Monday, 27 February 2017

Superhighway controversies: Cross River Govt. dares FG, environmentalist urge FG not to succumb to threats


Controversies surrounding the proposed construction of the 260km Super highway by Cross River State Government have opened a new page last week, when the State Government gave an ultimatum to the Federal Ministry of Environment to go ahead with construction work with or without approval.   

It all started a year ago when the Governor proposed to construct a Superhighway which is one of his signature projects to run 260km from Bakassi Local Government Area in the southern senatorial district to Bekwarra Local Government in the Northern Senatorial District .Both points are extreme of the state. 

Being a state host to the largest remaining rainforest in Nigeria, and globally known as one of the richest sites for biodiversity in the state, several protests and resistance by communities  affected, the Federal Ministry of Environment asked  the State Government to do a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). 

The state government ran out of patience last week and gave the federal government up till the second week of March 2017 for Abuja to give all approvals regarding the construction of the proposed 260km superhighway failure of which the State government says it would go ahead with the construction works. 

It said the project would not be financed by the dwindling federation account but that investors were already lining up to commit funds into the project. 

The State government also blamed federal government agencies for refusing to give approvals for the projects, adding “we have done everything to get these approvals as such we cannot wait any longer. 

 Addressing Journalists, The Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mrs. Rosemary Archibong, Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Asuquo Ekpenyong Jnr, Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development, Dr John Inyang, Commissioner for Water Resources Hon Gabe Odu Orji and Commissioner for Climate Change Dr Alice Ekwu said the federal government’s delay in giving approvals was a ploy to frustrate the projects. 

Mrs. Archibong who led the briefing, said the State government was determined to go ahead with the construction of the superhighway and the Bakassi deep seaport projects, with or without approvals. 

She said, “We are not happy with the way the federal government is handling this matter. We have met all demands they put on our way but still they have bluntly refused to give approval for these projects. We have made concessions; we have submitted our Environmental Impact Assessment and have met all requirements. There is no justification for delaying the approval. We will take the destiny of our people in our hands.” 

On his part, the Commissioner for lands and urban development, Dr John Inyang, said since people and organisations capitalised on the revocation of the 20km right of way to frustrate the projects, the government of Cross River State was reversing the revocation, adding that the reversal has been published in some national dailies. 

He said, “Acquisition of right of way and payment of compensation shall be limited to 70 metres span of the road corridor. Now that government has taken this decision, we are hoping that everyman, group, organisations, NGOs and stakeholders who had opposed the construction of the superhighway will give every necessary support for the realisation of this lofty dream.”

 ”We have the constitutional right to manage and control lands in the interest of the people of Cross River State. The constitution empowers the State to legislate on the environment. That we are playing a good boy does not mean we do not know our right. If we take a portion of our land and decided to use same for development is not a crime. We will not allow these projects to be frustrated, by mid-March, construction works will commence in full, and the sky will not fall.” 

On her part, Commissioner for Climate Change, Dr Ekwu said the re-routed superhighway would not criss-cross the rain forest as feared, and that it would also not pass through the Cross River National Park. She explained that the road would only affect some farmlands or degraded areas which the State government was ready to pay compensation for. 

“Everything which was contained in the scope has been met. Our grievance is that the federal government is bringing up more requirements which were not hitherto in the initial demands. They are shifting the goal post forward every time. This is most unfair,” she said. 

Reacting to the threat to go ahead with construction of the Superhighway without the EIA report approvals as reported in the media by Cross River government, The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has urged the Federal Ministry of Environment to remain resolute in demanding the State government comply with environmental standards in the proposed Calabar Super Highway project.

The Executive Director Godwin Ojo said in a statement issued to newsmen on Monday that the threat by the Cross River State government to go ahead with the Super Highway project when its EIA is still subject to scrutiny “is very disturbing and unacceptable”.

Executive Director, Godwin Uyi Ojo said: “It will be a breach on our laws and a bad precedent for the Cross River government to attempt going ahead with the Super Highway project without a proper EIA. The mere submission of an EIA does not amount to approval or claims to have satisfied all requirements. The Cross River state government should consider that a no action decision that is likely will amount to a rejection of the EIA. 

“Environmentalists within and outside the country have already alerted on the project’s likely negative impact on biodiversity and about 150 communities including the Ekuri whose livelihoods depended on the forest. The mitigation of the impacts are grossly inadequate hence the need to re-route the superhighway away from pristine forests and neighborhoods”.                                        
While praising the Federal Ministry of Environment for carrying out due diligence on the project, Ojo noted that the speed with which the Cross River government intends to carry out the project raises some suspicion. “We have long called for the revocation or at least revision of the Land Use Act of 1978 which allows the claims of overriding state interest to cede community lands to other interests”. 

“The urgency attached to implementing this project is questionable and again brings to the fore the unchecked powers of the state governments who exploit the Land Use Act to grab lands and displace indigenous people and land owners”.

“We have said it time and again that, while we welcome projects that are expected to better the lot of our people, promoters of the highway project The Federal Ministry of Environment must not capitulate to the Cross River State intimidation”, the Environmentalist explained.

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