It appears the Cross Rivers State Government (CRSG) has a high mountain to climb in its bid to build its much-vaunted but controversial six-lane, 275km long Superhighway.
Designed to link Calabar, the state capital, to the neighboring Benue State, the $3.5 billion highway will pass through biodiversity rich forests in the Ekuri community as well as the Cross River National Park (CRNP), a development observers feel will have far reaching implications for thousands of families and their livelihoods.
But this route may now be jettisoned for another, going by fresh conditions given by the federal government to the state government.
According to one of the 23 conditions to be met by Cross River before the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report is approved and work can fully commence on site, the CRSG is to ensure that the updated maps in the new EIA must show that the “re-routed road corridor cognisance of the boundary of Cross River National Park and Ekuri Community Forest as well as conform to international best practices on setbacks for highways in critical ecosystems such as the proposed corridor.” In other words, state authorities were told that the road should neither cut through Ekuri nor the CRNP.
The Federal Ministry of Environment on Thursday, June 29, 2017 in Abuja handed the conditionally-approved EIA report (along with the conditions) to the Deputy Governor of Cross River State, Professor Ivara Esu.
Environment Minister of State, Ibrahim Usman Jibril, said that all conditions must be met before a final approval is given to the EIA report to signal commencement of work. He added that there would be a review within the next two or three weeks.
Besides demanding that the report/plan be revised and resubmitted within two weeks, the Ministry also stated that the EIA approval shall cover only the construction of a 275km long by 70m width Superhighway of six lanes including setbacks and other associated infrastructures such as eco-friendly bridges, culverts, drainages from Calabar to Katsina-Ala junction in Cross River State.
Government also demanded that the CRSG shall ensure that the diverse management plans, which include Environmental Management Plan (EMP); Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP); Resettlement Action Plan (RAP); Livelihood Restoration Plan (LRP); Greenhouse Gas Management Plan (GHGMP); Public Consultation Plan (PCP); Waste Management Plan (WMP); Traffic Management Plan (TMP) as well as Labour and Human Resources Plan (LHRP) put in place for the road project are strictly adhered to as required throughout the project lifecycle.
Besides engaging a group of accredited consultants to effectively manage the diverse management plans for the proposed road project, the CRSG was likewise asked to ensure the realignment of the 275.344km road corridor from the boundary of the Cross River National Park is in line with the National Park Service (NPS) Act CAP LFN 2016.
The CRSG is also to gazette the reversal of revocation order on the acquisition of 10km on either side to the 70km span of the road corridor as well as the gazetting of the boundary of Cross River National Park within two weeks.
Furthermore, it should ensure that the initial land clearing of the road corridor that was carried out without due inventory of the third party properties/farmlands is revisited to adequately compensate the project affected persons (PAPS) in line with national and international standards of practice on resettlement and restoration plans. This shall be done prior to project commencement.
Some other conditions were identified to include:
- CRSG shall ensure that the construction of the entire road project and associated infrastructures conform to standard engineering codes and international best practices.
- CRSG shall identify all proximate communities to the road corridor within the established area of influence as well as the project affected persons (PAPS) and ensure that every community/PAP is regularly consulted with throughout the project lifespan.
- The environmental offsetting should be one of the guiding principles for the proposed road construction as the proposed project area of influence is noted for endemic, threatened and endangered flora and fauna. There shall be development and funding of Biodiversity offset by CRSG.
- CRSG shall ensure that all relevant non-governmental organisations both local and international are consulted with regularly during the project lifespan to ensure among others biodiversity protection and project sustainability.
- CSRG shall ensure that the highly technical eco-friendly bridges to be constructed at strategic points/biodiversity hotspots/critical ecosystem on the road corridor are intensively monitored by specialised accredited consultants.
- CSRG shall ensure that the borrow pits proposed for the road project are provided with coordinates for ease of location, site identification number, reclaimed and converted to alternative environmental-friendly uses in line with regulatory standards as well as international best practices.
- CRSG shall ensure that the proposed road setbacks from third party structures, farmlands, critical ecosystem and green areas confirm to engineering code of practice/regulatory standards as well as international best practices.
- CRSG shall ensure that cautionary signs are appropriately placed at strategic points along the road corridor during implementation and throughout the lifecycle especially for wildlife crossing.
- CSRG shall ensure proper drainage termination for the flow route of run-off/storm water to protect the road corridor from erosion, ensure that the road embankment is constructed in a way that allows free-flow of surface water run-off, that any existing access road to neighbouring villages and settlements are not blocked, create appropriate buffer zones to prevent damage to unique ecosystems as well as enhance forest cover.
- CSRG shall put in place appropriate road furniture and safety standards in line with international best practices.
- CRSG shall ensure that the proposed project protects the hydrology of wetlands, streams and channels through restoration of natural drainage pattern and reduce disruption of of ecological processes by providing wildlife corridor.
- CSRG shall provide adequate personal protective equipment for workers, ensure that every worker on the project is adequately trained on Health; Safety and Environment procedures for Highway and provide sanitary facilities and mobile clinic during project construction.
- CSRG shall ensure that the maintenance and management of the road corridor is in line with international best practices.
- There shall be Impact Mitigation Monitoring (IMM), Post Impact Assessment (PIA), Environmental Audits and Compliance Monitoring on the project by the Federal Ministry of Environment in collaboration with other relevant regulatory agencies.
- CSRG shall put in place a robust contingency plan for the proposed road project.
- CSRG shall update 4th version of the EIA report to also include the following: (a) To exclude flora and fauna that are non-existent in the proposed project area of influence as per the attached; (b) A comprehensive list of the actual affected communities along the proposed road corridor; (c) List of borrow pits with coordinates and site identity for the proposed road project; (d) Map clearly showing the preferred road corridor with coordinates as well as major crossings along the entire stretch; (e) The EIA report should consider indirect long term impacts of hunting and habitat loss on Cross River National Park proximity to the Superhighway with improved access to the forest; (f) The updated 4th version of the EIA report shall be submitted to the Ministry within two weeks.
Reacting to the development, Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), said: “The lesson of the conditional approval of the EIA for the superhighway is that it took four attempts at EIA submission before the proponents of this project could come up with something close to passable. Stakeholders note that the CRSG took many decisions without adequate prior informed consultations.
“At a recent Community Dialogue at Akpabuyo, the community people all said they just woke up one day to see bulldozers destroying their crops, land and properties. In other words, they were not consulted. And they were not compensated. One of the conditions given before the EIA would be fully approved is that this anomaly must be corrected. Moreover, the Superhighway is to re-routed away from protected and community forests.
“We are also pleased to note that CRSG is to ensure that the updated maps in the new EIA must show that the ‘re-routed road corridor cognisance of the boundary of Cross River National Park and Ekuri Community Forest as well as conform to international best practices on setbacks for highways in critical ecosystems such as the proposed corridor.’
“Another point in favour of the communities who were badly shaken by the move to grab 10km on either side of the superhighway is that the CRSG must ‘gazette the reversal of revocation order on the acquisition of 10km on either side to the 70km span of the road corridor as well as the gazetting of the boundary of Cross River National Park within two weeks of receipt of this letter.’
“The entire Superhighway episode is a superstory on the vital need for citizens to be remain alert and fight for their rights irrespective of how powerful the forces ranged against them may be.”