The 260km super highway project popularly called “signature project’’ is one of the infrastructural development initiatives of the Governor of Cross River State, Senator (Prof.) Ben Ayade.
In his inaugural speech as Governor of the state, on the 29th of May, 2015, with the entire world as his witness, he announced the conceptualization of two cardinal projects, the super highway and the deep seaport.
The two projects are complementary and are of immense economic and social importance to the state, the nation and the continent, especially the Central African countries of Niger, Chad, South Sudan, etc, which are landlocked countries. The countries will be connected through Benue, Taraba, Adamawa and Borno borders with Cameroun, ultimately creating access to the Atlantic Ocean for the landlocked countries.
The super highway takes its origin from the foot of the deep seaport located at Bakassi Local Government Area running through the forests of Akpabuyo, Odukpani, Akamkpa, Biase, Yakurr, Obubra, Etung, Ikom, Boki, Obudu, Bekwarra, and terminates at Gakem near Vandikya, in Benue state.
When completed, it will serve as the evacuation corridor for the deep seaport and provide alternative travelling route for commuters to the Northern part of the state and beyond.
Unfortunately, some of our detractors especially the opposition party members are opposed to the projects. They have resorted to cheap blackmail, vicious propaganda and sponsoring of frivolous petitions to stakeholders with the sole aim of stalling the implementation of the projects. Some issues raised in their petitions include environmental concerns, suspicious land grabbing, forceful trespass on National forest reserve, and other sundry matters.
Environmental issues such as afforestation, deforestation, climate change and global warming are at the heart of every environmentalist.
The leadership of this government is not unmindful of these issues and the consequences thereof. It is a fact that we judge a tree by the fruit. The Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade is a first grade environmentalist, and has had varied career responsibility as a university teacher, a politician and a participant in “big business’’.
He is a man who set high targets on his experiments and spares no pain in giving faithful attention to the goal. Always firm and committed.
The question arising naturally is, how can a man with such a reputation and pedigree undermine the very important issues bothering on development and environment? Without sounding harsh, Prof. Ben Ayade is equi-minded on matters that relate to development and environment.
To underscore the seriousness and importance he attaches to environmental issues, he created a Special Purpose Vehicle, Ministry of Climate Change and Forestry to monitor and ensure sustainable balance between development and conservation.
To demonstrate his commitment, he gave executive approval early this year, for the ministry to recruit over one thousand young school leavers as forest police code-named “Green Police”.
The duties of the Green Police are; to raise nurseries and plant, guide against abusive degradation of the forest and control poaching in the reserve forest. It is hoped that for every tree fell, government will replant at least three of the kind.
Apart from these programmes of re-afforestation occasioned by the construction of the super highway, government has proposed and is committed to planting five million trees of varied species all over the state this year, thus surpassing the estimated loss that is projected from the super highway construction.
The leadership of this government is conscious of the potentials and value of our forest resource to the immediate communities and the world in general. It is for this reason that government will not undertake any development that will lower the integrity of the carbon credit scheme and impede on other advantages the rain forest contributes to the global environmental effects.
The vexed issue of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is being handled expeditiously and professionally. Work on this item has reached advanced stages of completion. The Cross River State government and the Federal Ministry of Environment have been collaborating on this work. This is why the Federal Ministry of Environment alluded to this fact in response to the petitions on the subject in a public notice, published by the ministry sometimes in mid-March, this year, 2016.
The Cross River State government cannot in the guise of constructing the super highway, illegally acquire or attempt to grab parcels of land for personal development purposes. It is unfortunate that the advertisement of 22nd January, 2016, by the Cross River State Ministry of Lands and Urban Development, conveying revocation of lands 10km on either side of the super highway has caused anxiety and discontent in communities along the super highway route.
This revocation order was necessitated by the need and the zeal on the part of government to urbanize communities along the route and create new cities as envisioned by His Excellency, Prof. Senator Ben Ayade’s programme on New Cities Development.
Expectedly, government admits of this error and has accordingly, suspended this particular contentious portion of the advert until all necessary consultations with stakeholders on the desirability or otherwise is resolved. For the avoidance of doubt, no harm or sinister motive was intended on the part of Government.
The Social Impact Assessment is on-going. Government in conjunction with communities, natives, farmland owners, plantation and property owners along the super highway route are presently engaged with enumeration and verification of claims, and the exercise will soon be concluded.
Once this is completed, government would commence payment of appropriate compensation to the affected persons and communities in accordance with the extant laws. It is preposterous for any person or group of persons to conjecture that this government intends to impoverish its citizens for the sake of development. I can say unequivocally that the Governor cannot do so.
Sources of funding for this project have been explained and communicated many times by the Governor himself. His position has been made clear from the outset. But some people have got into the way of thinking that the projects will derive their funding from the state’s lean financial resources.
It is pure mischief to peddle such untruths. The projects are executed under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) funding arrangement. In this model, government has its own obligation. Government through the Cross River State Infrastructure Company LTD, Infracross, is discharging its responsibilities in keeping with the terms of agreement with its partners.
The partnering investors (China Harbour LTD.) have expressed satisfaction with the level of government commitment to executing its obligation and are eager to mobilize fully to site soon.
The National Park, a Federal Government asset located within the reserve forest is approximately four kilometers off the super highway route. The construction of the super highway will not affect the ecological or natural habitat of the reserve adversely.
In fact, the management of the National Park have applauded the development. This is with the understanding that it would open up the leisure resort to a greater traffic of tourists and turn it to a more profitable and attractive destination.
Finally, it is instructive to note that majority of the natives and well-meaning Cross Riverians find no flaws in government’s intention of opening up the state to economic prosperity by conceiving these projects.
Basically, because the choice of the projects was arrived at after considerable appreciation of their viability and the merits of the projects undertaken, we are doing nothing in a hurry or by-passing the essential environmental processes and procedures.
Government assures Cross Riverians and the investing public that the moment we breakthrough with these developments we are transformed into a state pricing its economic liberty and creating limitless opportunities for the citizens.
All said, we urge the detractors and the world to now wait to see the special virtues Cross River State displays under the leadership of Prof. Senator Ben Ayade.
Chief Tony Undiandeye is the Senior Special Adviser, Public Affairs to Governor Ayade and writes from Calabar.
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