within one week they started selling the wood which is contrary to the CRSF law in section 68 (subsection 4) which states that the commission may dispose of any items and forest produce, which the owner might have abandoned to escape arrest and it is not found, and remains unclaimed for 60 days.”
The victim further revealed that they did not even get to Calabar before they started selling the wood neither did they wait for the sixty days to elapse before selling. Not only that they also got an order while the courts were still on strike. “They have turned my life into a living hell, the banks are after me, I am selling off most of my properties at auction price just to meet up with my responsibilities” “My family is suffering my children are almost out of school; I really can’t believe that such a thing is happening in Cross River state” he lamented. However, the Village Head of Ekpri Ibam, Chief Michael Bassey Ako also said that the land that was given to Chief Edem Ayito was not under reserve but in the protected area so he has the right to sell the trees and harvest timber. According to Chief Michael Bassey Ako, before he even started sawing the woods Ededem went to them to get proper approval and they still turned back to confiscate the timber from him. What they are doing is illegal and it is not right, they are only using the name of government to perpetrate evil “Chief Ako said.
In 2014 a court Order (MSC.NO.FC/CA/ MSC./6/2014) was issued for the sale (auction) of 2,147 Pieces of timber during the period in which the courts were on strike (the first warning strike by Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN). But Secretary of JUSUN, Cross River State Branch, Comrade Ogboni Adjah who confirm the story said that the courts called off the strike in August last year and so it was not possible for the Forestry court to have sat in any location, moreover the secretariat was at the judiciary Headquarters which they couldn’t have had access at the point in time. According to Ako, the counsel to the Anti deforestation Task Force, Barr U.A Ibitam had told him that the courts were not on strike, that it was JUSUN that was on strike. In his words: “The courts were not on strike and are not and the only people on strike are JUSUN. Judges and Magistrates have never been on strike because they are not members of JUSUN. The only thing is that some judiciary staff that is affected would not be there to assist them (Judges and Magistrates) “That is why you still see Judges performing swearing in and other official judicial functions every magistrate and Judges is at liberty to perform judicial functions.
That is the point I just wanted to clarify. Apart from this I will not go further to comment because this subject matter is before Justice Ebuta,” he stated. The judiciary headquarters was also under lock and key from 11th of July till the 8th of August 2014, because the entire place was locked. The question remains (a)Where did they seat(b) how did they get the registrar to sign .The same court had other cases on its court list that were listed from the time the strike started and none of them was sat upon neither did they take a new case “ Umoh queried, adding that “You can throw away all doubt based on the current situation because JUSUN is still on strike in Cross River State in particular for more than five months now.
Since 5th of January no court in Cross River State has sat within this period, if they claim to be different then why are they not seating, because no court in Cross River is seating at present” he submitted. Another Victim and timber dealer at Akim Timber market, Mr. Bassey Akpan also said that what is going on at the ATF is really not fair to them as timber dealers. ”This cartel has been in existence for a long time, they have been doing their dirty deals since 2009 I have lost almost everything as a man. I sold my house and my only truck my children are not even going to school, I am now living on good will from friends” he said. Adding, I have left everything in the hands of God, since they collected my money and gave me documents yet they still came back and sized my wood running into 14.2million Naira, how can I ever recover from this” he retorted.
According to Chief Ededem Okon Ayito there was no order for the Anti Deforestation Task Force to confiscate the 7,950 pieces from his farm in Ekpri Ibami Community in the first place rather the ATF cartel “manufactured” order for a public auction of only 2,147. “They never gave an order for the 7,950 rather they got an order for only 2,147 .Where are the remaining 5,803 pieces of timber which has not been accounted for till date. Also how did a Magistrate give an order within 24hours that a motion was filed to sell a property without giving time to the owner to be heard, it is quite ridiculous and highly questionable” “I am really surprised that a motion filed on 22nd of July was granted on the 23rd to sell 2.147 instead of all the pieces (7950) which were confiscated by the ATF” Chief Ededem stated.
Speaking with our source the Chief Magistrate, Emeng Edogi was alleged to have said he cannot comment on a matter that had already been presided upon (in his capacity as Chief Magistrate) and would not also comment on the current matter because it was in court. He however admitted that the Order (MSC. NO.FC/CA/MSC./6/2014) emanated from his court on the said date. He revealed that the Cross River State Forestry court is a mobile court and was not affected by the JUSUN strike as he is also not a member of JUSUN a He said he acted based on the facts that were presented before him.