Protest, concern trail Cross River’s super highway project

Map for the southern section of the highway showing how it will affect Ekuri and the Oban section of the Cross river National Park as well as the northern section including the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary that harbours the Cross River Gorilla

Map for the southern section of the highway showing how it will affect Ekuri and the Oban section of the Cross river National Park as well as the northern section including the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary that harbours the Cross River Gorilla

After the state government revoked a 20km setback of land along the entire 260 km Right of Way from Bakassi to Katsina-ala for the Super Highway project, the controversial law is now quietly being enforced in Cross River, raising fears among environmentalists and communities that one of the remaining African forest reserves in Ekuru will be under threat.

In a fresh petition from the concerned stakeholders to President Muhammadu Buhari, the Cross State Governor Ben Ayade and the Federal Minister for Environment, Amina Mohammed, they are demanding that the Cross River State superhighway be stopped immediately until a new route can be found that will safeguard the rainforests and the future of the Ekuri people.

The 260km Super Highway is planned to lead from a proposed deep sea port at Esighi in Bakassi Local Government Area run through the Cross River National Park and up to Katsina-Ala in Benue State, Nigeria, at a cost of N700 billion or about $3.5billion.

Groups such as the NGO coalition for the Environment (NGOCE) is raising awareness of the effect of the project while Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has produced a map for the southern section of the highway showing how it will affect Ekuri and the Oban section of the Cross river National Park as well as the northern section including the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary that harbours the Cross River Gorilla.

The villages of Old Ekuri and New Ekuri (popularly called the “Ekuri Community” are located in Akamkpa LGA, in the buffer zone of Cross River National Park.  These are two of only five villages in the whole world that speak the Lokoli language.  These two villages between them jointly own 33,600 ha of community forest.  This is probably the largest community-owned forest in all of West Africa.

Essentially, the forests of CRS are globally recognised for their international importance as one of the richest sites for biodiversity in Africa. The Ekuri Community has received the highly prestigious Equator Initiative Award from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for their outstanding contribution to biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction.

According to Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, “Some of the best-preserved rain forests in Nigeria are the Cross River National Park and the Ekuri Community Forest all in Cross River State, Nigeria. These forests are under serious threat of being destroyed to make way for a Super Highway that can easily be re-routed to preserve our communities as well as enormous biodiversity including rare and endangered species.

In a petition to the Governor of Cross River State, dated 13th February 2016, the Chiefs and people of Okokori Village of Obubra Local Government Area saw the revocation of the right to their lands including settlements, farmlands and community forest as a calculated attempt to extinguish them as a people.

They concluded that “Since the revocation of all our lands for a Super highway have damning consequences on us and our environment, we are compelled not to welcome this project as the ulterior motive of your government is to grab our lands and make us worthless, ignoring the fact we voted overwhelmingly for you to better our lot but not to punish us unjustifiably.”

In an earlier petition dated February 7, and addressed to the Governor, the Ekuri Traditional Rulers Council stated, among other things, that “The right of way for the Super Highway measuring 400 metres wide (200m on each side of the road from the centre line), being the width of four standard football fields, is too large and will destroy our forest and farms that we have laboured to conserve and cultivate crop.

“The further 10km on either side of the Super Highway from the 200 metres ends totaling 20km width is appalling, meaning that the whole of our Ekuri community forest totaling 33,600 hectares, all our farms and community settlements would have been revoked leaving us landless.”

Bassey said: “We find it unacceptable that a project of this magnitude is pursued without regard to the law and in defiance of the rights of communities.  Although the President conducted a ceremonial ground breaking exercise on October 30, 2015, that cannot be construed to mean an approval for the project to proceed without meeting the requirements of the law, particularly that of Environmental Impact Assessment. Moreover, as required by law, an EIA cannot be claimed to have been conducted if there are no consultations with citizens that would be impacted by the project.”

The Ekuri people have vowed to use peaceful non-violent protests to try to prevent even a single tree from being felled. Chief Edwin Ogar of Ekuri community stated that: “the destruction of Ekuri and other community forests because of the revocation for a super highway, will aggravate climate change crisis with dire consequences on humanity in general particularly among the poor”.

HOMEF called on the government to comply with the laws of the land including by conducting Environmental Impact Assessment, other relevant assessments and consultations as enshrined in ILO Article 169; halt the rampaging bulldozers that are already destroying farms at Etara/Eyeyen and are continuing towards Ekuri and Okuni forests/communities.

The group called on all peace-loving Nigerians and citizens of the world to join the call to rethink this project, wants the reroute of the Super Highway along a less damaging path and away from Community forests and the National park; and reward and support communities that protect our forests rather than penalize and dispossessing, displacing and impoverishing them.
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