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Why Buhari should demand answers to questions on super highway project

Prince Odey Oyama, the Executive Director of Rainforest Resource and Development Centre (RRDC), an environmental NGO based in the Cross River State of Nigeria, in this piece lists concerns relating to the Super Highway project, charging President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently seek answers to pending issues

President Buhari unveiling the plaque with Governor of Cross River Prof. Ben Ayade during the Ground Breaking Ceremony of the 260km Super Highway Double Carrier Road from Calabar to Northern Nigeria on 20th Oct 2015. Photo credit: vanguardngr.com

President Buhari unveiling the plaque with Governor of Cross River Prof. Ben Ayade during the Ground Breaking Ceremony of the 260km Super Highway Double Carrier Road from Calabar to Northern Nigeria on 20th Oct 2015. Photo credit: vanguardngr.com

By the act of performing the ground breaking event of Tuesday, October 30, 2015, on the invitation of the Governor of Cross River State of Nigeria, Professor Ben Ayade, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, has tacitly given consent to the Cross River Bakassi-Katsinna Ala 260km, six-lane dual carriage super highway project. This event that signaled the official date of commencement of the project took place at Obung Village, in Akamkpa Local government Area of Cross River State of Nigeria. The RRDC is concerned about pending issues and obvious insufficiency of vital information pertaining to the project. The pertinent issues pertaining to the project, which appears to be proceeding without adherence to relevant legislations and due process as well as compliance with regulations in environmental safety and protection, are summarised thus.

 

Transparency & Accountability

The cardinal programme of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Federal Government of Nigeria is Transparency and Accountability. Now that the Governor of Cross River State has decided voluntarily to involve President Buhari in the said project, issues of transparency and accountability now demand urgent clarifications

 

Funding

So far the sources of funding of this huge highway project, to be fitted with digital internet connectivity, speed cameras and toilet facilities, have not been fully disclosed to the public.

We expect that such disclosures ought to be made to the Federal Government, the Cross River State House of Assembly, as well as the entire people of Cross River State. In a project like this, the issue of disclosing the sources of funding is of paramount importance. Firstly, it would be inadvisable to secure funding from sources that could amount to national security risk to the people of Nigeria. Secondly, except the sources of funding of projects are made public and placed under public scrutiny, the risk of opening the door for money laundering could arise. It is easy for people to use opportunities of very popular projects such as this to recycle stolen public funds and thereafter make the proceeds to appear as legitimate income. This must be avoided and the doctrines of transparency and anti-corruption which constitute the cardinal principles of the Federal Government must be made to apply at all times. Essentially, it should be observed that concealment or disguise of the true nature and source of funding for this super highway project would tantamount to a violation of the following laws: i) Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act 2004, ii) Freedom of Information Act, 2011, and iii) others, Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

 

Nature and scope of the project

A super highway project is a “public interest” project. It should be expected that the land survey and engineering drawings as well as all the technical reports that form the foundation of this project ought to have been made public. However, this has not been the case and it makes it very curious that the blueprints of such a huge project running across the entire Cross River State of Nigeria was not made public before the commencement of construction at the ground breaking event. Significantly also, the blueprint of the said project has not been made public till this moment. This is a contravention of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 of the National Assembly as well as other related legislations and in particular, the doctrine of transparency of the government.

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Due Process

The process of awarding public contracts such as this are clearly specified in the “Cross River State Due Process and Price Intelligence Bureau for Public Procurement Law No. 15 of 30th December, 2011. Part III, Section 21 subsection (1) (c-d) of the said Law states inter alia:

21(1): Subject to any exemption allowed by this law, public procurements shall be conducted –

  1. c) by open competitive bidding…
  2. d) in a manner which is transparent, timely equitable for ensuring accountability and in conformity with this Law and Regulations”

Also, “The Cross River State Public Private Partnership Council Law No. 6 of 4th August, 2010,” has specified various stages of approval through which projects contained in the Mater Plan could be executed as Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects. Part II Section 9(h) of the PPP Law provides that the State Bureau of Public Private Partnership (PPP) shall “review, evaluate and recommend project proposals and feasibility studies and oversea the procurement process for PPP projects on behalf of the Public Sector.” Up till this moment, there are no publications indicating that the 260km Super Highway was ever advertised, bided and conducted by the PPP Bureau through the due process as demanded by law. Due process implies that such publications should be made in the State Government Gazette. The government advocates open and transparent people oriented governance with emphasis on greater disclosure of government contracts prior to awards and during implementation. The Governor (Senator, Prof.) Ben Ayade’s administration of Cross River State would appear to be proceeding with the Super Highway project contrary to the rule.

 

Land Use Act

The Land Use Act No. 6 of 1978, demands that schedules of compensation should be compiled and made public in respect of public projects that encroach on private or community lands and property. This project is traversing several thousands of hectares of private and community forests and agricultural lands as well as sundry properties. By the time of the commencement of the project (that is, the ground breaking event of Tuesday, October 30, 2015) no schedules of compensation has been made public. Up till the present moment also, schedules of compensation (including the names of beneficiaries) have not been made public. The risk is that this project could end up escalating rural poverty if the issues of compensations are neglected. This is so because the affected indigenous people and communities of Cross River State of Nigeria who own these resources could end up losing their sources of livelihoods, income and wellbeing, as well as their natural heritage and territories if the considerations for alternative farmlands and/or payments of compensations are neglected. The interest of the government is anchored on the fact that the government of Cross River State invited the President to perform the ground breaking event. Thus, it becomes necessary for the President to demand answers to compelling issues such as this.

