Nigeria: save Cross River State's unique forests!

Three loggers sawing a freshly felled tree Loggers sawing a freshly felled tree in Cross River State, Nigeria (© Devcon)

Spectacular trees reach for the sky in one of the last rainforests in Nigeria. Shockingly, the forests – habitat of gorilla, chimpanzees and elephants – are being destroyed by rampant illegal logging and a new logging road. Indigenous people and environmentalists are organizing resistance and need international support.

Call to action

To: President Buhari, Minister of Environment, Minister of Justice CC to Governor Ayade

“Stop the illegal logging and destruction of Cross River State rainforests.”

Read letter

A new wave of destruction is descending on the forests of Cross River State – some of the last remaining forests in Nigeria.

“The forests face serious threats from the activities of a cartel of illegal loggers”, said Odey Oyama, Executive Director of the Rainforest Resources and Development Centre. The area around the community of Boki is “inundated with piles of wood ready for evacuation”; several kilometers inside the forest he observed “ferocious logging”.

In the ancestral territory of the Ekuri people, Chief Edwin Ogar bemoans an “onslaught of the highest magnitude”. The logging company Sibawood and Agriculture Nig Ltd is about to cut 20,000 hectares of highly biodiverse forest, based on an illegitimate permit from 1989. Bulldozers have already started clearing land for a logging road. According to a news article, the forestry commission pledged to support the road that starts in the village of Iyamitet.

Chief Edwin Ogar accuses the government of Cross River state of being complicit in the attack on the forests. “The customary rights of the Ekuri community to their ancestral forestlands have been treated with contempt and impunity.”

The government denies any wrongdoing and laments its own inability to stop the “timber bandits”. But Governor Ben Ayade doesn't exactly have a reputation for being deeply committed to the protection of nature. Quite the contrary: In 2016 he tried to open huge parts of the Cross River National Park und Ekuri community forest for logging by a “superhighway” project. It took the fierce resistance of the Ekuri and environmentalists to bury his plans.

Now, in light of the growing and existential threat to the forests, 24 chiefs and elders of the Ekuri communities, including Chiefs Abel Egbe and Edwin Ogar, wrote a letter to Nigeria's president Muhammadu Buhari – but haven't received the support they expected.

The forest defenders of Cross River are now calling on us for a show of broad international support – please sign this petition!

Back­ground

Letter of the Ekuri Community to President Buhari dated May 4, 2021:

Ongoing Second Superhighway threatens Ekuri Community Forest: A Clarion Call to Halt Road Construction and Logging of Ekuri Forest.

Your Excellency Sir,

We write to you Sir on behalf of the indigenous people of Ekuri community found in Akamkpa Local Government Area in Cross River State of Nigeria, and owners of the 33,600ha Ekuri community forest, the largest and best communally managed forest in Nigeria. We have been applauded locally, nationally and internationally for demonstration of passion, commitments and efforts over the years in conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity that meets our daily livelihoods and benefiting present and future generations.

We thank you Mr. President that when the threats from the superhighway project in 2016 threatened Ekuri community forest and our existence, you came to our rescue that the superhighway be detoured from Ekuri forest. This you did because of the richness and iconic status of this forest which also contributes in meeting Nigeria’s commitments to international environmental agreements.

We wish to inform you that the threats to Ekuri community forest are not over as another superhighway specifically aimed at logging Ekuri community forest has been approved by the government of Cross River State through the Cross-River State Forestry Commission (CRSFC).

  1. On January 18, 2021, Detailingcrossriver, an online media, published a news story in which the Chairman of CRSFC, High Chief Tony Undiandeye ‘’pledged supports towards the completion of Iyamitet-New Ekuri road’’ and revalidation of illegal forest lease agreement between Sibawood Industry and Agriculture Nig. Ltd and New Ekuri village who jointly with Old Ekuri owns the Ekuri community forest.

  2. It will be recalled that in 1989, Sibawood secretly and illegally entered into a fraudulent agreement with few persons from New Ekuri to log 20,000ha Ekuri community forest without free and prior informed consent of both Ekuri villages who jointly owns the Ekuri community forest.

  3. When this fraudulent agreement entered on December 2, 1989 before incorporation of Sibawood on December 18, 1989 became public in 2004, Ekuri community mounted a stiff opposition against the lease which culminated into legal battle initiated by Ekuri community who obtained interlocutory injunction in 1996 against Sibawood which still subsist.

  4. After the online publication, we responded to the Chairman of CRSFC and physically submitted a protest letter opposing the road project and the revalidation of an illegal forest lease agreement which has also been overtaken by the interlocutory injunction; the 1994 cancellation of all forest concession agreements and the 2008 ban on logging respectively by government of Cross River State.

  5. As stated in the online publication, High Chief Undiandeye ‘’maintained that with the lapse in time, and the moratorium now in place, granting of concession will no longer be feasible.’’ He further noted ‘’that as a Commission with the mandate of ensuring the protection of the forest resources against environmental consequences and given the strategic relevance of the forest, technical staff of the Commission will go to the field for re-evaluation in order to be well guided in re-validating the approval earlier granted.’’ ‘’The Chairman commended the resilience of the community (that is Ekuri) and also admonished the company against breaching any of the re-validation processes’’. 

