Residents and natives of some enclaves and surrounding communities in the Cross River National Park, CRNP, have alleged that forest guards, also known as Park Rangers, are harassing, extorting and collecting rates from them.

The communities say such treatment against them would not guarantee their loyalty to the government or encourage them not to welcome the illegal miners and loggers who daily plunder resources at the Park.

The 30 communities emphasised their grievances during a stakeholders’ meeting with the theme: Improving management of the CRNP.

A village head from one of the communities within the Park, who gave his name as Ntufam Johnson Ogar, alleged that the Park Rangers exercised their powers against the communities instead of going after illegal entrants and miners, as well as wood loggers.

“They harass us, collect taxes and rates from herders and cattle rearers which is supposed to be the duty of landlords.

”There are no health facilities, no telecom network services, no access roads within the Park, no electricity and we have been denied employment opportunities,” Ogar said.

The communities also reported that insecurity within the Park has heightened owing to the activities of illegal miners and loggers.

Other members of the community also lamented how the CRNP usually failed to fulfill their promises.

“We are pissed by incessant promises by the park management and the government to build access roads, provide health facilities and other public utilities to make life easier for us. These promises have hardly been fulfilled,” a youth leader from the Okwango area submitted.

He added that, “If they do not provide us with alternative sources of livelihood, how will we be able to sustain ourselves and families.

“We have depended on forest resources, including the leaves, crops and trees and farming for ages, and now you want us to steer clear.

“To achieve that, you must provide us with alternative economic livelihoods. There must be skill training for our youths, and schools and security.

“This way, we would be encouraged to support and protect the Park.”

He claimed that sources of clean drinking water have been affected by the activities of miners, making it unfit for human consumption.

Another youth leader, who gave his name as Cletus Iwofa, from Oban in Akamkpa LGA narrated how a pregnant woman died as they journeyed through tortuous and hilly paths to get to a faraway town.

“Why should we protect the Park or be afraid of arrest for accepting people who come to help alleviate our burdens within the Park?

“If we have loggers or miners or companies coming with good money for us and promise to build roads for us, why should we reject such offers that would alleviate our burdens within the Park.

“Recently, one of our pregnant women died as our boys carried her on a mat on their shoulders through the long paths to access a clinic in the town”, he lamented.

However, reacting to the allegation, the conservator of CRNP, Caroline Olory refuted the claims, saying her men were trained to respect the indigenous people.

On employment, she challenged them to mention any host community that does have at least one of its children benefiting from one engagement or another from the Park.

Olory said the CRNP was owned by the federal government but that the state government which is the greater beneficiary have assisted much to strengthen them, adding that issues of amenities like roads, health facilities and alternative sources of livelihood were being addressed.

She, however, raised alarm over the massive incursions into the Park by loggers and miners, saying the situation was really precarious and called for immediate help.

“Not one community can boast of houses or amenities that these perpetrators have given to you. So why do you want to support them to continue to devastate and plunder the Park, which is the only remaining forest in the state.

”90% of Cross River forests have been threatened by illegal wood logging; the continuation of the depletion of our forests will seriously affect our future generations. Let’s stop it. Let’s rise against it,” she advised.

She particularly stressed against illegal mining within the Park, saying, “mining is a very big challenge. The effects are calamitous. It is our business to safeguard the Park. The peanuts they give you to access and devastate the lands cannot equate to the many dangers that will result.”

She disclosed that the Cadastral Office in the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development had withdrawn mining licences from some firms, but that some unlicensed ones had continued to flood the Park.

She alleged that some even applied mercury in the mining processes which had affected the streams in the Park and surrounding communities.

Meanwhile, the Legal Officer of the CRNP, Mr Haruna Mohammed disclosed that it was illegal for any person or group to enter the Park to construct or dig up without authorisation.

“Carrying firearms, arrows, bush burning, flying aircraft, attacking animals within the Park is prohibited.

“Perpetrators and financiers of illegal activities can be arrested, prosecuted and jailed for up to ten years, fined or both,” he warned.

‘Forest Rangers harass, exploit us’ – Cross River communities decry neglect

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