500 benefit from community dialogue, EIA training in Cross River



No fewer than 500 people have benefitted from the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) training programme organised by Health of Mother Earth Foundation, (HOMEF).

The training, which was aimed at building the capacity of relevant community stakeholders was in tandem with vision of EIA in tackling the issues related to forestry and its importance to the community.

According to HOMEF, the three-day training benefitted participants from Okokori and Edondon in Obubra Local Government Area; Old Ekuri and New Ekuri from Akamkpa Local government Area of Cross Rivers.

Director, HOMEF, Reverend Nnimmo said the training programme which many papers and issues were presented, brought out much awareness on EIA, the superhighway and benefits of forest to the people and the world at large. The proposed digital super highway is a good thing and they support it but added, “the state government must do it in accordance with a proper EIA”, hence they rejected the absolute revocation and acquisition of 10km right of way of their forest land on either side of the proposed superhighway which threatens their biodiversity rich forest and its resources, the environment and livelihoods they depend on for daily survival were of great concern.

Rev Bassey said, “this is the last tract of full rain forest in Nigeria. It is a very valuable forest. The forest is not just a tree that stands there. The forest is a very complex ecosystem. A place that supports cultures and life and providing the oxygen that we are all breathing. If we cut the forest we are more or less suffocating ourselves. So their own enlightened self-interest is to protect their environment and that interest they have in protecting the environment has a big advantage for the whole world”.

He said the training was to bring the communities together to look at the place of EIA in development projects within forest communities and issues about what the people should look out for when an EIA is prepared, the roles of communities in EIA preparation were raised in addition to having a team of forest eco-defenders.

At the end of the three day interactive dialogue and training which took place at Okokori and Old Ekuri from June 9 to 11, the participants and community stakeholders resolved that they “need good roads but do not want their cultural heritage destroyed” as current plan by the government will do.

The resolution which was signed by the Village Head of Old Ekuri, Chief Steven Orji; New Ekuri village Head, Chief Abel Egbe; Edondon Youth Chairman George Nbeh and nine others insisted “on active engagement of communities in the EIA process with adequate compensation paid where necessary and to write to government to register their concerns relating to the proposed super highway project”.

They also resolved that Community’s Free Prior and informed Consent (FPIC) must be sought in all projects before implementation as they are prepared to “protest and resist any unsustainable forest management practices in the forest rich region”.

Accordingly, the state government was advised to “reduce every activity that promotes deforestation” but should “promote forest conservation and regeneration of indigenous trees in degraded areas”. It called for a minimized poaching, unregulated hunting and stop to illegal wild life trade in the precinct forest and “reject use of forest lands for large scale plantations, water pollution and the indiscriminate use of chemicals”.

Commenting on the training programme, the Village Head of Old Ekuri, Chief Steven Oji, said, “we learnt about sustainable management. We started conserving our forests from our forefathers. And until now we do not even allow logging companies to come here and log. That is why you see this beautiful forest and we don’t want people to come and destroy it. Because of this the whole is thanking us as it would provide oxygen to keep people alive. And they are going to pay us carbon credit for keeping the forests.

“We are not against the highway. We want highway, but the width of the highway should be what they have been constructing outside and not our own to be a different thing, by coming to destroy all our forests.”

Also commenting on the training programme which took some of the resource persons to the forest, the Principal Community Secondary School, Old Ekuri, Mr. Philip Ita Okoma said, “the training programme is very useful because it has further opened our eyes to many issues on the EIA and forest conservation. You see people have been coming here to deceive us. You see the super highway they are talking about, we are not against the super highway but the issue is that we don’t want our forest to be destroyed because before our forefathers, we had already learnt and understand what is called conservation. So we will not like our governor in the name of coming to give us a road to destroy our forest.

Another trainee, Mbe Martins Jona from Edondon community, said, “we key into this programme keenly in the fact that in the forest area there is so much and we have been here because we inherited this forest from our fore fathers and they will not expect to see the intervention of government either from any form of developmental stride to cancel the depth of our forest by keeping us in poverty or hunger.

“The question I expect the government and their agents to answer is why government is planning to destroy over 250,000 trees that took over 100 to 200 years to mature into a forest with the small ones coming up. What will the government do with this large number of trees? When will the so-called five million trees be planted and at where. When will it take to mature to give us the kind of protection we are getting from current timbers against global warming? Besides you don’t plant trees to grow a forest because a forest is natural with several other trees and other things in it. Why the green police instead of the usual forest rangers. I see this project as a scam.

Joseph Oyamo, a farmer, “for a very long time we have been conserving the forest and impoverishing ourselves. It is not that we don’t know we should extract timber and make money for ourselves. If the forest was destroyed years ago the government will not be interested in doing this road because there will be no timber for it to maul down and cart away. The Oban-Okoroba-Okuni road cutting across Akamkpa-Ikom which former Donald Duke started but not completed is there as the best alternative for the government to use and improve upon without coming into forest reserves to destroy over 250,000 trees if it was interested in doing a super highway.

“We found out that it was necessary for us to conserve our forest but the government which show us the way we can gain from our forest is now coming to take over our forest and we say no. we are ready to fight even with the last drop of our blood”.

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