No fewer than twenty-eight Civil Society Organizations (CSO) has expressed concerned over the increasing rate of illegal logging in Cross River communities .
This is contained in an open letter made available to some newsmen yesterday in Calabar from Indigenous people, CSOs and environmental experts and addressed to the Minister of Environment, Mohammed Hassan Abdullahi and The United Nations.
The letter, which was endorsed by The Worthy Association for Tackling Environmental Ruins (WATER), Chief Edwin Ogar, Oyu Tolgoi of Watch Mongolia, Professor Gretta Pecl, of Climate Change Ecologist & IPCC Lead Author, University of Tasmania and 25 others, raised concerns over attacks on indigenous communities and deforestation of the Ekuri Forest in Cross River.
They specifically accused a private firm, ‘Ezemac International Company Limited’ of deploying bulldozers unto the forest, logging indiscriminately without consent of the Ekuri community and the company was resisted, it mobilized security personnel and invaded the Ekuri community.
Given the serious ongoing human rights and environmental harms, the 28 organizations and the Ekuri community are calling on the authorities in Nigeria, the UN and others “to put an end to any acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – and to ensure that the Ekuri community are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities protecting their customary lands and resources without any hindrance or fear of reprisal”.
Accordingly, they respectfully requested that, “the Federal Government of Nigeria: to conduct an investigation into the actions taken against the environmental human rights defenders, and sanction those involved, ensure the non-repetition of these actions and ensure effective remedy for the affected communities and their defenders. Guarantee indigenous peoples’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) in relation to any proposed activity by external actors on their customary lands.
“Ensure the immediate withdrawal of the company from the Ekuri forest to sustain climate change mitigation and livelihood efforts of Ekuri community in line with the SDGs. We urge the Ezemac International Company Limited to refrain from criminalising the indigenous human rights defenders who manage the Ekuri community rainforest. Recognise and respect the human rights defenders, and the collective rights of indigenous peoples, and act to promote or support indigenous and/or community led development priorities”.
They also demanded that “international companies must immediately suspend sourcing timber from the Ezemac company until conflicts between Ezemac and the Ekuri community are resolved, land de-forested by Ezemac without consent has been regenerated and restored to community ownership, and compensation has been agreed upon and provided to affected communities.
In a reaction, the Chief Executive Officer of Ezemac International Nigeria limited, Chief Ezenwa Daniel Igwe in telephone chat, said his men entered part of Ekuri forest unknowingly but “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”.
He denied any wrongdoing, saying “after the encroachment, he was called to stop work and was fined N5 million which “I paid. 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”.