From Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
Ondo state Government in partnership with a human rights group, Active Success and Empowerment Initiative (ASEI) is set to flush out all local Chiefs otherwise known as Olus and illegal settlers in all its 16 forest reserves across the state.
This follows series of negative reports and allegations against the self imposed chiefs who are allegedly taking undue advantage of plank contractors operating within the forest reserves.
In a letter entitled “Authorization to proceed on lawful arrest and prosecution of persons disguising as traditional rulers referred as Olus within givernment forest reserves” the state government described the activities of the self imposed chiefs as inimical to the future economic progress and survival of the state.
According to the approval, the impostors have not only impersonated the state government but extorting and milking timber merchants doing legitimate business with the state government.
The chiefs in conniviance with the illegal settlers were also accused of arrogating to themselves powers to allocate forest reserves to enchroachers and collecting illegal fees from them, while geniune timber merchants who refuse to transact business with them are being molested and tortured.
Worried by these serious infractions on the rights and privileges of timber contractors, a human rights group, Active Success and Empowerment Initiative based in Akure filed a petition on behalf of an accredited timber contractor, Mr. Omoniyi Aro who was allegedly assaulted by some illegal settlers under the instruction of one of the chiefs.
In the petition signed by Mr N.M. Ogungbemi, the victim narrated how he was tied to the tree in the forest at gun point and given the beating of his life before his logs worth millions of naira were seized and transported to an unknown destination.
The National President of the Human Rights Group, Mr Adewumi Babalola said the approval will not only return sanity into all the sixteen forest reserves but boost the revenue base of the state.
He therefore assured all the parties concerned in the matter that the group will carry out the assignment with utmost caution and professionalism it deserves.