According to Ayade, the 260-kilometre 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
– Cross River government in trouble over non-payment of compensation
Judex Okoro, Calabar
Cross River State in the last couple of years has been noted as a frontline tourism destination in the country. In an effort to keep pace with the vision of past administrations and, perhaps, carve a niche for his administration, Prof. Ben Ayade, at his inauguration/ swearing ceremony on May 29, 2016, promised to execute three signature projects including the 260-kilometre super highway, the Bakassi Deep Sea Port and garment factory.
“Let me use this opportunity to announce our signature projects; we shall undertake the construction of a dual carriage super highway from Calabar through Ikom and Ogoja to the Ranch Resort in Obudu.
According to Ayade, the 260-kilometre 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. Experts have estimated it at a cost of N700 billion or about $3.5 billion
Committed to executing the project, Governor Ayade, six months into office invited President Muhammadu Buhari on October 20, 2015 to perform the ground-breaking ceremony of the super highway project at Akamkpa based on interim Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report by the Federal Ministry of Environment.
However, three years after, the dream super highway project seems to be a mirage as it has been dogged by series of challenges ranging from finance, administrative bottlenecks and allegations of environmental degradation by the host communities.
Besides the EIA brouhaha, there has been persistent knocks and scarthing criticisms from non-governmental organisations, alleging that the Cross River super highway should not be constructed because of carbon emissions and global warming. Some of these NGOs further argued that some of the best preserved rain forests in Nigeria are the Cross River National Park and the Ekuri Community Forest, adding that the forests are under serious threat which could destroy the enormous biodiversity including rare and endangered species. Indeed, it has been nicknamed by some analysts as ‘super trouble.’
But the most disturbing issue is the non-implementation of compensations of the host communities who have lost farmlands and community forests. The communities include Esighi in Bakassi Local Government Area, Ekuri and Okokori villages of Akamkpa and Obubra as well as Bekwarra.
Expressing concern on the ill treatment meted out on affected communities since the land was acquired in 2015, one of the NGOs based in the state, the Peace Point Action, berated the state government for allegedly refusing to pay compensation to individuals and communities whose farmlands, economic crops, forest and plantations were destroyed during initial earthwork on the proposed highway route.
READ ALSO: Farm community in Cross River cries for help
Coordinator of the group, Umo Isuaiko, said it was surprised that since late 2015 when the people’s economic crops and forest were destroyed, no compensation has been paid and therefore called on government to immediately pay compensation to the affected people to ameliorate their sufferings whether or not government continued with the project.
He said it was high time the state government followed due process in acquiring land because the Land Use Act says government holds the land in trust for the people and could only acquire it with their consent for overriding public interest.
“The alleged realignment of the Cross River National Park to pave way for the super highway is illegal and should be stopped forthwith,” he stated.
Isuaiko further advised the government to ensure that 23 conditions contained in the fourth provisional EIA approved by the Federal Ministry of Environment were met as anything to the contrary would not be accepted.
Also condemning non-payment of compensation, Executive Director of Rainforest Resource and Development Centre (RRDC), Mr. Odey Oyama, alleged that the proposed super highway was a gimmick by the administration to create access into the forests land of the state so as to have opportunity to exploit the timbers for their own economic gains.
Speaking during a workshop which had its theme, “Media sensitization and forest community concerns and super highway” organised of Media professionals in the state, Oyama maintained that if the rate of deforestation in the state continued unabated, Cross River might losing her vast rain forest before 2040.
Further lashing out at government, an environmental consultant, Tony Atah, said the super highway being one of the first major project of the present administration should have united the people but has brought doubts and pain in the minds of many due to lose of vast acres of land and tree crops.
“The super highway is not a development issue at all; rather, a governance issue. If we are not able to sit down as Cross Riverians and discuss, understand what it is all about, we may spend our money without achieving anything.”
In the same vein, lead speaker on media advocate on Cross River Super highway, Pamela Brade, questioned the sincerity of the government for proposing to construct a road ten kilometres to the right and ten kilometres to the left, adding that such will rather wipe out villages that should have benefited from the super highway project.
But the government dismissed the allegations.
Speaking on efforts to ensure that the EIAs guidelines were met, Commissioner for Information, Rosemary Archibong, said: “It’s unfortunate that in spite of our commitment to construct superhighway and deep sea port with a view to decouple the state of dependence on federal allocation, the agencies responsible for approvals thwarted our efforts.
“The land Use Act of 1978 permits the governor to make use of land within his jurisdiction for the benefit of its citizens. Some Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) are conniving with perceived political opponents of the state government to frustrate the project.”
She said the ministry of lands is working out modalities to ensure every community is compensated accordingly, advising NGOs not to join opponents to politicise the super highway project.
“In order to ensure the success of the project, we have sacrificed the 10-kilometer span limiting ourselves to 70 meters. So, I expect them to cooperate with us as we have met all the requirements as far as EIA requirement is concerned,” she said.