The Sun News

Cross River super highway bogged down by politics

From JUDEX OKORO, Calabar

For over decades now, Cross  River State  has  been  noted  for its landmark achievements   in the areas  of  tourism, agriculture  and  rural  development. And it was  in  the light of this  that  Governor Ben  Ayade, at  his  inauguration  on  May 29, 2016, promised  to execute three signature projects. These are  the 260-kilometre Super Highway, Bakssi  Deep Sea  Port and  Garment Factory.

He  said the Super Highway  was   designed  to   start  from a proposed deep  sea  port  at  Esighi  in Bakassi  Local  Government,    through  the Cross  River National  Park  and  up  to Katsina Ala in  Benue State. Experts estimated  the  project  to cost    N700 billion or about $3.5 billion.

Six months  into Ayade’s administration, President Muhammadu Buhari,  on October 20, 2015, performed the  ground-breaking ceremony of the project at Akamkpa,  based on interim Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report  by the Federal  Ministry  of   Environment. In designing the project, the governor might  have taken into consideration, other super highways across the globe, even with the grave effects on human population and conservation.

Investigations revealed that some super  highways,  including the 48,000-mile United States Inter-State Highway System (IHS), the China’s National Trunk Highway System,  with nearly 70,000 miles highway as  at 2014, the 3,600 miles highway in India and the on-going 1,600km Trans-Sumatran highway route in Indonesia, which  crisscrossed forests and national parks.

But 15 months after, the construction work of the superhighway and deep sea port  have  been marred  by intrigues and politics of EIA’s approval. Rights groups, NGOs, some local communities  have  raised environmental concerns at different fora, fuelling speculation that all is not well with the projects.

At the public presentation of the EIA, for the super jighway last year, some environmental experts and NGOs insisted  that the super highway should not be constructed because of carbon emissions and global warming. They argued that some of the best preserved rain forests in Nigeria are the Cross River National Park and the Ekuri community forest.

They  alleged that the forests   were  under serious threat, which could destroy  the enormous biodiversity,  including  the rare and endangered species. The NGOs, in a statement signed by their heads, including Fred Kwame, who is the Africa Regional head of WWF International, Switzerland, John Robinson, Executive Vice President, Wildlife Conservation USA, and Hazell Thompson of Birdlife International UK, called on the Federal Government to halt the super highway.

For Cadmus Atake, Project Officer of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), the appropriation of a massive 20.4-kilometre-wide track over 260km length,  for the super highway is monstrous and needless proportions:

“Of all rights of occupancy existing or deemed to exist on all that piece of land or parcel of land lying and situate along the Super Highway from Esighi, Bakassi LG to Bekwarra LG,  covering,  approximately,  a distance of 260km and having an offset of 200m on either side of the centre line of the road,  and further 10km after the span of the super highway, excluding government reserves and public institutions are hereby revoked for overriding public purpose absolutely. This is clearly unacceptable under any kind of highway design.”

The concern  was  expressed in a petition to the governor, dated February 13, 2016,

The communities  are  not left out in the protest against the super  highway as the chiefs and  people of  Ekuri and Okokori  villages of Akamkpa and Obubra, also  decried the revocation of the right to their lands, including settlements, farmlands and community forest, describing it as a calculated attempt to extinguish them  as a people.

According to chief Edwin Ogar of Ekuri  community, the  land  marked out  for  the super highway is too large and it  would  destroy their forest and farms that they  laboured to conserve and cultivate crops.

However, investigation  revealed that the state government has met all the guidelines,  stipulated by the Ministry of Environment,  with  regard to EIAs of super highway  and  Bakassi  Deep  Sea Port.

It  was learnt that government had  sacrificed 10 kilometers on both sides and limiting it to 70 meters,  to ensure the success of  the project. But in spite of the efforts, a source said, the state is yet to get approval for the signature projects from the Ministry of Environment. Rather, the source, hinted that the projects have  now  become  subject  of  politics  by  APC and PDP.

Worried  by this development, government  threatened to adopt aggressive approaches,  if the Federal Government fails to grant her the EIA final permit to commence the construction of the super highway.

Raising the alarm over the non-approval of EIA  reports, government said the delay in releasing the much-awaited EIA reports had  resulted in the withdrawal of some local and foreign investors, just as it has slowed down construction work on the sites.

At  a recent joint press briefing in Calabar, the Commissioners for Information, Rosemary Archbong; Finance, Asuquo Ekpenyong Jnr; Lands, Dr. John Inyang; Climate Change and Forestry, Dr Alice Ekwu and Water Resources Mr. Odo Orji, the state openly accused the federal agencies of frustrating the state’s development programmes.

They warned that if EIA approvals were not given by the end of this month, the state government might be forced to go on with construction  works  on  the  two  projects  without  minding  whose ox is gored. They  maintained  that no NGO or agency would deny Cross River people  access to their land,  or decide how they would  use their God-given natural resources, adding that the government is holding the land in trust for  meaningful development for its citizens.

Archbong said: “It is unfortunate that in spite of our commitment to construct  Super Highway and Deep sea Port,  with a view to decouple  the state of dependence on federal allocation, the agencies responsible for approvals thwarted  our efforts.

“We have met all  the guidelines set by these agencies, we have strived to meet the demands,  to ensure that these projects take off smoothly. Yet,  we are still battling with these approvals.

“The land Use Act of 1978 permits the governor to make use of land within his jurisdiction, for the benefit of its citizens. So, we are crying out to the  Federal Government to give us approval  not later than March ending, to enable us continue work on the two projects before rains set in. We are being frustrated by detractors from within and outside the state.”

Inyang, said: “We have complied with all   requirements,  both at the private and government levels. And if they don’t want to cooperate,  we shall be forced to apply our unlimited powers as government,  to continue the projects with, or without EIA approvals,  since they are playing politics with it. We are not happy that our efforts are being wasted because, we are not putting the land into use, to the disadvantage of anybody.”

Accusing some Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) of conniving with some perceived political opponents of the state government to frustrate the project, Inyang demanded the cooperation of all and sundry,  to kick-start the Super Highway construction, in view of its economic benefits to both the state and federal governments.

The commissioner explained that most  people opposed to the super highway have nothing reasonable against the project execution: “Some of the NGO’s have decided to join our opponents,  to politicise the super highway project.

“Of a  truth, if you listen to some of them talk, they have nothing against the Super Highway,  other than for it not to succeed because,  it would  be a political score for the Ayade-led administration.

”To ensure the success of the project, we have sacrificed the 10kilometer span, limiting ourselves to 70 meters. From today, they have nothing to say against the Super Highway,  rather than to cooperate with us.

“We have met all the requirements,  as far as EIA requirement is concerned. So, we are going to be aggressive about it,  after the second week of March, 2017, if we don’t get our EIA.”

Also speaking, the commissioner for Climate Change and Forestry, Dr Alice Ekwu, said: “We regret the undue delay in EIA’s approvals by  Ministry of Environment,  even when we have met the requirements, including the scope. But, at the point of approval,  they shifted the goal post , by bringing in extraneous guidelines because,  this is Cross River.”

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