Cross River agencies quarrel over evacuation of impounded timber
Crisis is rocking Cross River State forest management agencies, following an illegal evacuation of impounded timber products at the Police Area Command in Okuni, Ikom council.
The Chairman, State Forestry Commission Chief Tony Udiadeye and the former Anti deforestation Taskforce (ATF) Chairman Mr. Odey Oyama are trading words over the issue. ATF led by its former Chairman had impounded the illegal timber products and kept it in the custody of the Area Police Command Ikom.
But the Chairman of the State Forestry Commission, Udiadeye in a letter to the Area Police Commander, ordered the release of the products without recourse to the ATF Chairman. He denied any wrongdoing in the incident, claiming that the impounded trucks were released to protect the government from unnecessary litigation.
Consequently, Oyama resigned and accused government agencies including the Forestry Commission of undue interference, the illegal release of the timber without due process, poor security to ATF members and others.
He went further to say that Undiandeye did not address critical issues before releasing the illegal timber products. He explained that the three vehicles were impounded by the ATF at Nde Community in Ikom Local Government Area and were kept in the custody of the Police Area Command at Okuni in Ikom Local Government Area (LGA), pending the conclusion of criminal investigations and possible prosecution in a court of competent jurisdiction.
He said: “The issues that made the three vehicles subject to critical investigations are the following; none of the three 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.”
Oyama argued that “by interfering in the matter and causing the release of the three vehicles during the pendency of criminal investigations, Undiandeye was actually using his office to obstruct criminal investigations unlawfully. It is necessary to emphasize that it is not the 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.
He said “through the obstruction of Chief Undiandeye (vide: the letter of the Forestry Commission ref: HQ-FC/S.118/Vol.7/43, dated March 12, 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.
“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 with lots of discrepancies”
In a reaction, Udiadeye is worried about the flurry of media reports following the unfortunate resignation of the Chairman of the Anti – Deforestation Task Force, Oyama, recently, and the wrong assumption that I had something to do with it”.
He said other task forces were in place and “the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security for the Central Senatorial District recently arrested three trucks in Nde one afternoon, which he detained at Police Area Command in Okunni. Apparently the Chairman of the Special Task Force on the discharge of already sewn wood was unable to release same as part of his one – month duty and the matter came to my knowledge.
“I asked the Director of Forestry to ascertain the status of the consignment and after working in collaboration with the Zonal Forestry Officer in Ikom, it was ascertained that the fines for the wood had been fully paid and certified with receipts issued and signed by Oyama. I still personally travelled to Ikom to see the consignment for myself and confirmed that the wood was hammered by the Forestry officials and properly receipted by documents arising from the task force.
“ I made several efforts to have a meeting with Oyama on the matter but he was not forthcoming. I did not understand why trucks that had paid all o protect government from unnecessary litigation duties to government should be grounded without reason. Left with no choice but the discharge of my legitimate duties and t, I signed the release of the consignment, as it is within my powers to do so.
“It is important to note that all through the tenure of Oyama, no timber or trucks bearing the same were impounded or arrested. The task force members he posted to vital exit points in the state allowed free movement of timber from the state in the night. The consignment in question was not even impounded by Oyama or his staff. It was arrested in broad daylight by the SA Security, Central”.
He stated “recently, I impounded seven trucks of timber in Obudu which I did not release arbitrarily. Why then will I release the ones I did not impound wily nily. Perhaps this is the crux of the matter since Mr. Oyama himself was said to be interested in the consignment I impounded and later released after due payments and certification. Note also that his task force has been unable to record such a feat all through its operations beginning in November 2019.
“Oyama’s resignation is unfortunate because we value his inputs in the biodiversity cluster. Government everywhere in the world is a collaboration of efforts by all concerned and not a one-man- show.
While his task force got its legitimacy from the Governor’s Executive Order, the Forestry Commission is also a product of the Governor and the law. None ought to, or should undermine the other. While Mr Oyama reserves the right to serve in government or not to do so, to justify his resignation by making me the fall – guy will be clearly mischievous”.