Cross River State has over 2,000,000 hectares of rainforest originally found in the state and perhaps the primary rainforest remaining is only 729,000 hectares. The rainforest has important biophysical properties which affect local, regional and global environment quality.
Cross River State has a deforestation rate of two percent per annum, a rate considered as one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, according to a 2002 study.
Cross River State Tropical Rainforests and Intact Forest Landscape (IFL), the largest remaining rainforest ecosystem in Nigeria and one of the 25 eco-biodiversity hot-spots in world (which competes favourably with Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda, one of the oldest rainforests in Africa), is facing degradation on the account of the state-owned “Super Highway” road project, which runs from Esighi, Bakassi Deep Seaport, Calabar in Cross River State to Katsina-Ala in Benue State.
The “Super Highway” is projected at 275.344 kilometers long made of six lanes, 70 meters width “right-of-way” (115 feet to 280 feet) and will intersect 115 kilometres of intact protected rainforest areas, expected to displaced 185 villages of over 600,000 inhabitants cutting across 16 local government areas and serving as home to highly threatened endangered IUCN species at estimated construction costs of $2.5 billion.
To fund the project, Cross River State Government is adopting an Irrevocable Standing Payment Order (ISPO) for the sum of N648.8 billion at N300 million every month for a period of 180 years payable to Messrs Sydney Construction Company, main contractors to the project with Broad Spectrum Industrial Services Limited (BSIS) partners.
At exactly 6:30 am, William with his wife and three children prepare for the day’s farm work located about 15 kilometres into the deep Ikom rainforest, Ikom Local Government Area, Cross River State, where the family planted banana, coco yam, cassava, water yam, plantain and also prepares to scout for snails in the dense tropical rainforest.
As the family sets out, William looks at some heavy earth moving equipment parked a few metres away that will commence clearing of their ancestral habitat that lies in the proposed Cross River State “Super Highway” road project “right-of-way”, immediately the sun rises.
The Cross River State “Super Highway” road project which was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday October 20, 2015 at Obung community, Akamkpa Local Government Area, of Cross River State is a 275.344 kilometres six-lane road project which starts from Esighi, Bakassi Deep Seaport in Calabar, Cross River State, and will run through Ikom, Ogoja and terminates at Katsina-Ala, Benue State.
Road corridor of about 70 meters (115 feet to 280 feet) will be cleared to accommodate the “Super Highway” project and it is expected to link Nigeria’s south-south and northern parts of the country as evacuation corridors for vessels, materials and equipment lying in Calabar uniformly, effortlessly to northern Nigeria.
It was designed digitally to incorporate Internet connectivity all through the highway, a photographic solar system with a satellite antenna, anti-sleep bumps on the highway and speed cameras with ambulatory services.
There are huge magnitude impact of the “Super Highway” on the nearby protected areas, namely Cross River National Park (which has been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, Afi River Forest Reserve, Ekuri Community Forest Reserve, Iko Esai Community Forest, Ukpon River Forest Reserve, Cross River South Forest Reserve and other 42 forest communities are under threat. Also, an estimated 250,000 trees are expected to give way to this “Super Highway” project and open the previously inaccessible tropical forest to loggers and plantation companies.
This rich forest estate is serving as home to highly threatened species including 1,568 plant species of which 77 are endangered medicinal plants and orchids, 22 primate species such as the Cross River gorilla (with only about 300 individuals remaining in the wild), Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, drill monkeys, white pangolins – the world’s most trafficked mammal of which Nigeria remains major trafficking hub with pangolin scales in volume of 113130 seized during 2016-2019, according to Wildlife Justice Commission.
Lepidopterists identified 1,828 species of butterflies in Nigeria with Cross River National Park harbouring about 950 butterfly species and a range of other wildlife species that are facing one of the greatest conservation challenges of our time.
Endangered species present within the area include the Preuss’s red colobus monkey Procolobus preussi and the slender-snouted crocodile Mecistops cataphractus both of which are classified by IUCN as Critically Endangered.
