Being a text of the speech of Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River at the stakeholders forum meeting organised by the Federal Ministry of Environment on the Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed 260km superhighway project as transcribed by Solomon Asha.
On Thursday, March 16, 2017, the Federal Ministry of Environment, Abuja organized a stakeholders’ Forum on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the Cross River state Super Highway at the Channel View Hotel, MCC Road Calabar. The meeting was attended by the Director, EIA, Federal Ministry of Environment, Dr. John Alonge who represented the Minister of Environment, as well as stakeholders across all spectrum of the society and host communities.
In his address at the forum, the Governor of Cross River State, Senator Ben Ayade who with the energy of his soul spoke passionately and touched every key aspect of environment management, conservation bringing in reason, scientific and philosophical requiem to buttress his position and why it is cogent for the EIA for the super highway to be approved and released by the Federal Ministry of Environment.
Governor Ayade revealed that he submitted an EIA for the super highway before he was sworn-in as governor of Cross River, stressing that the present road which was built by the Federal Government to link communities has become a dead trap that has cut short all the dreams and ambitions of young men and women, Rev. sisters and of recent Barr. Andrew Ashong and bearing in mind that the Federal government will not embark on building a road of such sophistication for the state he has a clear passion and vision to give the state a business road that will take the Atlantic Ocean closer to our brothers of northern Nigeria, provide a quicker access to land-lock countries like Niger and Chad republics, by exploring foreign direct investment and other options to actualize the vision.
As a professional in the field of environment who participated in the Forcados terminal project in Delta state, and has built the most sophisticated, first of its kind, waste water treatment system that require no chemical and can produce drinking water from an industrial effluents which won him many international awards, and earned him his professorial position, besides lecturing in the same area for many years, he could not afford to do anything that will bring disrepute to the profession and his own name.
Senator Ayade posited that all over the world, nations with forests resources have moved away from forests conservation to forests management as his visit to Kruger National Park in South Africa, Mexico has indisputably revealed, reasoning that a national park is a structured platform for interaction between man and animals and that a forest that has been turned into an evil forests is of no use to the people, besides the scientific reality that the continuous keeping of the older trees whose capacity to absorb carbon dioxide gets weaker as the years goes by is unprofitable, just as they form a canopy that frustrate the younger trees which ordinarily should possess greater abilities to absorb carbon dioxide from getting access to sun light, hence they become yellowish and stunted.
The governor’s main position and concern was that the instrument of EIA which ordinarily should be a scientific instrument has been transformed into a political tool which is greatly inimical to the overall interests of the people of Cross River whose 76 oil wells have been taken and the Supreme Court Judgment meant to assuage the impact completely disregarded, people whose population have continuously been under counted, people who receive near zero allocation from the federation account, with no ongoing major federal government project, and whose land have been ceded to another country, among others.
Ayade equally expressed shock that some sons and daughters of Ekuri community and others have allowed themselves to be used to oppose the super highway through frivolous petitions against a road that is to bring light to them, 30,000 emails flying around to run down the project, hence the government has taken an option of diverting the road from the community. He said that in 10 years’ time the people will regret their actions as development will pass them by, arguing that if they had allowed work to commence on the super highway by now, about 30, 000 jobs would have been created for Ekuri and the entire people of Cross River State. While expressing sadness that many investors willing to commit their resources to the project could not due to the non-release of the EIA.
The Governor maintained that on the whole no single person has said he/she is against the super highway but the EIA which even Mr. President had directed that if EIA is the issue, it should be looked into but that the project must go on, given the reason President Buhari himself came and performed the groundbreaking ceremony.
Below is the emotion and passion laden speech delivered extemporaneously by Governor Ben Ayade at that occasion and transcribed and broken into paragraphs with very negligible adjustment as in the case of the word ‘Ye’ which accompanied a quote he used from the bible by Solomon Asha. If there are mistakes, certainly not those of the speaker but of the transcriber due to the strenuousness involved in listening to recorded speech and then transcribe.
“I will like to place on record for emphasis for those who don’t know that the Federal Ministry of Environment has given our process the most tremendous support they can ever offer. You must recognize the challenges that the ministry is face with, the challenges of continuous concern by those who love us, and even love us more about the worries and potentials and the risk incidental with the construction of the deep seaport and the super highway.
