Sunday, 5 April 2020

Forestry Commission Chairman Versus Anti-deforestation Task Force: the War continues


5 April 2020 

The fisticuffs between the incumbent Chair of Cross River Forestry Commission and the former chair of the Anti-deforestation Task Force ATF has taken a new dimension as the latter has made a scathing rejoinder to the former's recent press statement. 

Oyama's rejoinder bothers on four issues, namely, release of three vehicles under criminal Investigation, release of impounded illegal timber resources, unlawful release of exhibits pending criminal, and purported contact with the Chairman of ATF.

The ATF of the Government of Cross River State under Oyama impounded 3 trailer loads of timber and placed them under the custody of the Police Arae Command Station at Okuni, pending conclusion of investigations and prosecution. However, Chief Tony Undiandeye the Chair of State Forestry Commission assisted the suspects to cart away with the exhibits which would have been placed before the court of competent jurisdiction for evaluation and determination. Given this background, Oyama that Chief Undiandeye owes the people and Government of Cross River State the duty of explaining the source of the power by which he acted to obstruct criminal proceedings which resulted in the escape of the suspects and the unlawful evacuation of all critical exhibits. 

What follows is the full scripts of the rejoinder by Oyama against Undiandeye:


REJOINDER BY ODEY OYAMA: ON THE MATTER PERTAINING TO THE PRESS STATEMENT ISSUED IN MARCH 2020, BY THE CHAIRMAN OF CROSS RIVER STATE FORESTRY COMMISSION, CHIEF TONY UNDIANDEYE.


'My attention has been drawn to the press statement issued by the Chairman of Cross River State Forestry Commission, Chief Tony Undiandeye, in respect of my withdrawal from service as Chairman of Anti-Deforestation Task Force (ATF). I wish to state that I do not contest the fact as stated in the press statement that Chief Tony Undiandeye and I are friends. However, I must quickly state that I do not permit my friendship with any person or group of persons to becloud my judgment in matters pertaining to the mandate issued to me by His Excellency, the Governor of Cross River State, to protect and preserve the heritage of the people of Cross River State.

'I have read through the long press statement of Chief Tony Undiandeye and I have observed that very critical issues have been omitted. By this rejoinder, I am
therefore requesting Chief Tony Undiandeye to address the following critical omissions:

'1) RELEASE OF THREE (3) VEHICLES UNDER CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION

Three (3) vehicles were impounded by the Anti-Deforestation Task Force (ATF) at Nde Community in Ikom Locak Government Area. The said vehicles were kept in the custody of the Police Area Command at Okuni in Ikom Local Government Area (LGA), pending conclusion of criminal investigations and possible prosecution in a court of competent jurisdiction. This incident took place at about 8.00 am, on Sunday March 01, 2020. The issues that made the three (3) vehicles subject to critical investigations are the following:

(a) None of the three (3) vehicles had their Vehicle Registration numbers displayed on the vehicles, while they were conveying timber products across the State. By the interpretation of the ATF and the Forestry Commission, it is a criminal offence to convey timber resources across the State in a vehicle from which the official vehicle registration number plate had been removed or deliberately concealed.

This is also an offence by the relevant provisions of the Statutes of the Nigerian
Road Safety Corps (NRSC) as well as the Nigerian Police (NP).

In essence, by interfering in the matter and causing the release of the three (3)
vehicles during the pendency of criminal investigations, Chief Tony Undiandeye
was actually using his office to obstruct criminal investigations unlawfully. It is
necessary to emphasize that it is not legitimate official procedure for one
government agency (in this instance, the Forestry Commission) to interfere in
criminal proceedings that have been initiated at the police by another government agency (in this instance, the ATF) without due reference and consultation with the government agency that initiated criminal proceedings at the police at the first
instance. This is the crux of the matter. As the matter stands now, the persons and vehicles that were under criminal investigation have been allowed to vanish without a trace. So far, Chief Tony Undiandeye has not been able to convince any person about his knowledge of the Chassis number and Engine number of the vehicles which he caused the police to release unlawfully and thereby evade criminal prosecution. Find below in ANNEXURE I, photographs of the said vehicles for verification.

