The Association of Melina Allottees in Ondo State has raised the alarm over an alleged N15 Million fraud perpetrated by the West Africa Forest Plantation Limited.
The Association fingered the Project Coordinator of West Africa Afforestation Project in the state , Mr. Weluche Umez of extorting unsuspecting members of the union under false Pretence.
But, Umez has dismissed the group’s allegations, adding that they paid money into the West Africa Forest Plantation Limited’s account without the company’s approval.
The group in a, “Save our Soul” message to Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu said , Umez has threatened to teach them a lesson if they ever demanded for their money.
According to the Chairman of the group, Mr. Oloruntobi Kehinde – Mayegun, Umez has made good his threats by earlier arresting them and falsely accusing them of Kidnap and rape.
Kehinde – Mayegun who disclosed that a petition has been sent to the Inspector General of Police and the State Commissioner of Police alleged that their lives were in danger.
He narrated, “We have been legally operating within the OA1 Oluwa Forest Reserve in Ondo State and have been legally operating within the forest reserve over the years with state Government Licence through the Ministry of Natural Resources
“We have been habitually complied with the rules and regulations laid down by the Ondo State Ministry of Natural Resources with mutual understanding and without short-Changing the state Government of its necessary fees and revenue
“But, sometimes in February 2017, we heard the news that the said OA1 Oluwa Forest Reserve had been concessioned to West Africa Forest Plantations Limited by the Ondo State Government under the Administration of Dr. Olusegun Mimiko following the Memorandum /Agreement dated 22nd of February, 2017 which was the eve of the end of its tenure
“Upon the execution of the agreement, the West Africa Forest Plantation Limited took immediate possession and stopped us from any further operation thereon including those of us with valid permits
“Thereafter, one of the operators of the company (West Africa Forest Plantation Limited ) called Umez invited us with false representation that Ondo State Government has given him power to allocate both the Melina, teak and other indigenous trees to our members.
“He fraudulently collected over 15 million Naira from us with promise that he would allocate trees to us. After the Umez collected the money, it was discovered that the Ondo State Government never gave Umez power to sell trees to anybody
“It was further revealed that Umez the operator of West Africa Forest Plantation Limited has conducted himself in a manner that will lead to the break down of law and order in the host communities as he had mobilized some armed thugs and hoodlums from some parts of the country who are currently threatening the lives of the people throughout the host communities surrounding the OA1 Oluwa Forest Reserve
“He is boasting that he would order his thugs to teach us a lesson of our lives if we ever demanded the refund of the money which he fraudulently collected from us.”
However, it was gathered that the former administration signed an MoU with West Africa Forest Plantation Limited to rid the state forest of encroachers and also plant trees with an investment of $12 million.
But, the Melina Allottees in the state accused Umez of receiving money running into N100M from other groups in the timber business in the State.
“Contrary to the agreement with the State Government, the project officer engage in extortion of money and defrauding innocent citizen of millions at the detriment of the state government. Instead of planting Malina tree, Mr Umez has been obtaining millions from Encroachers.
” Mr Umez single handedly opened an account where he was saving fund which he collected from flichers and indigenous contractors and encrouchers running to N100million, without remitting same to the state government. He also defrauded people by collecting their money and stopping them from operation,” the group alleged.
Umez in a telephone chat with DAILY POST said the allegations against him were not exactly true . He accused the Melina Allottees of attacking the forest and destroying the company’s facilities there.
He said, ‘We are concessionaires of the forest, the forest was concessioned last year. The allegation they are making is not exactly correct . They attacked the facility on the 1st of March, and drove away all the workers there and threatened they were going to return with arms and ammunition.
‘They also destroyed some of the company’s property in doing so , as a result of which I reported the matter to the Commissioner of Police of Ondo state . So, l made a statement with the police and I wrote a petition to the Commissioner of police actually, I can make the petition available to you.
‘The matter is before the police. Yes, monies were paid into the company’s account, without our approval. They paid money into our account at their instance, they now turned round and went into the forest and begin to cart away woods. When we tried to stop them, they started attacking us.”