“As these concerns come before them, as umpires it is their responsibility to aggregate all of those concerns and find a platform that all of those concerns would be addressed. And therefore, in the process of screening all the petitions that come before them, it is only natural for them to show caution.
“But I will like to thank you, because as a professor of Environmental Science, I do know that an EIA approval is a long tedious journey, no matter how prepared you are. That we are less than two years from start date and that we have an EIA approval for the deep seaport, I think they deserved a hand of applause.
“I do know this, even the super highway is moving at a very fast speed because if they had not prioritize it and given it particular attention, most of the challenges we would have held it much longer, and so I just want to make it clear and known to the people of Cross River state that the Federal ministry of Environment has given us all the support that is required. But today why are we here again, having had stakeholders workshop before?
“In the course of things, having cross this stage, we didn’t need another gathering like this today, but obviously because of the sensitivity that had arisen in the course of this program, it became clear that we needed to have another family meeting of this nature to actually take a detailed dialectics of the concerns express by people who genuinely tried; and so I want us to have one mind, an open heart as we negotiate and discuss.
“But I think that we have reached a point where we must all come together and look at the course of Africa. All over the world, it is clear, it is well understood that you must have a delicate balance between development and environmental protection. I will be a shame to my profession that I don’t focus on the sensitivities and values that an EIA tool brings to project management. Therefore all those who have expressed their dislike, their distaste and outright objection to the project, I’m aware also that nobody has said, no we don’t want the project, nobody has said we don’t want the road, but they only express concern over certain environmental issues.
“So we are here as a family, we don’t have a point of disagreement, we all agreed that the road is critical, is necessary and we need it. But I want to take us through a philosophical requiem, let’s recall the level of carnage the level of deaths, Rev. Sisters, young men travelling all the way from the northern part of the state to come for interview for their examination and employments, thousands of persons died in their numbers, their youthful ambitions cut down on the account of bad and perilous road. Even if the road was made today, that road was a social road and not a commercial and mercantile road, and therefore the social essence of the existing Federal roads was to connect all communities.
“And because Cross River State has a very sad story and for those who have been opposed to this super highway on the basis of the EIA, if you listen to our story, your conscience will let you drop down your arms and your pens and the tools of destruction you use so far.
“Moreover, cross River is a state whose land has been ceded against the will of the people, Cross River is a state whose oil wells have been ceded against the will of the people, Cross river is a state whose population has continuously been decimated by the way and manner our population is counted, Cross River state has very little in term of budgetary allocation, cross River state is a state that has been taken out of NDDC, Cross River state has been taken out of the 13 percent oil derivation, Cross River state has had the least in term of Federal government financing of projects.
“As we sit here today and look at the whole state, one will not look at Federal government project ongoing, a state that has been reduced to want in body and spirit; I feel a sense of denial and frustration from the federal government. It is a state that sometime we ask if truly we are Nigerians. Is a state that we are frustrated in every step taken.
“If your wells are taken if your land is taken and you have decided to provide for yourself and find an alternative means to decouple yourself from dependent on federation accountant and somebody comes again and say no, stay back so that you die in that your penury, so we fight against the super highway, we are not fighting against the super highway on environmental principles, but please, realize the environmental tools is aimed at improving the livelihood of human beings. So if you don’t get that philosophy right, even human beings, the bible say that go ye into the world and conquer. God made those plants and animals for us and not the reverse. And so what the law seeks to do is to create an equilibrating platform to ensure that you do development while balancing the ecosystem.
“So as a people who have been denied all the opportunities and privileges, is our responsibility to take our destiny into our hands, find means to create an alternative means of production. I beg you in this discourse, don’t look at it as a battle; you have come out with technical arguments against the EIA approval. Please look at it as what value can you bring so that as the approval comes it doesn’t hurt the human beings.
“Please prepare your mind for the possibilities you are having and for what your argument and intellect can bring, because definitely, in science you can have enough argument for and the same you can have enough arguments against. Let the path of glory, honor, the fear of God touch your soul so that your comment should not be informed by political considerations. Let your comments have the perspective of the circumstances of Cross River state.
