Ondo forestry threatened by encroachers

• Evacuates over 200, 000 Encroachers
• Lawmaker Wants Evacuees Resettled On Agrarian Reserves

The administration of Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, in Ondo State, made concerted efforts towards exploiting the abundant opportunities available in the 16 forest reserves in the state.

These efforts were also geared towards reducing threats to wildlife; preventing ecological and natural disasters, and most importantly, combat the persistent encroachment on the forest reserves located along the borders of Edo, Ogun and Osun states.

The immediate past Commissioner for Natural Resources, Tunde Atere stated that the state is blessed with vast natural endowments, with 16 forest reserves spread along the borders of Edo, Ogun and Osun states, but lamented that the major challenge militating against the maximum exploitation of the forest reserves, remains the constant encroachment on them by illegal loggers.

Atere said in the recent past, over 200, 000 people have been forcibly evacuated from the reserve areas to the neighbouring states, mainly Osun.
Also, more than 200 people, including two Chinese nationals are currently facing trials for forestry-related offences, while about 500 vehicles, including two large trucks belonging to Dangote Group have been impounded.

The former commissioner, who said majority of the encroachers were non-indigenes, pointed out that efforts of the immediate past administration to enhance tree planting, massive production of seedlings and maintenance of old and young plantations, through regeneration, came under frequent attacks by the encroachers, who either trespassed into the reserves for farming, or illegally felled timbers for commercial purposes.

All these notwithstanding, The Guardian, understands that government efforts succeeded in increasing the revenue from the forestry sector in the state by 150 per cent, from the N400m that it was in June 2013.

Additionally, efforts of the state government to curtail activities of these unauthorised persons did not go unnoticed according to him, as the state emerged first among the eight states that participated in the United Nation’s Reducing Emissions and Forest Degradation (REDD+) Programme.

“REDD+,” Atere said “is as an effort to create financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development.”

The former commissioner said the Exploitation Department of the ministry, which is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring judicious management of forest estate, recently raised the alarm, insisting that over five million trees planted by government were endangered by the encroachers.

In confirming the constant encroachment on government reserve areas, especially by non-indigenes, member representing Odigbo Constituency II, in the State House of Assembly, Fasogbon Akin, described the South Senatorial District, which is the major hub of forest reserves in the state, as the area worst hit by encroachers.He said they have particularly wrecked havoc in places like Akinlaja and Akinfosile towns that are in the outskirts of Ondo and Ogun states.

“About two weeks ago, some encroachers were caught in the area burning down teak trees as a means of killing them, so as to create space to plant cocoa and other cash crops. They did this without the knowledge of the guards monitoring the reserve because of the large expanse of land,” the lawmaker said.

Akin, a former vice chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, said while he held that office, natives were constantly mounting pressure on him to dissuade the government from destroying their cocoa and bitter-kola, which they planted on government land.

The lawmaker, who iblamed dearth of farmland for the persistent encroachment on the reserve areas, said some of the native resorted to the systemic destruction of trees in the forest so as to use the land for their cash crop farming.

“You can’t see these people in broad daylight as they oftentimes operate in the night. And before you know it, they have used chemicals to kill the wood and within one year, the whole teak plantation would come down and they would start planting cocoa, kola nuts and other farm products,” he explained.

In proffering ways to curtail this heinous actions, he advised the state government to consider relocating the people to an area, where they could farm, or lease the reserves out to cash crop farmers, who would make a living out of their venture, while in the process generating revenue to the state.

The lawmaker also urged the government to caution some of the forest guards, whom he said aided and abetted the encroachment among the natives after receiving gratification.

Nonetheless, the Director of Regeneration Department, Bukola Ojumumu and the Director of Forest Exploitation and Utilisation Department, Owolabi Adesusi, affirmed that encroachers from neighbouring states were the ones posing the most threat to forests in the state.

They, however, assured that the joint task force, which clamps down on illegal activities in the forest reserves and prosecutes suspects, would not relent in doing its job.

Ojumumu, who said he has spent more than 24 years in the ministry, remarked that for more than 20 years, there has not been a total onslaught on encroachers the way the administration did.

He recalled that former military administrator of the state, the late Navy Captain Anthony Onyearugbulem, made efforts in 1998 to check encroachments, but was allegedly called to order by the late military Head of State, Gen. Sanni Abacha, who gave in to pressure from his associates and friends.

He added that their colleagues endured assassination attempts by the locals, who were sometimes involved in diabolical actions. “All these, he said, were in a bid to scare the officials so that they could continue their illicit activities.”

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Olusegun Mimiko
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