Ekuri community in Akamkpa bars company from illegal logging

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…Demands N500m compensation

The Ekuri forest, a Community Conserved Area (CCA), in Akamkpa local government area of Cross River state is demanding payment of N500 million compensation from a logging company over illegal logging.

The Ekuri forest which is a protected area that has equal status like the national protected areas or forest in Nigeria registered under the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) in the state is also seeking an urgent international intervention as their forest is under threat of extinction.

Thus the Ekuri community which has stalled the logging activities of one of the loggers, Ezemac International Nigeria Limited, is demanding N500 million from Ezemac as compensation for “the illegal entry, destruction of swathe of Ekuri forest including timber, under story, poles, non-timber forest products, medicinal plants, cultural heritage, watersheds and animal habitats.”

In a meeting in Akamkpa, Akamkpa local government area recently, the Ekuri community is also demanding that “Ezemac takes immediate steps to end logging of Ekuri forest and pullout immediately from the said forest

The Programme Coordinator of Worthy Association for Tackling Environmental Ruins (WATER), Chief Edwin Ogar who has the power of attorney from the Ekuri community to conserve and manage the community forest for the livelihood  and improvement of Ekuri villagers, said “the situation is as bad as that, the forest we have been conserving for these number of years has been destroyed by one man without permission nor seeking the consent of the community. He was logging in Okpon Forest reserve and after finishing with that, he just entered Ekuri forest.

“It was when our Ekuri forest guards went into the forest to do boundary cleaning, they realised that Ezemac International limited has ravaged part of Ekuri forest and in the course of working, we saw two timber trucks coming to evacuate the wood inside the forest but we intercepted the trucks and seized the keys and brought the keys back home. We also saw a bulldozer inside the forest, as well as a loader and skidder inside Ekuri forest. However, the company came into discussion with Ekuri community, claiming they were ignorant of the Ekuri boundary that was why they mistakenly entered but they pleaded for mercy and we agreed and they paid a fine, as well as other traditional rites.

“We gave him back the keys, and he said he was going to work on the trucks as they may have developed faults for the number of weeks they were seized. As soon as they got back to Ugep, they just mobilized more chain saws, left the area they were harvesting before and went into another frontier that is up to four to five kilometres from where they were logging. They brought a new bulldozer, plenty evacuation trucks, added to what they had and started massive cutting of the wood, not until we sent the Ekuri forest guards to go and confirm what was happening as we had not heard from Ezemac International limited and on getting there, they saw that Ezemac had gone up to 5km from the present scene and when they traced to that zone, the community cried and were unhappy.

“We decided to send a larger delegation to visit him so they can collaborate and they confirmed that Eze’s company has finished the entire forest between us and Iko Esai and Okpon River Forest reserve…As a result, the boys who initially went there had to remove four batteries from the two bulldozers and brought it home. Since then, Eze has been threatening, saying that the bulldozer is computerised, that if the caterpillar goes bad, we are going to pay N50 million as that is the cost of the machine, that we should return his batteries.”

Ogar said Ezemac had said that “he was merely carrying out his old wood and that he had paid some money but when the youths from the community went there they could not count all, they counted only 372 cut down trees. They concluded that the number of felled trees were so many that it would take days to count them all. Ezemac International Nigeria limited decided to cause all that havoc with the intention of cheating Ekuri community and illegally carrying all those woods because they consider Ekuri community as a poor community that has no means of fighting and he felt that a small amount of money given to us would make the whole community contented but now that he could not have his way, he has been trying various methods to ensure that he is able to bring Ekuri under his control. One measure he has done is going on his own to count the trees when Ekuri community members were not there and coming back to say that the trees are a little over 100, whereas it is not so.

“With fear that he might want to cut down more trees, we came up with an MOU but with that, he left that area, went up to five kilometres and started logging massively. Some members of the community would not know the implication of what he has done. Those who may not really have an idea would think Ezemac is going to actually construct a road for them as a saviour, whereas it is not so. Majority of the people are against the road construction but some of the chiefs are supporting it. From the discussions hear in the village, he is not building anything, he is just constructing a minor road and that also means he is going to cut down plenty of the trees, meaning that forest would be gone.

