(GIN) – Bulldozers approaching the communities of the southern state of Cross River, with orders to raze up to a million homes and cut down an ancient tropical rainforest, were stopped in their tracks as an environmental impact statement for a proposed superhighway was rejected by officials.
As conceived, the roadway would link northern Nigeria to a proposed deep seaport in the south, covering 162 miles and displacing along the way some 180 indigenous communities, a national park and adjoining forest reserves that are home to some of the country’s most endangered species.
But this week, at a public hearing with government ministers and stakeholders, the Minister of the Environment admitted the project could not go forward. “The EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) is not of standard, it is too primary and does not qualify as a working document for such an international project,” Minister Ibrahim Jibrin was reported to say.
The so-called Cross River Superhighway, the brainchild of the state’s governor, Ben Ayade, has been on the drawing board for years. Two years ago it was announced that the “much anticipated construction” was “on course” and that President Muhammadu Buhari would be performing groundbreaking ceremonies Sept. 21, 2015.
The roadway would have cut through several protected areas such as the Cross River National Park, Ukpon River Forest Reserve, Cross River South Forest Reserve, Afi River Forest Reserve and Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary – home to various threatened species, including Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees, drills, Preuss’s red colobus monkeys, slender-snouted crocodiles and African gray parrots, among others.
Among the impacted communities is the Ekuri, whose conservation skills were recognized by the U.N. Development Program with a Equator Initiative Award for protecting biodiversity and reducing poverty.
Ekuri leaders say they supported the highway project at first, believing it would bring better transportation and greater economic opportunities to their people. But in a letter to the governor of Cross River State sent Feb. 7, the leaders withdrew their support, calling the project “a land grab in the guise of a Super Highway.”
Ekuri communities manage some 83,000 acres of community-owned forest – one of the largest in West Africa. “We require schools, water, electricity but not the kind of road that will take our forest away,” village leaders Stephen Oji and Abel Egbe told Premium Times news. w/pix of Ekuri woman protesting superhighway