By Johnbosco Agbakwuru

CALABAR – Cross River State House of Assembly has indicted the state Task Force on Anti-Deforestation, over alleged fraudulent practices, involving the sale of timber.

The indictment followed a petition written by a timber merchant, Mr. Samuel Awusa, against the conduct of members of the Task Force.

Awusa had petitioned the House of Assembly through the Committee on Judiciary, Public Service Matters, Public Petitions, Human Rights, Ethics and Privileges over alleged corrupt practices by the task force.

Meanwhile the state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Chief Akin Ricketts, has denied media reports credited to the General Manager of the Calabar Free Trade Zone, Mr. Sadiq Kassim, that the ban on logging of wood has encouraged corruption in the state.

Rickets said: “The unsustainable logging, harmful agricultural practices, inefficient use of fire wood for domestic energy, and many other factors, propelled the state government to take action in 2009 to halt the continued devastation of the forest.”

“Besides, more than 90 percent of the woods harvested in Cross River State were taken out of the state in raw form, with little or no value added to the state economy. This was hugely responsible for the rural poverty and low standard of living in the forest dependent communities.”

However, Chairman of the state House Committee on Judiciary, Public Service Matters, Public Petitions, Human Rights, Ethics and Privileges, Mr. Ogana Lukpata, said the Assembly had on March 22 received the petition from Awusa, alleging that members of the task force invaded his premises and made away with N2.5m cash, confiscated three lorry loads of timber and 160 pieces of black ebony, among others.

He said that after hearing from the petitioner and members of the task force, it was discovered that the petitioner purchased the wood from the task force, adding that it was unjust and unfair for the same body to seize the wood.

Contributing to the matter, the Deputy Speaker, Mr Itaya Nyong, condemned the alleged invasion on Awusa, and directed the task force to offer an unreserved apology to the petitioner.

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