  6. ‘’Also speaking, the Permanent Secretary of the Commission, Mr. Timothy Akwaji reiterated that inventory carried out in 1995 cannot be put to use today because the scenarios are no longer the same. He lauded the community's (Ekuri) conservation effort which he noted, has gained admiration of the international Community, adding that there should be a balance between conservation and development.’’

  7. Mr. President Sir, it is sad to inform you that the government of Cross River State through the Forestry Commission headed by High Chief Tony Undiandeye, has completed the re-validation of the 20,000ha illegal lease of Ekuri forest to Sibawood Industry & Agriculture Nig. Ltd to log against extant injunction and other government policies which the Commission is supposed to enforce but rather has abused them.

  8. Consequently, Sibawood have deployed bulldozers and commenced the construction of Iyamitet – New Ekuri road and have begun marking hundreds of trees in Ekuri forest for logging, threatening livelihoods, ecosystem services and mitigation of climate which this forest has been contributing to the wellbeing of Ekuri, Nigeria and the world at large.

  9. The customary rights of Ekuri community to her ancestral forestlands has been treated with contempt and impunity by the government of Cross River State as our Free Prior and Informed Consent were not sought and obtained right from conception, re-evaluation, revalidation and the approval.

  10. Furthermore, since 2019 till date, there have been intensified logging in Ekuri community forest at Old Ekuri axis by loggers headed by Hon. Felix Ikimo who is currently a Special Assistant to the Chairman of Akamkpa Local Government Area. The logging which consist of timber and round logs is an eyesore, worrisome and catastrophic as our petitions to the Governor of Cross River State and the Forestry Commission have yielded no positive responses. Even our local efforts have failed, rather, logging is still continuing as business as usual. Hon. Ikimo publicly and severally boasts that he will log that axis of the Ekuri community forest into extinction after all, he has the backing of the government of Cross River State which we believe because despite all our efforts, he is still logging unceasingly.

  11. The UNDRIP’s Article 29 1. States: ‘’Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources. States shall establish and implement assistance programmes for indigenous peoples for such conservation and protection, without discrimination’’. However, the Cross-River State government has done the opposite wittingly to extinguish us and Ekuri community forest from mother earth.

  12. This action of the government of Cross River State against us is a violation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) which Nigeria is a signatory.

  13. It is also a violation of African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights that every member shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights, freedoms, recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without discrimination of any kind such as race, ethnic group, colour, sex, language, religion, political, or any other opinion, national and social rights, fortune, birth or other status which Nigeria is founding member.

  14. Furthermore, it is a violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which guaranteed us the rights to life that we derived from our land, forest, resources and ecosystem services.

  15. Mr. President Sir, our humble prayer is to use your good office to stop this illegal revalidation of an illegal lease and end the current logging onslaught to destroy the famous Ekuri community forest which has promoted Nigeria’s image globally in terms of conservation, indigenous people’s involvement, livelihoods and climate change mitigation. Your intervention Sir, will save the rainforest of Ekuri community from being wipe away and posterity will applaud your exemplary commitments to better their lives,

Thank you, Mr. President Sir, and remain blessed.

Yours faithfully,

Further reading:

CrossRiverWatch: Allow Timber Trucks Pass Through Your LGA And Get Suspended – Governor Ayade Warns LG Chairmen

NewsDotAfrica: RRDC, Indegines Cries Out to FGN on Invasion of Cross River Forests 

The Guardian: Cross River government alerts citizens to invasion of forests by ‘timber bandits’

EnviroNews Nigeria: Second ‘superhighway’, logging threaten Ekuri community forest

The Tide: Superhighway: Community Petitions FG Over Depletion Of Virgin Forest

Blueprint: Superhighway: Cross River community laments, writes Buhari over depletion of age-long forest

First Rainforest Rescue petition protesting the ‘superhighway’: We will defend our Mother Earth!

Letter

To: President Buhari, Minister of Environment, Minister of Justice CC to Governor Ayade

Dear President Buhari,
Dear Minister of Environment Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar
Dear Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami

Cross River State holds 50 percent of the remaining rainforest in Nigeria and is one of the world's great biodiversity hotspots. Illegal logging is currently rampant there and the government of Cross River State providing cover to the loggers. These environmental crimes are having a profound impact on biodiversity.

The situation described above is causing Nigeria to fail in meeting its commitments to mitigate climate crisis through forest protection.

The widespread and destructive logging in Ekuri and other community forests – in particular the wholesale felling of fruit and medicinal trees for timber – have impoverished indigenous people and impacted their health and well-being.

This aggravation of poverty among the affected indigenous people in forest communities contradicts the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals 1 - no poverty; 2 - zero hunger, and 3 - good health and well-being.

We kindly request you to please support:

- the protection of Cross River State's highly biodiverse forests
- the fight against illegal logging and environmental destruction
- the thriving of community forestry
- the regeneration of degraded areas to restore lost forests

Yours faithfully,

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