Environmental experts and community leaders have urged Governor Bassey Otu of Cross River State to immediately disband the anti-deforestation taskforce he appointed about a week ago.
The forest stakeholders met in Calabar on Wednesday at the second multi-stakeholders’ conference on deforestation organised by a group called ‘We The People’.
They alleged that more than 80 per cent of the taskforce members engage in illegal wood logging on a large scale.
Two former chairmen of the state forestry commission, Dr Odigha Odigha and Peter Jenkins, as well as the paramount ruler of Boki LGA of the state, alongside other forest experts, like Ken Henshaw, raised the alarm, insisting that the state government must disband the taskforce immediately.
The 21-man taskforce is headed by one Mr Charles Ikpeme, while the Secretary is Chief Cyril Anthony.
The one-day workshop also accused a good number of the State House of Assembly members of aiding deforestation in the state.
“The formation of the taskforce by Gov Bassey Otu is a very dangerous signal to forest management in the state.
“I am very afraid that they cannot achieve anything because more than 80% of the members are among the key men that plunder our remaining forests.
“They and some state legislators are members of dreaded armed cartels which, with connivance with some Chinese nationals, terrorise local forest activists and guides and reap several millions of Naira from illegal logging.
“Composition of that taskforce does not augur well for the state; it is the greatest blunder, a disturbing signal from the government. We have not seen anyone there who is a forest protagonist. That taskforce can mar the government of Senator Bassey Otu if not dissolved now”, the experts said.
Ken Henshaw, convener of the workshop, said they lost it when the governor failed to read the Riot Act on deforestation during his inaugural address.
Reacting to similar allegations, secretary of the taskforce, Chief Cyril Anthony denied that they were illegal wood loggers.
He said the state governor properly consulted with stakeholders before he approved of the membership.
“It is not true that the taskforce members engage in illegal deforestation, otherwise the governor won’t appoint us”, he said.