“We have about four million people and most times we get near zero allocation, how will this state grow, how will we continue to sustain the payment of salaries, how will we manage our demographics, with 70 percent of our population below the age of 35, in their active stage.
“This same state pass a law of absolute conservation, absolute conservation in the sense that if you are caught felling a tree, you are going to jail, so families that are forests bearing are completely dislocated from their dependent on the forests in protection of the same forests by Cross River state law, how else can we show commitment to the environment? I inherited that law and I sustain it. Today when you go out there you see several cars parked with Green Police/Sherriff to fight and protect the forests, Anti-deforestation Task force, and the Forests commission. We have three agencies protecting the forest, what else can Cross River State do?
“Cross River is the only state that holds 58 percent of the entire forests cover in Nigeria. It didn’t just happened, it didn’t just occurred, and it is planned. We have conservation; so those families that have been dislocated from their dependent on their forests, today what sources of livelihood do they have? If the super highway was under construction 35,000 persons would have been working today. Note that that your intellect, that capacity, that research you have prepared to come and put an argument here today, please note that you are distorting the lives of people , you are distorting likelihood, that is not the intent of the EIA.
“I wish I can be a little more philosophical for you to really realize that this is not politics, this is not science, and it is human lives you are playing with. As you prepare to address the issue address them from adding value to the process of this project. The super highway is an evacuating corridor to the deep seaport which has now been approved, and so the deep seaport will be constructed anyway.
“Now if you have a deep seaport, Cross River landscape of 21, 000 square kilometers stretching from the Atlantic coast to northern Nigeria with our northern brothers completely land lock, including Niger and Chad Republics who are already begging and insisting that they want to be part of this process, would you added more service?
“Let me give you my experience, on the basis of the level of criticism of the super highway, I made a travel to South Africa on the Kruger National Park just to understand the operation and management of the South African national Parks which is 370 kilometers in length, 70 meters in width, almost the entire Cross River State, that is the national park of South Africa, and I was shocked that their N12 and N4 super highways crisscross the heart of Kruger national park.
“A national park is not an evil forest, a national park is not a bush, and a national park is a structured engineered platform that creates a good platform for an interaction between man and animals. If you go to Kruger National Park, you see lodges and you can goggle. I stayed in Sabie Sabie lodge. Sabie Sabie lodge is unfenced and your rooms have only classes and you are living inside your room, directly in front of you, you will see a lion, you will see a tiger, you see giraffes, you see elephants. If they didn’t have those roads I wouldn’t have met those Australians, Americans, people from Sweden, Denmark, from Norway flying inn to go on a safari vacation. The only thing I took home from there is that the Cross River Super highway is a compliment to the National park.
“I have a video clip where I was doing a short trip within the park with a forest guard and a leopard was right in front of us even when our vehicle was coming, it was taking a swagger walk and we had to drive slowly behind it. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Cross River National Park has been turned to an evil forest, it so thick and so impenetrable.
“Let me take a bit of valedictory thought to science. now when you have thick big trees, forty, eighty years’ old standing in the forest, their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide becomes less because what would have happened is that their parenchyma cells, the xylem vessels that are responsible for the absence of sap, the mechanism through which nutrients are taken from the ground through these vessels to the plants, to their trunks become aged and what happen is that the nutrients transport mechanism under pedestrian transport chain system will fail; so the plant absorption of carbon dioxide become weak.
“Two, they form a canopy over younger plants that don’t have access to sun light anymore, so their own absorption of carbon dioxide for photosynthesis process became adverse, and so what you find is that because these big plants use chlorophyll which mean they need photo catalysis of sun light and because their parenchyma cells have now been destroyed because of age, absorption of carbon dioxide is less, they begin to die gradually and the young plants under them don’t have access to sun light, they also are becoming yellow and stunted and their absorption of carbon dioxide also become less; and therefore forest conservation is old fashion. The trend today is forest management.