Over 459,621 signatures were collected by Ekuri Community Initiative against the proposed “Super Highway” road project that is expected to cut through the community Intact Forest Landscape (IFL) of 33,600 hectares located in Akampka Local Government Area in the buffer zone of Cross River National Park.
According to environmentalists and scientists, “The existing highways in Cross River State have an established system of feeder roads linking communities to the trade routes. The proposed Cross River State ‘Super Highway’ Road Project would likely cause the construction of its own network of feeder roads, and thus cut a grid of smaller roads into what is left of the tropical rainforest and Intact Forest Landscapes (IFL).
“This slicing up of tropical rainforest and IFL] and eco-systems would severely affect animal migration, and the gross loss of habitat would further threaten their survival. Sustainable human use of non-timber forest products in many areas would be eliminated and Nigeria could/would lose its Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) status.”
Road surface types were derived for Cross River State based from the government road-mapping project by Nigeria’s National Space Research and Development Agency (NSRDA) – 2008.
BudgIT, a civil society organisation which promotes transparency in public finances and spending, said that it would take over100 years for the Cross River State Government to recover the construction cost of the proposed 275.344 kilometre “Super Highway” project if the state government should go ahead with the project as it lacks justification from a cost benefit analysis.
Also speaking, Odey Oyama, Executive Director, Rainforest Resources and Development Center (RRDC), a Calabar-based environmental NGO (who works to protect, preserve and conserve Nigeria’s rainforest and their resources), said: “The contract award of the Cross River State ‘Super Highway’ road project was not transparent, did not follow due process and could put the Cross River State Government and its people into hugely life servicing debts.”
The Federal Ministry of Environment on Thursday, June 29, 2017 through the Permanent Secretary, Dr. Bukar Hassan, in Abuja handed over to Cross River State Deputy Governor, Professor Ivara Esu, the fourth revised Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out to evaluate the likely environmental impacts of the proposed “Super Highway” project taking into account the inter-related, socio economic, cultural and human-health impacts that are both beneficial and adverse to the people, communities, intact forest landscapes and environment.
The fourth revised EIA demands that Cross River State Government should ensure that the diverse measurement plan, which includes: Environmental Management Plan (EMP), Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), Resettlement Action Plan (RAP), Livelihood Restoration Plan (LRP), GreenHouse Gas Management (GHGM), Public Consultation Plan (PCP), Waste Management Plan (WMP), Traffic Management Plan (TMP), and Labour & Human Resources Plan (LHRP) must be put in place for the road project and the realignment of the road corridor from the boundary of the Cross River National Park by the Cross River State Government is in line with the National Park Service (NPS) Act CAP LFN 2016.
Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), Birdlife International, Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Heirich Boell Foundation have sent letters to President Muhammadu Buhari and Federal Ministry of Environment on the need to halt the project owing to its likely negative impact on biodiversity and the about 185 communities with over 600,000 inhabitants whose livelihoods depend on the tropical rainforest and intact forest landscapes.
“The Cross River State Government did not adopt alternative routes proposed for the ‘Super Highway’ road project, which could be far less damaging to the environment and local people. Alternative routes would have negligible impacts on forests and protected landscape areas and would be better aligned to benefit local communities and agriculture and could markedly reduce the economic and environmental costs, potentially increase the socio-economic benefits for the proposed Cross River State ‘Super Highway’ road project,” according to Mahmoud Ibrahim Mahmoud, a senior environmental scientist.
The proposed Cross River State “Super Highway” Road Project which is through public-private partnership will cause irreparable damage and degradation to Nigeria’s last and one of Africa’s oldest remaining tropical rainforests and Intact Forest Landscape (IFL) and would disrupt one of the world’s top eco-biodiversity, observers insist.
“It is very troubling and worrisome for us that the great work that Nigeria has done to create these Intact Forest Landscapes (IFL) and protect them could be undermined by this Cross River State ‘Super Highway’ Road Project. The project is characterised by inadequate environmental baseline data, unclear project description, insufficient identification of potential mitigation measures and lack of stakeholder engagement,” said John Calvelli, executive vice president of Wildlife Conservation Society’s public affairs division.
