By John Abah
One of Africa’s most important protected areas, Cross River National Park in Nigeria, is being imperiled by a highly controversial ‘superhighway’, according to an international scientific group.
Scientists from ALERT, the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers, say the proposed Cross River Superhighway, if completed as proposed, could rapidly worsen a deepening environmental and social crisis in Nigeria.
“Nigeria needs better roads, but this is one of the most ill-conceived infrastructure projects we’ve seen anywhere,” said Professor William Laurance, an environmental scientist from James Cook University in Australia and the director of ALERT.
“As currently proposed, the highway would slice through the most critical forested areas of Nigeria,” said Dr Mahmoud Mahmoud, an ALERT member and researcher with Nigeria’s Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency. “It would open up a Pandora’s box of environmental problems, such as illegal deforestation, poaching, and encroachment, especially for Cross River National Park.”
The researchers say that Cross River National Park sustains two-thirds of Nigeria’s surviving tropical rainforest.
“Nigeria has already lost nine-tenths of its forests, with much of its surviving forest being fragmented and overhunted,” said Professor Thomas Lovejoy, an ALERT member and former environmental advisor to three U.S. presidents.
“In this context, Cross River National Park is irreplaceable—a biological jewel,” said Lovejoy. “It sustains a remarkable 18 species of primates, including the critically endangered Cross River Gorilla plus other imperiled wildlife such as forest elephants and leopards.”
The 260-kilometer-long highway is being championed by Senator Ben Ayade, who was recently elected Governor of Cross River State.
However, the project is being widely opposed, in part because the Governor proposed the road route with very little public consultation and has seized control of 10 kilometers of land on either side of the road along its entire 260-kilometer length.
“Much of the seized land was held by traditional landowners such as the Ekuri People, who have lived there for centuries and depend on the forests for their livelihoods,” said Mahmoud. “The Governor has revoked all traditional claims to land title.”
Already, say the ALERT researchers, millions of trees have been bulldozed along the proposed road route.
“Among the most shocking things about this project is that the Environmental Impact Assessment was a complete joke,” said Laurance. “Independent analyses have shown it to be a technical farce, and its validity is being challenged in a lawsuit brought by nongovernmental groups in Nigeria.”
Work on the highway has been temporarily halted by Nigeria’s federal environment minister, Amina Mohammed, who is demanding that a proper environmental impact study be conducted.
However, the Cross River State Government is not obliged to listen to federal advice, say the ALERT scientists. And that is raising great concerns both nationally and internationally.
“We can only hope that common sense prevails,” said Mahmoud. “There are alternative routes for the highway that would be far less damaging to the environment and local peoples.”
“Southern Nigeria in general, and Cross River National Park in particular, are some of the most biologically and culturally important real estate on the planet,” said Laurance. “It would be tragic if they were destroyed or severely degraded by such a shortsighted development scheme.”