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Buffer zone of the Cross River National Park

In as much as the blueprint of the project has not been made public, the extent of the impact of the project on the buffer zone of the Cross River National Park (CRNP) (being a legally established forest zone on the periphery of the CRNP) cannot be immediately established. It has therefore become necessary for President Muhamadu Buhari to demand the submission of the blueprints of the project to the CRNP and the National Park Service for scrutiny. This is significant because it has been observed that the super highway project is now being routed to traverse through the buffer zone of the Cross River National Park and other associated areas of conservation interest. In so doing, it has been made to encroach upon lands constituting the support zone of the National Park. It is evident, therefore, that the super highway project will provoke adverse and debilitating consequences on the wildlife population of the Park thereby contravening Part VI, Section 31, subsection 1(m-o) of the National Park Service Act which states inter alia:

 

“31(1) A person who, unless authorized to do so under this Act or the regulations made under this Decree –

(m) carries out an undertaking connected with forestry, agriculture, grazing or excavation; or

 

(n) does any leveling of the ground or construction or any act tending to alter the configuration of the soil or the character of the vegetation; or

 

(o) does an act likely to harm or disturb the fauna and flora; …in a National Park, is guilty of an offence under this Act.”

 

The position of the Rainforest Resource and Development Centre on this specific matter is that, the Cross River State government of Nigeria cannot rout the super highway through the buffer zone of the National Park knowing that the “buffer zone” is a creation of law stipulated under Part VII, Section 47 of the National Park Service Act to protect the boundaries of the Park from disturbance. The routing of the super highway through the buffer zone is clearly in contravention of the provisions of the National Park Service Act CAP. N65, (Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria). Under this law, Part IV, Section 22, sub-section C (iv-vi) stipulates that:

 

“(iv) any work which could alter the configuration of the soil or the character of the vegetation, or

 

(v) any water pollution, or

 

(vi) any act likely to harm or disturb the fauna flora…is prohibited.”

 

Importantly, it should be observed that Part VII, Section 45 of the National Park Service Act specifies that the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (now subsumed under the Federal Ministry of Environment) should undertake the production of an Environmental Impact Assessment reports for projects such as this. Therefore, any act contrary to this provision is a contravention of the law.

 

National Park Service Act, Cap. N65.

The National Park Service Act, CAP. N65 was previously established as Decree No. 36 of 1991 and later promulgated as Decree No 46. This law which is now an Act of National Assembly is made to protect all lands and territories constituting National Parks in Nigeria. It prohibits forest-based and construction activities that are likely to harm or disturb fauna and flora within the delineated National Park areas as well as the Buffer Zones of the Parks. Emphasis is also placed on the need for EIA reports to be produced on all projects or activities to be sited in all areas and/or buffer zones adjoining the Parks. Emphasis is equally placed on the participation of communities in such projects.

 

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Law

This legislation prohibits activities carried out in sensitive areas where such are carried out in the absence of mandatory studies. The intention of the EIA law is to safeguard the population and environment with regard to any form of environmental degradation resulting from unplanned development projects. So far no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report has been published in respect of the super highway project for public scrutiny as demanded by the Environmental Impact Assessment Degree No. 86 of December 1992, which is now an Act of National Assembly, CAP. E12. The consequences of sighting a super highway close to sensitive habitats are indeed very severe. The legal instruments that mandatorily demand a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Report of the sighting of Construction of Mass Rapid Transport projects in such sensitive locations are subsisting and available. Also, the creation of Federal and State Environmental Protection Agencies under Degree No. 59 of 30th December, 1992, (which is now an Act of National Assembly, CAP. F10) and the Cross River State Edit No. 4 of 29th August, 1996 (both of which are now subsumed under the Federal and State Ministries of Environment), as well as the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) Act No. 25 of 31st July 2007 and the National Park Service Act, CAP. N65 provides the reason and means to enforce the EIA Law. The siting of the super highway project within the forest estate and sensitive habitats of Cross River State must be made to comply with existing legislations to provide EIAs where necessary and to undergo scrutiny by the Federal and State Ministries of Environment, the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency and the National Park Service before being given final approval to proceed. In this respect the following Federal Laws are yet to be complied with:

  1. The Land Use Act No. 6 of 1978;
  2. The Environmental Impact Assessment Act, CAP. E12
  3. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency Act, CAP. F10
  4. The Cross River State Edit No. 4 of 29th August, 1996;
  5. National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency, Act No. 25 of 31st July 2007; and,
  6. The National Park Service Act, CAP N65.

Conclusion

Despite the obvious inadequacies of information pertaining to the articulation of the project, Buhari was made to give consent for the construction of the project in the ground breaking event. It has therefore become necessary for the President to demand answers to the ethical issues that have been raised here above. Since the government of Cross River State decided to involve the person and office of the President in this project, it behooves the same government of Cross River State to make declarations on all these matters. It should be observed that the performance of ground breaking event makes it urgently necessary for answers to be provided to these burning issues. It is the position of the Rainforest Resource and Development Centre (RRDC) that Mr. President should kindly look into these matters and take concrete steps towards ensuring that Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State provides the urgently needed answers to these compelling issues.

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