BY: VITALIS UGOH, Calabar
The Chairman Anti-Deforestation Task Force (ATF), Mr Odey Oyama, has resigned his appointment over what he described as ,”undue interference” by other government agencies.
Oyama in a letter dated March 27th 2020 to Governor Ayade Ben said, “I write to notify Your Excellency of my decision to withdraw my services from the office of the Chairman of Anti-deforestation Task Force.’
According to him, “my reasons for the withdrawal are directly connected with the consistent interferences in the operations of the ATF by other agencies of government; without any attempt at joint consultations or synergy”.
Throwing more light, he said in particular is “the total lack of security cover over all the field staff and operatives that had been deployed by ATF into strategic positions all over the state has constituted another major hindrance”.
He also cited cases of brutal attacks on Volunteers and Special agents of ATF who were deployed into strategic monitoring positions in the state, adding “by reason of lack of officially constituted security cover, even the police was unable to secure our personnel from attacks. It is my considered opinion, that it is inhuman, on my part, to continue deploying young men and women into assignments which are certainly perilous in the face of the fact that they are deployed into service without an officially constituted JOINT SECURITY TASK FORCE.”.
“ It is only the presence of a properly constituted government JOINT SECURITY TASK FORCE that has the capability of overwhelming the illegal timber trade cartels and cabals that are extremely desperate; and have often resorted to the use of illegal firearms to protect their illegal trade.
“The present dastardly act of the cabals leading to their inflicting injuries on our field personnel could not have taken place if a Joint Security Task Force had been deployed alongside the personnel to provide adequate security, he said “.
He said, “after these several incidents of attack on our field personnel and Volunteers, as well as the multiple cases of interferences, with the operations of the ATF constituted under my Chairmanship, I have decided that it is the most appropriate time to vacate office in order that I may not be confronted with the unfortunate circumstances of having to offer explanations for the death of ATF field personnel who are neither covered by security nor by insurance.
“As I am vacating, I require the directives of His Excellency on the means of returning the operational vehicle that was assigned to me. My report detailing my activities since resumption of office shall be forwarded to Your Excellency shortly. Your Excellency will certainly recall that the estimated budget presented for consideration for logistics and operational funds for the activities of ATF is till pending; and neither was the ATF granted any monthly or quarterly impress for its operations since the commencement of my tenure in November 2019”.
However, the Anti- Deforestation Task Force (ATF), State Forestry Commission and the Nigerian Police are at logger head following the disappearance of arrested illegal timber produce worth over millions of naira
The Chairman Anti-Deforestation Task Force (ATF), Mr Odey Oyama had impounded some illegal produce and trucks kept in the custody of the Police Area Command, Okuni headed by Mr,. Oliver Onuzie but surprisingly the Chairman of Forestry Commission and the Special Adviser (SA) on Afforestation appeared at the scene for the purpose of issuing counter instructions for the release of the consignments but this failed as Oyama raised several legal issues to prove that the woods were illegal hence should be seized for government
He went on to show that when a permit is given for timber produce such is stamped at both ends but in this case most of them were not stamped and some were only hurriedly stamped at one end while the other ends course not be stamped as they were inside the trucks.
However few days after these illegal timber produce were released and Oyama who has an excellent records on forest protection over the years, wrote to the Area Commander “ to request for the status of the consignment of illegal timber forest produce and two trucks/vehicles impounded by the ATF and kept in your custody with specific demands that you await further communications from the ATF.
“You would recall that in our follow-up letter dated 11-03-2020, with reference number ATF-2020/039, titled “Corrigendum”, we drew your attention to the fact that the trucks/vehicles that conveyed the illegal timber produce had no vehicle registration plat numbers. It is our expectation that this is sufficient reason for the police to keep the trucks/vehicles impounded by ATF until appropriate declarations of their registration plate numbers are made at the court of competent jurisdiction, he said “.
“It is our declaration that the documents presented to you for the release of the said items to the suspects are fake. Our belief is founded on the fact that the documents contains very manifest discrepancies which demand investigations and prosecution. Our preliminary investigations at the Police Service Commission have convinced us that Police does not have the powers to release items placed under their custody as exhibits of criminal activities by one government agency, to suspects under investigations based on declarations made by another government agency”.
Oyama had petitioned the governor saying “this is to notify Your Excellency of the strange case of release of three (3) truck loads of illegal timber forest produce containing 1,928 pieces of timber.
The seizure of the said timber took place on Sunday, the 1st of March, 2020, at Nde community in Ikom Local government area. The seized timber and trucks were placed under the custody of the Area Commander, at the Okuni Area Command Police Station.
The situation report is that the entire timber and trucks have been released to the suspects by the Police, purportedly under the instruction of the Forestry Commission.
He said “under the circumstances described above, the ATF is requesting Your Excellency to kindly instruct the Police Area Command at Okuni and the Forestry Commission to recover the released items and return them to the custody of the Police Area Command at Okuni for further criminal investigations and conclusion of legal actions.
But the Chairman of the State Forestry Commission Chief Tony Udiandeye in a letter to the Area Command, Okuni confirming the release of the timber produce and the trucks saying “the commission authorized it and I wish to refer to our meeting with you on the trucks and wood impounded and kept in your custody by the Anti-Deforestation Task Force on the 2nd March, 2020”.
He said “the forest produce was from Biajua Community in Boki local government area of the state (and) Mr. Agbor Frank Ojong whose name appeared in our official evacuation passes as well as that of Task force on Anti-Deforestation paper had paid for the produce and an offence compounded on the wood in accordance with the Forestry Commission law of 2010 tariff, declared wood is not subjected to be hammered at stump site but offence can be compounded and hammering operation done at the declared site.
“Based on the above explanations and the information before me, I humbly request the Area Commander to please release both trucks and the produce (wood) to its owner as he has complied with the necessary due process on declaration on wood (Forest Produce)”.