Ogun defends demolition in Omo Forest Reserve, cites criminal activity

SPOTLIGHTS

  • The state says demolition was necessary to protect the forest reserve from destruction and criminal activity
  • Residents are accused of destroying economic trees, building illegal structures, and stockpiling weapons
  • Akinlolu Kehinde is accused of being the ringleader of militiamen in the reserve
  • The government vows to continue its efforts to regenerate the forest reserves

From Laide Raheem, Abeokuta

The Commissioner for Forestry in Ogun State, Oludotun Taiwo, has defended the state government’s action of enforcing vacation notices and destroying illegal structures within the Omo Forest Reserve.

According to Oludotun, the state government’s action was imperative to halt the destruction of economic trees and illegal occupation by suspected bandits.

He also said that the eviction of illegal occupants and destruction of unapproved structures were to prevent suspected hoodlums from turning the biggest forest reserve in the country into another Sambisa Forest.

Oludotun stated this while addressing journalists in his office in Oke Mosan, Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, on Wednesday.

He emphasised that the nefarious activities of residents of the 17 villages, particularly Etemi Gerald, have negatively impacted the trees planted by the state government with billions of naira, as well as the flora and fauna within the Queen’s Forest and Omo Biosphere Reserve, covering 1,000 hectares of forest land.

Read also: World Environment Day: Ogun targets planting of two million trees in 2024

He lamented how the inhabitants of the village had encroached upon and caused wanton damage to the Queen’s Forest Reserve, which, according to him, was adopted as a Biosphere Reserve in 1949 and enlisted as one of the World Forest Heritage sites by UNESCO in 1977.

Oludotun added that the illegal inhabitants have built houses and cultivated several cocoa farms, destroying economic and conserved tree species preserved for research purposes in the forest reserve.

The Commissioner, while further justifying the state government’s actions, disclosed that prior to the destruction of illegal structures carried out on 20 March 2024, his ministry had, on 13 December 2023, invited the heads of the 17 villages to a meeting where everyone agreed that farming and erecting permanent structures within the forest reserves without the state’s consent is illegal.

He expressed shock that an unknown group of militia men, who fired at the security team that accompanied ministry officials during the demolition operation, could pose resistance. At least 23 illegal buildings were pulled down.

Oludotun, however, fingered one Akinlolu Kehinde as the ringleader of the militia men wreaking havoc in the Forest Reserve, especially in the buffer zone of the Queen’s Forest.

“Akinlolu Kehinde is breeding criminals inside our Forest Reserve. He either led or instigated hoodlums to attack our task force officials.

“We won’t fold our arms and allow our Forest Reserves to be turned into Sambisa. There is proof, including photographic, that a cache of firearms is stockpiled in the forest reserve.

“Activities of illegal occupants have led to the destruction of the economic trees, other flora and fauna organisms in the reserve, which is one of nine in the state.

“It was not surprising that the residents of Etemi Gerald carried weapons. It has become a trend in the Reserve. It is on record that some of their members in Aba Titun attacked security operatives; a police officer is still missing, a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) was shot, and guns such as AK47 rifles and others [were] carted away without consequences. This, we believe, has emboldened them and their cohorts to spread across villages like Etemi Gerald, Eseke and others.

“It is not surprising too that these hoodlums make [an] attempt to blackmail the state government’s agency as it is evident that they have the backing of unscrupulous elements in society.

“Ogun State government will not close its eyes and allow backers giving them uncivilised action plans to distract it from its resolve to regenerate our Forest Reserves. It beats my imagination that Mr Akinlolu Kehinde could be so bold as to blackmail a government that is trying its possible best to protect [the] heritage handed over by our forefathers. We are however not deterred by the antics of mischief makers. We will continue to bring up and pursue policies that engender the protection of our forest resources for the coming generation,” Oludotun submitted.

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