 
'2) RELEASE OF IMPOUNDED ILLEGAL TIMBER RESOURCES

Through the obstruction of Chief Tony Undiandeye (vide: the letter of the Forestry Commission ref: HQ-FC/S.118/Vol.7/43, dated 12th March, 2020), a large consignment of timber products impounded by the ATF and stockpiled at the Police Area Command at Okuni, in Ikom Local Government Area, was released unlawfully. Chief Tony Undiandeye allowed himself to be deceived into accepting fake documents from the illegal loggers. The said documents were purported to be the official Declaration Forms, Payment receipts and Evacuation pass for the
consignment of timber at the Police Area Command. The following discrepancies are evident:

(a) The total number of pieces of timber declared in the fake documents is One
thousand eight hundred (1,800). While the total number of pieces of timber
impounded by the ATF and placed under the custody of the Police was One
thousand nine hundred and twenty-eight (1,928).

(b) Out of a total of One thousand nine hundred and twenty-eight (1,928) pieces of timber that was impounded by the ATF, One thousand seven hundred (1,700) pieces had no Forestry mark/hammer impression on them; two hundred and twenty eight (228) pieces of the timber were hammered only on one side with hammer No: CRS F-58. These pieces of 228 timber products hammered only on one side are illegal, in that, the law demands that declared and verified wood must be hammered on both sides of the timber to certify that the transaction is legitimate. As Chairman of Forestry Commission, Chief Undiandeye has very many expert Foresters to guide him on this very basic matters. Photographs of the illegal timber in ANNEXURE II, taken within the premises of the Area Police Command
Station at Okuni.

(c) The fake Declaration Forms were in respect of a consignment of One
thousand, eight hundred (1,800) pieces of soft wood, without any Hardwood whatsoever. Meanwhile, the consignment of timber impounded by the ATF and placed under the custody of the police, contained One thousand nine hundred and twenty-four pieces of soft wood; and four (4) pieces of hard wood.

(d) The fake declaration forms contained three (3) species of timber namely:

- BOMBAX,

- PYNANTHUS and

- CARNERIUM, all measuring 4 x 12 x 12 in dimension. Whereas, the consignment of timber seized by the ATF and placed under the custody of the police are:

i) BOMBAX BONOPOSENSE (Cotton) measuring 4 x 6 x 12;

ii) PYCNANTHUS ANGOLENSIS (Akwa Mili) measuring 4 x 12 x 12;

iii) TRIPLOSHITON SCHELR, measuring 4 x 12 x 12;

iv) PTEROCARPUS OSUN (Cam wood), measuring 4 x 12 x 12; and

v) NAUCLEA DIDERENCHII (Opepe), measuring 4 x 6 x 12.

The sharp discrepancies shown above are evident and very instructive. Chief Tony Undiandeye is therefore saddled with the burden duty of making a public
declaration pertaining to the false information given in the Declaration Forms and submitted to the Forestry Commission for verification. Chief Undiandeye should publicly declare why he should allow criminals to use his office to release the consignment of lawfully impounded timber resources. It is my view that if Chief Undiandeye had exercised due diligence by following due process in his duties and had taken reasonable steps (in accordance with the Laws of Cross River State and laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria – FRN) to verify the information contained in the declaration forms, he would have found out that the declarations made in the forms were false, fictitious and fraudulent. Sadly, Chief Undiandeye took a decision to release the huge consignment of timber placed under the custody of the police by the ATF, based on inadequate and unverified information.


'3) UNLAWFUL RELEASE OF EXHIBITS PENDING CRIMINAL PROSECUTION.

By obstructing the proceedings of criminal investigation, Chief Tony Undiandeye allowed his office to be used as an excuse for the release of EXHIBITS kept under the custody of the Police Area Command at Okuni. It must be placed on record that the interference of Chief Tony Undiandeye in the proceedings occurred when I had left the police station at Okuni for Calabar, to submit a copy of my official report issued to the Police at Okuni, to His Excellency, the Governor of Cross River State, the Assistant Inspector General (AIG) of Police at Zone 6 Police Command, as well as the Commissioner of Police at the state police command. It
was while I was still in the process of seeking appointment with His Excellency,
the Governor and the Attorney – General and Commissioner for Justice, that I was
notified that the Exhibits pertaining to the matter had been evacuated by reason of the unlawful interference of Chief Tony Undiandeye. It must also be placed on record that at state level, only the Governor and/or the Attorney – General and Commissioner for Justice have the legitimate authority to intervene on matters pending criminal investigation, or matters pending before a Court of competent Jurisdiction. In essence, Chief Tony was attempting to exercise powers that do not reside in the office of the Chairman of Forestry Commission and therein lies his error of judgment.

