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Superhighway: Cross River women want government to return seized land, pay compensation

Over 500 women from nine communities in Etung, Obubra and Akamkpa Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Cross River State are clamouring for the state government to formally return to them parcels of land initially designated for setbacks under the proposed superhighway project.

Ekuri community

Local community dwellers kicking against the super highway project that threatens hectares of their forests and farmlands

On February 7, 2016, the Cross River State Government revoked 5,200km2 of settlements, farmlands and forests for the superhighway road project with a width of 10km on either side of the road from the centre and a length of 260km. The revocation caused local and international uproar, as it affected host communities’ wellbeing and threatened the forests.

However, on June 2017, the Federal Ministry of Environment directed the Government of Cross River State to comply with 23 conditions before an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certificate is released. Two of the conditions were: First, the gazetting of the reversed setback so that these lands are reverted to affected communities. Second, payment of compensations to affected persons for crops and property destroyed during the construction of the superhighway road that started without an EIA.

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Over a year after, it appears the Cross River State authorities are yet to comply with the Federal Government directive to gazette the setback and pay compensation for crops and property allegedly destroyed.

Bothered by the development, women and girls of Edondon and Okokori communities, Etara and Ekuri Eyeyeng communities, Old Ekuri and New Ekuri, Iko Esai, Owai and Ifumkpa communities in Obubra, Etung and Akamkpa LGAs in Cross River have written a letter of protest to President Muhammadu Buhari, urging Mr President to take a decisive action, and put pressures on the Cross River government to gazette the reversed superhighway setback.

Dated Monday, August 27, 2018 and titled “Protest Letter for Non-gazeting of the Reversed Setback of the Cross River State Superhighway Road Project”, the letter reads in part: “Mr. President, we wish to inform you that, after one year, the Government of Cross River State has not complied with the directive of the Federal Ministry of Environment to gazette the setback and pay compensation for our crops and property destroyed illegally. Our fears are heightened more than ever before as the Government of Cross River State of recent is still talking about companies bidding for the superhighway road project when pending crucial issues are unaddressed.

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Also, non-gazetting of the reversed setback, legally or technically, means that our lands – settlements, farmlands and forests – all still belong to the Government of Cross River State and, for us, we are mere settlers pending our forced eviction to become another Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria.

“The action of the Government of Cross River State not to gazette the reversed setback is a clear demonstration of unwillingness of government to return our lands to us. Furthermore, because we are marginal people, poor and voiceless, is the underlying reason that the government we voted for has refused to pay compensation for our crops and property destroyed illegally and further penurise us.”

The women went ahead to list their demands, which include:

  • The Government of Cross River State to take decisive action and gazette the reversed setback of the superhighway road project so that our settlements, farmlands and forests are returned to us.
  • The Government of Cross River State to pay adequate compensation for farm crops and property destroyed during the construction of the superhighway.
  • The Government of Cross River State to restore the forests opened by planting indigenous tree species to mimic the forest ecosystems.
  • The Government of Cross River State to respect the Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) signed by Nigeria (CBD, UNFCCC, etc) so that the forests that we depend upon, continues to sustain our livelihoods.
  • The Government of Cross River State to respect our rights (as indigenous peoples) to life, food, culture, traditional knowledge, social and economic wellbeing and lands without which we are doomed.
  • The Federal Ministry of Environment not to approve the EIA Report submitted by the Government of Cross River State as it is not only defective, but its approval will empower Governor Ben Ayade to destroy all the forests in the state, and rubbish the environmental sustainability the state is globally known for.
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