BY: VITALIS UGOH, Calabar
Ekuri Community in Akamkpa local government area of Cross River state, have petitioned Cross River state government over logging of its 33,000 hectares forest without recourse to right of ownership.
The petition addresses to His Excellency, the President of Nigeria, Aso Rock, Abuja was dated May 4th, 2021.
Titled “Ongoing second superhighway threatens Ekuri community Forest: A Clarion call to halt road construction and logging of Ekuri Forest”, the petition was signed the Clan head, Chief Abel Egbe and 23 others. Out of the number were five village heads.
Others include the secretary, Mr. Joseph Oyama and 15 youths.
The petition reads, “we write to you Sir onbehalf of the indigenous people of Ekuri Community found in Akamkpa local government area of Cross River state of Nigeria and owners of the 33,600 hectares Ekuri Forest, the largest and best community managed forest in Nigeria”.
“We have been applauded locally, nationally and internationally for demonstration of passion, commitments and efforts over the years in conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity that meets our daily livelihoods and benefiting present and future generations”.
“Mr. President, we thank you, because when the threats from the superhighway project came in 2016, you came to our rescue that the superhighway be detoured from Ekuri forest”.
The petition further said “we wish to inform you that the threats to Ekuri Community forest are not over as another superhighway specially aimed at logging Ekuri Community forest has been approved by the government of Cross River State through the Cross River Forestry Commission (CRSFC)”.
“On January 18,2021, there was a social media report quoting chairman of CRSFC, High Chief Tony Undiandaye “pledging support towards the completion of Iyamiret-New Ekuri road” and revalidation of illegal forest lease agreement between Sibawood Industry and Agriculture Nig.Ltd and New Ekuri village who jointly with Old Ekuri owns the Ekuri Community forest”.
The petition alleged that “in 1989, Sibawood secretly and illegally entered into a fraudulent agreement with few persons from new Ekuri to log 20,000 hectares Ekuri community Forest without free and prior informal consent of both Ekuri villages who jointlyowns the Ekuri community Forest”.
It further quoted the permanent secretary of the commission, “reiterating that inventory carried out in 1995 cannot be put to use today because the scenarios are no longer the same. He lauded Ekuri community conservation effort which he said, has gained admiration of the international Community”.
Therefore, the said, “Mr. President Sir, it is sad to inform you that the government of Cross River state through the Forestry Commission headed by Chief Tony Undiandaye, has completed the revalidation of the 20,000 hectares illegal lease of Ekuri Forest to Sibawood Industry and Agriculture Nig. Ltd to log against extañt injuction and other government policies which the commission is supposed to enforce but rather abused them”.
“Furthermore, since 2019 till date, there have been intensified logging in Ekuri community Forest at Old Ekuri axis by loggers headed by Hon. Felix Ikimo, who is currently aSpecial assistant to the chairman of Akamkpa local government area, the petition said”.
Meanwhile, the UNDRIP’s Article 29,1 states “indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of their lands or territories and resources. States shall establish and implement assistance program for indigenous peoples for such conservation and protection, without discrimination”.
The action of Cross River state government “is a violation of indigenous and tribal peoples convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other Peoples Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) which Nigeria is a signatory”.
“It is a violation of African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, a violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which guaranteed us the Rights to life that we derived from our land,forest, resources and ecosystem services”.
Therefore, the petition, is “praying Mr. President Sir, to humbly use your good offices to stop the illegal revalidation of an illegal lease and end the current logging onslaught to destroy the famous Ekuri community Forest which has promoted Nigeria’s image globally in terms of conservation, indigenous People’s involvement, livelihoods and climate change mitigation”.
“Your intervention Sir, will save the rainforest of Ekuri community from being wipe away and posterity will applaud your exemplary commitments to better their lives, the petition added”.
The petition was also counter signed by the youth leader New Ekuri, Mr. Michael Boniface.