'4) PURPORTED CONTACT WITH THE CHAIRMAN OF ATF.

In his press statement, Chief Tony Undiandeye has referred to the contacts he attempted to make by telephone with the Chairman of ATF, Mr. Odey Oyama. I
wish to place the issues in correct perspective and chronological order:


(a) On Sunday, March 01, 2020, officers and men of the Anti - Deforestation Task
Force (ATF) of Cross River State, siezed a huge consignment of 1,928 pieces of
Timber resources reasonably suspected of having been unlawfully obtained and
unlawfully removed; and 3 vehicles, that were used in the commission of related
offences.

(b) The ATF impounded the items cited in (a) above in compliance with PART 8,
Section 35 of the Forest Law of Cross River State of Nigeria, CAP F5.

(c) The ATF concluded the placement of the items under the custody of the Area
Police Command Station at Okuni, on Thursday, March 05, 2020, vide: the ATF
letter titled "Siezure of Illegal Forest Produce", with reference No: ATF  —2020/038.

(d) The letter of Chief Tony Undiendeye to the police for the release of the 3
vehicles and the 1,928 pieces of timber resources titled: "Request to Release
Impounded Trucks and Wood in your Custody", was dated 12th March, 2020.

This shows that Chief Undiendeye had more than one week to confer with the ATF over the matter and be fully briefed, if he had wished to do so.

(e) On the other hand, Chief Undiendeye prefered to obstruct criminal investigations in the matter, thereby releasing the exhibits that would have been relevant in the criminal prosecution, before attempting to telephone the Chairman of ATF.

(d) If need be, official extracts of calls between Chief Undiendeye and Odey
Oyama can be called from MTN server to establish the matter.

Furthermore, I refer to the unfortunate comments contained in paragraph 10 of the press statement of Chief Undiendeye that:

 "....While his task force got its legitimacy from the Governor's Executive Order, the Forestry Commission is also a product of the Governor and the Law."

 My comments over this is that Chief Tony Undiendeye by this statement is
attempting to criticize and indict His Excellency, Governor Ben Ayade who set up the ATF and also appointed him into office as Chairman of Forestry Commission.

This is entirely impudent. If any person does not accept the judgment of the
person who appointed him into office, he has the option of vacating that office,
rather than showing impudence and impunity. The extent of the brazen impunity is demonstrated by the fact that Chief Undiadeye went ahead to sideline the Task Force set up by His Excellency, the Governor; and proceeded to setup his own Task Force that is headed and cordinated by his brother Mr. Undiendeye Peter with ID Card No: CRFCTF/CFC/20/002. See ID card below in ANNEXURE III for verification. Please observe that the signature on the reverse side of the ID Card carries a signature in red ink without the name of the person authorizing the Task Force. This again indicates that the entire exercise is inconsistent with due process.

From the foregoing, the Anti-Deforestation Task Force (ATF) of the Government of Cross River State impounded 3 trailer loads of timber and placed them under the custody of the Police Arae Command Station at Okuni, pending conclusion of investigations and prosecution. Sadly, Chief Tony Undiandeye aided the suspects to run away with the exhibits which would have been placed before the court of competent jurisdiction for evaluation and determination. Correspondignly, it is my considered opinion therefore, that Chief Undiandeye owes the people and
Government of Cross River State the duty of explaining the source of the power by which he acted to obstruct criminal proceedings which resulted in the escape of the suspects and the unlawful evacuation of all critical exhibits. Otherwise, the court of public opinion will rule him as an accessory.
 

Odey Oyama
Former ATF Chairman
(For immediate release on: Tuesday, March 31, 2020). 
 




Below is the original press statement of Chief Tony Undiandeye which Oyama was replying. 


