BY:VITALIS UGOH, Calabar
The former Anti-Deforestation Task Force, Mr. Odey Oyama has challenged the Chairman of Forestry Commission, Chief . Tony Undiandeye to state the facts as it were that led to his resignation and stop peddling rumours against him.
He said in a statement in Calabar that “my attention has been drawn to the press statement issued by the Chairman of Cross River State Forestry Commission, Chief Tony Undiandeye, in respect of my withdrawal from service as Chairman of Anti-Deforestation Task Force (ATF)”.
According to him, “i wish to state that I do not contest the fact as stated in the press statement that Chief Tony Undiandeye and I are friends. However, I must quickly state that I do not permit my friendship with any person or group of persons to becloud my judgment in matters pertaining to the mandate issued to me by His Excellency, the Governor of Cross River State, to protect and preserve the heritage of the people of Cross River State”.
“I have read through the long press statement and I have observed that very critical issues have been omitted. By this rejoinder, I am therefore requesting Chief Tony Undiandeye to address the following critical omissions”.
He said that “three (3) vehicles were impounded by the Anti-Deforestation Task Force (ATF) at Nde Community in Ikom Local Government Area. The said vehicles were kept in the custody of the Police Area Command at Okuni in Ikom Local Government Area (LGA), pending conclusion of criminal investigations and possible prosecution in a court of competent jurisdiction”.
This incident took place at about 8.00 am, on Sunday March 01, 2020. The issues that made the three (3) vehicles subject to critical investigations are the following.
That none of the three (3) vehicles had their Vehicle Registration numbers displayed on the vehicles, while they were conveying timber products across the State. By the interpretation of the ATF and the Forestry Commission, it is a criminal offence to convey timber resources across the State in a vehicle from which the official vehicle registration number plate had been removed or deliberately concealed.
This is also an offence by the relevant provisions of the Statutes of the Nigeria Road Safety Corps (NRSC) as well as the Nigerian Police (NP), he said.
Oyama went on to state that ” In essence, by interfering in the matter and causing the release of the three (3) vehicles during the pendency of criminal investigations, Chief Tony Undiandeye was actually using his office to obstruct criminal investigations unlawfully. It is necessary to emphasize that it is not legitimate official procedure for one government agency (in this instance, the Forestry Commission) to interfere in criminal proceedings that have been initiated at the police by another government agency (in this instance, the ATF) without due reference and consultation with the government agency that initiated criminal proceedings at the police at the first instance”.
According to him, “this is the crux of the matter. As the matter stands now, the persons and vehicles that were under criminal investigation have been allowed to vanish without a trace. So far, Chief Tony Undiandeye has not been able to convince any person about his knowledge of the Chassis number and Engine number of the vehicles which he caused the police to release unlawfully and thereby evadevcriminal prosecution”.
Also, he alleged that through the obstruction of Chief Tony Undiandeye (vide: the letter of the Forestry Commission ref: HQ-FC/S.118/Vol.7/43, dated 12th March, 2020), a large consignment of timber products impounded by the ATF and stockpiled at the Police Area Command at Okuni, in Ikom Local Government Area, was released unlawfully. Chief Tony Undiandeye allowed himself to be deceived into accepting fake documents from the illegal loggers. The said documents were purported to be the official Declaration Forms, Payment receipts and Evacuation pass for the consignment of timber at the Police Area Command. The following discrepancies are evident:
The total number of pieces of timber declared in the fake documents is One thousand eight hundred (1,800). While the total number of pieces of timber impounded by the ATF and placed under the custody of the Police was One thousand nine hundred and twenty-eight (1,928).
Out of a total of One thousand nine hundred and twenty-eight (1,928) pieces of timber that was impounded by the ATF, One thousand seven hundred (1,700) pieces had no Forestry mark/hammer impression on them; two hundred and twenty eight (228) pieces of the timber were hammered only on one side with hammer No: CRS F-58.
These pieces of 228 timber products , he added, hammered only on one side are illegal, in that, the law demands that declared and verified wood must be hammered on both sides of the timber to certify that the transaction is legitimate. As Chairman of Forestry Commission, Chief Undiandeye has very many expert Foresters to guide him on this very basic matters. Photographs of the illegal timber in ANNEXURE II, taken within the premises of the Area Police Command Station at Okuni .
He said that the fake Declaration Forms were in respect of a consignment of One thousand, eight hundred (1,800) pieces of soft wood, without any Hard wood whatsoever. Meanwhile, the consignment of timber impounded by the ATF and placed under the custody of the police, contained One thousand nine hundred and twenty-four pieces of soft wood; and four (4) pieces of hard wood.
The sharp discrepancies shown above are evident and very instructive. Chief Tony Undiandeye is therefore saddled with the burden duty of making a public declaration pertaining to the false information given in the Declaration Forms and submitted to the Forestry Commission for verification. Chief Undiandeye should publicly declare why he should allow criminals to use his office to release the consignment of lawfully impounded timber resources.
“It is my view that if Chief Undiandeye had exercised due diligence by following due process in his duties and had taken reasonable steps (in accordance with the Laws of Cross River State and laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria – FRN) to verify the information contained in the declaration forms, he would have found out that the declarations made in the forms were false, fictitious and fraudulent.”
“Sadly, Chief Undiandeye took a decision to release the huge consignment of timber placed under the custody of the.police by the ATF, based on inadequate and unverified information.”
By obstructing the proceedings of criminal investigation, Chief Tony Undiandeye allowed his office to be used as an excuse for the release of EXHIBITS kept under the custody of the Police Area Command at Okuni. It must be placed on record that the interference of Chief Tony Undiandeye in the proceedings occurred when I had left the police station at Okuni for Calabar, to submit a copy of my official report issued to the Police at Okuni, to His Excellency, the Governor of Cross River State, the Assistant Inspector General (AIG) of Police at Zone 6 Police Command, as well as the Commissioner of Police at the state police command, he added “.
“It was while I was still in the process of seeking appointment with His Excellency, the Governor and the Attorney – General and Commissioner for Justice, that I was notified that the Exhibits pertaining to the matter had been evacuated by reason of the unlawful interference of Chief Tony Undiandeye. It must also be placed on record that at state level, only the Governor and /or the Attorney – General and Commissioner for Justice have the legitimate authority to intervene on matters pending criminal investigation, or matters pending before a Court of competent Jurisdiction.”.
In essence, Chief Tony was attempting to exercise powers that do not reside in the office of the Chairman of Forestry Commission and therein lies his error of judgment, Oyama noted.
In his press statement, “Chief Tony Undiandeye has referred to the contacts he attempted to make by telephone with the Chairman of ATF, Mr. Odey Oyama. I wish to place the issues in correct perspective and chronological order”.
He said rather on Sunday, March 01, 2020, officers and men of the Anti – Deforestation Task Force (ATF) of Cross River State, siezed a huge consignment of 1,928 pieces of Timber resources reasonably suspected of having been unlawfully obtained and unlawfully removed; and 3 vehicles, that were used in the commission of related offences.
In his reaction, Chief Tony Undiadeye said “I have been bemusqed 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 .
He said ” 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.”
According to him, “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.”.
He added that “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.”