Government, groups fault Cross River’s EIA on highway project
Amid the controversy trialing the super highway project, the Federal Government, National and International conservation agencies have rejected the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) submitted by the Cross River State government on the construction of the proposed 260 kilometre Calabar-Ikom-Katsina Ala Superhighway project in the state.
At the public presentation of the EIA recently, the Minister of Environment, Hajia Amina Mohammed said the draft EIA has not met international standard and cannot attract funding while the NGOs said not less than 180 communities in Cross River state are threatened with the current draft plan but the state government said there was no cause for alarm as no community will be displaced.
The Minister who was represented by a senior staff of the Ministry, Mr. J. A. Alonge at the EIA panel review meeting said, the issue of EIA is not the business of sentiments but that of transparency, quality degree of honesty so as to attract international participation and the panel as constituted will take decision on whether to approve the EIA or not as “the Ministry was not partnering with the Cross River State Government to do what they like” and any infrastructure project have to ensure environmental sustainability.
The Minister expressed concern on the issue of funding and the Public Private Partnership (PPP), which will trigger safe guard issues, saying, “are the resources available and can this document (draft EIA) attract financial assistance from participating financial institutions? There is no where that the state government can go without the international institutions. The critical eco system like the National Park and endemic issues are important and should be looked at.
“For me what you have done is just for the local level and you must present something (an EIA) that will meet international standard because the state government will source for funds from the international community”.
On his part, the Chairman of the panel, Prof. Abubarkar Sambo expressed happiness with the kind of excitement the EIA presentation generated from those for and against saying, “but sentiments apart, we must look at the issue of funding from the international community seriously, the super highway is a very good thing and decision of the panel will be for the overall interest of all and the environment which the Ministry of environment as a regulator is working very hard to see all issues are adhered to and one we hit the balance of the two we will reach a decision”
He said that the EIA does not even show the Cross River South Forest Reserve on its maps as the highway will cut directly through this important forest reserve with major impacts inevitable, they maintained, saying, “the socio-economic study focused on only 21 communities whereas it is estimated that more than 180 communities within the 20 km corridor will be affected by the proposed project.
The full impact on these communities, on their livelihoods and vulnerability has not been assessed”.
This project since the Federal Ministry of Environment gave a temporary EIA approval to allow President Mohammadu Buhari do the ground breaking on October 10; last year to pave way for the construction of the N700 billion superhighway, has attracted so much criticisms from and outside the country leading to a stop work order by the federal government even though the state government has defiled this order and bulldozing of the forest is going on.
About 13 NGOs comprising, Fred Kwame, Africa Regional Head, WWF International, Switzerland; John Robinson, Executive Vice President, Wildlife Conservation Society, USA; Hazell Thompson, Birdlife International, UK; Jonathan Bailie, Zoological Society of London, UK; Richard Bergl, North Carolina Zoo, USA; Russ Mittermeier, Conservation International, USA; Mark Rose, Fauna and Flora International, UK; Adeniyi Karunwi, Executive Director, Nigerian Conservation Foundation, Lagos; Tunde Morakinyo, Founder and Director, Iroko Foundation, UK; John Oates, Hunter College, City University of NY, USA and others said, giving the extreme concern generated as a result of the current process, procedure and proposals for the proposed Cross River State Superhighway, the signatories to the petition commissioned Environmental Resource Management (ERM) an international environmental, social and sustainability consultancy to do an objective gap analysis of the draft EIA report prepared for the proposed Calabar-Ikom-Katsina Ala Superhighway project.
The report by ERM according to the NGOs, faulted the scoping process saying “is inadequate and provides no information on the rationale or analytical process that was adopted. For example marine and aquatic habitat studies were scoped out. However this is not correct since the highway route clearly begins at the coast. Scoping is a vital part of the EIA process and should be sufficiently robust to focus efforts on key relevant issues for more detailed consideration.
“Baseline data are unclear, inconsistent, frequently contradictory and often incorrect. A number of key species have been overlooked and some of those listed are either extinct or not known from the area. There is no identification or assessment of critical/natural habitats. It is therefore impossible to effectively identify potential impacts due to the project or to recommend adequate mitigation measures.
“The project description is fundamentally flawed; most critically it fails to consider any impacts due to the 20 km wide corridor of land acquired by the Government of Cross River State along the entire route of the proposed superhighway. This corridor will undoubtedly have a devastating impact on the forest and more than 180 communities living there. Since the EIA does not have an adequate project description that includes this 20 km corridor”.
The group also argued that “there is no cost-benefit analysis for each of the routes proposed and no clear justification for the superhighway and reasons for building a new road as opposed to upgrading the existing highway (and) does not adequately consider the impacts of the superhighway on nearby protected areas namely Cross River National Park, Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, Afi River Forest Reserve, Ukpon River Forest Reserve and Cross River South Forest Reserve.
Cross River National Park (CRNP): the EIA incorrectly shows the “proposed” WWF boundaries for the Oban Division of CRNP which have never been legally gazetted.
“Stakeholder engagement has been extremely limited and “there is no Environmental and Social Management System (ESMS) that will be required to manage and monitor effective mitigation of impact. This is perhaps one of the most significant gaps of the EIA” because such “are described at a conceptual level only with insufficient detail for implementation”.
In view of this the group submitted that, “the findings of this gap analysis clearly indicate that the draft EIA is inadequate and cannot in any way be considered as a document on which any meaningful decisions might be made as to the further development of the project…and should instead be completely redone”.
The Chairman, Board of Trustees of “NGO Coalition for Environment (NGOCE) pointed out that, the EIA on the super highway, “is disobedience to the environmental laws and regulations…the map shows 185 communities will be affected but not captured in the EIA”.
The Commissioner for Lands Mr. John Inyang defending the position of the state government said, “some of the comments raised are critical and we will take them into consideration when we come back.
On the issue of land acquisition 10 km on each side of the road, he said,”We are not acquiring 10kms to either side of the proposed superhighway. The purpose is not also aimed at sending the settlers out of their settlement; rather it is for administrative purpose and development control”, noting that government could not afford to pay compensations accruing from the rumoured 10kms space, hence the need to shun unconstructive criticism if the state must be rapidly transformed.
Similarly, Works Commissioner Dane Osim-Asu argued that due to deplorable state of the existing Calabar- Ogoja federal highway, it now takes eight hours for motorists plying the road from Calabar to Ogoja. He maintained that the proposed superhighway, when completed will take just two hours from Calabar to Ogoja while the Commissioner for Information, Mrs. Rosemary Archibong, said, the proposed Superhighway would boost the internally generated revenue of the state, create alternative route as well as complement the deep seaport as an evacuation corridor, saying, because of cost and the fact that the state government cannot charge toll on the old road, its choice was not considered.
The Consultant (PGM Nig Ltd) that put the EIA together on behalf of the state, Mr. Bassey Chukwu said the performance standard triggered by the public presentation would be used to update the EIA to international standard.