Timber merchants in Ondo State on Wednesday protested the continued closure of the forest reserves by the state government under the instruction of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu.
The protesters, organized under the Timber Traders Association, stormed the governor's office at Alagbaka in Akure to express their displeasure to the state government.
The merchants marched throughout the street before shutting down the entrance gate to the governor's office and barricading all adjourning routes.
The aggrieved protesters, armed with placards of various inscriptions, prevented people from gaining entrance into various offices.
They chanted solidarity songs and noted that the closure of the forest has led to a sharp decrease in the patronage of their business in the state.
SaharaReporters recalled that newly sworn-in Governor Rotimi Akeredolu ordered the ban on activities at the forest reserves and free zone barely 24 hours after assuming office upon observing some irregularities and illegal felling of trees in the reserves.
Samuel Olukayode, Chairman of the Timber Traders Association, had earlier told journalists that life had become unbearable for the traders in the state since the forest reserves closed.
Mr. Olukayode said that traders who had taken out loans from banks to boost their businesses now have difficulty repaying them due to the recent decline in business activities.
"The closure has led to suffering among our members, especially the ones who still have trees to evacuate in the forest before it was closed by the governor,” Mr. Olukayode said. "It is our business and this is what we rely on to feed our families, and many of our customers are not happy over the situation right now.”
Ade Fayehun, a popular timber merchant in the state who also spoke on behalf of the trade association, noted that the closure has crippled their businesses.
Mr. Fayehun lamented the closure of the forest reserves, questioning why the government would deliberately close down such a significant source of revenue for the state treasury.
He said that ninety percent of Ondo State’s internally generated revenue (IGR) was sourced from the timber business by the state government.
"We want the government to listen to our appeal and save us from the present situation. We are losing money day in and day out while the present economy is biting harder," he told our correspondent.
Reacting, Deputy Governor Agboola Ajayi pleaded for calm, adding that the government was working on a plan that would reopen the forest.
Mr. Ajayi reiterated that the forest reserves and free zones were closed down for the best interests of the state.
“Some encroachers have been ruining your business and our forest has been taken over by this same set of people believed to be from neighboring states,” Mr. Ajayi said.
"But I can assure you that we are currently investigating this and I want to beg you to remain calm because this new government means well for everybody,” he told the traders.