The Cross River State Government has admitted errors observed in its third failed attempt to get its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report on the proposed 260-kilometre Superhighway project approved by the Federal Government.
Last week, officials of the Federal Ministry of Environment in a stormy stakeholders’ family meeting it organised in Calabar, the state capital, rejected the EIA report submitted by the state, saying: “Definitely that is a document (EIA) that cannot even meet IFC (International Financial Corporation) and World Bank safeguard issues; they have a standard. Looking at the document we have standards that have not been met. An EIA report is a legal requirement which is used to the show level of your commitment regarding environmental and social issues and, at the end of the day, it will also dove-tail into your environmental management plan.
“If there are issues that need to be addressed and which are yet to be addressed, unless that is well addressed adequately, definitely if gaps are left it will be difficult for the Ministry (of Environment) to give the nod.”
Some of the areas faulted include: the baseline study, lack of stakeholder or community engagement, issues of “cut and paste” or observed plagarism, traffic management plan, impact analysis and management plan, financial plan, and others which the Minister of State for Environment Ibrahim Jibril, represented by the Director on EIA in the ministry, John Alonge said, “The Federal Ministry observed that the state government’s consultant to the project has not done a thorough job and we will encourage the consultants to do a thorough job. We are expecting a robust report that will address all environmental and social issues that need to be addressed so that we can have a class document that can meet international best practices.”
The state’s Deputy Governor, Prof Ivara Esu, who stood in for Governor Ben Ayade, said, “It is obvious that all is not against the issue of Superhighway, however we also noted that our consultants have to look at issues suggested and how we can remedy that. We shall do more consultations of the communities involved to capture all. We have noted the expert advice and various issues raised and how they will be addressed, we are a listening government, we want the UN-REDD and funding to continue. We are very anxious about resumption of activities on the Superhighway. Please, do all you can to assist us positively.”
Earlier in his opening address, Gov. Ayade said the Federal Government was frustrating the state “in all areas yet we forge along but environmental tools are to help human beings. As a people who have been denied all these, we need to take our destiny by our hands. We pass a law on absolute conservation, so how else can we show commitment to the forest?
“The Cross River National Park has been turned into an evil forest,” he said, noting that elsewhere like in South Africa superhighway pass through their national park but in the state “the old trees cannot even absorb carbon dioxide anymore and they begin to dry gradually. So the forest is not adding value because it is aging away.”
Despite pressure from members the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) who thronged the venue of the event along with civil servants, civil society groups like the Rainforest Resource and Development Centre (RRDC), the Ekuri Initiatives, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and others, insisted that the proper thing must be done to ensure that the Superhighway, when constructed, will not impact negatively on the people and the environment.
Executive Director of RRDC, Odey Oyama, said, “It is the contention of the RRDC that the Cross River State Government, under any guise whatsoever, cannot alter the boundaries of the park without the authorisation and approval of the National Assembly, and the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. By the provisions of the section 94 of the Land Use Act No. 6 of 1978, the Cross River State Government is precluded from altering the territories of the Park as described in the National Park Service Act, which has been passed by the President.”
He further said: “It is worthy of note that the Oban Hills Division of the Cross River National Park, by virtue of section 50 (2) (b) of the National Park Service Act, CAP N.65, LFN, 2004 is the property of the Federal Government, approved and gazetted in 1998 and the proposed Superhighway’s route has encroached upon the gazetted territory as evidenced in the attached map.”
Equally commenting, the Chairman of the Ekuri Initiative, Martins Egot, said: “We were there to discuss the EIA document and we saw a display of politics by the NLC carrying placards and trying to intimidate everyone to ensure that the state goes ahead with the project with or without approved EIA, and from the presentation of the state they admitted errors in the EIA and moved forward to make promises of what they will do without correcting the flaws and it is was not correct as alleged by the governor that some people and NGOs are paid to frustrate the Superhighway.
“The Ekuri people have not been captured in the EIA and it is wrong to say that the Ekuri forest is degraded buy a community in a tropical high forest. So, clearly, all has admitted that the EIA is faulty so the proper thing has to be done.
“We expect the government to do the proper thing and ensure that all grey arrears as listed by the Federal Ministry of Environment are captured for the interest of all before talking of doing the Superhighway.”
By Tina Todo, Calabar