The idea of building a 275 kilometre superhighway from Bakassi in Cross River State to Katsina-Ala in Benue State, was muted by Governor Ben Ayade on May 29, 2015 shortly after taking his oath of office.
But almost three and half years down the line, the gigantic project for which the state government said it had procured a 500 million Euro facility from a foreign financial institution to construct, had remained a pipe dream following controversies occasioned by bureaucratic jargons and realities on ground.
First, the signature project started experiencing setbacks when it was brought to the limelight that the state government had not carried out the compulsory Environmental Impact Assessment exercise before it did the ground breaking exercise in 2015.
Shortly afterwards, from one community to the other, from communities in Akpabuyo local government area to Akamkpa, Biase and others in Ikom LGAs, where the superhighway had been mapped to pass through, there had been several complaints against the construction of the road.
While government had tried to tackle its end of the bargain by ensuring that a tenable EIA was conducted to get the project rolling, community stakeholders have continued to cry foul.
The superhighway, which has become a super problem, has faced myriad of challenges as environmentalists fear the risk the project poses to animals because it is slated to pass through the Cross River National Park.
Similarly, the Oban division of Cross River National Park holds 3,000 square kilometres of lowland rainforest which the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation has recognised as a biodiversity hotspot.
In addition to the hurdles, the Federal Government gave 23 conditions to be met by the state government before an approval would be given for the construction of the road. As at February 2017, the state government had done three failed EIA exercises, but in June of that same year, after a fourth EIA was done, the Federal Government, through the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Dr. Bukar Hassan, handed over an EIA approval to the state government.
But, community stakeholders have argued that the proposed road will consume the vast portion of tropical forests along the corridors of the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and Okpon Forest Reserves in Boki and Akamkpa LGAs, with its attendant negative effects on residents.
Village head of Ikot-Abasi-Effiom in Akpabuyo LGA, Chief Silver Duke, raised concern over the commencement of the project.
He said, “Is the governor going to continue with the superhighway project or not? We need to know so that people will know what to do. Even now, if he decides not to do it again, nobody can build houses there because all the trees are gone and if you build there now, you are in trouble.
“There was a shrine in one of the villages and we are praying that our ancestors will not one day stand up to destroy us because the place has been destroyed in the name of superhighway. When you come to destroy such a place, there must be something that should be done.
“Also, our cemetery with over 100 graves has been cordoned off as corridor for the road. We now bury in our houses, while some people take their dead to Calabar to bury. If you can afford to buy a place you can bury but alternatively, you just look for a place in your compound to bury.
“The governor should come out and tell us what is going to happen because it is a disgrace, it is a shame for a man like that to come out like that and play with people’s livelihood. We in Akpabuyo depend on our farms, so, when you come and take that away, you have taken the livelihood of a whole community.”
Another resident of Ikot Okpo-Ene in the same Akpabuyo LGA, Mr. Edem Akpan, decried the lack of compensation by the state government, noting that several house owners have been reduced to tenants overnight because their houses had been demolished.
“The super highway has taken all that we have depended on to care for our family. When they came, they said we were going to be compensated for the loss of our farmlands, economic crops and buildings, but since then, nothing has been done.
“Our houses have been affected; there’s nothing left for us to live on. We are now made to squat. Many of us have relocated since there are no more homes to live in. There’s no means of survival anymore. Those who have relocated are facing difficulty of paying house rents,” he said.
Yet again, a farmer in Ikot-Okpo-Ene village, Edet Okon, said the state governor ought to have paid compensation before demolishing the buildings.
Okon, who expressed reservation over the workability of the project, said, “I don’t think this project will work. The state government was supposed to pay compensation before ordering the removal of our economic trees. For over three years now, we have not heard anything from the government.”
A village head in Okokori community in Obubra LGA, Chief James Ayomobi, said since government’s appearance to appeal to the community over a year ago, nothing else had been done.
Ayomobi, who spoke through one of the members of his palace, Francis Ogar, said, “The deputy governor came here once. When he came, we received him very well. He told us to cooperate with the governor to give us the superhighway. Since then, nothing has been done.
“The last time they came, it was for enumeration. To take the statistics of people who have lost properties, but this is over a year now and we have not seen them again.”
Similarly, a village council member of Nsan community in Akamkpa LGA, Mr. Ernest Ndifon, said farmers and residents are counting their losses in pains, adding that since the groundbreaking ceremony by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, no further development on the proposed road has taken place.
“After the groundbreaking ceremony of the superhighway by President Muhammadu Buhari, bulldozers came in and destroyed all our crops, including economic crops and till date, we have not heard anything from them.
“As I speak with you, people are still shedding tears because of the destruction of crops and nothing has come forth. We heard on radio that the construction of superhighway would soon start because election is fast approaching, but there is still nothing. So, we do not know our fate about the superhighway,” he lamented.
Speaking on the viability of the project, the Manager, the Cross River State office of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, Mr. Emmanuel Owan, had during a recent interview said that the disadvantages of depleting a chunk of the vast tropical forest to build the highway far outweighed its advantages.
Owan said that the proposed road will consume the vast portion of tropical forests in Boki and Akamkpa LGAs with its attendant negative effects on residents.
He accused the state government of not being interested in the conservation of the vast tropical forest which falls among the 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world.
“People have insinuated that it is not just the superhighway the government is interested in but the logging- that was responsible for the request for proper EIA. What was granted by the Federal Government was the provisional condition for approval of EIA,” he added.
However, Governor Ayade recently affirmed his commitment to constructing the superhighway as well as another signature project, Bakassi Deep Seaport, that he had promised to build.
He reiterated this when he received the Chairman and members of the Bakassi Deep Seaport Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee.
Ayade urged the Federal Government to give the necessary approvals to fast track the execution of the signature projects, adding that it will not only enhance its economic status, but also attract foreign earnings for the state and the country.
On the issue of compensation, the state Commissioner for Information, Mrs. Rosemary Archibong, said the government was compiling the list, adding that as soon as it was completed and all the beneficiaries authenticated, payment would be made.
It is three years down the line, stakeholders have debunked government claims, insisting that the two signature projects were not viable because of lack of resources.