By CrossRiverWatch Admin
Cross River Governor, Senator Ben Ayade has posited in several fora that the state will effectively manage her forest reserves.
But are his aides and family members hiding under the pretext of anti – logging task forces to monopolize the market?
Findings by CrossRiverWatch reveal that there may be some shady dealings going on which all government parties involved have denied the allegation.
CrossRiverWatch has uncovered how the governor’s aides and family members are allegedly enriching themselves through proceeds from illegal logging of Madrid trees in Obudu and Obanliku local government areas despite the governor’s warnings.
CrossRiverWatch had in January 2017 reported that the tree was been sold for between NGN5,000 and NGN7,000 in Ukpanya area in the boundary between Ukworotung and Igwo villages, as well as Ohong, Ukorshie and Ukwel-Obudu villages in Obudu local government area and NGN4,000 and NGN6,000 in Bebi village of Obanliku local government areas.
The CrossRiverWatch report according to a local, may have prompted the state governor to swing into action and stopped the sale of the tree temporarily.
“It looks as if your story made them stop us from selling publicly just to allow them the monopoly of the market as they are making millions from the sale of this tree with every lorry laden with Madrid tree trunks paying heavily before it leaves Obudu or Obanliku,” said Atia Ukandi (not actual name), who also said he sold the trees between November 2016 and early January 2017.
Now, CrossRiverWatch gathered that the Special Assistant to Governor Ben Ayade on Research and Branding, Mr. Christian Odey collects the sum of NGN250,000 per truck an allegation he denied.
“Don’t mind them, the people who petitioned me to the state Criminal Investigation Department are the same people whom we chased away and stopped them from illegally logging these trees,” Mr. Odey told CrossRiverWatch on phone.
He said he was directed by Governor Ayade to assist in stopping the depletion of the trees.
But, Mr. Odey is said to be giving some of the proceeds to one Kate Ayade who is also known as Kate Angioha.
However, Mr. Odey who mentioned some names that may have given CrossRiverWatch the information, said he is undeterred and will continue hunting them out.
“Just yesterday (Sunday), we even stopped some from logging the trees,” Mr. Odey said.
The Forestry Commission Chairman, Mr. Bette Obi is said to also pocket the sum of NGN40,000 while his Secretary, Jerome Ayade collects NGN100,000 per truck.
The chairman of the anti – deforestation task force in the northern senatorial district, Augustine Akan collects NGN40,000, according to our findings.
A Commissioner in the Commission, Fidelia Ubi receives NGN20,000 while the forestry commission offices in Obanliku and Obudu collect NGN30,000 and NGN20,000 respectively.
The security officials in checkpoints at Utuhu community in Obanliku which is bordered by Ukor community in Obudu also extort the trucks.
CrossRiverWatch has reached them for comments but Mr. Obi’s line has been switched off when dialled and when it had connected earlier, he did not take his call.
But, it may not be business as usual as the trucks do not come frequently anymore.
Benedict Agba, the President of the National Youth Council, defended Odey saying the logging has now shifted to Nassarawa and Taraba states as the population is higher over there.
“The logging is going on in those states and these people are only trying to pull him (Mr. Odey) down,” Mr. Agba said.
He accused the timber market dealers association of carrying out illegal logging and turning back to blackmail those who attempt to stop them.
“They even wrote a letter to my office,” Agba added and disclosed that he has met with Mr. Jerome to strategize on how the youths will aid their job.
Despite these, no fewer than 5 people are currently in Police custody for illegal logging with two suspects; Bright Izevbigie and Awhen Peter Ibioro arrested by the Special Anti – Robbery Squad allegedly implicating the state forestry commission and Mr. Odey.
Mr. Odey again denies this. He said that: “I told you that these people whom we are stopping are the same ones that petitioned me to the state CID and I went there and cleared my name.”
Efforts to reach the IPO, whom CrossRiverWatch gathered was one Mr. Efoli in the SARS unit has proved abortive as the phone number obtained has not been connecting.
Also, several visits to their office at Diamond Hill Calabar yielded no results as officers at the reception keep telling this reporter he is not around.
A similar situation led to the sacking of the anti – deforestation task force by Governor Ayade on June 1, 2015 when he assumed office and 5 days later, directed the investigation of the taskforce and forestry commission.
But, there is no known record of a panel of inquiry been constituted and the recent saga plays out just a little differently from the allegations that befell the last commission administration.
The Madrid tree is said to be a hard wood that does not rot and is used in making the wooden parts of farming tools and guns.