Our worries about UNREDD scheme, highway project, by communities
The last is yet to be heard over a dispute surrounding the development of the 260 kilometre superhighway from a planned deep sea port in Esighi in Bakassi Local Government Area northwards via Obudu to Katsina-ala in Benue State, valued at $3.5 billion.
The project by the Cross River State Government has attracted global attention as over 100 communities and various conservationists have kick against the project.
The villagers allege that their timbers and other economic trees are already being bulldozed indiscriminately under the supervision of security agents to repel any violent reaction.
Experts believe that the existing Federal Highway from Calabar through Ikom to Obudu already serves all the purposes that the government wants the super highway to achieve. It links Calabar with Benue State and provides the route for trade.
Communities and trade routes already exist around this road, whilst the super highway would necessitate new feeder roads, which would cut more into the rain forest. Furthermore this would be much less costly and will do far less damage to the State’s forests and communities.
The government’s move has sparked off series of protests and petitions from the people of Ekuri communities in Akamkpa Local Government Area, Okokori in Obubra council, Boki, Etung and other communities along the 260km super highway route to the presidency, the Cross River state governor Senator Ben Ayade and various international organizations and countries to stop the super highway project.
The people of Ekuri (Old and New Ekuri) who live in the buffer zone of Cross River National Park deep in the heart of one of Nigeria’s last surviving rainforests said “their forest is sandwiched by the Ukpon forest reserve to the north and Cross River National Park to the east and south and to the west by the Iko Esai community forest.”
The Clan Head of Ekuri, Ata Obool Samuel Olory who spoke onbehalf of 19 other village heads, said“Their rainforests are spectacular and are home to a number of rare and endangered wildlife species including Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, some of the last forest elephants in West Africa and forest buffalo. However, all of this is about to disappear forever due to the construction of the Cross River State Superhighway which will destroy the ancestral lands and forests of the Ekuri people and thousands of others along the proposed 260 km route.”
These forests according to them are so important to the Ekuri people that in the early 1990s when they were approached by two logging companies offering to build them a road in exchange for logging their forest, they said “No”. Instead they asked the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature and the UK’s Overseas Development Administration (now the Department for International Development (DFID)), to help them set up a forest management organisation called the Ekuri Initiative” which has been very helpful to the Ekuri people.
The Ekuri people are calling on the Federal Government to: “suspend immediately all forest logging and clearance already commenced without an EIA permit from the Federal Ministry of Environment of Nigeria and rescind the related revocation of community land along the superhighway Right of Way.
Similarly, Okokori Community in Orchon council ward, Cross River State of Nigeria situated in the tropical forest and sandwich to the right by the Ekuri Community forest to the East and west by Ukpon Forest reserve and to the north by the lands of Edondon community spoke through their Traditional Rulers Council.
The Village Head of Okokori, Chief James Oyi, Community Secretary, Mr. Brendan Iferi said, “the 20.4km width of the revoked lands includes our farms, community forest and our settlement. Our customary use of our lands for centuries where our ancestors have been buried is about to be desecrated.
“The rich biodiversity of our community forest contiguous with the Ekuri community forest and the Cross River State national Park contributes to the forests in Cross River state being named one of the 25 biological hotspots in the world will be lost forever and this legacy about to be buried.
“The acclaimed recognition of the state as harbouring 50 per cent of the remaining forests in Nigeria will crash awfully. The REDD+ programme in the state is already a failure as all the forests in Ekuri/Iko pilot site will be lost because of the super highway. We will be forced to face eviction, food insecurity, poverty, lost our culture and sustainable well being”.
The Okokori people further resolved; “we do not support your (state governor) plan to evict us from our ancestral lands, we have occupied since 1848. We are not settlers in government land but on our communal land that we have exercised customary rights for years.
Speaking under the aegis of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) Media fellowship programme, they said: “We also reject the revocation of our community forest so that this forest will continue to provide ecosystem services for our well being and for the benefit of humanity in general.
“We want our conserved forest forests, a reposition of carbon to contribute to fighting climate change crisis affecting the entire world, rather than destroy it and exercibate climate change and its depressing effects on humanity.
However the governor Senator Ben Ayade has severally assured impacted communities that the road project will bring so much economic benefits to them, the state and the entire country noting that the revocation of land on both sides of the superhighway was for overriding public interest and the EIA has been done.
Chairman Forestry Commission, Mr. Bette Obi, said, “ they are raising false alarm. It is politically motivated. As far as I know the superhighway does not affect the people at all.”Before they commenced that project, I am sure the governor must have done his best to dialogue with the communities and all stakeholders.
“Furthermore, we are strongly opposed to the revocation of our farmlands for a super highway in consideration of the fact that farming and forest gathering are the mainstay of our local economy and we expected that your government could have strengthened us in this direction rather than destroy the base of our daily sustenance and subject us to object poverty.
“The revocation of all our lands including settlement, farmlands and community forest is a calculated attempt to extinguish us as a people forgetting to know that we did not vote for you to take away our inheritance and rights to our ancestral domains”.