African Development Concept ry. Finland a Research to Victory over Cross River State Forest Conservation – Focus on Odigha Odigha:

By: Ambassador Agim Godwin Apple

African Development Concepts and a Research to Victory over the State Forest Conservation – Focus on Odigha Odigha:

As a one time log truck driver with the WEMPCO AGRO-FOREST Company Ikom.

I find it necessary to look back at the lost glory of the Cross River State forest reserve.

Being one of the labour workers that raise out a cry-out and passed the information to an indigenous activist on climate issues, Dr. Odigha Odigha, I was immediately fired from my job by the Hong Kong base explorers through the aide of their Personnel Manager Mr John Nsor.

The economic effect was like taking 50% of my life away from me while in the other ways, it gave me the authonomous right of going into close monitoring of the WEMPCO activities and their none replaceable deforestation in the state.

Areas affected were: Katabang Forest in Boki, Okpon river forest Ikom, Nkrigong forest Alok/Nkarasi, Ekukunela forest, Ikom, Akam forest, Etung and as well as the selective logging of the Savana Afzelia hard words from the Obudu, Bekwarra and Obanliku.

I am presently enumerating the damages caused by this deforestation which gear me up to give more credit to Dr. Odigha Odigha, Mr. Odey Oyama, Late Forest Officer Clement A. Agim, Gov. Donald Duke and Gov. Sen. Liyel Imoke.

Victories and Challenges

Odigha approached the newly elected governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, and with him, managed to set up the first ever Forestry Commission in Nigeria and obtain a first logging moratorium in 2000. The commission lacked teeth but it included representatives from the government, private sector and civil society – Odigha was on the board – a definite step in the right direction.

In the end, the ban only lasted one year. The commission was chaired by a consultant with close ties to WEMPCO and opposition to logging was weak. In 2002, WEMPCO even obtained the renewal of their concession, so Odigha decided to step down. This was an enormous blow for him.

“My campaign was to shut them down and send them packing. So the granting of the concession for me was a psychological punishment,” he says.

Odigha’s determination and efforts didn’t go unnoticed among members of the international community, however. In 2003, he was awarded the Goldman Prize – an annual award recognizing the work of environmental activists around the world, often dubbed the “Green Nobel” – for his tireless advocacy to protect the rainforest and determination to build democratic institutions to manage local resources.

It was a small compensation for the hardship Odigha encountered on the way and a huge morale booster.

“It was confirmation and affirmation that I was on the right track, working on a cause that is appreciated by the international community,” he says. “It also brought up awareness and credibility on a much wider scale. People thought: ‘Well, if this man can be recognized internationally, then we’d better take what he says seriously.’”

And seriously they took him. Odigha continued his advocacy following his award, and the victories kept coming: in 2007, WEMPCO was ordered to close down all its operations in Cross River State and has not returned since. In 2008, the new Cross River State governor Liyel Imoke asked Odigha to organise a state-wide Stakeholders Environment Summit to discuss the future of environmental policy in Cross River.

The meeting resulted in radical actions: Governor Imoke declared a two-year, moratorium on all logging. He also re-organised the Forestry Commission so that it would have a full-time board (board members used to be part-time representatives with little power) and set up the Illegal Logging Task Force to ensure the moratorium was enforced.

John-O Niles, director of the Tropical Forest Group, an international conservation organization and UN observer that has worked in Cross River for many years, says that Imoke and Odigha have shown unique leadership in international conservation.

“It was a very bold decision from the state government,” he says. “They basically agreed to forego one of the few revenue streams they had. The challenge will now be for Odigha to show the state that he can put real alternative money on the table and this is a monumental task.”

Niles says that Governor Imoke absolutely trusts Odigha. Odigha was named chairman and chief executive of the Forestry Commission in July last year, a very symbolic nomination to a body he helped set up 10 years previously. The trouble is whether the international community will rise to the challenge of supporting such visionary leaders: the Cross River Moratorium is one of only two such measures in the world, the other being in the state of Aceh, Indonesia.

Odigha is well aware that his priority is now to find alternative revenues for local communities. Logging may not have benefited many, but in an area where every little counts few have the luxury of supporting visionary thinking without evidence that it’ll deliver results.

The trouble is that many initiatives can take years before yielding results, so Imoke and Odigha are casting the net wide: REDD+, Payment for Ecosystem Services, agroforestry, ecotourism; no stone is left unturned.

“We are looking for low-hanging fruit that we can pick and present to our people,” Odigha says. “Our success depends on results. If we are able to generate income from non-timber activities, I feel very strongly that we can extend the logging moratorium.”

Odigha says he wants to go further than halting deforestation and also wants to restore ecosystems and extend forest cover, all of which would increase Cross River’s carbon stocks and potential revenues from carbon credits.
Another difficulty is that Cross River is a regional government and that much of the support granted towards REDD development is done at a national scale, even though more than half of the rainforest left in Nigeria is in Cross River. Niles says that Odigha and Imoke have successfully engaged with the Nigerian federal government in that respect. Odigha and Imoke played a crucial role in getting Nigeria accepted in the UN REDD programme; they also facilitated the country’s application to the World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.


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