Reactions have trailed the three-week ultimatum given by the Cross River State Government to the Federal Government to approve an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Report submitted in respect its proposed 260-kilometre superhighway.
Cross River State officials indicated that they might be left with no choice but to go ahead with the controversial project even without the central government endorsement.
Environment watchdogs, the Green Concern for Development (GREENCODE) and Peace Point Actions (PPA), have however called on the Federal Government to ignore what they describe as “empty threat by a group of political sycophants who are looking for ways of winning Governor Ben Ayade’s heart for their personal and political reasons.”
At a recent media briefing in Calabar, the state capital, Commissioner for Information, Rosemary Archibong, said: “The Federal Government must grant approval not later than the middle of March. We want to continue with our work. In a short time, the rainy season would set in and the state is a place of torrential downpour and we cannot wait for the rainy season as all the lofty projects of benefit to Cross River and Nigeria would suffer.”
She spoke in the company of her colleagues in Lands, John Inyang; Finance, Asuquo Ekpenyong; Water Resources, Gabe Oji; and Climate Change, Alice Ekwu.
But GREENCODE and PPA commend the Federal Government “so far in listening to the plight of the citizens, by ordering Stop Work on the Superhighway project on which work had commenced without an approved EIA”.
In a statement signed by Umo Johnson (PPA) and E. Edem (GREENCODE), the groups noted:
“We recall that the Superhighway was ill-conceived as it will not be cost-effective but would plunge the state into debt, besides the loss of biodiversity and the impoverishment of the people.
“The proposed Superhighway came along with an incredible revocation of land ownership of over 180 communities, began the indiscriminate destruction of virgin forest areas, houses and farm land.
“Secondly, the going by the national laws and policy, such project should have an acceptable Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) but despite the pressure for the state to commission an all-inclusive and participatory EIA process, the state contracted a company that turned in a shameful EIA report full of ‘Cut and Paste’ perhaps from other similar reports, which clearly shows that no detailed and participatory EIA was conducted in the state, thus pointing to the fact that there is more to hide in the short and long term negative impacts of the Super Highway.
“Thirdly, as NGOs concerned about prudent management of public finance, we have faulted this project as the initial contract of bulldozing of the highway pathway from Akpabuyo to Bekwara was never made public; neither did it comply with the Cross River state Public Procurement Law 2011.
“Fourthly, the state did not consult the citizens before deciding if the road is needed or not. We note also that the state government has not publicly displayed the analysis of how the road is going to be financed. Even if it will be under the Public Private Partnership (PPA), at least the state should be able to share publicly what will be the state’s contribution and how the private investor would recoup their investment. These leave the citizens to suspect that the reasons behind bulldozing of some of the communities’ virgin forests is basically to fell trees and use the proceeds to compensate the private investors, also the revocation of lands within the 10km wide on both side of the so called Super highway from Bakassi to Bekwara was A massive land grab that would have been auctioned to the highest bidders and used in paying the part of the investment.
“Similarly, since the state has refused to open up on how the highway construction will be finance, citizens have concluded that perhaps upon completion of the road, several toll gates will be installed on the road with high toll fees, so that the investors can recoup their investment.
“The superhighway project will needlessly displace over 180 communities, destroy our natural heritage and place a generational debt burden on Cross Riverians. If the reason is truly to offer faster link from the south to north and convey goods from the so-called ‘Deep Sea Port’ in Bakassi, GREENCODE and PPA as a partner in the Cross River state project is recommending the following:
- Suspend the plan for the construction of superhighway
- Plan and construct a fast rail track beside existing Calabar-Ikom-Ogoja and Bekwara highway which will be useful in transporting goods and services faster than the Superhighway. The fast rail will be safer, faster and cheaper and will convey larger number number of goods, services and humans than the superhighway. Also, the pathway needed for rail track will be have less impact on the environment.
- Withdraw the empty threat on Federal Government and tender apology to CrossRiverians.