Cross River: Ekuri Forest, Indigenes Under Military Threat/Harassment As 28 Civil Society Organisations Cry Out

BY: Vitalis Ugoh, Calabar

Over twenty-eight Indigenous Peoples, civil society, scientific  agencies, and community-based organizations around the world have petitioned the Nigerian government, through the Minister of Environment Alhaji Mohammed Hassan Abdullahi, to as a matter urgency stop the threat to Indigenes of Ekuri communities in Cross River State by Ezemac International Company Limited that had destroyed the Ekuri forests.

Already, there is serious ongoing human rights and environmental harms across Ekuri communities where logging of timber in their forests have taken another dimension.

“As a result, the organisations signed below are calling on the authorities in Nigeria to put an end to any acts of harassment including at the judicial level – and to ensure that the Ekuri community are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities protecting their customary lands and resources without any hindrance or fear of reprisal”.

In a petition made available to our Reporter said “we respectfully request that the Federal Government of Nigeria should conduct an investigation into the actions taken against the environmental human rights defenders, and sanction those involved, ensure the non-repetition of these actions and ensure effective remedy for the affected communities and their defenders”.

The petitioners also seek for guarantee indigenous peoples’ right to Free, Pirior and Informed Consent (FPIC) in relation to any proposed activity by external actors on their customary well as ensure the immediate withdrawal of the company from the Ekuri forest to sustain climate change mitigation and livelihood efforts of Ekuri community in line with the SDGs.

They added “we urge the Ezemac International Company Limited to refrain from criminalizing the indigenous human rights defenders who manage the Ekuri community rainforest and recognise and respect the human rights of human rights defenders, and the collective rights of indigenous peoples, and act to promote or support indigenous and/or community led development priorities”.

The Federal government should as a matter of priority “take action to comply with the community demand to withdraw from Ekuri forest international companies must immediately suspend sourcing timber from the Ezemac company until conflicts between Ezemac and the Ekuri community are resolved, land deforested by Ezemac without consent has been regenerated and restored to community ownership, and compensation has been agreed upon and provided to affected communities”.

They petitioners expressed  concerns over attacks on indigenous communities and deforestation of the Ekuri Forest in Cross River,  Nigeria. 

Recalled that “on the 15th of April 2023, the ‘Ezemac International Company Ltd’, a Nigerian logging company, allegedly brought 30 army personnel and policemen and invaded the indigenous Ekuri community.”

“During the operation, the security forces advanced towards the village on motorbikes and  opened fire indiscriminately creating fear and confusion and forcing the villagers to flee to safety without  anybody injured, the petition noted”. 

Presently, “this is the latest in a row of incidents of threats and intimidations the community has faced due to their actions to protect their land from illegal logging which has been taking place without the consent of the Ekuri community.”

The Indigenous Ekuri community is made up of 6,200 indigenous Nkokoli peoples, who manage a 33,600-hectare community tropical rainforest. 

The indigenous community’s self-determined efforts to conserve and sustainably manage their forest were recognized by UNDP with the Equator Prize in 2004.

The Worthy Association for Tackling Environmental Ruins (WATER), an NGO with focus on development and conservation issues, has facilitated Ekuri forest to register as Indigenous Community Conserved Area (ICCA) with the United Nations Environmental Programme and World Conservation Monitoring Centre and is at the forefront of community-led conservation, with the model being replicated in many communities across the region. 

The Ekuri forest was also a leading pilot site for the 
UNREDD program in Nigeria.Since January this year, the Ekuri forest has faced unprecedented logging. 

The conservation efforts of the Ekuri community and their peaceful resistance to illegal deforestation has earned them the wrath of the ‘Ezemac International Company Limited’ a Nigerian logging company who deployed bulldozers and logging equipment into the forest without consent of the Ekuri community. 

The Ekuri community Eco-Guards, whose role it is to patrol,document, and denounce illegal logging in Ekuri community protected forests, observed the company illegally harvesting timber and decided to intercept two logging trucks, seizing the keys and handing government of Nigeria
They petitioners copied Ezemac International Company, Mary Lawlor, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, Francisco Cali Tzay, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders (Aarhus Convention), Rémy Ngoy Lumbu, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Human Rights Defenders and focal point for reprisals in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Recently, the Ezemac company 
representatives subsequently visited the Ekuri community to seek forgiveness. 
In recognition of the value of the timber already cut and as a warning against any future encroachment, the company was asked to pay a fine, which it did. 

The trucks’ keys were handed over on the agreement that the company leave the protected area. Rather than honoring this agreement, the company opened new logging routes and began deforesting in a more massive and  destructive manner, the petitioners said.

“On February 20, 2023, the company logged 
an estimated 5000 trees, the timber being removed before the community ecoguards caught up with them and managed to remove batteries from the bulldozers”

“Community members have since faced an escalation of reprisals from the company due to their legitimate, nonviolent work protecting their territory from the illegal loggers, culminating in the incident on the 15th of April where the military and police came into their territory, firing their guns alongside the company who threatened to criminalise community members”.

List of signatory organisations and individuals are, African Law Foundation (AFRILAW) Abuja-Nigeria, Agency for Turkana Development Initiatives (ATUDIS), Kenya, Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organization (BIRUDO), Uganda, Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Organization (CIPO), Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, Colombia, Dr Adeniyi Asiyanbi, University of British Columbia, Canada, Environmental Defender Law Center, USA, Facilitation for Peace and Development (FAPAD) – Uganda and Federación por la Autodeterminación de los Pueblos Indígenas (FAPI), Paraguay.
Others include, Forest People’s Programme, UK, Green Development Advocates (GDA), Cameroon, Indigenous Movement for Peace Advancement and Conflict Transformation (IMPACT) – Kenya, Indigenous Peoples Partnership, Myanmar, International Service for Human Rights, Switzerland, Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP), Observatoire d’études et d’appui a a responsabilité sociale et environnementale (OEARSE) DR.Congo,Oyu Tolgoi Watch Mongolia, Professor Gretta Pec, Climate Change Ecologist & IPCC Lead, Author, University of Tasmania, Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER), Mexico.

Protection International Africa, Protection International Mesoamérica, Rainforest Action Network, Rivers without Boundaries Coalition, Sierra Leone Land Alliance, Snowchange Cooperative, Finland, The Marginalised Mirror, Namibia, Victims of Violence Support Africa, South Africa and Worthy Association for Tackling Environmental Ruins (WATER), Nigeria. 

Share with friends...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *