Okuni, a village barely 13 km to Ikom shares boundary with some villages in Akampka Local government. This sounds like a surprise? Yes. Why then do one need to go through Apiapum Ugep, Adim Akpet to get to Akampka?
It is within this context you can now understand Ben Ayade’s Super Highway that would shorten the time between Ikom to Calabar from 3 hours to one hour. Both Ikom and Etung have common boundaries with Akamkpa.
In between Okuni farmlands and Akampka is a forest, a natural habitat, a forest reserve we call the National Park. The superhighway is designed to pass close to this forest, opening the route from Nsan to Okuni and then to Ikom within an hour.
The forest today is considered a National Park, however, the wood within this forest, if harvested is sufficient to pay off all our debts and make us one of the wealthiest states in Nigeria.
The question then is why do we live in poverty, dilapidated roads, gross unemployment, failing educational system when we have a possession in our backyard which is the pride of the world’s ecosystems and natural habitat?
Is it because we are ignorant of the true value of our possession or have we ignorantly signed off our natural possessions to international environmental donor agencies who now dictate to us what to do with the forest?
If our forest is so important to the international conservation community, then let them place a value to our forest, let them make preservation offers that can transform the state, let them create funds for environmental conservation scholarships for our youths to study overseas, let them provide funds for our youths to engage in cottage industries since our farmlands have been carved for international conservation and preservation, that is common sense.
Come with me let’s have a conversation. Let’s start with oil producing states:
Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers and Akwa Ibom States all have Crude oil. As a result of drilling, it pollutes their environment. Due to the pollution, the natives cannot farm effectively. The federal government in exchange sets up different agencies to help them including NDDC and other programs including scholarships as forms of compensation to the people and to improve their livelihood.
In Cross River state, we do not have oil, but we have a park that houses one of the oldest rainforests in Africa, and has been identified as a biodiversity hot spot with sixteen primate species known to have been recorded in the park.
The park is useful for research, conservation and a natural heritage. In similar vein, due to conservation, the villagers cannot effectively farm in their farmlands, the people cannot plough the land effectively as these would destroy the reserve, yet, the people have no special privileges like scholarships and other meaningful financial gains which oil producing states derive. The question is why?
The people of Niger Delta are assigned special privileges including extra revenue from federation account because of ecological damage to their homelands, in similar way, we in Cross River State have natural vegetation that purifies the environment at our own detriment of lack of funds, farmlands and even being deprived to build roads without federal environmental interventions.
What bothers me is why can’t the federal government assign us additional revenue from the federation account similar to being an oil state?
At the present we receive some international funding based on carbon credits, isn’t it time we fight for our rights as a people and receive what is due us from the Nigerian government?
How long do we continue to house a swamp virgin vegetation, so much valued to geographic researchers, environmentalists and the world scientific community, when our people lack good roads, food, drinking water and other basic social amenities?
While the States in the Niger Delta belt used militancy, thuggery and kidnapping to achieve their aim and attract the attention of the federal government, our peace loving nature as a state has rather been interpreted as cowardice.
It’s time we address basic questions: who really owns this forest and who has the final say on how the forest is used?
If the federal government of Nigeria can designate a portion of our forest for purposes of conservation, then our people need not just a one time compensation, but a monthly compensation commensurate to the monthly crude oil remittances to oil producing states.
Over the years, several Conservation funding has been released to Nigeria. How much of this funds has accrued to Cross River State.
Due to oil spills in Bayelsa, most young people in Bayelsa have scholarships to study oil and gas in Britain, how many Cross River indigenes have scholarships to study environmental conservation overseas in compensation for the use of our forest?
What we need to understand is that, we use what we have to get what we don’t have. The international and national environmental agencies should be begging us to collect aids in exchange for ensuring that the forest is preserved rather than dictating for us how to use the forest.
The current state of our forest is just like a stranger visits your home, you give him a visitor’s room to stay, and he turns around to dictate how you need to arrange your master bedroom.
It’s time the state government sets up a panel of inquiry to determine the true value of our forest. Our people cannot continue to bask in poverty amidst this highly priced natural reserve.
The Niger Delta has a petroleum, oil and gas university, then let those so concerned about our forest fund our environmental departments in UNICAL, or at best, fund CRUTECH as an environmental focused University. We have been taken for granted over the years because we failed to speak out.
The people of Niger Delta dominate the Ministry of Niger Delta and NDDC, its time Cross River State indigenes are appointed to run environmental agencies and ministries in Nigeria.
We cannot house one of the largest environmental concerns, yet other tribes run both petroleum and environmental ministries while we live in perpetual poverty and receive stipends as donor aid. Until we make the world to know that we matter as a people, they will continue to take us for granted.
I would suggest the state government sets up a panel of inquiry to look into every contract, convention, agreements, financial support, and legal commitments entered that affects the forest, its ownership, accrued income and mapping.
I would suggest our law makers at the state and national levels make a strong case to the Nigerian Congress and Federal Executive Council on the need for Cross River State to be assigned monthly allocation for environmental sustainability equivalent to crude sales derivations that other states receive.
The Ministry of Environment sited lack of Environmental Impact Assessment and that the said Super Highway would pass through the forest reserve and National Park as reasons why the presidential ground breaking should be delayed.
Having engaged international organizations for a long time, I know those reasons are just a cover up. The best Environmental Impact Assessment would still not receive the blessings of these international agencies, they will still find faults with it.
Cross River state government should not waste her time trying to complete an EIA to get the approvals of the Federal Ministry of Environment, rather the government should engage International organizations who have direct stakes at the forest based on previous funding and commitments directly, get these organizations buy into the super highway project, bring them in as development partners in the project, once they feel recognized as co stakeholders to the reserve, it is this same organizations that would even source for funding to support the state on her venture.
I would suggest that the state government in her attempt to consolidate power, should also listen to opposing views from those who disagree with this plan rather than writing them off as noise makers. Those opposing the superhighway also have some points. What I think the opposition need is respect and recognition that their points of view be observed.
Democracy works better when the majority have their way while the minority have at least a say. It is well noted that some of our best and brightest in the state today are in opposition to government policy. This ought not to be so.
The government should realize that while the superhighway is laudable, making effort to work on Calabar, Ugep Obubra Ikom highway will receive a far more public commendation as almost half of the state’s population will continue to ply the old road.
Moreover, if the current Calabar Ugep Ikom road is not attended to, the spike in accidents will continue even after the super highway is completed. Development should be holistic, all sectors must be carried along for it to be meaningful.
Finally, while I fully support the Superhighway and the need to still preserve our forest, its time the Nigerian nation and the International donors come to realize that we deserve more than what is currently being offered.
We cannot continue to be spoon fed and dictated on how to preserve our forest, where roads needs to be built, amidst poorly funded school system, gross unemployment among our youths, dilapidated hospitals, our small cities grossly unkempt, street crime, theft, street kids increasing due to poverty, yet we have a forest reserve, where policy decisions on it conservation is taken in faraway London.
Haba, my people, if our forest really have value, its time the value reflects in our day to day lives. Let this conversation begin.
Princewill Odidi is a development consultant writing from Atlanta USA.
Since You Are Here, Support Good Journalism
CrossRiverWatch was founded on the ideals of deploying tech tools to report in an ethical manner, news, views and analysis with a narrative that ensures transparency in governance, a good society and an accountable democracy.
Everyone appreciates good journalism but it costs a lot of money. Nonetheless, it cannot be sacrificed on the altar of news commercialisation.
Consider making a modest contribution to support CrossRiverWatch's journalism of credibility and integrity in order to ensure that all have continuous free access to our noble endeavor.