The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has hailed the decision of the Federal Ministry of Environment halting further work on the Cross River State government-initiated Super Highway project until a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is carried out.
The 260 km superhighway project which is expected to cut across the Cross River National Park and about 150 communities, was conceived by the Senator Ben Ayade administration when he was sworn-in as governor in 2015 and is to take off from a planned deep sea port in Esighi in Bakassi Local Government Area and run northwards via Obudu to Katsina-ala in Benue State. Estimated to cost US$3.5 billion, it is to be constructed by a company named Broad Spectrum Industrial Services Limited (BSIS), whose headquarters is the subject of controversy as some newspaper publications say it is sited in Israel, while others say it is in Germany or Port Harcourt.
Civil society aversion to the project was spearheaded by ERA/FoEN owing to the richness of forests of Cross River State, globally recognised for their importance as sites for biodiversity in Africa. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has documented the fact that they harbour an enormous diversity of plant and animal species almost unmatched anywhere else in the world. In recognition of this, the United Kingdom invested millions of pounds into the Cross River State Forestry Department in the 1990s. WWF also invested millions of pounds into the establishment of Cross River National Park over a period of seven years.
On 20th October 2015, a letter signed by ERA/FoEN, Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Birdlife International, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Heinrich Boell Foundation was sent to President Buhari and the Federal Minister of Environment on the need to halt the project owing to its likely negative impact on biodiversity and the about 150 communities whose livelihoods depended on the forest. The letter received no reply.
When the highway project was first announced, Governor Ayade said that he wanted President Muhammadu Buhari to flag off the construction. The president initially decided not to carry out the groundbreaking ceremony due to the lack of an EIA report as alleged by civil society and the locals. Following this, the governor ordered the road to be diverted around the Park. This allayed fears of the president and he eventually visited Cross River State to launch the superhighway on the 20th October 2015.
But, in the process of avoiding the Park, the proposed road’s new route now takes it right through pristine community forests.
However, with sustained outcry from civil society and the communities to be impacted by the Super Highway project, the Federal Ministry of Environment last week issued a letter stopping the project until environmental guidelines are followed.
In a statement issued in Lagos, ERA/FoEN said the decision of the Ministry of Environment is “exemplary” and clearly sends a clear signal to firms that may want to dodge their responsibility to local communities and the environment that impunity will never triumph over the will of the people.
ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Godwin Uyi Ojo, said: “The public notice from the Ministry of Environment stopping work on the project until a proper EIA is conducted will resonate beyond the communities likely to be impacted, to other communities across the country whose rights are being trampled by the powers that be. We commend their dogged resistance.”
Ojo explained that Ekuri and other communities, through their peaceful resistance to the project going forward until their concerns are addressed, have shown that they will not allow their collective destinies be mortgaged on the platform of so-called development projects.
“While we welcome projects that are expected to better the lot of our people, we urge the Federal Ministry of Environment to ensure that the promoters of the highway project carry out a verifiable EIA that will address the environmental and other concerns of the communities on the project right-of-way. Anything short of this is unacceptable,” Ojo insisted.