Nigeria REDD+ programme threatened over forestry officials’ arrest

ForestA HUGE cloud of uncertainty is hanging over the much-vaunted Nigerian REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) Programme following the arrest a couple of days ago in Calabar, Cross River State of long-serving and erstwhile chairman of the Cross River State Forestry Commission (CRSFC), Mr Odigha Odigha. He has since been released on bail.

Feelers indicate that new Cross River State governor, Prof Ben Ayade, ordered the arrest of Odigha, along with three directors of the CRSFC in order to pave way for takeover of the state-owned massive forest reserve – upon which the concept and ideals of the REDD+ Programme is based – by a Chinese firm for exploitation.
Regarded as one of the largest forest blocks remaining in the West African region, the Cross River Forest Reserve covers 312 square kilometres. It lies between the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and Mbe Mountains Community Forest, both of which are home to Cross River gorillas, and form a corridor between the two.

An official of the Commission disclosed that the state governor had concessioned the forest to a Chinese paper producing firm and that, going by the terms of agreement, the Cross River forest would be considerably exploited – a policy that Odigha had dedicated is life to over the decades, and prompting the United Nations REDD+ Programme to select the reserve as a pilot site for the programme in the country.

An educator, environmentalist and activist, Odigha was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2003 for his efforts on protection of the rainforests of Cross River State from industrial logging – an action that did not go down well with a section of local and international industrialists who see the reserve as a gold mine.

Immediate past governor of the state, Liyel Imoke, was in favour of the conservation and “lock-up” of the forest reserve, and he supported Odigha’s work during his eight-year tenure in power.

But things took a fresh twist immediately after the May 29, 2015 swearing in of Prof Ayade as governor, who appears not to be an apostle of a complete lock-up of the state forest reserve.

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