A Brief Update on the Proposed Superhighway in Cross River State
In March 2016 the Federal Ministry of the Environment issued Cross River State a stop work order pending approval of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the superhighway. Since then, three different versions of the EIA have been submitted by the consultants on behalf of the Cross River State Government, and each one has been rejected in turn by the Federal Ministry of Environment. Such strict practices are almost unheard of in Nigeria and testament to the recent progress made in the country under President Buhari and in particular the strong personal leadership provided by the Minister of the Environment, Amina Mohammed. It is also likely that the vociferous international campaign against the superhighway helped convince the Federal Ministry of Environment that this was an issue of international importance which could not be easily overlooked. Although Amina Mohammed was recently appointed as the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, her successor - the Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Usman Jibril - has shown himself to be equally determined to see that the environmental laws of Nigeria are fully respected.
Without an approved EIA, tension mounted and, amidst threats to resume work on the superhighway without approval by the federal government, in February 2017 the Cross River State Government announced that it was dropping all plans for the 10 km corridor either side of the highway. Such an immense corridor had always been our major concern since it would have potentially destroyed huge areas of rainforest including important Cross River gorilla habitat. Getting the corridor cancelled was a major achievement - safeguarding important Cross River gorilla habitat in Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary. But the route as proposed was still due to pass through some important community forests on the edge of Cross River National Park - communities such as Ekuri and Iko Esai, as well as Ukpon River Forest Reserve and Cross River South Forest Reserve. However, as international and local media campaigns gained momentum, the Cross River State Government finally began to listen to these concerns and to consult with stakeholders. Options for the superhighway were discussed including re-routing around these forests, even though such modifications would make the highway slightly longer and would increase the overall cost. At a stakeholder forum convened by the Federal Ministry of Environment in Calabar in March 2017, Governor Ben Ayade announced the willingness of Cross River State Government to re-route the highway around the Ekuri community forest. While this was welcome news, stakeholders continued to demand for the re-routing of the highway away from the Ukpon River Forest Reserve and Cross South Forest Reserve which border the Ekuri forest to west and to the north. Finally, in April 2017, the Cross River State Government agreed to re-route the highway away from most of the remaining forest. This is indeed a big win for our campaign, even though our preferred outcome was the rehabilitation of the existing highway.
The source of funds for the superhighway is still shrouded in secrecy and has not been disclosed. Although some potential investors are reported to have recently pulled out amidst the controversy, it appears that a number of Chinese investors are still interested in the deep seaport and superhighway project, possibly as a long-term investment.
To date, no communities have been compensated for any of the trees felled or farms destroyed, and there has been very little public consultation. It is imperative that the NGOs continue to stand together so that our campaign remains steadfast and resolute. With our support, the Federal Ministry of Environment can continue to insist on improvements to the EIA, and we remain hopeful that an improved EIA will yet include substantial measures such as an Environmental and Social Management Plan to mitigate potential impacts, as well as a biodiversity offset as part of an overall Biodiversity Action Plan.
Andrew Dunn and Inaoyom Imong, April 2017