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Cross River at crossroads

By Anietie Akpan, Calabar
19 March 2017   |   1:31 am
Over half of Nigeria’s remaining 90 per cent rainforest is found in Cross River State. According to experts, it is one of the richest in biodiversity on the Africa continent.

250, 000 Trees To Give Way For Super Highway

Over half of Nigeria’s remaining 90 per cent rainforest is found in Cross River State. According to experts, it is one of the richest in biodiversity on the Africa continent.

Over the years, the state government and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), have made modest efforts towards sustaining the forest for sustainable development, and also cashing in on the United Nations’ Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) Carbon Credit Fund.

But all these notwithstanding, the forests are constantly under attack on a daily basis by hundreds of small scale-loggers, farmers and locals out in search of timber, land for cultivation and firewood. It was therefore not surprising that a 2002 study found out that the state has a rate of deforestation of over two per cent per annum, a rate considered as one of the highest deforestation rates in the world.

This development was also seen as a crisis for the state, given that it has few other resources to depend upon, especially in the light of the fact that it gets so little from oil revenue.

With the state facing a crisis that was impacting quietly, in addition to the waning resources accruing to it from the forestry sector, immediate past governor, Liyel Imoke, in 2007 convened an environmental summit, which involved all environmental NGOs in the state, forest communities and experts.

Also, as part of efforts to ensure sustainable management of forests in the state, Imoke went on to remove revenue targets from the forestry sector, which was previously a major source for internally generated revenue, as an incentive for the State Forestry Commission to promote best logging practices.

He also said his decision to grant a logging moratorium and set up an anti logging task force was meant to put a stop to timber exploitation in the state so that the government can obtain carbon concessions instead.

To ensure that the state’s efforts were not futile given the need for the forest to be protected from threat and to key into the UN-REDD+ policy and draw in revenue, the state government imposed a logging moratorium, and went ahead to established an Anti Deforestation Task Force in 2009, to enforce the two-year moratorium on logging.

The Senator Ben Ayade-led government sustained the ban on logging and at the same time initiated the policy of planting five million trees. Despite the ban, some powerful individuals occupying top political positions at the state and national levels are still involved in massive logging.

Matters were, however, made worse recently when the NGOs accused the state government of trying to exploit the forest in the guise of a super highway, thus denying the state the expected gains from the UN-REDD+ carbon credit funds.

Ayade’s plan to build a 260-kilometre super highway across large swathes of the state’s rainforest, questions the state’s sincerity in sustaining the forest and its bio-diversity.

Till date, international and local NGOs, conservationists and impacted communities are stoutly against the super highway, saying going ahead with it would sack over 180 communities and bring down about 250, 000 trees, thus depleting the only remaining rainforest.

It was in the light of this that the people of Ekuri argued that: “The forests of Cross River State are globally recognised for their international importance as one of the richest sites for biodiversity in Africa. The World Wide Fund for Nature, and other NGOs have documented the fact that they harbour an enormous diversity of plant and animal species, almost unmatched anywhere else in the world.

In recognition of this, the United Kingdom government invested millions of pounds in the Cross River State Forestry Department in the 1990s.  WWF also invested millions of pounds in the establishment of the Cross River National Park over a period of seven years.

Only recently, when the UN established the UN-REDD+ programme in the country, Cross River State was picked as the pilot state for the establishment of structures to channel carbon credit funds to reward the state for actions aimed at protecting these globally important forests.

Be that as it may, in what appears like a change of heart, the state government reversed the earlier order, which revoked 10km span on either side of the centre line of the proposed 260km superhighway project (and) acquisition of right of way for the road project.

The state Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development, Dr. John Inyang, in an advertorial he endorsed said, “acquisition of right of way for the proposed road project and payment of “compensation shall be limited to the 70 metre span of the road corridor.”

International organisations on conservation and local ones like Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) led by Rev. Nnimmo Bassey, NGO coalition for the Environment (NGOCE) led by Dr. Odigha Odigha, local and impacted communities like Oban, Old and New Ekuri, Okokori, Edondon, Etara, and others have lauded the government reversal of the revocation saying it was a good sign for conservation.

They have also rejected the latest revised version of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the super highway project submitted to the Federal Government by the state for approval as international groups like the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Flora & Fauna International denied acting “as expert advisers and stakeholder for the project,” as stated in the document.

A petition dated January 31, 2017, and signed by the WCS Nigeria Country Director, Mr. Andrew Dunn, to the Ministry of Environment, pointed out that: “This is the third edition of the EIA yet it still fails to address our original concerns, and contains a number of new errors and false claims. The revised EIA completely fails to consider the negative impacts of the proposed superhighway and its corridor on Cross River National Park and surrounding forests; moreover it contains much data that are clearly false and makes a number of fraudulent claims. The Wildlife Conservation Society considers that the document is fundamentally flawed and should be rejected.”

But the Special Adviser to the Governor on Technical Matters, Mr. Eric Akpo said: “The numbers of trees (timbers) that will be affected in the course of the super highway project is not 250, 000 but less than 25, 000 trees that will be affected. Of course, logging is not the intention of the project, so what happens to the trees is not cardinal here. If you check where clearing has been done before now, most of the stumps are still there. So, the state government is not interested in the logs, but only clearing a corridor.

“Of course about 25, 000 trees will be affected but as an environmentalist, the governor in his wisdom has decided that if he is going to take out 25,000 trees from the eco-system then he should be able to build in five million trees into the eco-system. That is an environmental management plan to checkmate the negative effect of falling of trees. The five million trees are to be planted to extend the rainforest from the Central Senatorial District, where it terminates further into the Northern Senatorial District. So, you will see plenty of these trees planted within local councils like Obubra, Ikom, Boki, down to Ogoja, Bekwara and Obudu.”

Akpo dismissed all allegations and criticisms from the international NGO’s regarding the EIA saying, “EIA cannot be 100 per cent completely done because even when you have got an approval of an EIA, there are certain things you will meet on site that were not initially considered, and you need to get back and review it. These international organisations are beginning to treat this document as if it is something that was going to be a gospel, and when it is decided it is final. It is not so, there is no how any international organisation can claim that they know all the flora and fauna that exist within a particular environment.”

Not pleased with the position of the Federal Government and other organisations, Ayade in a statement to a team of UN-REDD+ consultants in Calabar on the facts and fiction of the superhighway said: “As a government we made a policy to preserve all our forests and therefore dislocated our people from their dependence on our forests. That dislocation has caused them pains and agony and it is our responsibility to manage it.

“Essentially, REDD+ is intended to preserve the forest for the good of mankind. But that man that you are preserving the forest for does not have to die of hunger. So, I ask myself, for all the reserves that we have stored, the carbon stock that we have held in those trees that we have stopped everybody from cutting them down therefore creating those emissions into the atmosphere, what have we got in return? So, for me as a governor, as a Professor of Environmental Science, as a lawyer, a combination of all of these tells me clearly that the communities are not having a fair deal. The communities are in pains.”

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