Cross River state has the largest remaining forests in Nigeria. While the country has lost 0ver 90% of its original forest cover, an estimated 50% of what remains is in the forests of Cross River state. In 2008, a unilateral state government moratorium on use of forest products resulted in the adoption of the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation REDD+ programme aimed at preserving the forest as sink for carbon emissions. However, the programme has resulted in deep rooted contradictions including the abuse of community rights and livelihoods. Without seeking the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous people, the government-imposed REDD+ scheme has imposed far reaching restrictions on forest dependent economic activities which occasioned in widespread poverty, scarcity and repressions.
Findings from a research conducted by We the People reveals that the forest regime imposed by the state government is fraught with inconsistencies and weaknesses which have resulted in unprecedented logging activities in the state’s forests.
Participants at the workshop revealed that not only has the moratorium and the enforcement of REDD+ led to a disruption of community livelihoods, it has also created a multinational cartel of loggers who are fast destroying what remains of the forests. ‘REDD+ did not achieve anything, for over 13 years, we have received no benefit from REDD+, they banned us from entering our forests and promised that they will give us carbon credit instead. 13 years after, it is still promises, no money, no forest, nothing.” Said a community leader at the workshop.
In his lead presentation at the workshop, forest conservationist Mr. Odey Oyama said the government of Cross River state was not fully committed to protecting the forests. According to him, the government including the State established Forestry Commission are complicit in the ongoing deforestation. “The rate of deforestation is alarming. Cross River has never experienced this rate of activity in the forests before, even the national reserves have not been spared. What is happening is ecocide” he said.
While presenting findings from the research to the workshop, executive director of We the People, Ken Henshaw said policies of the government were also driving a dissipation of the forests. He cited the government’s insistence of creating an economically unviable superhighway through the forest which will see the logging of 25% of tree, the construction of a casino resort named Calas Vegas in the Mangrove Forest, the proposal to build a Deep Seaport in the same forest, as well as the award of rights for the clearing of vast areas of the forest for the purpose of establishing cash crop plantations. According to him, these are indicators that the government is not committed to forest protection as it claims.
The meeting which was attended by indigenous forest dependent communities, media practitioners, academics and civil society organizations made far reaching recommendations to address the rate of deforestation.