Cross River: Communities demand compensation after super highway havoc
Three years after the Cross River State government bulldozed forests and dredged swamps for the proposed $3.5b super highway and deep seaport, affected communities are agonising over decrepit infrastructure and the non-payment of compensation on economic trees felled, and crops destroyed.
From Esighi in Akpabuyo Local Council, through Iko Esai, Ekuri, Oban, Old and New Ekuri, in Akamkpa Local Council, and up to Okokori, Edondon, Etara communities in Obubra Local Council there are no good roads, the stark absence of health facilities, electricity, water is glaring, hence the people are leading a miserable life.
The story is the same in Agoi Ibami in Yakurr Local Council. In fact, roads leading to most of these communities are not just rough, they are muddy and rocky, with high hills making it difficult for vehicles to pass through. In most cases, only four-wheel drive vehicles can make the tortuous trips without breaking down on the way to these communities, just as locals depend largely on motorcycles. This rainy season, matters are worse as only few bikes and four-wheel drives manage to drive into places like Iko Esai, Etara and Ekuri that are worst hit.
Apart from bad roads, most of the schools buildings are dilapidated and begging for urgent attention. In Ekuri, for instance, the situation is so pathetic that children learn in local mud structures with leaky roofs. The only school there, which serves both old and New Ekuri is the Government Migrant School, a makeshift dilapidated mud structure, with rusty zinc roof that leaks profusely.
Important as the school is to the community, it has no laboratory; no library, no staff room and many other facilities that a regular secondary school should have. The principal’s office and the room where staff operate from constitute an eyesore.
“It is under this condition that about 85 children of Ekuri Community that has no road, electricity, communication network, water and others basic necessities are schooling to compete for good grades with their counterparts in the cities; it is from here that they would write WAEC; it is here that they would be prepared to write JAMB and gain admission to universities, yet a government is talking of spending billions of dollars to build a super highway,” bemoaned Morris Ogar, a community leaders in Ekuri.
He continued: “Before, this school was under the community, but now, despite being in this pathetic state, we understand that it has been taken over by the government. Now that this is a government school, we appeal to government to please let the commissioner for education facilitate the creation of a conducive learning environment for our children. We want a good school and government must give us the good school, instead of thinking about how to take over our forests.”
The vice principal of the school, Mr. Victor Enya, who has been squatting in an abandoned health centre with another staff for years told The Guardian: “When I was posted here in January 2015, the place was not conducive for learning, as it was just one long hall with a roof. But I must thank members of the community because they have been so helpful.”
Commenting on how the school, which currently has space for junior secondary one to three, and senior secondary one copes with the poor situation, Enya stated, “We have found ourselves in a difficult situation and there is nothing we can do. We are trying our best to make sure that we bring these pupils up in the best possible manner. It is not the environment that so much matters, but what is imparted into the pupils. The few teachers that we have here make use of their personal textbooks. We are grateful that our plight would soon be made known to the outside world.”
A Senior Secondary One student of the school, Godswill Ogar Njah said: “I am schooling here because I want to be a nice person tomorrow, but I am not happy that my school is like this because the environment is not okay. If you look around, we don’t have a library, or a multi-purpose hall where we can write major examinations like JSS3. I am not happy about it and my message to the state government is that it should equip our school.”
Mr. Philip Ita Okoma, who managed the school as principal when it was under the community said when he visited the Ministry of Education to intimate them of their challenges as they prepare to write WAEC, they were asked to try and raise a standard structure so that the school would be approved as a centre for external examination in Ekuri.
Reacting to the situation, the Commissioner for Information, Mrs. Rosemary Archibong, said, “the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) has awarded contract for the renovation, upgrade and building of over 400 schools. Though I don’t know what schools are involved in this, but right now, there is concerted effort to renovate schools, and that action is ongoing. It is hoped that the school will be part of the ones being handled by SUBEB. Contracts have already been awarded and some contractors have mobilised to site. I am sure there was a proper analysis of needs assessment, so any school that needs attention cannot be neglected.”
At Ikot Okpo Ene, Ikot Ndarake and Ikot Abasi Effiom in Akpabuyo Local Council, locals lamented the loss of their means of livelihood, like farmlands and economic trees without compensation.They claim that many of their children are no longer going to school again due to loss of income, even as some persons have died as a result of lack of resources to address health challenges.
The Federal Ministry of Environment (FMoE) few months ago gave 23 conditions for the state to meet before commencement of construction works on the super highway. One of the conditions is that the state government “shall gazette the reversal of revocation order on the acquisition of 10km on either side to the 70km span of the road corridor,” and it is expected that such gazette is published officially. The issue of community engagement and compensation was also raised.
The Village head of Ikot Ndarake, Chief Bassey Efanga Okon told The Guardian that after the ground breaking ceremony in 2015, by President Muhammadu Buhari, the state government mobilised heavy machines to our communities in Akpabuyo and started “clearing of farmlands, and bringing down economic trees, which constituted the major income base of our community, without consultation with the community leaders or owners of the farms. No inventory of plants and crops destroyed was taken by government, rather individuals took up the task of computing their loss. This cost them a lot of money, as they had to hire estate valuers.
“With the clearing of the trees around, houses became exposed to windstorms and rooftops were blown off and buildings pulled down by windstorm. There are no trees any longer in our communities to serve as windbreakers and erosion sites are beginning to emerge around affected communities. The sources of livelihood of our people, especially women have been destroyed; people including women and children now resort to begging for survival. There are recorded higher incidents of youth’s restiveness and criminality due to idleness and lack of reasonable sources of income. This untold hardship has quickened the step of many to their untimely graves.
Another victim, a visually impaired man from Ikot Abasi Efiom Village, Mr. Isaiah Edet said, “I do not have eyes to earn salary or do any form of trading, I depended on my palm plantation, farm produce and economic trees for survival, but since the state government completely destroyed those economic trees and farmlands in a very cunning way since January, 2016, I am at the point of death as you can see. The government did not consult, or have any discussion with us about compensation before going ahead to destroy our farms and trees. Till today, it has not said anything about compensation. A cleric at Ikot Abasi Efiom Village, Christ Ambassador Nazario John Nazarene regretted that after Ikot Abasi Efiom Village authorities donated a piece of land to the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star, “which was fenced and our bethel adorned with economic trees and flowers, the government bulldozers leveled everything.
“As a missionary, my family and I depended on the small plantain and cassava plantation that I cultivated in that land. As we speak, three of my children are at home because I cannot afford their fees because this thing happened without any prior notice. I need the government to compensate me for the structure that was demolished so that we could relocate to another place.”
Mr. Okon James, another victim from Ikot Ndarake village queried, “does government want us dead? For three years now, since 2015, we are suffering, my plantain plantation and other economic trees like palm, coconut, orange, and pear trees are no more. Worse still I do not have any other job, no salary and no pension. At my age, where do I go from here, and what does government want me to do with my children?”
On the issue of farmlands destroyed to pave way for the projects, the state Commissioner for Information Mrs. Rosemary Archibong said the list of affected persons has already been compiled, while the process of authenticating is ongoing.”On his part, Governor Ben Ayade is appealing to the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, fast track processes that would bring about the immediate commencement of construction works on the proposed Bakassi Deep Seaport and the 275 kilometers superhighway.
While receiving in audience members of the Bakassi Deep Seaport Inter-ministerial Steering Committee, in company of the Project Transaction Financial Advisor prior to their three-day fact finding mission to the state, the governor said all the state was asking from the Federal Government is to give the necessary approvals to fast-track the execution of the projects that would not only enhance its economic status, but also attract foreign earnings for it and the country.