Anti-Deforestation Task-force : Can Odey Oyama Make A Difference?
By Emmanuel Unah
For the up tenth time, the leadership of Anti deforestation Taskforce Committee to protect the Cross River tropical rain forest has been changed by the Cross River State Governor, Senator Ben Ayade.
This follows the sacking of the five -man committee set up in July this year and headed by Florence Omon Bassey.
With this new committee headed by conservationist, Dr Odey Oyama, there have been three Anti deforestation committees this year alone. One may then wonder why the frequent changes in the composition of that committee.
In the past twenty years, the Cross River Rainforest has become a ready cash cow and membership of the Anti deforestation committee or having anything to do with the forest translates to automatic easy cash in millions of naira.
In retrospect, the first misstep in the management of the rainforest was the misadventure by erstwhile governor of the state, Mr Donald Duke who in his enthusiasm to raise funds for his administration entered into a memorandum of understanding with a Chinese firm, Western House Environmental Management, WEMCO, to concede the forest to the company for logging while replanting trees in place of those fell for timber harvesting. It took concerted efforts and public hue and cry occasioned by the systematic destruction of the forest that Duke revoked the agreement and this was after much havoc had been wreaked on the forest by WEMCO.
After the exit of WEMCO, there was no meaningful effort on the part of Duke administration to manage the forest thus there was open logging by timber dealers and poaching of rare animal specie by hunters.
It was during the Senator Liyel Imoke administration that a taskforce headed by award winning conservationist, Odigha Odigha assisted by Peter Jenkings, the Canadian environmentalist that some level of sanity was restored in the mindless logging and plundering of the Cross River Rainforest.
They were subjected to all sorts of attack, media blackmail and threats but the duo were not yielding in fighting against illegal logging and poaching in the forest. Hundreds of saw machines and hacksaws were confiscated from illegal loggers.
This concerted effort attracted the attention of the United Nations which named the forest a conservation area and its conservation arm, United Nations Reducing Emission’s from Deforestation and Forest Degradation arm took over management of the forest with a promise of fifty million dollar reward for the government to provide alternative sources of livelihood to those who depended on the forest for sustenance.
However, when in 2015, the Odigha committee was sacked and himself arrested and politician’s named as heads and members of the committee, it was back to the days of yore. The members of the committee became instant millionaires as active loggers, owning saw engines and also actively collaborating with other loggers to cart trailer loads of timber out of the state daily and before long the forest was completely decimated and UN-REDD became disinterested in the entire process.
Mr Anthony Attah, the State Coordinator UN – REDD while bemoaning the state of the forest in 2016 said the annual deforestation rate in the past fifteen years, 200 -2017 stood at 46,907 hectres that is an annual rate of 5,701_hectres or 0.67 . ,Between 2017 when the figure was released and now, more havoc has been wreaked in the forest by liggers, farmers and hunters.
It is hoped that with the appointment of Odey Oyama the principal actor in the fight against WEMCO and the construction of the Superhighway as the Chairman of the Anti-,logging committee, he might bring his passion to bear in stemming the tide of devastation of the forest and Governor Ayade also achieved the midas touch in protecting the largest remaining rainforest in the region.