“What is forest management? In Kruger national Park, even before you reach Kruger national Park, you see a massive deforestation going on with a counter-compromising planting of Eucalyptus trees, I say this because I have been there. And so you see massive planting of Eucalyptus. Today, Oku Oboku is dead, today almost all our tissue papers, newspapers and everything, all of that is imported, because eucalyptus is one of the best we use and one of the finest trees use to produce the newsprint, and we don’t do that. So we watch a forest, the people can’t use the forest, the forest is not adding value, is aging away, is not helping to take off the carbon dioxide that is responsible for global warming. So what are we doing?
“My Director, I think, part of the problem is that the EIA has been mistaken for a political tool instead of a scientific tool. If that mistake was not there, those who want to criticize the super highway would not have use the instrumentality of the EIA, and that is why, in fairness again, whether the out gone Minister or Dr. John Alonge or the Minster of state, all of them will tell you no matter what they do, that road must be built.
“You cannot stop development. Terminal 5 in the UK, the entire community, I heard everybody rose up and said we cannot allow the construction of terminal 5, it will bring noise pollution. In Nigeria, noise level is 85 DPA that has been exceeded, today terminal 5 is alive, and terminal 5 is a major income earner for the government of the UK.
“Sometime you don’t need to push the will of the people too far. The people of Cross River state have suffered enough needless, enough frustration from Federal government. On the Supreme Court Ruling on the controversial Bakassi ceding, it states clearly in one of the ratios that while this ceding is done that the Federal Government must find permanent ways to address the shortfall and short comes that will arise from the ceding of the 76 oil wells. Today, that Supreme Court ruling has not been emphasized.
“So for you who come into this hall today, prepared to shoot down this EIA and stop this project, and stop this people from finding a means of livelihood, would you be doing justice to your consciences and to yourselves? If you came from that Ekuri community where 90 percent of the people want this road to bring them to civilization, and you take a select few and poison their hearts and convinced them with small patronage and make them to speak against their heritage, against their history, against their future, would you be doing justice? Can you ask yourselves for one second if you came from that community that has been darkened by that forest, and civilization is coming and you say no?
“If you go to Mexico, from the city of Mexico to Tabasco, and I made it a point of duty to go by road even when my host has a private jet to take us, I said no, I want to do it by road, as you stretch all through that journey, is either that you are finding sugarcane farms, you are finding one farm or the other all the way. But what they do differently is that as you have this your farms, there is a portion that they made dense with trees, so that they don’t just allow a land to lie fallow.
“Coming to the super highway, we are not even doing that, what we have simply done is to take only a 70 meters width which is the real corridor that we have felled, and we have already. In my concluding statement, please check your records, the EIA for the super highway was registered on the 9th of May, 2015, I was not a governor then. I registered this EIA before I was sworn-in because I place premium on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), because it is my profession. I’m part of those who drafted this EIA law, the most sophisticated EIA ever done in Nigeria with full implementation was the Forcados terminal integrated project. He was the consultant and I was the resident advisor.
“If you check, the most sophisticated, first of its kind, waste water treatment system that requires no chemical and can produce drinking water from industrial effluents is an Ayade’s technology, invented by myself. Not just an invention, I rose to the rank of a professor as a result of this invention and won so many international awards. So how can I come and do something that negates the spirit and principle of what I spend all my life teaching and practicing? I won’t do that and that’s why I told the team, before I’m sworn-in on the 29th of May, 2015, let’s start the EIA to catch up with the first season, because as a professional I knew I needed two seasons, I need to have an EIA approval directly because I was just at the closing part of the beginning of the raining season, I wanted to catch that rainy season before I settle down, so that by November, December, January we have taken the sample for dry season.
“So, I had taken the baseline data which was essential and I knew that if I had started construction, I can only pay a penalty of N1 million. Having gathered the baseline data, I was prepared to go to field. So as an environmental scientist and toxicologist and also as a lawyer I combined my intellect to know that the best way forward was to uproot the baseline, then go to the field and pay a penalty, so that I don’t wait for the formal approval, we didn’t contravene the law, we understood the law, and we play around the law.
”If I have gathered my baseline, I didn’t need to keep the trees standing anymore. And what is an EIA anyway? It is to gather a baseline to understand the status of an environment so that by the time you finish your construction, you restore it to the state as it was before you started your project.
