Following alleged acts of violence and intimidation against members by the Task Force on Anti-deforestation, timber merchants in Cross River State have appealed to Liyel Imoke, the governor of the state to intervene.

The timber dealers in a letter to the governor entitled The Unwholesome Attitude and Corrupt Practices of the Task Force on Anti-Deforestation, said the Task Force led by Mr Peter Jenkins was carrying out what they termed despicable acts by confiscating wood from them and handing over to a carpenter, Christopher Okokon who appropriates choice wood and resells the rest to them at exorbitant prices.

Functioning under the aegis of Timber Marketers and Allied Product Association, the timber dealers said even the process of selling the wood to dealers was done clandestinely by Mr Okonkon who is not a licensed auctioneer just to exclude some dealers from participating in the purchase of the wood.

In the letter signed by the President of the Association, Mr Bernard Etim Ita and Aloysius Iha, the timber dealers said the “Task Force has refused to release and make public the official auction rate, time and venue of action of seized wood and while keeping us in the dark, the Task Force Auctioneer, Mr Christopher Okokon, (a.k.a Alhaji) prefers to auction seized wood based on his absolute discretion to some non–timber dealers who resell same to us at very exorbitant rates.”

The aggrieved timber dealers said some of the seized wood is carted out of the state to neigbouring states under the excursion of Task Force members after collecting some money from the buyers which makes a caricature of the Cross River State Government’s effort to stop logging of wood in the state.

The association also alleged in the letter that Mr Jenkins the chairman of the Task Force on Anti-Deforestation regularly storms the timber markets with a rifle with which he threatens their members.

“The chairman of the Task Force, Mr Peter Jenkins bears arms, precisely a rifle and even in the market and readily brandishes this rifle menacingly at law abiding people and constantly threatens to shoot anyone who dares him and by so doing creates fear, fright and terror in the public”.

According to them,

“the Task Force Chairman stormed the house of one our members with mobile policemen and soldiers who shot sporadically causing people to run helter -skelter and when they could not find him at home they arrested his wife who only gave birth two weeks ago,” the Association told the governor.

They appealed to the governor to prevail on Jenkins not to brandish his rile in the market and cause panic and to carry out his mandate with ”civility and decency expected in contemporary enforcement machinery, especially in the light of the status of the state as the number one tourism destination in Nigeria”.

They also called on the government to appoint a licensed auctioneer to sell seized wood with the money paid into government revenue account in specific banks and not to Mr Jenkins and Okokon as it is currently done as such monies cannot be accounted for.

“The government should enforce e-payment system where revenue from the sale of seized wood is paid directly into government account as against the present practice of handing such money to Mr Jenkins and Okokon even in the middle of the night”.

When the opinion of Mr Okokon was sought he referred P.M.NEWS to “the chairman of the Taskforce who is competent to speak on the complaint of the timber dealers” and when Mr Jenkins was located in one of the drinking spots at the Margaret Ekpo International Airport he said “The Assembly is corrupt, the Commissioners are corrupt, the whole government in Nigeria is corrupt even you journalists are corrupt, I can’t answer your questions, get out of here and don’t spoil my fun.”

—EMMA UNA, Calabar