Is Governor Ayade’s proposed 260km Super Highway project plague by stillbirth?
By: Nsa Gill
Last month, October 20th 2017, made it two years since Cross River State Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade got President Mahammadu Buhari to perform a ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of a proposed 260KM Super-Highway in Cross River State.
The proposed Super-Highway was envisioned by Ayade as an alternative routes from the southern part of the state to the northern part which by location is linked to northern flank of Nigeria.
It was also envisioned as an evacuation corridor for another proposed project; Bakassi Deep seaport. The Super Highway project kicked off only by little or no inche at all since after the ground-breaking ceremony.
However Governor Ayade has come up with his characteristic pronouncements that it will still be done. According to him, ‘Indeed, no amount of conspiracy can abort this laudable dream envisioned to take the state out of the woods.’
The 260km Super Highway project has been enmeshed in controversies from day one as the state government was accused of ignoring international best practices in execution of projects of such magnitudes.
For instance, the ground-breaking was done without any valid contract awards nor valid EIA approval in place. With just mere pronouncements of the governor, bulldozers were moved to proposed routes.
The bulldozers brought down many economic trees, farm crops of personal, family and some community estates with no valid commitment to compensation nor prior valid assessment for what were in place.
Till date, the state government is yet to meet up with conditions given to them by the federal Ministry of Environment concerning the conduct of a valid EIA report for the projects.
In fact, the state had submitted a report thrice if not more of an EIA they had conducted but it turned out to be a copied work that failed validity and standard’s test.
Besides, the proposed route in a design by the state government was reportedly cutting across the National Park forest reserves for which the state is noted internationally as one of the few remaining green forests vegetation.
That informed some international concerns on the proposed highway, particularly when the state published a Gazette that it was taking 10km.on each side of the 260km routes.
The authorities of The Cross River National Park under The federal government of Nigeria cried foul. The United Nations Green Emissions project also had concerns about their subsisting REDD+ programme ìn the state.
However, wise counsels prevailed when the state government bowed to pressure by reversing itself and amending the earlier proposed 10km.on both sides of the length of the super highway.
It was amended to just 70meters weight of the road. It’s been a topsy-turvy game about the proposed super highway project in the state with a rather unfortunate political slants which the state government is equally guilty of and accused of masterminding.
Many pro-environment NGOs that have concern themselves with the proposed super highway project in Cross River have maintained that they are not against development nor against the construction of the super highway as the state had accused them of.
For them, the bottom line has been that the state government should do the proper thing by conducting an acceptable standard and beneficial EIA exercise.
“The state clearly has no such funds as the proposed N700billion for the 260km super highway project and will definitely reach out for external funding initiatives which can only be guaranteed by a standard EIA report and approval”, experts noted in one of the stakeholders fora that were held on the matter in Calabar, the state capital.
The pressure is mounting on the state government with two years passing by and the governor likely facing the electorates in a little over a year for a re-election bid.
A recent statement from the governor, issued on his behalf by his spokesman has come down hard on an amorphous foreign sponsors accused of funding opposition to the project.
He did not mentioned any thing about EIA reports required and the conditions given, for which the state government could not meet within the stipulated given time.
Excerpts the government statement read thus: Cross River State government has dismissed claims that the state's superhighway which construction is about to commence will dislocate one million.
“Describing the claims as not only absurd, but ridiculously mendacious, Senior Special Assistant to the Cross River State governor on media, Mr. Christian Ita, said it is the biggest lies ever told.
According to Ita, "It is no surprise that elements who masquerade as environmentalists and conservationists are unrelenting in their desperate scheme to ensure that the project stalls.
"In fact, the latest outing by these desperados is one in a series of grand design to scuttle the construction of the superhighway by the administration of Senator Ben Ayade."
Continuing, the governor's spokesperson said: "It is instructive to note that since the conception of the superhighway project by Governor Ayade, some so-called civil society groups in the state, in connivance with their foreign sponsors have done everything possible by weaving all sorts of falsehoods and propaganda to make the noble idea not to fly. This is rather unfortunate.
"You must understand that opposition to the superhighway has become a huge racket that whenever these hustlers are broke, they run back to their foreign collaborators for a few dollar handouts. It has become an oil block of sorts."
According to Ita, "it is indeed ludicrous to hear that one million people will suffer dislocation arising from the construction of the superhighway out of the state's population of about four million. So the question is, how did the affected forest communities suddenly acquire such an exponential growth in population barely two years the project was conceived?"
On the claim of deforestation, Ayade's spokesperson said: "As a professor of Environmental Science, the governor is particular about the environment and has shown so much fidelity to issues of afforestation. And for this reason, he has insisted that for every single tree that is felled, ten should be planted. In the last two years, about five million trees have been planted since the inception of this administration.
"Additionally, three out of the three watersheds that will be affected by the construction of the superhighway, ten will be created. So you can see that the claims of these people are not only wide, but also bogus and outrageous."
Ita also disclosed that government has since concluded enumeration of properties and economic trees that will be affected by the construction with a view to paying compensation to people and communities to be affected by the project, adding that "government is committed to ensuring no one or community is left out in the compensation plan," even as he reiterated that "the governor has emphasized that at no time will human beings be placed at the lowest rungs of development ladder, no matter how lofty the project.
This is a governor who has placed high premium on the people he governs by ensuring that their welfare is one of the cardinal focus of his administration's agenda.
“Indeed, no amount of of conspiracy can abort this laudable dream envisioned to take the state out of the woods," the statement ended.
Some who took to social media space to react to the government statement also accused the government of telling the biggest lies by claiming to have planted 5million trees already for those their bulldozers have fallen and taken away for alleged commercial purposes.
A student in the state university of technology (Crutech) with the name Charles, responded to the government statement by noting; “God bless Crutech that we have a Forestry department which Ayade’s spokesperson could borrow some knowledge.
“Up to a million Crossriverians directly benefit from the forest for their livelihood, a feat which Ayade's government cannot match” he argued.
Adding, “In fact we heard he projected to provide employment for up to 2000 youths, which is yet a reality.
“How does the forest provides livelihood for up to a million Crossriverians? It does so through its numerous resources ranging from timber to non timber resources like food: bush meats (source of animal protein to our locals which the government cannot provide the alternative wholesome animal protein) fruits, Vegetable like Afang (Gnetum africana) which generates revenue to our locals, medicine, etc etc. it is pertinent to know that the commerce from forestry products alone has provided for a peaceful demography in this part of the country.”
He continued “the assertion of 5million trees planted is laughable. Trees are not planted on paper or media. In fact nursing and planting realistic trees in the name of afforestation is a big lie from the governor’s spokesman because the satelites Gps still shows areas of rapid deforestation in our forest. Until when the government is ready, she will do the needful. the right thing is down there to be done. Why so afraid to do it...?” he asked.
The governor often said funding was no problem as it was already guaranteed by investors he had since sourced. So what is really delaying the commencement of the project? Is it a stillbirth?