By Our Correspondent
Below are excerpts of a speech made by Cross River State Governor, Professor Ben Ayade to a team of UN REDD consultants in Calabar on the facts and fiction of the superhighway. CrossRiverWatch was there.
Onset of conservation:
Essentially as a state, it is such a sad thing that people just forget where we are coming from. Cross River State as a sub-national took an institutional policy to preserve and conserve our forest because we want to stay natural. By the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria environment falls under concurrent legislation. Therefore, we have exclusive right to manage our environment the way we choose to. As a Government we made a policy to preserve all our forests and therefore dislocated our people from their dependence on our forests.
That dislocation has caused them pains and agony and it is our responsibility to manage it. REDD+ as currently constituted has in the last three years been more of training, educating people in understanding measurement analysis baselines, safe guards and all of that. It is appreciated, but time has come when you must reflect it on the needs of the people.
Essentially, REDD+ is intended to preserve the forest for the good of mankind. But that man that you are preserving the forest for does not have to die of hunger. So, I ask myself, for all the reserves that we have stored, the carbon stock that we have held in those trees that we have stopped everybody from cutting them down therefore creating those emissions into the atmosphere, what have we got in return? So, for me as a Governor, as a Professor of Environmental Science, as a Lawyer, a combination of all of these tells me clearly that the communities are not having a fair deal. The communities are in pain.
Planting of five million trees:
When the Commissioner for Climate Change and Forestry came before us in the last State Executive Council meeting with a bill for tree planting, I looked at the budget she presented for the exercise and said, sorry this cannot do for 5 million trees go and double it. She was the only one whose budget we expanded. Unfortunately, society is so unfair, it is much better to carry the negative news.
We started the Green Carnival last year and planted thousands of trees in one single day. It was not an issue before REDD+, it was not an issue before the international community to appreciate the state that decided that they will have green carnivals in appreciation and preservation of their environment.
It became news when this same Governor chose to do a superhighway creating a width of just 35 metres, a corridor of 35 metres, which will have less than 20, 000 trees to be removed with a corresponding 5 million trees to be planted. It is being dramatized because suddenly a man who sat in this position as Chairman of Forestry Commission was sacked for selling wood. Today he has an NGO that he is using to write to all of you campaigning against the superhighway. The same thing with the Chairman for anti-deforestation task force. We sacked him based on Police report that the forest were being degraded and he was party to reselling of all the seized wood. When we asked him for the money from the sale of the wood he said he used it to run the task force and I sacked him. This two people have come together because they all have access to all of you for this long. And they promised that they will launch a campaign against the superhighway.
Facts about superhighway:
How can a superhighway with just a 30 meters width constitute wiping off the forest in Africa? We looked at all the water sheds across the entire 260 kilometers road and saw that we have three major rivers that we are crossing. We decided to build 10 water sheds for three that would be diverted because of the road. The world’s most classical EIA that has ever been done in Africa I was the lead Environmental Advisor. The Forcados Terminal Integrated Project. All the awards I have come from environmental research and so I will be the last person to be accused of anything that will compromise the environment.
Unfortunately, nobody has even come to the ground to cross check the lies they are being fed with. We have started re-planting, nobody is coming to our aid. To get 5 million trees is not an easy feet, we are buying, we are raising nurseries, we are doing all of these at our costs. I think REDD+ should be domesticated to reflect truly the needs of mankind and in going forward my recommendation is that this team that has come now should please fast track the process to qualify us for the implementation phase because everybody is beginning to feel that we have gained nothing for preserving our forest. Do you know that as we speak, some people are in detention, arrested for cutting down trees? Somebody is in detention now because he fell off a tree in his father’s land. So, what is the benefit to the community? None.
Efforts to check forest stealing:
We have mobilized taskforce for anti-deforestation, we have mobilised the police and army to look for people who are stealing trees and then we don’t even get appreciated as a state. What we get is two small people who stole trees and were arrested and sacked and have decided to internationalize the project. All you need to construct a road of this nature is balancing between the development and environment. Environment does not forbid development. And that is what we teach students in the University, development must come.
I speak so emotionally about it because the negative campaigns are the handiwork of two people who if I was a traditional politician, would simply had for the sake of votes, tolerated them, maybe transferred them to another unit. But when I got the police report, I felt they have failed because I saw the massive loss of forest which happened before I came into office and I decided to reverse it by planting 5 million trees.
Cross River is a place where the Governor and the people love the greens, we are a clean people, we are a nice people, very civilized in attitude. We are not people who will want to take a life of a tree. And so REDD+ should please reflect the needs of my people, please fast track our readiness, so that we can get into the investment phase because truly for everything REDD+ has done, it has not planted a single tree. So, I don’t know how you want to reduce emissions when you are not focusing on the practical aspect. No matter how good the REDD+ framework is, it would amount to nothing if it does not start the physical emission reduction process. Please let us fast track this process and give us a good clearance, so that people truly will enjoy the benefits of the luxury of their forest. Let them finally see the reward.
Our laws prohibit cutting even a single tree. I am now in the process of drafting a new law that will prohibit the use of wood for roofing. All roofing materials must be made of steel. When that happens the demand for timber will drop. This aggressive plan to protect the forest is not being appreciated by the world but we will not relent in ensuring best environmental practices in our undertakings.
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