“So that is why we want Nigeria and the entire world to understand the situation and know that Ekuri forest is about to be gone completely. Ezemac international Nigeria limited is out there to finish Ekuri forest that has played a vital role in climate change mitigation and has also helped in terms of water supply to the community because most of the rivers rise from Ekuri forest and it benefits downstream communities but as Eze is entering that forest, the rivers are going to dry up and the communities downstream are going to be affected. The communities are in obubra, yakurr etc. What we are doing is not just for the benefit of Ekuri but for the benefit of Cross River and Nigeria at large, therefore, let the world understand that with the issue of climate crisis presently, one company is out there intensifying logging.”

Also speaking on the matter, two Ekuri community leaders, Prince Esira Otey Esira and Mr. Godwin Esira at the Akamkpa meeting said they entered into an agreement with Ezemac to do road from Ekuri to Agoi Ekpo and “we decided that since our boys cut down some Apa tree in the forest, and he is also a buyer of this Apa, we decided a percentage of these Apa they youths cut they will give it to the community and the community will in turn use it to pay himself to construct a road to Agoi Ekpo community. unfortunately the market of Apa went down because they had a serious case in the international market. so there was a stoppage to that business and he could not buy it.

“Before this time, he came to the village and said he wanted to register to buy Apa and he paid the sum of N500, 000 to the chiefs and the chiefs told him that since he has already constructed the roads very close to our community he should make a road to link our community and that they will give him 50 metres right and left from the centre of the road so that the wood he will get there he will use it for the job done. When he saw the area, he said the wood of his interest were  not there. He went and entered a different area and started cutting down wood. So when our people heard about it they sent a delegation that went there in the forest  and they saw that he cut down some wood in the forest and was invited to the palace and questioned why he extracted wood which he  never obtained permission from the community. they told him that, that was not what they asked him to do and he demanded for the refund of his money, which he paid for registration to buy Apa and the money was refunded back to him.

“Eze came to the village and pleaded that his subjects encroached and he did not send them and he himself does not know the boundary very well and that he was led by the boys from Agoi Ekpo and should be forgiven and we accepted him. When you enter our forest without the consent of our community, you have to appease the gods of the land. they counted a lot of things he had to do and it amounted to N 570,000 and this included a life cow. he paid and we asked him to go and evacuate them with the supervision of five persons from the community that will monitor you and ensure you don’t cut a new wood. We estimated the trees he cut to be 100 and it will sell for N 5,000 which is N 5 million and we said anything above that he was to pay additional N5,000. But he went and left that area and cut down many woods which is over 300.”

In a reaction, the Chief Executive Officer of Ezemac International Nigeria limited, Chief Ezenwa Daniel Igwe said, “what happened is that they have a forest and they called me to open a road for them.  I wanted to work there but the condition they gave me I could not continue but my people mistakenly entered their forest and felled 112 trees. In the process they fought with my workers and injured one of them.

“We entered into peace talk and they said since I have entered their forest without permission, I should do cleansing and pay the sum of N580,000. They went for counting and said I should pay for 100 trees and any extra and I entered into an agreement with them. But after two days I was called to stop work that we had encroached. In the process they went and removed the batteries of my caterpillars thereby causing some damages. My workers went there and counted the trees to be 112 and we cannot use two days to fell the 370 tress they are talking about. For four months they have stopped my workers from working and everyday we pay N300,000 for the machines and my business is failing. It is not true that I felled 370 trees.

“The money for the earlier fine for cleansing I paid N5 million into Chief Edwin’s personal account. He calculated the wood at N50,000 each instead of N5,000. Is it possible to fell 370 woods  in two days? They just want to frustrate my business. The state government and the State Forestry Commission are aware of my activities in the forest and I paid money to the state before entering the forest. I also have an agreement with the village people. My plea is that they should allow me enter and carry the ones I have paid for. That community is locked in and they need people to come and open the place for them and not to scare people away. They should work based on the agreement we have.”