PRESS STATEMENT

FROM THE CHAIRMAN OF CROSS RIVER STATE FORESTRY COMMISSION.
 

1. I have been bemused and worried by the flurry of media reports following the unfortunate resignation of the Chairman of the Anti - Deforestation Task Force, Mr Odey Oyama, recently, and  the wrong assumption that I had something to do with it. This is so because Mr Oyama has been very close to me for many years, and I had always admired his commitment to the protection of our rich forest reserves and activism in the biodiversity sub - sector. 


2. When I was appointed to Chair the Forestry Commission I was happy that we were going to collaborate in the critical effort to stem the wanton depletion of timber, regulate exploitation of the forest and enforce the regeneration of vital species. My understanding was that these have been Mr Oyama's core thematic interests and preoccupation and that he was going to be an impassioned ally in the challenge that we face as a state in this subject area.
 

3. However, I met Mr Oyama's task force on ground and another task force put together by Mr Oyama and the Honourable Commissioner for Biodiversity, headed by the Special Adviser to the Governor on Aforestation, Mr Bette Obi, also in operation. The raison deter for the second task force  was to discharge wood already sewn littering the forest in a one - month moratorium already granted by the Governor. 


4.  The thinking was that since wood illegally sewn was marooned in the forest, a one month corridor should be allowed for evacuation after compounding and paying relevant  fines. I was happy with the arrangement since that meant that government got it's due income and the forest was cleared for enforcement of the relevant protective measures against falling of trees without prior permit by government, from a clean slate. 
 

5. However, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security for the Central Senatorial District recently arrested three trucks in Nde one afternoon, which he detained  at Police Area Command in Okunni . Apparently  the Chairman of the Special Task Force on the discharge of already sewn wood  was unable to release same as part of his one - month duty and the matter came to my knowledge. 
 

6. I asked the Director of Forestry to ascertain the status of the consignment and after working in collaboration with the Zonal Forestry Officer in Ikom, it was ascertained that the fines for  the wood had been fully paid and certified with receipts issued and signed by Mr Odey Oyama. I still personally travelled to Ikom to see the consignment for myself and confirmed that the wood was hammered by the Forestry officials and properly receipted by documents arising from the task force Mr Oyama headed.
 

7. I was to make several efforts to have a meeting with Mr Oyama on the matter but he was not forthcoming. I did not understand why trucks that  had paid all duties to government should be grounded without reason. Left with no choice but the discharge of my legitimate duties and to protect government from unnecessary litigation, I signed the release of the consignment, as it is within my powers to do so. 


8. It is important to note that all through the tenure of Mr Oyama no timber or trucks bearing same were impounded or arrested. The task force members he posted to vital exit points in the state allowed free movement of timber from the state in the night. The consignment in question was not even impounded by Mr Oyama or his staff. It was arrested in broad daylight by the SA Security, Central. 
 

9. Recently, I impounded seven trucks of timber in Obudu which I did not release abitrarily.  Why then will I release the ones I did not impound wily nily. Perhaps this is the crux of the matter since Mr Oyama himself  was said to be interested in the consignment I impounded  and later released after due payments and certification. Note also that his task force has been unable to record such a feat all through its operations beginning in November, 2019.
 

10. Mr Oyama's resignation is unfortunate because we value his inputs in the biodiversity cluster. Government everywhere in the world is a collaboration of efforts by all concerned and not a one - man  - show. While his task force got its legitimacy from the Governor's Executive Order, the Forestry Commission is also a product of the Governor and the law. None ought to, or should undermine the other. While Mr Oyama reserves the right to serve in government or not to do so, to justify his resignation by making me the fall - guy will be clearly mischievous. 


11. Finally, let me make the point that our commitment to protecting the rich biodiversity of the State should be demonstrated more in our actions than in rhetoric on the public gallery. Enforcement of forest laws is the prerogative of the Cross River State Forestry Commission by law and statutes. We are not only determined to do so but also committed to ensure that the sector ceases to be an avenue for extortion and stealing of revenue due to government by officials of whatever rank.


Signed:
CHIEF TONY UNDIANDEYE
CHAIRMAN, FORESTRY COMMISSION



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