Re-routing of the proposed roads with potentially wide ranging environmental impacts will markedly improve outcomes for nature and will not affect 185 villages, with over 600,000 inhabitants like the Tanzania Serengeti Highway project from Arusha to Musoma covering a distance of about 480 kilometres that will connect northern communities in Tanzania that currently have little access to markets. In the face of protests from environmental groups in Tanzania, the initial plan to build an asphalt road has now been dropped and will leave out 120 kilometres (in the Serengeti National Park) as gravel reduces impact on wildlife.
According to the revised plan, roads outside the national park will be paved, but roads leading to the park and those inside the wildlife sanctuary will not be paved. Environmentalists have campaigned against the Tanzania Serengeti Highway project arguing that it will endanger millions of wildebeest and zebra that annually cross Serengeti into the Masai Mara in Kenya.
Founder and Executive Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey, said: “Some of the best preserved rainforests in Nigeria are the Cross River National Park and the Ekuri Community Forest in Cross River State. These forests are under serious threat of being destroyed to make way for the Cross River State ‘Super Highway’ road project that can be easily re-routed to preserve communities, enormous eco-biodiversity and rare endangered IUCN species.”
Meanwhile, a former Commissioner for Works and chairman of Calabar South Local Government Area, Bassey Ekefre, said, the Federal Government would have been more interested in a railway project than the “Super Highway” road project the Cross State Government is projecting.
Nigeria has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, having lost around 410,100 hectares which is approximately 3.5% per year over the period of between 2005 – 2010/2012.
In 2010, Nigeria had 109 million hectares (ha) of natural forest extending over 12% of its land area. In 2020, the country lost 97.8 kilometres ha of natural forest, with global 3.8 million ha of tropical primary rainforest destroyed in 2019 – equivalent to a football pitch every second, according to Global Forest Watch
Deforestation has ruined the habitat of many plants, animals, ecotourism, the economy of the communities, wildlife, increased desertification, loss of biodiversity ecosystems, and reduction in carbons sequestration capacity which in turn contributes to climate change, hydrological cycles and water runoff.
Currently almost a quarter (23%) of global emissions come from land use activities, such as logging, deforestation and farming. Protecting forests and ending damaging land use is one of the most important things the world can do to limit catastrophic global warming, while also protecting the lives and futures of the 1.6 billion people worldwide, nearly 25% of the world’s population, who rely on forests for their livelihoods.
“The impacts of deforestation activities in the Congo Basin rainforest dubbed, the second lung of the earth and the second largest forests in size after the Amazon are severe in a region that is ravaged by; poverty, decades of war, conflicts, crisis and poor governance,” according to Fair Planet.
The environmental effects of deforestation activities include the loss of eco-biodiversity, emission of greenhouse gases, conflicts with indigenous and local populations, violence, human rights abuses, corruption, funding of armed conflicts and worsening of poverty.
There are growing international concerns on the shrinking nature of Cross River rainforest/intact forest landscape and the disappearance of various wild fauna and flora species in the state.
Conservator-General, National Park Service (NPS), Dr. Ibrahim Goni, says 60 percent of Nigeria’s valuable forest estate has been lost to degradation and most of those left are currently under threat.
The United Nations, as well as experts at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Global Forest Watch (GFW) found that one million animals are in danger of extinction as a result of how much deforestation has occurred.
“It is vital for the Nigerian government to immediately put an end to the looting of its forests and engage in the renovation of its forest sector, transforming it into an effectively regulated branch of its economy, respectful of the environment and its citizens,” the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
The proposed Cross River State “Super Highway” road project poses a considerable threat to tropical rainforest/intact forest landscape of the state in modern history as the rainforest of Cross River State is the major location where pristine forest still remains in Nigeria.
By Taiwo Lawrence Adeyemi
This article was produced with financial assistance from the Pulitzer Centre’s ‘Congo Basin Rainforest Journalism Fund’