Villagers living on the fringes of forested areas and surviving on them are now in a panic as armed loggers besiege forests in most parts of Cross River State.
The villagers are not only concerned about the loss of their livelihoods, which the forests in their natural, unperturbed state provide, but they are also worried about the health implications of the deafening noise from the saw machines that cut down the trees with impunity.
Findings by Daily Trust revealed that Boki LGA of the state is worst hit by the nefarious activities of the illegal loggers, with nearby Etung and Obudu LGAs also bearing the brunt of the environmental crimes.
Our correspondent gathered that in Njua Kaku, Irruan, Oku and several other villages near Buanchor where the famous drill mountains are located, the roaring sound of the saw machines is heard non-stop.
A conservationist and farmer, who hails from Boki LGA, Ambassador Florence Kekong, said the massive deforestation going on in the state is a threat to the future of the local people.
Kekong, a veteran journalist and environmental activist, said in an interview that the locals now live in fear of bodily harm by the illegal loggers, and also for their future.
She said the damage caused by the continuous wood logging is a threat to the future of the people and the conservation efforts of the state.
Kekong confirmed that those behind the tree felling business have not only threatened but have often dealt with the people who dare challenge them on the destruction caused to their own lands and biodiversity.
She said, “Natives who attempt to stop logging receive threats daily. Women are the worst hit. They have no voice. The impact is negative. Farms are being destroyed following the massive tree felling. Women are not into logging, but they bear the negative consequences more.
“All of us are wrapped up in this damaged future as we witness it being destroyed before our very eyes.
“Now our women farmers cannot get the natural things that grow on their own in the forests.
“They cannot drink the natural, clean water from the streams around their farms. I weep for my dear people,” she said.
Kekong added that the reverberations of saw machines from the forests portend a bleak future for the natives in the face of a worsening climate change crisis.
“Unlike before, when loggers had the fear of being arrested for cutting down any tree in the forest or even at owners’ homes, now they are not afraid of any consequences because they have backing from powerful people and cabals,” she said.
She said the time has come for all to ponder over the environmental damage being caused daily by the illegal felling of trees and destruction of forests.
The conservationist maintained that the increasing noise from the Cross River forests is a warning sign that the planet is being destroyed, exposing the future of humanity to great dangers.
A woman farmer, Mrs Louis Dibang, also confirmed that all the surrounding communities are affected by the wood logging.
“The Irruan communities where the Boki LGA chairman, Pastor John Ewa, is from are most hit being that they had already lost most of the natural forest. The ones they were managing have all been destroyed.
“Also, the Oku communities have lost their natural resources to the activities of illegal loggers,” adding that the perpetrators are the very people who govern and tax the people.
She said numerous trucks leave the Boki communities daily with timber without restriction, adding that they have armed security operatives attached to them so that they can have a free pass.
The paramount ruler of Boki, HRM Otu Fredaline Akando, is reported to have attempted to stop the illegal activities of the loggers in Olum community and Buanchor but he met stiff opposition from the “cabals” who bolstered and shielded the perpetrators.
He lamented the destruction of the forests, which he said has dire consequences for the environment.
The monarch, therefore, called on the authorities to intervene and stop the assault on the environment.
Dr Odey Oyama, a prominent indigene of Ikom LGA in central Cross River State, who is also into conservation and has spent resources to bring awareness to the dangers of forest destruction in the state, wants the state government and international conservation rights groups to save the state from the ongoing plundering of its forest’s biodiversity.
Speaking to journalists recently in Calabar, Governor Ben Ayade, vowed that his government was all out to fight illegal wood loggers in the state.
He said their illicit activities have led to the continuous depletion of the Cross River forest reserves.
The governor said their activities have massively dislocated the landmass and created huge environmental challenges with cumulative long-term consequences.
Ayade vowed to use any political appointee and security agent who aided and abetted illegal loggers as examples.
“Cross River State has 58% of the entire forest cover of Nigeria. We have growing concerns about the rate and speed of depletion of our forests.
“We want to use perpetrators, especially security agents and government officials abetting the illicit timber business as scapegoats,” he said.