“When you finish an EIA you produce a document call an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) that is an essential document of an EIA. 99 percent of environmental management plans we made are the same all over the world, no matter the statistics of how many birds, how many animals, what types, species, distributions abundant and typology, it doesn’t essentially matter, it’s your EMP. All EMP’s for roads construction are nearly the same all over the world.
“You have a water course you are to cross, what you do for the protection of your water areas, watersheds, what do you do when you cross swamps, how to manage that swamps, how do you divert that river, how do you maintain the biodiversity, how do you sustain the fauna and flora is essentially the same thing, and the structural and normative framework to deal with these issues have been well enunciated in our EMP. Coming back to say, how could you have found a white gorilla in Ekuri, which shouldn’t be is dramatizing an EIA and taken it to a ceremonial level.
“The Ministry of Environment has professionals, experienced people and that is why when they receive these petitions, they sieve through them and because the people who are doing these petitions have also seen that its business, it has become full time business because it is these seem petitions they use to seek visa, seek asylum, to get funding they get grants.
“In fact the most recent ones is that those who have, you know I’m a governor I get security reports, people have been paid with a promise of additional two thousand dollars to shoot down this EIA today.
“The people of Cross River are not seeing the superhighway as a road; they are seeing it as livelihood, life in their blood. Rev. Sisters were coming from Obudu, eight of them died on that road. Our young lawyer, I can remember Barr. Andrew Ashong that died on that road, I can name on. No matter how you fix that road because it is coastline road because we are in the Niger Delta. The level of grading is so poor that no matter how they keep fixing it, it goes bad after three, six month because they are using the wrong grades, the wrong engineering design.
“That is why this superhighway, a company called China roads that I visited in China, that designed and constructed the longest ocean bridge, was part of the team. If you look at the thickness of our stone base, our base course, you will know that we know what we are doing. The Federal government will not have the spirit and temerity, capacity and funds to go to that level of sophistication in terms of road construction. This is a business road. We envisage that it’s going to have more than 12, 000 trucks crisscrossing there daily, and so we have design it for maximum bearing capacity.
“Hon Minister, for us as a state, the super highway to the deep seaport is also a respect to Mr. President. Mr. President was here and he had all of these petitions, he had all of these concerns, you all remembered, the first trip was aborted on the grounds of the same petitions, so the President sat down and look at the petitions and looked at all the issues and his conclusion was that if there are environmental issues let’s address them but that the project must go on and that is why he came to do the ground breaking.
“The economic part, we got funding, support, approvals, people ready to start committing their resources, foreign direct investment, we got from T-Fort group Spectrum group, we got from several groups, just yesterday we had a presentation from another Chinese group that have built a super highway in Zambia, in Sudan, said they are ready, all that foreign direct investment stopped on account of the EIA. It’s so sad that God will create a human being and we us him as an instrument to stop a progress. It’s so sad that people will sit here and allow any international agency for that matter that does not understand the pains of our state and think that he is practicing his job by coming to write very strong petitions, if you look at 30,000 emails rolling around trying to run down the project.
“Ninety-nine percent of the people don’t know the problem. They just think it’s an exciting platform. Nibar has put everything ready to start construction of this project; it was the letter from the same people asking them to stop. You need to do much more because it’s no longer the EIA we know; it’s now a political EIA.
“I thank you the people of Cross River State and I will like you to give the Ekuri people opportunity to speak and that is why I will repeat this that as part of getting ready for this meeting I held a design review meeting and we have two options we are presenting to you, you will see one option completely getting out of Ekuri, because those Ekuri sons and daughters who are crying that this road should not come, we have already finish the design that will by-pass Ekuri, five to ten years to come, please cameramen as anybody gets up to talk, put the camera on him, we will need this video five, ten years to come, when we have done with the road.
“Let that Ekuri son, daughter who says he doesn’t want development, he doesn’t want the road, when people are agitating, when I know people who are fighting this road because the road didn’t go through their own Local Government Areas, until we had to sign a deal that we are going to do a detour through their LGAS, somebody else is saying he doesn’t want the road. It is a disservice to his entire heritage. The Ministry is here to take those concerns that are genuine and advise us on how to implement them.”
“Thank you very much.”
Solomon Asha is the Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River.